Backpack Full of Bush Dust- Hitchbiking Southeast Asia and hitchhiking Australia (full book, part 4)

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May 5

I walk over a river in the morning and chat with a local on the way out of town.  My accent is immediately recognizable.  ‘Yous’ a yank, are yeh?,” he asks me.  He directs me to walk around the bend to where there is a better spot for people to pull over.  This turns out to be good advice.

I’m picked up by a guy delivering a BMW SUV and he’s heading north of Bundaberg.  We stop in a town to have the vehicle inspected for emissions and safety regulations.  I make it to the Gold Coast and ask a couple if they will watch my backpack while I go for a jog along the beach and a dip in the ocean.  It is trusting of me but I determine that I have nothing worth stealing inside the backpack anyways.

The Gold Coast is a hot spot for tourists and surfers.  The closest comparison I can think of to it in the US would be the beaches in Los Angeles.  Therefore, I don’t care for it too much and I hitchhike out of town at nightfall over a red fire sun that is setting over the ocean and creating jaw-dropping images that I burn into my retina.  I’m picked up by a local guy coming home from work and driving a meat delivery truck.  He is also a country musician of some sort and invites me out to karaoke with some friends of his.

While driving out to the pub, a family of kangaroos are spotted hopping around near the apartment.  After a few glasses of whisky, they somehow convince me to get up with them and sing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Cold Shot” and it must have been some time shortly after that song that we decide to leave.

May 6

The next day I get a lift from a guy who installs high-tech roofs that are mechanical in that they can open up to let the sun inside.  He tells me that he has a daughter that got a basketball scholarship and lives in Austin.  Dan sets me off where he has work that morning.

While hitching just outside a McShit’s, I get offered a ride by the first trucky in Australia.  He tells me about the speed and Codeine epidemic that was prevalent in the last decade and probably still is in different shapes and forms today.  He shows me an extensive log book that his employer requires him to fill out.  “It’s tedious, annoying and there are always ways around it,” he tells me.

“There are big fines for not following road laws for truck drivers,” he says.  ‘Even for riding in the wrong lane you can get a 600 dollar fine.”  That night I make it into Bundaberg and sit down in the bleachers at the local park and watch some people play Aussi hockey.  It has nothing to do with ice skates and the “sticks” they players carry are more like golf clubs.

There is a solid cracking sound when a player hits the “puck”, which is more like a baseball.  They players wear minimal padding and I’m not sure how there are so few injuries.

I sleep in the park and will hitchhike the two kilometers from the park to the farm I have found work at the next day through gumtree.com, a site similar to Craigslist.

May 8

Wake up at the face of dawn.  Start walking towards the area of the town the farmer lives in and a local tells me “I reckon it’s about seven kilometers away”, so it was further than I originally expected.  Nobody picks me up.  I’m late for work.  I start shouting four letter words in frustration.

Minutes later, a farmer pulls up in a silver truck and yells out the window, “You Jack?”

“Yes sir I am.”

“Hop in.”

I was about 20 minutes late on the first day but he turned out to be a considerate and understanding man.  He says expressions like “All good” and “righty-o” often.

Later a girl working on the farm admits that she had seen me in the morning but decided that she didn’t like to stop for hitchhikers.  I spend the day pulling weeds, toiling in the hot sun and walking through muddy rows of flower plants.  I just about ran into giant spider webs while walking the rows a few times.

An Australian cattle dog named Bruiser lounges out at the end of the day as I play my guitar.  Hayden says that he will pick me up in town at the park the next morning for work.  “No worries, I’ll have coffee ready in the mornin’,’ he says and drops me off for the night.

May 9

Next morning is spent pulling weeds and vines all day at the farm.  I’m in need of travel funds so I’m grateful for the work.  I help Hayden with a flower set-up in the front of the roadway.  Flower business is booming.  It’s the day before Mother’s Day.

Later that night, while walking around the town of Bundaberg I run into a man named Allen who invites me into the pub for a beer.  I get the impression he is already slightly smockered, but this seems to be his normal state of consciousness.  He invites me to come see his boat that he lives on in the water.  Flashbacks of the movie Wolf Creek play through my mind.  Ultimately, genuine curiosity overrides my false sense of dread.

We paddle out to the vessel on his tinny and he shows me around his small quarters.  “I’ve traveled all around the country on this boat, following the construction work,” he says.  “This is the life for some of us, as we must.  Some people say that I’m lucky to live like this, but there is no luck involved… not like it just fell into my hands.”

I ask him what he thinks happiness is.  He ponders this for a moment.  “Doing what you said you’d do and seeing it accomplished,” he says.  Surrounding us, the lake is calm, spacious. A chill floats in the air and hangs like a timepiece.

Four beers later, he shows me a piece of wood in the center of the boat that moves to the side that he uses as a makeshift bathroom.  “Sometimes I push people in there when I don’t like ‘em and turn ‘em to shark bait,” he says, laughs.

Somehow he stumbles his way off the boat and rows me back to shore.  Somebody in the neighboring boat shines a spotlight in our faces.  Allen holds up a hand to keep the light from blinding him.

“What are you doing?!,” the paranoid person in the other boat asks.

“What’s it look like I’m doing?,” Allen asks.

The man continues to shine the spotlight in his face.

“If you don’t get that light out of my face cunt, I’ll shove this ore up your arse.”

The man keeps the light on us all the way till shore.  Some neighbors he has out here on this waterfront.

That night I meet up with Nazarine, the girl that I had met back in Alice Springs.  She is staying at a hostel run by Asians and works on a tomato farm.  I find out that she has just been leading me on and avoiding me the whole time, she just doesn’t have the courage to say it.  I feel like I wasted a lot of efforts and took a detour to come out and see her.  She had been the one encouraging me to come see her in the beginning.

I tell her if that’s the way it was, then I’d just assume piss off.

She blows me a half-ass kiss as I walk away.

Oh well.  Isn’t that just how it goes sometimes?

May 10

Spend the better half of the day finishing the rows on the farm.  Second half was spent around the campfire with everyone laughing and telling stories.

Bruiser the farm dog lazes around the campfire and listened in to our every word.  The Ozzies out here are a daring and bold bunch of blokes in their lifestyles and hospitalities.

May 11

The next day I get a lift all the way to Rockhampton by one of the farmer’s friends.  They are heading that way to meet up with some friends.  We have dinner at KFC and I must head to a park for a place to sleep.

Out of curiosity, I inquire as to what the price of a cheap motel might be in the area.  It turns out to be 90 dollars for a night.  I walk out of the motel and find a six star motel on some soft green grass in the park for the night.

May 12

A man picks me up near the ocean side in a small town.  I’ve been waiting for well over an hour.  Hitchhiking is starting to drain me.  I need something to revitalize myself.

“I almost passed you up,” he says.  “But something in my gut clicked that I should give you a lift.  Always listen to your gut mate.”

He tells me that his wife got pregnant a long time ago and he got trapped in the monotony of the working class life.  Before that all happened, he used to travel.  “I’m well off financially,” he tells me.  “But trading up freedom for comforts was not the best decision, honestly although I love my family.”

He drops me off at a grocery store and quickly sticks some notes in my coat pocket, to my protest.  “Seriously, please take it,” he says.  “I don’t need it.”

Later, I pull out two wadded notes and to my surprise find 100 dollars.  I could have got a motel after all last night.  Yet that would have been a waste of funds.

I’m picked up by another trucky who nearly skids to the side of the road when he sees me.  He sprinkles some pot in his makeshift soda can bowl and has a smoke.  He has a definite roughneck edge to him. Wears a straw hat.

‘I got kids with these two cunts,” he says.  “Both of ‘em taking all me working money.”

“You should go to Western Australia,” he says.  “That’s where I’m from, you probably wouldn’t guess it.  The cunts in the city won’t help no one.  The blokes in the west are true blue mate.”  He sets me off alongside a construction site.

Then I’m picked up by an old man.  “I’m on a pension and retired,” he says.  “I don’t go to the pubs no more, don’t drink.  I just sort of go around these days.”  There’s something sad about the man’s tone of voice, like he’s distant, waiting to die.

May 13

Get picked up by a mechanic with two horse dogs who works on the fleets belonging to the local miners.

“They beat the piss out of them,” he says.  “They don’t even do maintenance on them; just drive them for thousands of miles till they fall to pieces.

He sets me off and I start walking along country road as the rain sweeps in and I started wondering where I might sleep for the night.  This doesn’t look like a light rain; it looks like a potential downpour.  I’m not sure how my bevy sack will hold up in that.  I need a makeshift shelter.  Drainage ditches seem to be the only option along the lonesome country road.

Luckily, an islander with dreadlocks and white guy in the passenger seat pull over and pick me up.  They give me a lift all the way to Airlie Beach.  I am completely convinced that these guys were angels or some other power disguised as humans.  I’ll sleep at a park just before the turn-off to the beach.

“Looks like the weather is better here and glad we could help,” the islander says.  “Beats walking the whole way!”

Later that night, the rain faucets down in heavy spurts and I take shelter underneath under the overhang and when that starts to flood I have to take shelter in a bathroom.  I don’t get much rest that night.  When a security guard kicks me out of the park in the middle of the night I finish my rest across the street at a bus stop shelter.

May 14

A guy driving a Ute is my first ride in the morning to Airlie Beach.  Most of the people passing by seem to be tourists so they don’t stop.  This guy is a local.

We arrive at Airlie Beach where there is the ocean amongst hostel after hostel.  “When the bus dropped me off 15 years ago this was all grass and I slept on the beach,” he tells me.  The modernized Airlie Beach has a more tourist-catered feel.  Paved sidewalks are everywhere and tourist shops abound.  I imagine that it would have been a nicer place to come to fifteen years ago.  Maybe I was born too late.

“None of the housing development on the hills was there,” he says, pointing to million dollar mansions overlooking the ocean.  “Prices are jacked up here now and so is the cost of living.  My partner and I sold our home here and traveled the world for two years.”

I meet a girl named Lynn while swimming near the lagoon in Airlie Beach.  She is taking a short break from her life in England to enjoy some of what Australia had to offer.  I opt out of the youth hostel (as I don’t like hanging out in areas where everyone else congregates) and I head down the beach and find a secluded spot underneath the trees to sleep.  The sound of the receding tide invites me into a state of temporary coma.

May 15

The next day I get stuck in the pouring rain for three hours and countless cars pass me by and nobody picks me up.  Grace comes in a small Toyota car with a school teacher from Proserpine inside.  He has some good ideas as to what direction the United States should go, he said.  “The States should convert to the metric system,” he says.  “It would make things a lot easier all around the world.  Not to mention all the jobs it would create for the American people in the process of switching over.  Just changing out the highway signs would take some workers.”

He tells me that his wife and he have dreams of moving to Spain in the near future.

Then I’m picked up by an Aboriginal guy with a dog in the back seat as I eat my peanut butter sandwiches on the side of the road.  It’s not raining anymore.  “I’ve lived in Queensland my whole life,” he tells me.  He gets work picking fruit whenever he can.

He invites me back to his place for some coffee and we take turns spray painting hitchhiking signs with some leftover orange spray paint he has laying around.  We write T-VILLE in bold letters, representing Townsville.

A few hours later I’m picked up by a guy that is a sugar cane train conductor.  “In the morning I’m going for a drug test for a new job,” he says, pointing to a container of fake urine in his glove compartment.  “It’s no worries, I’ll pass,” he says and smiles.

He also has a passion for motorcycles.  “I have lots of biker friends that complain since you can’t ride in groups anymore,” he says.  “If you ride in groups of more than 3, you can get up to 15 years in jail.  It’s ridiculous.”

Later, a cop shakes his finger at me while hitchhiking.  Something tells me the cop has never hitchhiked before.  I ignore him and carry on.

I get a lift from a construction worker who informs me about some of the wildlife and especially the ticks in Australia.  “I once got one in my head and didn’t know it before I fell asleep that night,” he says.  “I woke up with a huge lump on my head.”  It sounds like a horror story and I make a note to myself to check over my body for ticks before falling asleep that night.

I check in at the supermarket hotel and they have room in the back where the artificial lights are dimmed out and there’s nothing around but the stars.

 

May 16

A caravan with a camper trailer cuts us off causing the driver to swerve out of the way.  She just about honks the horn but something causes her to refrain.  “Oh well,” she says.  “Without tourism this town would die.”  This is in the small town of Ingham, Australia.

The car rambles on, the motor thumping away at the beat of its’ last legs of life.  The lady who has offered me a ride is an older country woman.  “We have a chicken at the farm that lays 8 to 10 eggs each day,” she says with a measure of pride.

Hitchhiking has been slow-going and tough in this area.

On a winding road through the tropical region near Cairns and sprawls of sugar cane plantations I wait on the side of the road for over two hours before a ride finally comes.  One short ride had gotten me into a tough spot where the traffic was too fast and it was difficult for anyone to pull over, even if they wanted to.  I get a lift from an Aboriginal man named Matt, who has picked up a couple that are hitchhiking together all around Australia.  Not only are they hitchhiking Australia but they say they have been continuously wandering the roads, landscape and culture of Australia for over five years.  They make their travel money from their online business.  They seem cautious to tell me exactly what that online business is.

Matt, the driver works for a company called Linked-In that helps Aboriginal people link with their lost relatives from the Stolen Generation.  I ask him what his job ensues.

“It’s a mixture of using library databases, computers, and speaking with local communities,” he says.  “Some kids were taken away as far as New Zealand, even the United States in some instances.”

Amanda tells me a story about her and Alex driving a desolate road in Australia once and a man came out of the bushes with torn clothing and a three-foot long beard.  “We usually pick up every hitchhiker we see, it’s our commitment,” she said.  “But that was the one guy we actually passed up.  “He looked like he had been living in the bush for years.”

Hours later, we arrive in Cairns and I call Max my host.  He says that he won’t be around till tomorrow, so it looks like I’ll be camping again tonight.  I throw out my guitar case and busk for awhile and in over an hour I’ve done considerably well.  People appreciate the music, except for a disgruntled fat woman who acts as the authoritative manager and tells me I have to move along.  I wonder how she would feel if someone came and told her to “move along” with her job?  I’m creating a pleasant atmosphere for her customers; some people can be thoughtless and robotic in nature.

I can’t fully blame her though.  It’s only the pressures and the weight of the world. Her boss pressures her to behave and remain obedient to the rules of the Corporate Masters.

I stealth camp right in front of the grocery store, in a small island of grass filled with trees.  I lay low inside my bevy sack and take shelter from the misty rain that falls and comes down off the mountains.

May 17

Max picks me up the following day and takes me to his mansion at the top of the hills in Cairns.  It’s a beautiful tropical spot and his home is surrounded by a rainforest setting.  Birds chirp, the wind brings in a breeze that is fresh and pure.  I’m greeted by his dog Mango, a spunky red dog that can run like none other and is full of energy.

Max doesn’t let his success get in the way with his passion for helping fellow travelers and making genuine friendships.  Being used to sleeping on the streets, these conditions feel like the ultimate luxury to me.  It’s a sharp contrast to what I’ve been living like yet it still feels the same.

Max tells me over coffee that he invested in Sydney real estate years back and he lucked out when the market rose drastically in the recent decade.

I borrow his mountain bike and cycle/ push it to the top of a hill.  It is 20 kilometers to the top and no easy feat yet the view is incredibly rewarding.  I look out at sprawling green canopy and a fresh-lake below.  A biologist from Germany stands beside me at the lookout with a set of binoculars.  “Look this way,” he says, handing me the binoculars.  “There’s an eagle’s nest over there.  And you’d never guess what’s over that way, it’s not what you’d expect in this area… there are a couple feral cattle.”

The biologist tells me that the fox bats that live in the area can travel up to 200 kilometers every night.  They contribute to the well-being of the ecosystem by spreading the seeds of the fruit they eat in their scat, increasing the trees through the jungle landscape.  The new mayor of Cairns has recently made plans to cut down trees that the thousands of bats frequent in the local parks in order to get rid of them and encourage them to live outside of the city.

“The mayor is a fool,” he says.  “He sees the bats as a nuisance.  Politicians rarely understand nature and how ecosystems work.  They shouldn’t be allowed to make these decisions.”

On my way back from the bike ride, I notice thousands of fox bats camped out and hanging upside down in the park, staying cool during the day.

May 18

Max and I venture into the downtown Cairns area and I busked with my guitar for a few hours with slide style and traditional playing.  The highlight of the performance was when a few young kids start dancing around and spinning around the telephone pole, laughing and playing.

I meet another traveler named Todd and together we hike to a waterfall.  On the way in, we run into a baby brown snake that hisses and lunges at us, fangs bearing.  I nearly walk on top of it since it blends in with the twigs and sticks along the trail.  I jump back quicker than I think I ever have before!

Swimming underneath the waterfall is a feeling like none other.  There are few tourists in the spot too which makes it even better.  It is cold and refreshing.  Max and his partner Jacob cook a great meal and in the morning, they will set me off on the road that continues back south to Townsville and then I will head west back to Katherine.  I am going to try another attempt at making it to Western Australia.

May 19

The next day they drop me off along the road and I’m heading southbound back the direction I came from.  It takes at least three hours to get a lift and I just throw my backpack down on the ground in frustration.  I have a seat and listen to the wind blow in the trees.  Somehow, it speaks.

I’m given a lift by a wild trucky who nearly slams on the brakes when he sees me and pulls right over.  The patience has paid off.  “Oh so you’re an AmeerrrrrrrrriCAN!,” he says frenetically as we drive off into the setting sun.  He tells me that he doesn’t take his job too seriously since it’s just extra income to support his family.

“I blow glass and sell it on the black market,” he says.  “I make more than twice the money doing that than what I make in the trucking business. My father got me started with blowing.  He gave me a four-year internship.”  His rig is two trailers long and he’s got just a few stops left for the day.  He’s come all the way from Sydney at the beginning of the day.

We stop at a meat shop and deliver I help him unload some of the day’s meat.

He blasts his speakers and puts in music from Aussi rock bands from the eighties and stereotypical trucky music.  There’s something great about this since Jim isn’t your typical trucky; he’s somebody with dreams.  He runs over a dead kangaroo on purpose just to mess with me. I brace myself for a giant bounce in the cab but the beastly rig doesn’t even tremble in the slightest.

What I really remember about riding with Jim is that we were laughing hysterically the whole way to Townsville.  “This is a lazy man’s job mate,” Jim tells me and pops a DVD in the DVD player.  We watch cheesy American war films from the seventies and eighties.  He even invites me to stay at his hotel and we have a steak meal.  Tomorrow I’ll be doing the same thing I’ve been doing—that is, leaving town.

May 20

I leave the hotel about eight o’clock, an hour after Jim has already hit the road.  Before he walks out he wishes me luck, coffee cup in hand.  “I’m an Australllliiiiian!,” he says, and walks out the door with a laugh.  As I wait out at the best choice hitchhiking spot I notice lots of prison guards on their way to work.  Obviously, there is a prison somewhere in the area and this factor doesn’t make for good hitchhiking.

Eventually, an older guy pulls over on his way to Richmond and wants the company.  He is a veteran with World War 2 stories.  He tells me how the English had sent in the Aussis to the front lines but when the Japanese wanted to invade Australia, only the Americans had come to aid.

“I had a friend who fought in Vietnam and had to hide in a ditch in the jungle by himself.  The adversary was onto him and while he was hiding, the Vietnamese pissed on him from on top of the hill.  He didn’t want to blow his cover, so the poor bloke just had to take getting pissed on.”

The man is full of stories.  One of the best ones, however, is a story about a joy ride he took with his hot rod as a young bloke.  “I was out for a joy ride and nearly ran over a cop who jumped back while I was passing a car.  The cop jumped in his cruiser and followed but I cut off to a side street and got away and he never caught up with me.  Anyways, twenty years later I went to a party and the guy that used to be a cop comes up to me and says,’ you’re the guy that nearly ran me over 20 years ago!  We were searching for you!’ Anyways, we both had a good laugh over that one.”

I ask him what life is like out in this part of the country for most people.  “Well,” he says.  “People out here might come across hard at first, and maybe they are—but they’re darn hard workers mate.  It takes a certain kind of perseverance to get by in this kind of country.”

He has some borderline racist views towards the Aboriginals.  “They were only here 200 years before the Europeans came to the continent at most,” he says.  “Half of their cave dwelling artwork was made recently with white man’s paint, so they just use it to claim it as sacred land.  Most of the times, they’re just trouble.  They have been known to hunt the farmer’s local sheep and drag them into the forest.  Also, they have been known to poison their babies in some instances… I have a friend who’s a nurse that has told me stories. ”

I just nod my head and listen.  I suppose everyone has an opinion.

At the gas station where he drops me off two Germans are camping in their van with a cardboard sign that has been written on with a black marker.  STRANDED: NEED A TOW, it says.  I say hello and ask them how long they’d been there.  “Three days,” the girl says slowly and clearly, with a trace of resentment and trepidation in her voice.

I buy them a bag of chips and a couple sodas and wish them luck.  I imagine it’s hard to find a cheap mechanic in this desolate area considering that they probably live miles away and are the only mechanic shop in the area.  Probably some kind of monopoly results with spiked prices.

I wait for an hour for the next lift.  The landscape is dry and barren and the wind picks up the speed.  I’m truly in the middle of nowhere, where only a lonely gas station and cattle surround me.  It’s like Texas in Australia here.

I take out my map and have a look and it sinks in just how huge the expanses are between towns in this part of the country.  Often, there is nothing for miles and miles.  Then it dawns on me that I’m sitting on the wrong side of the road (the American right side) and it’s no wonder that I’m not getting any lifts!  The sun must be getting to my head.

Hawks circle the road, searching for carcass to scavenge.  Leaves blow in from the wind and there is the pungent smell of cow shit.  The sky is baby blue with only a few faints wisps of white clouds.

I luck out and two girls pick me up on the way to the mines, one of them particularly cute.  “We work near the mines in Cloncery,” they tell me.  The girl shows me a picture of her operating a piece of machinery.  “I get to work in an air-conditioned truck all day so it’s not so bad,” she says.

The girl in the passenger seat tells me that she had a friend in jail who met Ivan Milat.  “He was a scary guy,” she says.  “He sat all by himself in the cafeteria and he used to have menacing jokes with the other inmates.  He used to say ‘what’s the difference between a German and a French backpacker?  Ten meters, he would say.”

I set up my guitar once we are in town outside the grocery store as my food funds are running low.  A group of Aboriginal kids run up to me and start firing a million questions.  “Did you walk?  Where’d you come from mate?!  How long will you stay here?  Why are you traveling?”

It’s a bit overwhelming but the kids are awesome and full of energy so I buy them popsicles once I make a few dollars.  A guy pulls over and hands me his number on a piece of paper, tells me that he can offer a place to stay for the night if I’m interested.  A miner limps into the supermarket and is missing an arm.  I can only assume this is the result of a mining accident.  Some people have rough but they remain resilient for their families.

Everybody knows everybody here but the locals are accepting and trusting.  They allow me to play in front of the supermarket with no problems.

That night, the Aboriginal kids help me find the guys’ house who had offered a place to stay.  We walk through the streets in the darkness of night, some of them on their bicycles.  One young kid not older than 14 lights up a cigarette and takes a drag.  “You shouldn’t do that,” I tell him.  “It’s really bad for you.”

He smiles.  “We die young though,” he tells me simply.  Maybe he’s right.  He recites the lyrics to a 2Pac song.  America’s influence on every street corner; maybe it’s a dirty shame.

Every night, the kids say, they play a game of “run from the coppas.”  There is a curfew for the kids at 9:30, which they dutifully do not follow and make a game of the whole thing.  This is the fun they have living in this small town.

I can’t help but quickly grow attached to these kids.  They don’t have much and neither do I.  I feel like these kids’ chaperone on a retreat.  At the same time, they’re giving me a tour of the town through their innocent eyes.  “That’s our school,” one kid says, pointing to a tiny building with faded white shingles.

A quiet kid who follows close to my side speaks up.  “My dad’s dead,” he says out of the blue.  “I found my Dad hanging from a rope in his room one day. I miss him.”  The crickets stop chirping, the world stops spinning and I can’t think of anything to say.  I hand him a guitar pick, pat him on the shoulder.

We finally arrive at the guys’ house, only to find out that from a tentative woman that answers the door who says “he might have been on drugs tonight and there is no place for you to stay.”

We depart and I begin the search of finding a soft piece of green grass in this late night hour.

I camp next to a church and am haunted by mosquitoes and the occasional familiar ghosts.

May 21

Nothing but the crows leaving this town

In the morning breeze, locals must know better

Home is where you’ll never leave

I write in my journal in the morning as I wait for a ride.  As I’m sitting on the concrete steps next to the local library drinking my morning coffee, a dog comes zipping frenetically out of nowhere and rolls over, has ten seconds of bliss, and runs off again.  Happy as a free-roaming dog in a small town, since that’s what he is.  His name must be Freedom.

I try some delicious pastries from the only bakery that sits on the corner, recommended to me by a couple road workers.  “It’s the only place to go,” one of the guys tells me.

Eventually the dust clears and a guy that works in the mines picks me up.  “I heard you playing your guitar in front of the store last night,” he tells me.  “I dug your music and when I saw you standing there I was like ‘whoah, that’s the same guy!”

He offers insight on the mines surrounding Mt. Isa.  “In Mt. Isa, the industry is worth 2.3 billion dollars a week, after wages and taxes.”  If the mining in the areas were to end or come to a halt, many of these families and residents would have to simply pack up and leave.  There would be nothing left to sustain them.

He tells me a heavy story about his friend who was bitten by a brown snake, which has deadly poisonous venom.  (What snakes in Australia don’t carry deadly poisonous venom?)

“We were out four-wheeling and he happened to be in the wrong place, wrong time,” he says.  “He’s stepped off his ATV and the snake must have been underneath him.  He stepped off and the snake was right there.  He walks up to me, almost casual-like, trying to keep his blood from circulating too fast and says ‘mate, that snake, it just bit me’.  So I got him inside my Ute and I floored it all the way to the hospital, nearly ran over an old lady at the front entrance.  They had to amputate his leg.  There was nothing else they could do and he was lucky he didn’t die that day and could take his life home with him.”

The hard red and dusty landscape passes us by.  “People have your back in this part of the country,” he says.  “We depend on each other.  You have to live that way to survive.  To this day, my mate still says ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here’.  I just tell him that he wouldn’t have been bitten if I hadn’t suggested going four-wheeling together!”

Jake is a down-to-earth kind of bloke.  Most people that offer rides while hitchhiking tend to lean that way.  Halfway into the ride, he tells me that his father is a billionaire investor and recently purchased a 400,000 dollar house for his partner and him to share.  In either fate or coincidence, it turned out that the house actually belonged to his girlfriend’s grandfather at one point in it’s’ history.

“My Dad always takes care of me, but I wish I could see him more,” he says.  “He’s always busy chasing the next investment, the next big deal closure.  I called him the other day and he immediately asked ‘do you need money?’ and I was like no…”

“I wanted to tell him that I just want to spend time with him but I just couldn’t say it,” he says.

Once, his Dad took him around in a rented Lamborghini.  “Once the speed reaches above 150 miles per hour, the back side actually raises up and is grounded in the front,” he says.  “It was the biggest rush of adrenaline I had ever experienced!”

Jake’s heritage comes from New Zealand and his father originally came from being dirt poor and having nothing.  “His x wife tried to bleed him of everything he worked for,” he tells me.

I tell him about the drug-addict that had offered me a place to stay last night but had been out of his mind.

“Mt. Isa also has a lot of drug problems,” he confirms.  “Mt. Isa is also a helluva a place to get stuck mate.”

Two hours later, I’m stuck in Mt. Isa and frustration of the passing cars returns.  The mechanics at the local shop watch me from across the street.  The mining infrastructure is massive amounts of machinery and giant metallic buildings that blow out smoke and pollution beyond your wildest dreams.  Further than your farthest nightmares.

I kick at clumps of dust and rocks.  Even reading my current book or playing my guitar doesn’t’ sound enticing.  I swat the hundreds of flies away from my face that try desperately to dive into my eyeballs.  I desperately try to swat them with my shirt—the disgusting maggots are quicker witted than I.

Hours later, just before the giant red ball of fire slides behind the floating chunk of Earth, a white van comes screeching to a stop.  The door slides open.  A cloud of dust explodes into a mushroom cloud.

Inside the van, there is a bed and four French people squeezed into the back along with their backpacks.  “Hop in!”

It’s like God has sent this dirty, stinking van to my rescue in this God awful dirty, stinking town that smells like coal.  I throw my dusty backpack inside and hop in knowing full well that as always, I’m in for a ride.

May 22

An insect blends in with the tree and its’ surroundings so that it can survive, so that it won’t be eaten by the bigger creatures and swallowed up by the bigger things that surround it.  In some ways, people are the same way.  People blend in and conform to social norms so that they can feel comfortable, safe, so that the system doesn’t eat them up.  Maybe this is the reason that franchises and corporations are starting to decorate the world landscape.

Are people by nature scared to try new things?  It is easier to always experience the monotonous?

We’re all just pawns, destined to be moved by someone else if we don’t move ourselves.

These are the kind of philosophical conversations we have in the back of the van.  We just lounge out in the back as the miles pass by in the night.  The back of the van smells like yesteryears’ dirty socks and wet dog.  None of us mind this and the French guys that picked me up simply don’t give a shit.  That is their freedom, their philosophy to live by, moment to moment.

Their tactics for acquiring road funds involve setting up a cardboard sign in front of gas stations and busking for gas money.  Their sign reads: SOS- OUT OF GAS!  They tell me that originally their sign actually said SOS-NO GAS!  but somebody called it in to the local police thinking that they were Green Peace protesters against the shipment and consumption of petroleum.  So they reinterpreted their cardboard sign.

At one lonely gas station, we have just started jamming and an old Aboriginal woman steps out of the car and hands our driver a 100 dollar bill.  It is shocking to me.  When the French guys start packing up their guitar I’m a bit saddened that the jam has ended before it even began—it was just getting started.  They explain to me that it’s respectful to leave after some has offered to fill your tank so they don’t assume that they are using the money for something else.

These desert towns are strange places and take on a life of their own.  Everyone is either transitory or stuck with no in between.  One Aboriginal man that seems to be in the stuck category offers our driver sixty dollars at one spot in exchange for buying him a case of beer.  The town has limits on how much beer one person can buy per day—not that any rule ever kept people from getting their fix.

Our driver consents to this and the man comes over and siphons the gas out of a can using his mouth.  “Don’t you want something to wash out your mouth with?,” the driver asks, offering some water.

“No, it’s alright mate,” he says.  Siphoning gasoline seems to be an accustomed practice for him.

Night falls and we stop at pub that has old bicycles set up in the front for decoration and a few locals zombie around inside.  I walk inside later after taking a short walk around the park by myself.  The two French guys seem to be in some kind of argument with the bartender.  He has sold them beer and then tells them they have to drink it away from the pub, even though there are plenty of open seats.

“Yes, but I gave you the take-away price,” he tells them.

“The price wasn’t cheap,” the French guy says.  “I don’t think you offered us a special price.  Why can’t we just drink these out on the patio?”

The bartender won’t have it and he doesn’t take kind to travelers.  However, he takes kindly to the funds that travelers bring into his establishment.

“Then why do the others get to drink inside the bar?,” the French guy persists.

“Because they paid more for the beer. You do the math.”

I try to make eye contact at let them know that it’s best we leave even though this guy is a complete dickhead.  We defiantly pull out a table from the back of the van and set it up across the street. We play cards and drink beer on the other side of the bar.

A massive tourist bus pulls up alongside the pub.  Its seats are empty with the exception of the driver.  The driver walks in and comes out after a few minutes with two cases of beer.

We theorize that the driver must have a contract with the pub to bring tourists into the pub every day.  In exchange, the pub owner offers him heavily discounted or absolutely free beer.

I remember what the pub owner had condescendingly said.  You do the math. 

That’s what tourism business becomes when it mixes with giant industry—impersonal and only a matter of numbers.  The relationship becomes one of capital and loses all personal human touch.  The traveler is seen as a walking bank to some greedy establishments.

I’m not bashing Australian pubs here—most of the pubs I walk into are full of people full of life and open to more conversation and life outside of pocket books.  This is an element of the tourist industry that is prevalent in some areas, however, some more than others.

We stay up till the early hours of the morning chatting, laughing and playing cards.  Sometimes they will go into French-mode and I can only get the gist of what they are saying.

Defiantly, the French guys park their van across the street in front of the pub and go to sleep.  In the morning, an old lady walking her dog whines about us sleeping along the roadside and commands us to pay and “sleep at the RV Park next time.”

In the middle of the desert, we climb to the top of an old wind mill.  Around us, blue sky and golden desert, a vast openness and isolated independence.

May 23

We arrive in Katherine and I find myself in the small Northern Territory town for the second time.  I’ve officially hitchhiked around half of Australia; what remains is Western Australia, the large expanse of the west.  The town seems just the same as it was just over a month ago.  The Aboriginals hang out in the shade of trees in the parks.  Locals and tourists hang out near the hot springs.  Time hangs on like a clump of bush dust.

I go for a hike along the trail near the springs.  Abandoned rusty automobiles and white gum trees decorate the yellowed dry landscape.

Shelby, my Couchsurfing host, meets me in the park as we play cards.  I grab my guitar and backpack full of Australian dust, say goodbye to the French crew and hop in her car.  I find myself in the company of a few local teachers for the night and we go out to the pub for drinks and dinner.  She tells me that there is a high turnover rate at the schools in Katherine and not many teachers stick around long-term.  Shelby is one of the few that does.

She tells me that she is going to a music event with her friends the next day and to my luck they are heading to Kununurra, which is a small town the northwestern Kimberly region of Australia.  This is reassuring, as it means that I won’t have to get stuck waiting for a ride out of Katherine for three days as it happened last time.

May 24

We cross into Western Australia and the landscape changes drastically.  Steep rocky escarpments cut through the dry land and Boab trees pop up through the soil.  Boab trees are iconic to the landscape of Western Australia, some of them living up to 1,500 years old.  They were used as food, medicine, and shelter by the Aboriginal people and when the white settlers came, they were used as directional markers as well as makeshift prison trees in some instances.  The Boab trees seem to reach up to the sky in a fifty-finger claw; they are some of the oldest trees in the world and each tree seems to take on a distinct personality of its own.  The only other place in the world you can find Boab trees is Africa. Some theorize that early nomadic people brought the seeds from Africa over to Australia but the most likely theory seems to be that Australia and Africa were at one point in distant history a part of the same land mass.

We cross the Western Australia border and the billboard reads : Western Australia, A Great Place.  It was like the planners couldn’t think of a better way to advertise this part of the country.  You can imagine them sitting at a table, dressed sharply in business suits.  “Well, any other ideas for slogans, anybody?”

“Hmmm… how about ‘Western Australia: A good place.’

“No Frank, that one’s been used before.  We need something snappy, something attention-getting that will really reel the tourists in.”

Someone raises their hand.

“Oh, I know!  Western Australia: A Great Place.”

“ Ok, good enough.  Let’s go with that.”

I spend a good portion of the day playing guitar with my case open in front of the local Woolworth’s with a cardboard sign that reads: Looking for a lift to Broome.  A German guy introduces himself as Wolf and says that he’s heading to Broome in the next couple days and is looking for a travel companion.

“I just have to wait till I can get my truck fixed,” he says.  He jots down his number on a piece of paper and tells me to call him in a few days.

Later, a fat woman in a security uniform approaches me.  “ Did you know what you are doing is illegal?,” she asks condescendingly.

“Illegal?,” I ask her.  I wasn’t aware that playing music was illegal in this part of Australia.

She leans over and her voice turns to a slight whisper, as if to let me in on a secret.  “We have a big problem with the Aboriginals,” she says.  She says this as if she were talking about the local mosquito problem.

Aboriginal people are hanging around, some bored, some talking to each other.  In all fairness, earlier there was a fight between to Aboriginals that lived on the streets right next to where I play.  When they hear me playing, they suddenly stop in the middle of the fight and listen to the music, seemingly forgetting about what they were doing before.

“I don’t see a problem with them,” I tell her.  “I’m just playing music.”

She won’t have it.  “Rules are rules,” she says.  It’s not my country and it’s not my town.  I pack my stuff up and walk on.  Small minds often speak the loudest.  Why is that?

As I’m leaving an Aboriginal guy in a blue and white mechanic’s uniform walks up to me, extends his hand.  We shake hands.  His eyes are blood shot and his words are slurred.

“The name’s Crow,” he says, pointing to his red name tag.  The name tag reads Crow.

I ask him about the concert and how much it costs to get in.  “Yes, there is a concert mate,” he says.  “But people like us, we don’t pay.  We don’t go through the front gate… we go around.”  He speaks in secrets, whispers, an ancient demeanor.

While walking towards the concert I run into an old eccentric German man.  “I’ve lived in Australia for over 30 years,” he tells me.  “But I can remember, I was 8 or 9 when Hitler paraded through the streets of my home town.  I can remember when my sister died when mortar came crashing down when the Americans bombed our house.  I was in the other room and I’m lucky even to be alive.”

We start walking and find ourselves passing a fancy pub.  Being a true German, he says, “Let’s go get a beer, fuck it.”  We walk into the pub and an Indian man who happens to be the owner looks at my jug of orange juice that I am carrying along with my backpack and says, “you can’t drink that in here.”

Old Man Markus glares at him.  “Of course we didn’t come here to drink orange juice, we came here for a beer,” he tells the owner bluntly.  “What the fawk did you think we came here for?”  The small Indian man walks off.

We have a seat at a table on the balcony.  “See, all these people wasting their time,” he tells me.  “Like that Indian man that owns this place.  Why doesn’t he just mind his own fuckin’ business, ya know?  I don’t have time to waste.  I could die any minute.  I know it’s not a good way to put it, but it’s true. “

He then goes on to tell me that he recently found from his doctor that his aorta has doubled in size and is on borrowed time.  “The doctor told me that I should have died months ago,” he says.  We catch a bus to the music festival and are let down by the mediocre music acts that are performing.

“It’s gotten worse every year,” Markus says.  “I’ve lived here for five years and it’s like the more they promote it, the more they charge, the more hype there is, the worse the bands get.  I told you, the concert is not worth even sneaking into for free, let alone paying for it.”

Markus shows me a “good spot” in the park that I could potentially camp for the night.  I notice that there are sprinkler heads in the area.  “Won’t the sprinklers turn on?,” I ask him.

“Oh no, you don’t have to worry about that,” he says.  “I live across the street and I’ve never seen them turn on during the weekends.  Besides, if you stay in this gazebo, the sprinklers wouldn’t even reach if they did turn on…”

Markus takes off for the night and that night, not only do the sprinklers turn on but they come blasting on without warning and I have to make a mad dash with all my stuff across the park.  Not without first getting blasted and completely soaked.  It’s one in the morning.

 

May 26

At first, I wake to the sound of birds and the crack of a sore back.  I’m still wet from the night before.  Then I feel a sharp pain in my shin and realize that during the night when I had to move I had coincidentally laid on a fire ant colony!  I jump up and do a wild dance and frantically brush the aggressive ants off my body.  Who needs coffee when you have fire ants?

I grab a shower from the local caravan park and start walking out of town.  The first lift comes from a guy driving a taxi van, offering lifts to people to the airport.  “I was heading that way anyways, so I thought I might as well offer you a ride,” he says.  He is picking up a woman from the airport to drive her into town.

Just two kilometers on the outskirts of town the trees disappear and open up to a wonderful canopy of sun-blistering hell.  Not even the birds venture here; there is not a single tree to perch upon.  I take my shirt off and use it to cover my face.  An hour later, no cars have stopped and I walk another few kilometers till I find a sole tree in the middle of the dry landscape.  I throw my backpack to the ground and dust blows everywhere.  I use it as a makeshift bench and read my book, jumping out every time I hear the sound of rubber on pavement speeding by.

Still, nobody stops.  Two hours later.

I’m starting to think of heading back into town for now but a silver car comes scooting on by and without even bothering to get up from the tree, I shoot out a half-ass thumb.  My request is acknowledged and the car pulls over to the curb.

Joe and Kelsie are heading to El Questro to camp and experience the water gorges and waterfalls the area has to offer.  That’s the great thing about going into a trip unplanned; you don’t know what’s around the corner and everything that you are in for is a surprise.  Not always a pleasant surprise but more times than not, it is.

Joe pops in a CD and we listen to the Avett Brothers as the road winds along.  At one point, we witness a wild dingo walk into the road and then dart back into the bush.

The cities have the tendency to bore me but being out in the wild is a ceaseless opportunity for amazement.  Joe and Kelsie are young and in good physical shape so we go for a jog through the rocky trail that splits through the creek and make our way to Emma Gorge.  Water cascades off a 500 foot cliff edge and the water is the perfect temperature—icy fresh cold but not freezing cold.  After jogging through the heat it feels like paradise.

I hike to the top of a hill at sunset by myself while Joe and Kelsie tend to their camping spot.  There is live folk music around a campfire and we grab beers and share some laughs together.  We meet another guy who is traveling around Australia on a BMW motorcycle.  Tomorrow morning, we will hike more gorges together and then I’ll head back to Kununurra.

May 27

After a day spent hiking and experiencing some of the wild gorges, I set out my guitar and busk in front of a gas station.  While busking, Wolf stops and offers an Emu Export beer.  He says that he’s going to leave tomorrow no matter what along the Gibb River Road and he’d like the company.

I sleep on the outskirts of town one last time and in the middle of the night a kangaroo comes rustling around my campsite.  I sit up in my sleeping bag and the kangaroo stands there stark for a moment, stomps on the ground and then darts off into the warm night. It’s a moment that is fleeting, memorable, and tingles my nerves with a spike of adrenaline.

May 28

Wolf and I just nearly miss each other the next day.  Sitting bored along the side of the road, I decide to go for a short jog, leaving my backpack resting on the trunk of a lonely gum tree.  As my luck would have it, it is just that moment that he comes driving by looking for me and drives off when he doesn’t see me.  I notice him from the other side of the trail and try running up to him, shouting out, but to no avail.  Coincidentally, there is a jogger moving alongside the trail at that exact moment that I am able to flag down in order to borrow her phone and call Wolf.  Wolf turns around and picks me up and we are off.

It is the start of one of the best adventures of the entire trip.  The Gibb River Road stretches from the outskirts of Wyndham to Derby.  The road stretches for about 660 kilometers of desert through the Kimberly region.  During the wet season (November through March) the road often experiences mild to severe cases of flooding.  In recent times, many sections of the road have been paved but other sections still remain single-track dirt road.  The road does not take kindly to vehicles that do not have four-wheel drive capacity.

We take to setting canned beans inside the engine bay of the four-wheel drive truck.  This way, we don’t have to stop to start the propane burner and we could use the engine’s heat to warm our lunch.  The landscape is hard dirt and clay-looking mountains.

For the next two days, we make sure to stop at every gorge that we possibly can.  We swim at every spot and often miss the loads of tourists that come by on gigantic buses.  One time, we just made it out of a gorge just as the bus rolled in.  “They’re a danger to the environment,” an Aussi guy jokes on our hike out.

We stop at a gorge and I take the best shower I have ever taken underneath a rocky surface where the waterfall falls onto me.  Huge spiders drape their intricate webs around the water hole and I observe small dragonflies darting in and out of the air eating even smaller bugs.

The Aboriginals had told me that there was a certain ant that you could eat that tasted sweet.  You would have to eat the backside and the ones to look out for were the green ones.  Finding a green ant, I try eating the backside.  “Well?,” Wolf asks.

It tastes like ant guts without a hint of sweet.  “It’s disgusting,” I tell him.  “Definitely not the one.”  We get a laugh out of this.  Ropes have been tied to the branches of some of the trees and we climb to the top and jump into the water like wild Neanderthals.

Every night I unroll my sleeping bag and sleep on top of the truck under the stars.  Wolf and I drive the truck through the sand along a beach area and make camp in a solitary area away from the other tourists.  Dry wood is easily accessible and scattered around the area.  We build a fire with flames that reach upwards of ten feet into the air, the licks of flames of which reach to the heavens.  We tell stories and jam on our guitars for a few hours and in the morning hundreds of cockatoos come to the area and wake us up.  One of the songs on our repertoire is of course Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd and I take to playing some slide guitar lead while Wolf strums and sings the rhythm part.  It’s the orchestrated sound of a jungle circus.

On one trail, we nearly run over a black glossy snake that appears aggressive; squirming about and making every futile attempt to bite at the giant piece of metal that hovers over it.  I’m no snake expert but I’m certain the snake would absolutely be classified as deadly poisonous.

Since we are running low on gas we hitchhike the 13 kilometers into one of the gorges and are picked up by a man who is on vacation by himself.  “My sister and I came out to this gorge at night time once and we saw the red eyes of many crocodiles,” he tells me.  We both have a strong desire to see this during the day.

The hike is easy and mostly flat along the gorge’s sandy bank.  Dozens of fresh-water crocodiles rest in the water and along the sand.  At first glance, many of them appear to just be logs floating along but at closer glance you can see that they are prehistoric survived reptiles.  It’s one of the most amazing atmospheres I’ve ever experienced.  We try to venture as close as we can get without feeling like we are in the croc’s territory to get pictures.  These are fresh water crocodiles and not as dangerous as salt-water crocs.  Still, there have been instances when fresh water crocodiles have attacked humans.

On the way back, we’re offered a lift from a car full of ladies.  The mother is old enough to be a grandmother and sits in the back with us.  Just to have fun, I have dressed up wearing one of Wolf’s ties that he had in his car and the ladies get a laugh out of this.  “You look ridiculous!,” she says and tells us to get in.  “But please,” she says in proper English humor,  “Do take that tie off!”

“Here’s the rubbish bin… should we drop you off there?,” she jokes with us.  She chides her daughter, who is driving to stop hitting the ruts in the road.  “Drive on the other side!,” she tells her.  “You’re giving us a headache back here!”

I take a dip in the cold water of the river back at camp but not for long, the thoughts of green reptiles with rows of jagged teeth that could potentially bite me in half still fresh in my mind.

May 30

We drive into Derby and Wolf decides that he wants to find some salvaged part for his Toyota 4-runner.  After asking the locals we somehow find our way to the “salvage yard” with in actuality turns out to be an Aboriginal community.  Asking around for directions to the salvage yard, we get confused looks and various offers to sell their vehicles.

Neglected houses in various stages of decay and a seemingly abandoned basketball court.  Broken doors, sagging porches, dirt roads, rudimentary shelters made of tin and wooden poles.  An Aboriginal woman approaches us, alongside her three young kids and a scraggly-looking dog.  Her eyes are a bloodshot red and she has a beer in her hand.  Sadly, this almost seems like a cliché.

“You have Ganja?,” she asks and sways from side to side.  We tell her that we didn’t come looking for Ganja nor do we have it.

We thank her for her time and we drive around the community.  One house has a Toyota 4-runner in the driveway and seems like it hasn’t been driven in years.  Wolf pulls into the driveway.  Four kids gawk at us, one of them wearing an AC/DC shirt.

A woman comes out onto the lawn and he explains that he is looking for a Toyota truck to take parts off of.  “How much you give me for car?,” she says.

“Well, I didn’t want the whole car, just some parts, but it has to be a manual transmission… is it a manual?”

“Ok, this one automatic.”

She tries to sell us her other car but it is not what Wolf is looking for.  Seeing that there is no sale to be made, she asks for a ride into town.  We would have happily given her a lift to town had the truck not been loaded to the brim.  In hindsight, I could have strapped myself to the roof if I had felt up to it.

This experience leaves me feeling slightly sad at their condition although there does seem to be a strong sense of community, tainted heavily by drugs and alcohol in this particular area.  It’s the all-too-familiar infliction of white man’s medicine in a place it shouldn’t be.

That night, we find a place to camp alongside the beach in Broome.  Gathering firewood along the beach before dark, we make ourselves a steady, slow-burning fire. We meet an old Australian who has been traveling the country long-term.  He joins us at our fire with his dog Blue.  A small crab comes in off the ocean and crawls near the fire for heat. I pull out the guitar and find myself playing guitar.

“You can play that guitar Yankee,” he says.  His dog Blue is anxious and seems like he wants to go explore.  “Blue sit down boy, you can’t go to the beach, there’s a four meter croc down there!”

He informs us that a giant crocodile has been spotted in the area recently.  Without a doubt, I’ll be sleeping on top of the truck for the night.

May 31

The sound of ocean waves washing against the shoreline was a comforting alarm in the dawn’s hour.  Wolf is already down at the ocean playing guitar, trying to work out the chords for Zeppelin’s Rain Song.

Tom, the man we had met the night before, invited us over for coffee at his site.  “I used to own a home along the coast of Sydney,” he says, pouring us both a cup.  “I wasn’t happy though, everyone leeching off you, I was lonely.  I live better just camping like with no bills.”

A few minutes later we walk back to our campsite where Wolf had left his guitar alongside the shore.  To his shock, it is now floating and submerged in the ocean.  He runs over to it and we quickly try to dry it off and set it on top of the truck to dry.  The guitar will definitely be damaged but perhaps we can prevent it from damaging further.

Lesson learned: never underestimate the tide and the tide is always changing, often faster than you might think.

June 1

Wolf and I make camp along Cable Beach in Broome, which despite the hype by other travelers, turns out to be a touristy spot.  It is a place that has changed much in the last ten years, the locals tell us.  Tourists ride an ocean path on the backs of camels in the setting sun.

Wolf and I depart and I find myself walking again, hitchhiking in a southern direction.  In a matter of minutes, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal guy who is a primary school teacher.  Five minutes into the ride he seems to be slightly irritated, maybe tired and then I realize that last night was rough and he’s sharply hungover.

“I’m hung over from the horse races last night mate,” he says.  I end up driving the 150 kilometers back to his community for him and he falls asleep in the passenger’s seat.  He hands me a banana and jots his name down on a slip of paper.  “If you get stuck, just call me,” he says.  “Might be able to put you up tonight if it’s ok with the wife.”

The desert is dry and hot and there is one car that passes by for every five minutes.  The next lift comes from a French guy named Vince.  He is heading to Port Hedland the next day, so I decide to camp at Shell Beach with him for the night.  Instead of paying for the camp, I just hike out to the Oceanside and sleep by myself in my sleeping bag.  The sound and caress of the sea breeze puts me to sleep.  It sure beats camping next to the noise of a bunch of other travelers and paying for it.

The sun is a red-rimmed fireball setting over the deep blue ocean, deeper than anyone can possibly fathom.  The colors change to reflections of purple, orange, yellow as it sets; the last remnants of light shimmering against wet ocean rock—then it’s a conclusion of a magnificent orange streak as the sun disappears here and reappears elsewhere in the world, giving way to a crescent moon, blue fading to black, families retreating to inland campsite for the evening, the crickets coming alive.

As I sit that night and watch the ocean swallow me alive, one feels insignificant and small.

June 2

Vince sets me off at the supermarket in Port Hedland, which is a massive mining town on a scale that I have never seen outside of Mt. Isa.  “It’s a strange town,” one of the locals tells me while I’m playing my guitar.  “ Possibly a temporary one, maybe we’ll be lucky if it lasts twenty years, destined to be a ghost town.”

He drops two Aussi dollars in my case.  “But don’t tell anyone I told ya that mate,” he says, smiles and walks off.

I make it to the edge of town from a guy named Ian, who picks me up in a large commercial truck filled with crumbles of concrete.  His job is to take the load to the local dumpsite.

“Why we bury the rubbish when we can recycle it, I don’t know,” he says.  “All we’re doing is polluting our country.”  Ian is an older-looking fellow, probably in his early sixties.

A lady at a small wooden booth checks us as we drive in.  “I’m Ian from Gay Edwards Plumbing, delivering this fine load of rubbish to you,” he says with a flashy smile.

“My company has to pay seventy dollars a ton to drop rubbish off here,” he explains to me.  “In Sydney, where I am from, it’s 360 dollars a ton!”

The scale weighs us and we are carrying 3.22 tons of concrete.

Ian has lived in Port Hedland for eight years and tells me he has grown to love the desolate areas.  “There’s no kind of super highway like there is from Los Angeles to Las Vegas,” he says.  “Here, there’s just a lonely road and the bush, mate.”

Ian is a self-proclaimed liberal.  “Anybody that says guns can curb violence is talking rubbish.  You can’t curb violence with more violence.”

He sets me off and I start walking until I’m given one short lift from a guy delivering some type of refrigeration unit.  I walk until dark and no rides come so I walk off into the bush and make quickly make myself a fire.  I heat up my canned beans for supper and read my book.  There is the sound of wind and nothing else and if solitude had a sound, it might sound just like it does now; a distant whisper in the wind.

June 3

Grace comes to me in the morning after walking for a few hours as the heat begins to rise.  I’ve got half a gallon of water left and it’s getting a bit depressing after the hundredth road train I count passes me by.  Suddenly, a silver road train with three long trailers pulls over to the side of the road.

The hitchhiker relies on impulsive attempts at good deeds.  I then meet Derek, who has been on the road for three days straight.  “My truck broke down in Broome,” he tells me.  “I had to wait on the side of the road for the mechanic.  It took hours. “His recent experience of being stranded in the outback is related, although mine is partially by choice and his was not I suppose.

“You know, they say Western Australia is the only place you can drive huge distances to somewhere to get to nowhere,” he says.  He explains that he is traveling all the way to Perth and it’s at that moment that I change my mind about going to Shark’s Bay and rather decide to ride with him all the way to Perth.  He seems like a great personality and would be good company.

We make a habit out of stopping at every roadhouse along the way.  The Australian government has made an effort to supply truckies with free coffee at every stop in order to keep them awake on lonely desolate roads.  “Where’s the next coffee?,” Derek always says with glowing eyes.  I think I’ve never drank this much coffee in a short period in my life.

When we pass another truck, he gets on the radio.  There is a lot of formal communication and formal bullshitting that goes on between the truckies.  It’s the rules of the road and the camaraderie that keeps them alive and in good spirits when they are away from their families.

“Hey mate, I’m about to step out on ya,” Derek cautions the driver in front of us.

“Righty-o mate,” the other driver responds.

We exchange stories, watch the passing scenery and Derek tells me a few cheesy and a few dirty trucky jokes.  “What do you call a cattle with no legs?,” he asks.  “Lean beef.”

Dead cattle and dead kangaroo litter the road like a great outback massacre.  In this part of the country, cattle are not required to be fenced in so often they wander into the road in a zombie-like state and are run over in the night by tons of truckage.  “We don’t worry ‘bout the cattle mate, we just run ‘em ova,” Derek explains.

We drive for hours and hours and it’s not until we get closer into Perth that scenery gradually changes from flat, dry desert to hilly, green terrain.

June 4

Derek sets me off on the outskirts of Perth as going into the big city of Perth with a giant three-trailer road train rig is unfathomable.  I’ll be hitchhiking to Coolgardie and the Stirling Ranges tomorrow.

June 5

I hitch out of Perth and a local retired school teacher drops me off near a man-made lake that I would not have found if I had not been hitchhiking.  “Water is hard to come by in Western Australia,” he tells me.  The lake is 5 kilometers all the way around and the water is ice-cold.  I swim a quarter of the way across and then rush back to land to dry myself off.

June 6

I sleep in Coolgardie on the hard ground in the middle of the bush.  The sleeping bag is covered in wetness and a thin layer of melting frost as the sun rises.  In the middle of the night a truck driver and pulls up next to my spot and is surprised to see me when I say hello; he wouldn’t have seen me if I hadn’t introduced myself in the dark.

“Thought I was hearing things!,” he says.  He takes time to clean and wipe out his cab.

I have various short rides all the way to Salmon Gums, which is a town small enough that you can only buy groceries at the local post office.

One guy that picks me up is a stocky Aboriginal who used to be a boxer and now works at a correctional facility.  He pulls over while I am hiking with my thumb out and even though he hadn’t initially seen me, he offers a ride in his Japanese Supra.  He shows me around town and takes me to a scenic overlook.

“This here is wheat country,” he says.  We are surrounded by green rolling hills and farmland.  “I’m from Melbourne, just moved here five months ago.” He says that he mostly deals with illegal immigrants from Iran and other areas of the Middle East that arrive by boat.

“The boat driver gets paid about 100 dollars per person to bring migrant workers to Australia,” he says.  His car is fast, efficient, and quiet as we cruise along the highway and a speed of 180/kilometers an hour.

Just before dark, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal man who is a Christian pastor.  “It’s a good job,” he tells me.  “We’re in the business of counseling, marrying, and burying people.”  He pops in a cassette of a local band, I imagine him as someone thoroughly involved in the community.  He pops in some Jesus-inspired country music and old-timer style porch bluegrass all the way to Coolgardie.  He offers me the rest of his KFC chicken.

We pass along miles and miles of pipeline.    “That water pipe goes all the way south,” he says.  “It’s for drinking water.”

He drops me off on the outskirts of town and it’s long since passed dark.

June 7

I  walk a bit this morning, and then get picked up by a guy heading home from working in the mines.  An emu, which is a prehistoric-looking bird similar to an ostrich darts across the road and we nearly hit it.  “We used to try and catch those when we were kids,” he says.

James tells me about his travel experiences, having spent time in Thailand and other parts of Asia.  He also had tried crickets and unknowingly once ate dog meat that his friends served to him.

He once stayed with the Aboriginals and says that they hunt ducks in groups, throwing rocks at them to scare them underwater and once they pop back up they are captured and cooked.  As we pass the train line, he tells me that is derailed just a few weeks back.  “The cars dragged for about four kilometers before the conductor even noticed,” he says.

Just as I got out, a man pulled over and offered me a lift the rest of the way to Esperance.  He said that first he had some errands to run, as he was searching for a caravan park to stay at.  I hike over to a tree-covered area and while eating my bread and peanut butter, a car driven with two guys inside and someone yells,”get out of there, cunt!” seemingly to express the intelligence levels of some of the local miners.

Ten minutes later, Ray comes back and gives me a lift the rest of the way.  “The government is run by idiots, selling farmland to the Chinese—what do you think will happen when the big drought comes in ten years?  The Chinese will feed their people while we starve!”

We pass miles and miles of farmland.  “It’s a different kind of farming on the west.  You could grow the same crops on 200 acres of land in the east as you do on 2,000 acres of land in the west.”  The land on the west coast is more dry and arid and with less overall rainfall, so farming can become more of a struggle than it is in the east.

“The French backpackers are wild,” he says.  Ray stays at caravan parks as a way of life.  “They go running around naked and what-not and the caravan people come out and say “hey! Get back inside!’  They’re real buggers,” he offers.

I busk with my music at the local supermarket for a bit and then walk to the ocean and set up camp along the sand dunes.

June 8

I wake this morning to an incredible sunrise; a deep red that only the ocean’s reflection can deliver.  It truly looks like one of those posters that people like to post up on the walls over their homes but this was in real-time.  While playing music at the supermarket, I meet a couple who had been cycling the world from England for 14 months on bamboo bicycles.  Anything is possible if you are willing to give up some creature comforts.

While playing at the supermarket I meet an eccentric character named Dita who invites me over to his place if I need a place to stay.  He has long hair and a way of expressing himself with the wave of his hands and a sly smile.

Later on I do make it to his house.  There is a homemade hammock in the backyard made out of poles from an old ship he found near the seaside.  He has a passion for drinking wine by the bottles and seems to be an almost devote alcoholic, amongst other things.  One of his favorite expressions is “Hoooot diggity!” as he pours us another glass of wine.  His home is full of a library’s worth of books and he’s the only person I’ve ever met that will read a Home Improvement book and Hitler’s autobiography at the same time.

At the kitchen table, he tells me a story about a professor who is trying to showcase to his students some highly-durable glass on the tenth floor of a building.  As he is pushing onto it, he falls to his demise below.  “There is probably a lesson there if you think about it for a month or so,” he tells me.

We converse a bit about life and anything that comes to mind over the dim glow of the chandelier in the small kitchen.  Three glasses of ride wine later, Dita pauses and says,” Well just remember, if you’re somewhere, you can’t be there, and if you’re there, you can’t be here.”  His glass is now empty.

“Anyways, do you have six dollars I can borrow?  I need six dollars.  We need more wine.”

I hand over a piece of my busking earnings and Dita runs off to the liquor store.

That night I also meet his roommate, who he refers to as the Cat Lady, as she is hosting about ten stray cats near the house.  She comes into the room, pale as a ghost and a blank expression on her face.  “Was there a dog in the house?,” she asks, with a nervous twitch.

“No, I don’t think there was,” Dita says.  Then the Cat Lady floats away to her room with the mysterious aura and grace only a feline creature can convey.  She disappears like the air we take for granted.

June 9

In the morning, there is a market going on down near the ocean side.  The town of Esperance is in the middle of a huge project of rebuilding the paths along the ocean side.  Iron ore ships depart from the dock, heading to China and who knows where else.  A Kool Cones ice cream truck passes by, spewing black smoke and kids run up in bliss.  Along the sidewalk, a man dressed sharply in blue paints under a sea mural on a Fish & Chips shop.

Dita and her friend drop me off on the outskirts of Esperance and save my legs the discouragement of walking the three miles to the edge.  I’m picked up in a matter of minutes by a couple from Switzerland; Swiss chocolates and excellent travel company ensue.  “These chocolates are fresh from Switzerland,” the girl tells me.  “I just flew into Australia yesterday.”

That’s how immediate and interconnected our modern world has become; we fly across the world in the same time it would have taken early day colonialists to travel five miles through rugged mountain terrain.

We pass through a national park area and see a few kangaroos hopping around the bush after dark.  Seeing them at night time along a dirt road is something truly special that one has to witness with his or her own eyes.  They just stare blankly at passing cars as if they’re just part of the natural landscape.  It’s no wonder that many of them get hit.  Their eyes stare stark into the headlights, waiting the moment of impact to carry them into the next phase, whatever that might be.

“I worked on a farm for two months and my boss recommended me to travel to Bremer Bay, so that is where we are going,” the Swiss guy says matter-of-factly.  “If my boss recommends it, I already know it’s a place worth going to.  He says that it is quiet and there are not many tourists.”

Sounds good to me, I tell them.  I’d be happy to go to that place, wherever it is.  That’s the benefit of having no time-frame and no itinerary—the traveler is open to voyage wherever the wind blows and often finds his or herself welcomed by locals with open arms.

That night, we roll into a solitary town and they stop to check-in at the caravan park and we depart.  I walk on along a dirt path alongside a river that connects to the ocean (I learn in the morning when there is light), but for now it’s dark and I can’t see anything so all I can tell is that I am close to some sort of body of water.  I meet a couple Irish travelers who have just finished fishing and are gutting their fish at a fish-cleaning station.

“It’s great fishing here!,” they tell me.

I trot along the trail until I find a spot that is well-secluded along the water side under the illumination of a pale, naked full-moon.  I camp there, in the soft sand to the gentle sweeping of water swell.  There is a sharp sulfuric smell in the air. The bloated clouds swoop over my camping spot and bring a soft rain.

June 10

I hike along the trail in the morning to the top of a cliff after hiding my backpack behind a bush near the public library, which is a tiny building where only one librarian seems to spend the morning by herself sweeping and drinking coffee. Bremer Bay felt like it was near-empty and all the tourists from the popular season have packed up and gone home.  The top of the cliff overlooks a section of ocean that is mesmerizing.  Bremer Bay is also a botanist’s dream landscape, with plants that are protected and found nowhere else on Earth.

I hitch out of the ghost town and get a lift from a wheat farmer, an Australian who has traveled through the States, and a man and his son who were surfing in Bremer Bay but go to Albany to stock up on food.

Once in Albany, I set up playing my guitar in front of a gas station after being kicked out of the supermarket by and old, balding, disgruntled manager.  I meet a guy named Ralf who was kind to invite me to dinner and his sense of humor, goodwill and his sincerity were so real that all I could say was “sure, why not.”

Ralf is an energetic, outgoing guy from Brazil and we have a jam with his nylon-string guitar at the kitchen table.  Together, his girlfriend and him make a dinner using organic ingredients.  They show me pictures of their epic trip to South America together; the pictures of the Andes mountain ranges are stunning.

While Ralf and I are at the supermarket getting groceries, he mentions that he had met in his travels a guy who was going around the whole world by only means of hitchhiking.  There was a traveler named Jeremy Marie that I had heard about online and read many of his blogs.  Come to find out, Ralf was talking about the same guy.  It really is a small world, especially when you are traveling.

They easily convince me that Denmark and Walpole are worth traveling to, so tomorrow I will hitch in a westward direction along the coast.

June 11

The ocean road that winds out of Albany fades into a green and hilly landscape of cattle pastures and farmland.  The clouds above are dark and grey and there is a cold breeze that tells me today is not going to be one of sunshine.  I’m first picked up by a woman whose father was a British military man and she traveled all over the world during her childhood and found herself in Russia during the Cold War period.

“There were always guards around our place I reckon,” she says.  “These days, I’m a chef.”

Having lived a life full and rich of travel, she now puts value in making roots somewhere.

She drops me off near the farm that she lives at.  There are still twenty or so kilometers left until Denmark.  The wind blows in a cold, misty rain and that transforms into a torrential downpour.  I find myself thoroughly soaked and shivering on the side of the road.  I’m pacing back and forth and no cars are coming by and there is not a shelter of any sort in sight.

A century later, a man comes coasting by in a little red car and says that he is heading to the farm and will pick me up on the way back.  He is a cattle farmer but only has 30 or so small cattle.

“I can only keep them till they get about 200 pounds or so,” he explains.  “Then I have to sell them for space.”  He also lived in South Africa for 27 years.

“My family used to be tour guides for the Americans on safari hunting expeditions,” he says fondly.  In the days of Ernest Hemingway and the like.  “Once my uncle was attacked by a lion that someone had shot but it was not yet dead.  It clawed him along his stomach a bit, mashed his legs up real bad—but he survived that one.  His partner put a second bullet into the beast.”

“But then it happened again, and that one he didn’t survive—an African man tried to save him by shooting the lion during the attack, but the bullet went through the lion and into my uncle, killing them both.”

Another life from a guy who travels and takes odd jobs on farms and makes documentaries.  “I’ve been doing this a while mate,” he says.  “There is no going back for me.”  He recommends a spot that might be amazing to hike and sleep at for the night.  “It’s called Conspicuous Cliff,” he says.  “I’m not going that far though, but I can drop you off at a spot where you’ll only have five kilometers to go.”

Then there’s another lift from a real estate agent to Conspicuous Cliff.  I meet an Italian guy named Tommy along the trail and I suggest that we climb to the top of Conspicuous Cliff, which we do.  The trails winds up sharply to a peak that overlooks the ocean.  There is the distinct smell of salt and a freshness you’ll never find in a town or city.  At the peak, the wind will blow you over if you let it; the ocean raw and untamed.  Our footprints are the only noticeable ones in the sand.  Aboriginal people used to hunt and live in these areas in days past.

Kangaroos hop by us along the cliff’s edge, easily maneuvering through trails that would be difficult, if not impossible for us to pass through.

Tommy and I talk about all kinds of things and at night it can’t help but go to the possibility of aliens and other worldly civilizations given the clear view of the night stars.

I hitch the rest of the way into Walpole for the night and find a shelter in a small dugout in the ballpark.  Good thing too, since it rains for a majority of the night.

June 12

After sleeping on a metal bench all night I wake up feeling like an elephant has slept on top of me.  I went to the Valley of the Giants, which is an ancient forest filled with some of the oldest, largest trees in the world.  I hiked along the scaffolding and decided that I’d rather hike along a dirt trail then an industrial railing made by humans.  Still, it was one of the most incredible hikes I’ve done before and I made it there before most of the heavy tourist traffic arrived.

Hitchhiking out of Walpole, I wait an hour to get my first lift.  The lady that picks me up says that her electric power is out at home.  “I just moved to the country side,” she tells me.  “It’s a lot different style of life than the pace of Perth.”

Her son sits in the back car seat.  “Can you fiiiix it?,” he asks.

Then it’s another lift from a girl who is also from Perth, who works in the Walpole café.  That morning, she’d put a new battery in her car and needed to drive it around to keep the charge.  “It’s hard to find a job in Perth,” she tells me.  “In Walpole, I have been offered four jobs since I moved.”  She’s a positive-energy, giggly person.

Then I’m picked up by a guy named Dan, who wears a beanie-cap and a smile that could melt a mountainside.  “I traveled all over Canada and Australia for a couple years,” he tells me.  “I was on the cruise ship from Canada to Alaska, and I was informed that the food onboard was expensive, so I stocked up on canned foods but later realized I had forgotten a can opener.  The chef said, ‘well what’s wrong, you don’t like our food?’ when I asked for a can opener, but says ‘see me in five minutes’ and he gives me an outstanding meal for three dollars—next thing I know, I wind up in the ship pub and all the Alaskan fishermen are buying me rounds.”

Dan drives a large white camper-style cargo van.  “I just bought this a week ago,” he says.  “My family plans to travel in it.”

Dan even invites me for a cup of coffee and says that if I want to come back to Denmark later on, I can stay at his place.  I’m back in Albany for the night.

June 13

Leaving towards Porongurup National Park the next day, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal lady who used to live and work in the mines in Newman for three months.  “You had to wear safety glasses, helmet, PPE for everything,” she says.  “It was just too hot and not even worth the money… there was air conditioning inside the mines, and I was getting 1,000 a week.”

Another ride comes from a farmer-type driving a Ute.  “I deliver wood chips for the farmers.  I go hunting with my son sometimes—feral animals—fox, cats, kangaroo, and deer mostly.  The process of getting a gun license is tricky in Australia.  First, you apply for it with an initial deposit, then you send in a permission slip for the kind you can hunt on from the owner, then you must have your gun inspected thoroughly to make sure it’s not a piece of crap, then you buy the gun, then you must prove you can safely store it, then you must wait nine months, maybe more.” He laughs.

“I’ll give you a ride all the way to the start of the mountain mate,” he offers.

I hike to the top of Castle Rock, which is a beautiful lookout that gazes onto farmland, clumps of thick gum trees; it’s colder here, you can feel the difference in the mountain atmosphere, even though the altitude is of no comparison to that of the Rocky Mountain Ranges of North America.  There are lots of birds in the area, a huge canopy of foliage, the constant chirping of the creatures of the tree tops.  The more one spends in nature, away from civilization, the more one feels at ease and peace.

There is nobody around, so I camp out on top of a picnic table that is sheltered by a tin-roofed gazebo.  The birds chatter well into the night, seizing once dark, but when the full moon shines it reminds them of daylight and they start again.

June 14

I have the climb (Devil’s Peak and Nancy Peak) mostly to myself this morning, only rain into one local; I started early before the other tourists arrive.  The one man I run into seems truly happy, on his morning walk, which he says he does about “three times a week.”  There is a big conservation movement that he is a part of.  He shows me green forest that was completely burned out six years ago.  “It’s amazing how quickly lush it re-grows itself,” he says.

I tell him that I am hiking to the top of Devil’s Peak.  “Ah, the view at the top is rubbish!,” he jokes.  He has German heritage and a good sense of humor.

I get a lift from a Singaporean couple, who seems surprised that I actually spent a day in Singapore.  Another lift from an Italian who works on a nearby farm but was heading into Albany since he had the day off.  He tells me he tried to see the local racetrack but security told him it was twenty-five dollars, which he didn’t have as he was also a poorly-financed traveler.  So he then went to find a secret entrance, which he then found to be an electrified fence—but he did manage to sneak in a different way, only with the small cost of a small shock.

I make it back to Albany for the night and walked to the ocean’s meeting of the land, where society and blinking lights and progress could stretch no further.  You can watch the fast-pace of a developing ocean town; it seems that many people live out-of-town and come into Albany for supplies.  This town was built much differently than Esperance.

June 15

Head back towards Denmark, the first ride coming from a Scandinavian couple who were backpacking Australia.  They play Scandinavian metal music through a couple crackling speakers.  Another lift comes from a local going to surf with his friends nearby.  He tells me about his travels hiking in Shrilanka, where even eighty-year olds hike to the peak.  “The entire event was lit by candles,” he tells me.  “It was a surreal feeling.”

Another couple that picked me up was working on their master’s thesis for college.  “A bottle of wine and the ocean ought to help,” he says.

Then I’m picked up by Matt, and we spontaneously travel west of Walpole.  He wears a cowboy hat and has been on the road for a long time.  He walks along the oceans’ rocky jagged edges.  He finds a small dead puffer fish washed up along the shore.

We talk about the dangers of travel, life, and other things.  “People are finding different ways to die all the time,” he says.  “Why not live with a little danger, climb at your own risk?  This is what we were born for.”

The ocean is a giant tub of water, gradually sucking in all of the coast line.  It makes it easy to open your thoughts along a solitary beach.  Matt has been living out of his truck for a long time and just pulls out his tent along the ocean and goes to sleep wherever he ends up.  It’s not an easy way to live in some ways, yet it’s complete freedom from the weight of the rest of the world while being a complete disconnect at the same time.  He lives off social security and occasional cash-in-hand type jobs.

“I’m a socialist,” he says at the campfire.  “The government is sending our resources to places like China, so I don’t believe in it.  I live free, traveling this country to wherever I want—I follow my own curiosity, not money.”

He puts on a J.J. Cale album and it fills up the night air.  I tell Matt that I’ll meet up with him in the morning and head off to the ocean to lay down my sleeping quarters for the night.

June 16

I borrow one of Matt’s sheepskin pads to sleep on and in the morning I read some more of my current novel.  There is the sound of waves crashing into the ocean, birds cawing as they flutter by, the wind in the sand.  When I look up, ten or more dolphins are riding the waves towards shore.  I throw down my book and run alongside the sand and follow them along the rocky edge until they disappear, too far into the deep-end to see from shore anymore.

Matt and I go hiking along the edge of the ocean, exploring everything we possibly can.  Matt handles the ocean like a regular explorer; with an eye for everything and a keen compass for route choice.  He carries his boots on his pack and goes barefoot everywhere, placing one foot on a clump of sand and sliding down thirty feet to the bottom with grace as the clumps fall apart, working like a natural elevator.  I try the same thing and nearly twist my ankle; there are things you’ve got to learn.

Matt is completely driven by genuine curiosity and it is infectious; we get along particularly well.  We climb to the top of a rocky cliff and he disappears for awhile.  I take off my clothes since nobody is around and dip into a cold inlet completely naked.  The tide sweeps me back and forth.  It’s a liberating and vulnerable feeling.  There is that premonition that the ocean could take you to its mercy and throw your head into a jagged rock or a shark could come and clutch you in its jaws—yet this mostly is only an internal fear, out of context and out of reality.  Anything could happen, at any given moment.  Why worry?  I wash up onto a hard rock and walk barefoot along the rock.  Nobody is around for miles—I imagine that this is what humans used to do before modern times.  Imagine the ancient Aborigines, walking naked along this coastline for the first time, the first human footsteps ever on the shore, the sense of awe they would have had.  Hunt, tell stories over campfires, ponder some of the same questions that we still do.  Except now everything is so stressful and fast-paced that we barely have time to acknowledge these things.  If you do, people tell you that your head is in the clouds and the mainstream mentality is to habitually turn on the TV and stop thinking for yourself.  We’ve forgotten to explore and to appreciate that some things go beyond understanding.

The sun dries me off quickly, standing naked and alive on a massive rock.  More than half of the rock is submerged in the ocean.

“You just have to go ‘wow’,” Matt says when I meet up with him later.  He ventures much further than I do since he is a more experienced climber while walking along jagged rock, the ocean splashing beneath us, Matt tells me that he’s not always confident when he goes swimming in the ocean.  “You know, a shark could come along and pull me under.  Or I could fall, hit my head on a jagged rock and it would all instantly be over.  But that’s life, mate.  That’s life, isn’t it?”

We take the Toyota 4-wheel drive and take single-track dirt roads along the coastline.  We pass by an underground campground that looks more like an outdoor house that is designed for people to stay in.  “I wouldn’t want to camp here,” he says.  “Here, you might actually have to talk to and negotiate with people.”

Inside Matt’s Toyota, the dashboard is full of eagle feathers, shells, puffer fish, sandstone, and other treasures that he has found along the ocean.  While cruising down a dirt track we come across a couple emus, their instincts being to run off as fast as possible.  I do the same thing, and sprint as fast as I can, chasing them along the track.  My own instincts, somehow repressed, immediately kick back in.  They are impossible to catch, running upwards to speeds of 30 miles per hour.

Matt sets me off near the trail next to the paved road in the morning and I camp in a thick forest of gum trees. He offers me an old inflatable camping mattress that he doesn’t use anymore.  “You’re doing alright mate,” he says.  We wish each other luck and he begins to drive off, but not before offering his final words.  “All we are is dreams,” he says, and disappears at that.

I’ve finished reading the book Ramses, a fictional story about life in Egyptian times.  I use it as kindling to get my fire started.  I would be honored if some day a rugged traveler burned one of my books to keep warm at night.

In the night, a kangaroo comes hopping over but I can’t tell that it’s a kangaroo in the pitch-black of night.  It sets my heart beat racing and a lay there completely still until I can make certain that it is only a kangaroo, albeit most likely a large male.  I slowly sit up and once it notices me lying on the forest floor, it comes closer from the other side of the tree (curious), then darts away like a bullet in the direction it came from.  The feeling is both primal and magical.  Amazing creatures that they are, kangaroos have adapted to withstand the conditions of every corner of the sunburned country.

June 17

I stumble out of the brush in the morning, greatly lacking coffee.  Two gigantic RV campers pull over along the winding forest road and offer me a lift.  “Two campers full of Asians” is how John put it later when he sent me an e-mail to reconnect and say hello.  They have quite the convoy and a couple radios to stay in contact with each other.  John works in Australia and the rest of his extended family is visiting the country from Vietnam.

“I work for the immigration office and catch a lot of people working illegally,” he says.  He offers his opinions on the Aboriginals in Australia.  “The problem with the Aboriginals is that they are pressured into living in a society that is not theirs.  Their bodies can’t handle sugars, that’s why there is a lot of diabetes, alcoholism, stuff like that.”

I tell him about the dolphins that I saw the day before.  “Maybe you were a dolphin in your past life,” he says.  “Or maybe even a prisoner!”

They travel almost the exact opposite way that I travel, with everything meticulously planned, kilometer by kilometer, meal by meal, place to place, every accommodation booked in advance; it’s interesting to see travel from this perspective.  He shows me a log book that is crammed with things to do for every half-hour.  Staying on schedule seems like a chore to me and doesn’t offer enough room for spontaneity. On the other hand, you can’t really do that easily when you’re traveling in a group of fifteen or more people and loaded with children.

We go back to the Valley of the Giants and afterwards I jump out at Conspicuous Cliff— something has been pulling my soul back to the place and I have to explore more by myself before I make my way further east.  So I venture over the cliff, where I find crabs and the tide comes in, along with some rain later into the climb. I follow the paths the kangaroos have made through thick brush.

There is the feeling of isolation in climbing and hiking to areas where no one is around; the ocean makes one feel small, as it should.  The rain chases me off the trail and makes me change my mind as not to stay near the ocean for the night.  I hitch a ride back towards Denmark from an Irish girl and her Australian boyfriend.  They are good-humored and cheerful company and set me off further than they were originally going, given the weather conditions.

I hang out with a wild-roaming local dog with one green and one blue eye for a few minutes and was then offered a lift from a local man.  He is a carpenter and built houses around the area.  “It’s nice because I can work when I want and go surfing when I want to,” he says.

I connect with Dan and take him up on his offer to stay at his place for a night.  What first ensues is a fantastic meal of grilled kangaroo, which is a gamey red meat that tastes best when cooked medium-rare.  He takes out his digareedoo, which is an Aboriginal instrument that makes a deeply percussive sound.

Dan tells me a bit about his Irish history and how his ancestors first came to the continent of Australia.  “My great great grandfather stole bread in England along with his brothers so they could get deported to Australia with all the other convicts,” he tells me.  Unfortunately, as fate would have it, his great great grandfather’s brother never made it to Australia and instead was sent to Canada, where they never saw each other again.

Dan takes me to the school that he teaches at and I meet a mix of teachers and students and even get to participate in the local music program.  Jamming with the kids reminds me of the initial spark and enthusiasm when I first started playing guitar and making music.  Music can communicate things that no language has ever been able to achieve.

June 18

The daylight brings more rain and Dan and I go hiking around the area, the rain not stopping our desire to drive around and do a bit of hiking between spouts of hot tea breaks.  The impressions of how difficult life must have been for the early Irish settlers– it must have been brutal to an umpteenth degree.  Cold and unforgiving weather conditions, clearing canopy all day by hand and horse, with no leisure time whatsoever–just pure survivalism– this is what the settlers had to contend with.

Much of the trees in the region thrive off fires and re-growth after large burnings that happen every few years.  Some vegetation shoots right up after a good burn.  The trees are resilient and it is amazing how fast they can grow back within months.  The distance that Dan and I hike along the trail that takes ten minutes may have taken the early settler’s days.

On our walk, Dan tells me how the Aboriginals would build a stone structure nearest to the shoreline so fish would swim into it under high tide, and once the tide receded they could swoop in and collect the fish.  Aboriginals are some of the most resourceful and creative people in the world, especially when it comes to surviving.

 

June 19

I wake up from my six-star slumber on a bench outside the local library in Albany and decide to hitchhike to the Sterling Ranges.  It takes a few hours to catch a lift once I am on the outskirts of town but it proves well worth the wait, as it almost always does.  Patience pays off.

He is a local man who is both a tradesman and a beekeeper.  “I’ve read hundreds of books about beekeeping, I’m the second largest beekeeper in town and I know fuck all about beekeeping mate,” he tells me straight-laced.  He uses the huge distances he travels when working to think about his family and new ways to make money and provide for them.  Altogether, this man is a true-blue family sort.

“There is this philosopher and I’ve read some of his books,” he says.  “He reckons that if humans lived like bees, we’d have true harmony and world peace.  No wars, no poverty, no rich, no poor, people doing everything for the great good– no greed whatsoever.”  Beekeeping is a never-ending pursuit of experience and knowledge– knowledge of livestock (bees), a bit of botany (knowing the plant life), a dose of environmentalism, and a healthy study of weather.

I hitchhike to the Stirling Range and climbed to the peak of Bluff Knoll.  One man that picks me up on the way is a farmer and says that some of the eagles have occasionally tried to grab his young sheep.  “A lot of people don’t believe it,” he says.  “But the eagles will have a grab at the young sheep.  Bloody oath.  If the eagles are hovering over my sheep and looking curious like they might have a go at ‘em, I will shoot at them if I have to.”

He takes his eyes off the road momentarily and shoots me a glance.

“But don’t tell me anybody that though, cause they’re endangered.”  He drops me off and peels off in his Ute, leaving a thick poof of dust.

The Bluff Knoll climb begins with a paved walkway, which is how any major climb that caters to tourists would be expected to begin, for better or worse.  The incline then increases sharply with rocky platforms to the top, curving along one half of the bluff.  Near the top, I find myself staggering at my heart beating a solid THUMP THUMP of booming presence.  At the summit, the clouds on break up a bit, and over the ledge you can almost feel the sheer drop by the break of the wind and the clouds that hang around all day.

I almost camp out at the mountain’s base but ran into some humored cyclists who poke fun at me first but then offer a lift down to the bottom.  As I write in my journal, one guy asks me, “Are you writing your will?”

“Yes,” I tell him.  “I will these two cans of creamed rice…”

Ten minutes later, he meets me while walking down the mountain trail and drops me off at a local café that is closed for the season.  Across the street, bagpipes can be heard at the caravan park.  “The guy that owns the caravan park charges too much anyways,” the cyclist says dryly.  The cyclist tells me a story about how his friend got popped in Colorado fifteen years ago for driving while piss drunk.  The traveler is always seen as some kind of ambassador for his or her own country or residence, whether he or she wants to or not.

I sleep under the veranda of the café and I can occasionally hear a critter scamper inside the metal roof during the night.  Apparently, the café is not completely closed for the season.

 

June 20

I make it back to Ralf’s house and we have another flamenco-guitar style jam in his kitchen.  Ralf’s neighbor comes over and is an animated, gregarious sort of personality that loves to talk.  He tells us a story about a giant snake, which is a rumored but officially undiscovered species of Australia.  It lives in trees and can grow to be upwards of twenty feet long.  It’s a bit similar to Bigfoot theories in North America– heavily reported yet elusive and an unofficial species.

He tells us a story about a saltwater crocodile that seems to far-fetched to be true, yet I’ve already heard this story from an Australian I had met earlier in the trip.  Brendan leans over the table and nearly talks in a whisper, pure fascination.  “I’ve tested my Aboriginal friend a few times, and his word seems to be good,” he offers.  “There was an Aboriginal man who was dragged down by a saltwater crocodile and the croc dragged him to the bottom of the water and shook him to try and snap his neck and kill him but he somehow survived it.  When the man woke, he was in the croc’s nest and had to break through branches to find his way out.”

He is excited for the morning, as a friend has invited him to a breeding site nearby of endangered species of Australia.  “I’m not allowed to say where it is, it’s top secret,” he says.  “Imagine what would happen if criminals found out where it was.  There would be too much money offered for any of the rare birds and somebody would inevitably try to break in. There are millions of dollars inside that building.”

I try to joke with him and press him as to where it is but he just smiles and won’t offer me a hint as its’ whereabouts.

June 21

As the sun rises, I find myself standing outside a low-traffic country road and unsure of the direction the road leads.  Generally, I know that I’m headed in a northward direction.  As my luck has it, a miner from Kalgoorie picks me up and is heading home after spending some time with his family.  Where else could a lift offered from a miner end up besides the local pub?  There we sit, marinating on a few drinks and some casual conversation.  An hour later, I’m invited to a bonfire with a bunch of other miner friends dressed up at a costume party for his mate’s thirtieth birthday party.  Two guys are dressed up as Spiderman, one couple dressed up as Dorothy and the Tin man from the Wizard of Oz, amongst other things.  There is no irony lost in the fact that I am in Oz land (Australia).

Only three beers later, there are two acoustic guitars being passed around and Spiderman walks around drunkenly and squirts water into the fire.  I carve out a pick from an old credit card and we have a jam.  We grab a taxi and make our way to a miner’s kind of bar where the bartenders are all young attractive women dressed in nothing but bikinis missing the top half.  A cover band plays lots of songs from the eighties hair metal genre and the beer flows like a river.  I find myself starting to speak more freely and blend in with the miners.  They introduce me to the Australian concept of a beer snorkel, which is exactly what it sounds– a snorkel inserted into the top of a beer bottle so the beer chugs down your throat at rapid speed.

“Most miners make around 3,000 a week,” one man I meet around the campfire says.  He says that he is currently taking a “redundancy” which is when the company pays a worker to leave since they are running out of work.  The miners all seem to agree that this is a common practice in the field.  Mines shut down, workers are let go, and the corporations move elsewhere to exploit resources.

“America to me is a place of extremes.  I’m not sure I’ve ever met an average American,” the Tin man offers.  “Every American I’ve met has been an eccentric.”  I learn that night that the proper pronunciation of Australia in this neck of the continent is “Straya’, cunt!”  Political-correctness is not an accepted concept in a dim-lit bar of a mining town.

 

June 22

Brad takes me to the Super Pit on the way to the road out of town in the morning.  The view in front of me is indescribable, like many things that I see during my travels but I will attempt to put it into words.  The Super Pit is a giant hole in the ground which has been heavily mined by numerous companies since the early-eighties.  It is like an entire village of miners, some channels and holes going deep into the Earth.  From the top of the hole, the enormous pieces of equipment appear microscopic.

After Brad drops me off, I stand along the roadside for about an hour.  It begins to get cold and windy as the cold front rolls in overhead.  Two kindly-mannered ladies eventually pick me up.  “Guess where we are coming from?,” the one in the passenger seat asks.  “The prison!” She throws back her head and laughs.

Funny enough, this isn’t the first person that was in route to or from the local jail and I tell them this.  She tells me that her son is in jail for the possession of drugs.

“We couldn’t even sit next to each other when visiting, only facing each other,” the driver says.  “ The maximum security women have is better off than the minimum security men have,” she says.

After driving for a bit, Dawn invites me to stay at their place for the night since it’s raining.  “You can sleep in the garage,” she says.  The next thing I know, I’m invited in for dinner and in the company of an experienced traveling couple who spent two years sailing around Australia.  I meet Celia, who is a Philippine woman staying at the farm in a camper in the garage.

Over dinner of Philippines food and wine, the husband George offers insight into their travels.  “Sailing around, you meet some characters,” he says.  “We actually had one guy offer us his cattle station and a house in Sydney in exchange for taking him to America plus an incentive of thirty grand in cash.  It was too good to be true,” he says.  “He was obviously trying to get away from someone.  We said no to that one!”

“Another guy we met wanted us to move drugs from Asia to Australia, which we definitely said no to of course but they guy said that ‘we knew too much’  so we packed up, through our shit in the vessel, and set sail out to Cairns as fast as we could.”

“Fifteen years ago, Thursday Island used to be the hot spot for illegal immigrants,” he continues.  “They’d take a boat to the island and then fly into Australia from there.”

Two French guys who have been working at the farm and cutting wood on their property for a few weeks are departing the next day.  George makes them sing “Waltzing Matilda”, which is a nationalistic tune that sounded worse the more alcohol was consumed, despite the locals often insisting that it sounded better.

“Oh, I’m all buggered,” George says an hour or so later.  I’m back in Esperance and sleeping on the garage floor at the farm next to Celia, the magical woman from the Philippines.  It almost feels like a home.

 

June 23

On the road, we pass a woman who is pushing a cart weighing approximately 60 kilos around Australia, fighting against and increasing awareness of depression.  She hands us business cards, sweat dripping down her face.  “These cards have helped hundreds,” she says.  At the bottom of the card is the number to a suicide hotline.

I imagined what it must be like to be pushing a cart around sometimes redundant and desolate areas; even by car the landscape can become monotonous.  I wonder how she manages to camp along the roadside at night, or if she always books some sort of motel or lodging.

I spend the day helping at the farm, falling a few trees and burning the pile, stockpiling firewood.  Dawn places a small lizard on my backside, which decides to become comfortable and crawls over me for an hour while I work.  I try lemonade fruit straight from the tree, which tastes like a sour candy but better.  Somehow, I’ve lucked out and fallen into the hands of incredible people.  The farm is full of hand-crafted ornaments made of recycled and re-used discarded objects.  None of the plants on the farm are native and the couple uses the land also as a campsite for travelers.

Over dinner, we listen to bands from an earlier era before my time (pre-Beatles) that I’d never heard before.  They told me more stories about sail boating around the world.  George built his own boat from scratch, which took him about six years to complete.

“I once came face-on with a brown shark while I was trying to fix part of the boat in a full wet suit because of jelly fish in the area.  The brown shark just stared at me and I about had a heart attack but eventually the thing let me be.”

 

June 26

I nearly make myself at home at the farm, having been welcomed with open arms.  I help around the farm with what I can, one of the tasks being digging a trench to find a buried telephone pole along the dirt driveway.  As I am working, Chas drives up in his Ute (a local that I had met a few days earlier who frequented the farm) and invited me to go fishing for salmon along the ocean.  I gladly set down my shovel and jumped in the Ute.

We listen to the band Corrosion of Conformity in his Ute on the drive in.  The day before I had spent cycling along the miles of rich coastline where surfers and fishermen congregated.  We set up a fishing pole inside a tube of PVC piping and he sets the cast far out into the ocean.  The crabs pick away at our bait.  “The fish always bite when I try to light up a smoke,” he says as he smokes a cigarette. Still, there are no bites.  “It’s the one time I get grumpy when I have a bite,” he jokes.

Eventually, Chas decides to choose plan B and throws some shark bait on the line (half a salmon.) Still, we have no luck, although there is a bite but the fish somehow snaps the line.  Most likely it was because I held the line to straight, causing too much tension.  Even though we don’t catch anything, the experience of fishing along the ocean is a first and its one to remember.

Every morning, Celia and I have small-talk conversations over a pot of coffee in the garage and she introduces me to Novah, her friend who is also from the Philippines.  I stay at the farm in total for nearly a week and on the last night they have a party in which everybody dances in the living room over the sound of blasting dance music and shared laughter.  Because George and Dawn are so inviting to strangers, their lives are rich and full of laughter, probably a level above the mundane lives of most.

 

June 30

Dawn gives me a lift back into town and I spend one last bit of my time in the seaside town of Esperance.  I keep my promise and return to Dita’s house and knock on his door.  He is surprised to see me and invites me in for a glass of wine.  We exchange books and he bites off a page of one book that someone has written a message and just says, “I don’t like it when people write in books.”  Being quite the character, he spit’s the piece of chewed paper onto the ground.  “Hoooooot diggity-dog!”

He then calls up Mrs. White, tells her jokingly “we have an emergency.“  She shows up to his house in five minutes.  They have a quick dance and laugh while I play my guitar and set me up on the outskirts of town for the hitch.

Ten minutes later, a lift arrives from an old-timing miner, who has the ins and know-hows of just about everything to do with the Australian mines.  His hands are weathered, dry, callused, belonging to a working man.  “I’m the superintendent now,” he says.  “Used to work the underground, but not anymore… my foot once got stuck in the ground and they kept filling it in, I’m lucky I was able to undo me boot.”

“We do 9 days on, 5 days off now, so I live near Esperance and work in Norseman,” he says, laughs.  “Management changes about once every four years.  The Chinese own a lot of the mines these days.”

He grunts in between breaths, an exhausted sigh, perhaps the effects of years of hard labor.  “The mill’s working conditions are my responsibility,” he says.  “It’s safety before production.  You have to remember that mate.  To remember to value people over profits– but too often management doesn’t consider that these days.  The new management fired all the top honchos first thing– they were flying to Hawaii and California for meetings and stuff, a complete waste.  They try to cut corners now and I recently had to stick up for one of my workers.  The grinder wasn’t working properly, they wanted this employee to go in and work it, so I flagged the foreman, and then they flagged me back so I said ‘well, I’ll be calling the inspector then.’  They tried to fire me, but they sure weren’t successful– safety before production mate.”

He tells me how they drill a hole, fill it with a concrete paste after dynamiting it, then work the area for gold and iron-ore.  “This way they can work without the dirt caving in,” he says.  He sets me off in Norseman and I wish him luck and he says,” I hope ya get another ride.”

Norseman is a big sprawl of a town, with many fly-in, fly-out miners.  Temporary mining housing fills most of the inner-town landscape.  I walk a mile or so out of town and nobody picks me up as nightfall quickly approaches. One woman pulls over to say hello and is going all the way to Adelaide but has promised her husband that she “wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers.”

I walk off into the bush and make a fire before it’s pitch black and set up camp for the night.

The wood in this area is dry and burns easily, hot and burning slowly.  I sit and watch the flames flicker, dance along the gum wood.  Dry leaves and sticks that I find work good for temporary light as they burn bright.

 

July 2

First, I receive a lift from a man and wife who are grey-nomading around Australia, doing an even where you play a hole of gold at every roadhouse along the way.  “It encourages tourism to places that people usually pass on by,” he says.  The man first sees me with my thumb out while passing along the road on a morning bicycle ride.

They have been traveling for a few years and seen much of Australia, including the Tom Price National Park, which I pass over this time around.

Another guy gives me a lift about 300 kilometers who has the appearance of an Elvis reincarnation.  The well-worn voice of Elvis plays over his speakers.  He is a retired fisherman heading to pick up his son from the jetty, who spends weeks at a time catching crawfish at sea in wooden-baited crates, most of which get sold and shipped to China’s growing market, feeding the massive population.

“We get the leftovers here in Australia,” he jokes, sincerity in his voice.  His son pulls in at the end of very day to sleep on land, as opposed to how he used to sleep on the often rough sea waters.  “It’s hard to find workers that stick around,” he says.  “We’ve been through 7 in 2 weeks time.”

In this desolate country, there are landing strips for emergency helicopters.  “It’s not a good place to get bent and twisted out here,” he says.

A man named Drew picks me up eventually and gives me a lift all the way to Port Augusta.  He tells me that his son is setting off on a journey by motorcycle around the world and he has been helping him prepare the bike.  The miles roll on and on along the flattest and straightest stretch of road in Australia and eventually we arrive in Port Augusta.

He sets me off and I take a shower at the servo station and when I get out of the shower, hot water still on my skin I realize that my sleeping bag has somehow rolled out of my backpack.  Being that the sleeping bag is an essential item that keeps me warm at night, I panic and quickly throw on some clothes and race out of the bathroom to ask the employee working if I can borrow a phone.  It is truly a blessing that Drew happened to give me a business card with his phone number written on it!  Ten minutes later, I do manage to get hold of him and he says that he will drop the sleeping bag off at the local pub in Wilmington, which is 60 kilometers out of town.

So I hitch out of town and flag people down with a wave of my hands since my situation is becoming somewhat desperate as dark settles in and the temperature begins to drop.  I get a lift from one guy coming back from working at the local mines as well as a 17-year old kid who is a volunteer fireman for the town of Wilmington.  He tells me a story about a Frenchman who recently got turned around while hiking in the Flinders Ranges and they had to come in with a helicopter to save him.  I walk into the pub where four locals are seated and my sleeping bag is at the end of the bar stand.  I wanted to buy the Good Samaritan a beer at the pub but he was seventeen, one year shy of the drinking age in Australia.  The firefighter sets me off at the top of the Flinders Ranges trail and I take shelter by the base of a large tree to block the strong winds that rage down the mountain pass during the night.  All the other travelers are cozy in their caravans while I am out in the elements.

The night proves cold, with lots of wind coming from the ridge, no wood nearby for a fire, having been used up quickly by the other campers.

 

July 4

I walk along the dirt trail in the morning, following the rising sun like something straight out of an old western movie.  I get a lift immediately from a couple that are from Adelaide and heading home.  They are engaged to get married, tomorrow being their “official day of engagement.”

While driving, the girl gets a call from her mother, inviting her to her adopted brother’s wedding in Namibia (she used to live in South Africa).  The story about him was that he was brought to a German-influenced school during the expansion of Hitler’s regime and was treated harshly so they took him under their wing and now he was grown and getting married, having become an artist and a painter.

The guy tells me that Port Lincoln used to be the originally most populated city in the area but the shore proved too rocky for ships to dock, so Adelaide became the new hub.

In Adelaide, I meet back up with my artsy friend Jessica and venture to downtown via the bicycle trail.  The pace of the city seems drastic having spent the last month in open farmland and ocean country.  Everyone seems to have an agenda, a deadline, a deal to make– there just isn’t time for a thought that doesn’t involve business, perhaps, at least that’s what shows.  A group of young people carry boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts.  Men and women can be overheard talking about business.  Names like Statravel, Marcs, Tony Biance, Padly Pallin, American Apparel, Mountain Designs, and McDonald’s fill the area.  A lone old woman paces slowly through the city streets amongst the masses with her cane– the only person that looks genuinely happy.  Many faces appear to be frowns, under a constant invisible pressure.

 

July 5

Jessica is still on the road during her trip with friends to Canaberra, so I take watch over the husky dogs.  They take to plopping down in the bed and attempting to take over at night and setting off landmines of dog poop in the paths that I will walk through.  I take them for a walk in the mornings and they thank me by chewing up my jar of peanut butter, pieces of slimy-slobbered plastic decorating the tile floor.

 

July 6

In Australia, I would not trust the adage that “pedestrians always have the right-of-way.”  People seem to drive differently here, and not that Australians mean anything by it– they are often hospitable and accommodating, but you can come to the conclusion that a vehicle weighs more than the average human, so therefore a pedestrian is better to be wise and get the hell out of the way.

I spent the day cycling with my new friend Brendan along the bike paths.  I take the dogs for a walk and later the young pup sneaks out of the house, seemingly vanishing out of thin air and I chase her around the neighborhood a bit before convincing her to come back with the lure of a can of tuna.

 

July 7

On the bus, I meet a Malaysian man who speaks of the developing world with wisdom.  “Once a country becomes developed, there is no going back– they might try to live simply, but it becomes impossible to do so.”

I’m picked up by a guy originally from Liverpool, England who has what initially sounded like a heavily-coated Irish accent.  He moved to Australia about 15 years ago with his family.  “The road in between Adelaide and Murray Bridge used to have no traffic at all back then– things here have changed!”

Now cars zip on by the highway in a blur of heavy traffic.

“I thought it was post-Apocalypse or something when I first moved here, being used to the heavy traffic in England.”

The distances between towns were also a real culture-shock for him.  “Now my son drives from Adelaide to Melbourne to meet a friend for pizza!,” he jokes.  He tells me that his friend does sound engineering for big-name music acts and has had no lack of work, having once had to turn down an offer to do the sound for David Bowie since he was already booked.  “My friend always wears ear protection,” he says.  “If he loses his hearing, he loses his work.”

It’s not until after he drops me off that I realize that my forgotten sleeping pad is still back in Adelaide.  I cross the road and head in the direction that I’ve come from.  I’m picked up by a man that has been hunting red deer this morning, looking for a buck that had been spotted by his friend’s cattle paddock.  He had no luck and lives at the top of a hill in Adelaide.

Then I get a ride back into town from a guy driving a BMW who says that he hitchhiked around Australia 35 years ago.  “Perth to Port Augusta was still all dirt roads then,” he says.  “Semis only carried one trailer.  It was easy to get lifts.  People are so paranoid these days, it pisses me off mate.”

We drive by China town and he comments that “all the Chinese development in Adelaide is crazy.”  It’s a sharp contrast to the Chinese woman I had met earlier in the day who had told me that “China town was a great place where I could get whatever I wanted to eat.”

He had six kids in their late twenties, all of them avid world travelers.

I ride the bus back to Jessica’s place.  We watch a documentary on solar and wind energies of the future.  There is a resistance to the green movement by greedy corporations rooted in old ways of burning massive amounts of coal and exploiting earthly resources.

 

July 8

Jessica and I spend the day hiking a bit in the Adelaide countryside, taking the dogs with us.  The young pup, being the ever-defiant one, likes to run away and play catch-me-if-you-can.

 

July 9

A lift from a guy who works for Penfold’s Wine and is heading to work at the vineyards.  He usually sprays for weeds but says he “might not have work if it keeps raining since all the spray washes away.”  A truck drives by with his company’s logo on the side.  The rain doesn’t look like it’s going to let up.

Another lift comes from a nurse in the pouring rain, says that she used to hitchhike all the time.

A farmer offers a lift and gives me his opinion on the political landscape.  “This development comes in and destroys the communities we had,” he says.  “Big government has their agenda; public opinion doesn’t even matter anymore.  Nothing is grown in Australia anymore; the attitude is to grow it God-knows-where, slap on a ‘made in Australia’ sticker, maybe a kangaroo sticker or something like that and call it good.  The new counselor ignored the opinions of 17,000 people to increase development in our farm town– there’s no going back to it mate.”

As he lets me out, the sun is finally shining and the hills are flooded with water.  I find myself soaked but beginning to dry off.

“Good on ya mate,” the farmer says.  “Have a good trip home.”

Then I’m picked up by two women on the outside of town and I end up staying with one for the evening since the rain is coming down in buckets.  The rain isn’t always a bad thing.  The Aboriginal girl tells me how there are no connections in language between the different tribes.  When there were no cars and they could only walk the land, there was no way for the tribes to unify in similar language; the land had real divides.

“If I were to cross into another clan’s territory the traditional way, I would have to sit at the river, light a fire, and maybe wait to be approached by a chief, which could take days,” she says.  “The elders would have to speak to me first.  To do otherwise would be seen as highly disrespectful.  Each clan has its own language, creation story and unique way of life.”

We walk around the river and she talked about the outdoor retreats she does with her class, working with Aboriginal kids.  I stay out of the cold for the night and Colette makes vegetarian burgers; she is homely company.

 

July 10

In the morning, Colette’s tiny dogs escape by way of the sliding door and we find ourselves trying to fetch them down but instead they come back on their own terms, looking pathetically cute as if nothing happened.  I meet her friend Sue, who offers a ride to the Victoria border.  She tells me that her son died of cancer at the young age of two, who donated his body to help kids with ailments.

“He told them they could have it,” she says.  “Since he passed, his brother has found ways to raise over 20,000 dollars for cancer.”  One has to admire the inner-strength of this woman.

I walk for about 45 minutes till I get picked up by two brothers from the Fiji Islands, one who is visiting, the other who works picking fruit in Australia.  “Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks own islands in the Fijis,” the say.  How does a person own an island?  How far passed insanity can the concept of ownership become?  We talk about how it’s better to leave things untouched then to try to control them.

“The Fiji islands are highly populated.  Europeans once pushed us to the outskirts to live in villages, but we regained our own independence in 1921,” he says with pride. We stop at Happy Jack’s and they order three burgers under the sly and give me one.  They offer to say a prayer before we leave and they ask God to “keep me safe in travels.”

Then I get a lift from a man from the country of Jordan, who works at a water treatment facility, who is on his way to work.  “The process is that the water goes through layers of sand, which takes the sediment out of the water.  It then is treated with chlorine so it is deemed safe for drinking.”

All the water is siphoned from the Murray River, some 30,000 kiloliters per day for his town in the winter, more in the summer.  He has studied and traveled extensively, through Europe, Russia, and Japan.  Japan seems to have to made the most lasting impression on him.

“Every bit of land has been used and it is beautiful,” he says.

There are no more lifts before nightfall, so I make a small fire under a near-full moon.  A car sees my fire and honks song-like four times.  There is no feeling like placing your bare feet beside a warm fire, the clouds overhead growing.  As an escape plan, there is an abandoned car around the corner in case the rain gets too heavy during the night.

 

July 11

A ghostly, sly fox greets me as I pack up my camping gear and leave the forest canopy in the morning. The rain holds back enough that I never have to run for shelter inside the abandoned car.  I lay back and watch the clouds quickly roll over passed me and the last embers of the fire burn out.

The fox is yet another species that is not native to Australia; it was introduced to the country, just as were camels, cane toads, tamed horses and a few other creatures.  Just as the camels and cane toads, it’s safe to say that overall, the introduction of the fox was a failed experiment.  The foxes took to eating the farmer’s livestock and became a burden on the local herdsmen.

I’m standing along the roadside for almost two hours and starting to think that nobody is going to come when my saving grace finally comes.  The first lift of the day is from a guy coming back from visiting a friend whose mate had died in a motorcycle crash and they’d just flown his body back to New Zealand to be properly buried in his homeland.

His mood is one of dismay but he tells me how he would go pig hunting, scouting out with his dog.  We pass two emus running alongside the road in the bush.  “You can catch an emu by throwing sticks and stones in the air, then grabbing them around the neck when they become curious.”

He lights up a joint and smokes it, offers me some but I decline.  I ask him if he thinks they will ever legalize marijuana in the country.  “I hope not,” he says.  “Cause I’ll lose my business.”

His mate calls and it’s the formalities of “righty-o, no worries.”

I get another big lift by another group of Fiji islanders who find work picking fruit in Australia.  What is it with the Fiji islanders in this region?  I’ve been picked up two days in a row by seemingly the nicest people on the planet.  Their hospital seems to be incredibly hospitable and I now would like to travel there someday having met these kind folk.

They drop me off at a servo station and it is already dark, yet there is another 200 or so kilometers till I can arrive in Sydney.  I try hitchhiking by word of mouth, asking people filling up at the pumps if they have room for one more to Sydney.  I reason that just about everybody at the servo station is heading to Sydney if they are indeed heading that direction.

After getting shot down a few times, somebody says yes.  He’s a man that has a family with strong heritage in Australia.  “My father-in-law, bless his soul, helped the group that brought in the cane toads from the Fiji islands to help with the farmer’s insect pest, which didn’t work obviously– he’s not particularly proud of that.”

“There are lots of Australians that haven’t seen most of the country you have,” he says.  The terrain towards Sydney becomes hilly and the highway transitions into four to five lanes in width and the traffic picks up.  He drops me off near the main transit station in the heart of Sydney.

Sydney is drastically different; cosmopolitan in a true sense.  Motorbikes, people speaking in classy language, designer clothing, clean streets, development followed by development and the clap of high heels down a sidewalk as bicycles cruise by and cars blur by.  I walk passed a pub filled with people chattering, betting on their favorite horse.  There are cafes with European themes at every street corner.

I meet up with Carlos, who is my Couchsurfing host for my stay in Sydney.  He is a musician and originally from Spain, studying in Sydney.  His house is full of people from all different countries; Japan, Mongolia, Italy, Germany, you name it– the house itself is cosmopolitan and a good metaphor for what the modern city stands for, at least in my first impressions.

 

July 12

I go cycling with Carlos down to the Sydney harbor, riding the loner bike which is a Frankenstein bike made by his friend from Czech Republic who is a mechanic that cobbled the thing together.  The frame is that of a BMX bike and the tires are off of a road bike giving it a funny sort of presence.  Carlos and I sneak into the music conservatory and listen to an artist named Mark Wilkinson doing his sound check with a pianist and cello player.  The song is called All I Ever Wanted and the message is simple and directed towards the heart.

James Bond style, we dart into a practice room and play on the piano for an hour or so.  Miraculously, we managed to avoid getting kicked out by the staff until we were actually already on our way out of the building.

Along the harbor near the iconic Sydney opera house there are classy, expensive cafes mixed with the names of earlier European explorers.  Captain Cook boat tours, musicians busking, an Aboriginal selling his artwork.  We jam on the guitars for a while and I meet his roommates, one girl from Mongolia who strikes my fancy and together the three of us climb to the top of the hill in an attempt to photograph the full moon, which the rolling clouds do not permit us to do on this particular night.  In a four-story building across from the park, business men whack golf balls at a high gated fence during the late night hour.

 

July 14

In Sydney, there may be natural sounds, but the machines are louder and have overtaken these sounds.  The ancient Romans, if they time-traveled to this future, might view the city and be completely immersed and enthralled at this idea of progress and development.  Observing cities around the world, one can’t help but wonder: how long will they last?  Eventually, won’t they crumble and fade just like everything else?

Later in the day, I take the train and crossed the harbor to meet up with my Italian friend I met in Malaysia and her boyfriend who lived in Sydney.  When traveling, there is no greater feeling than reconnecting with a person you met earlier during your travels.  It makes things at least feel like they have come full-circle and there is a sense of camaraderie and community on the road.  Together, the three of us go hiking to a lighthouse that overlooks the ocean front.

Her boyfriend works in the restaurant industry as a chef and he explains how a wage based on non-tipping in Australia affects the servers.  “A manager and I were having a meeting recently and one of the servers actually forgot to bring us our silverware,” he says.  “Not once, but twice.  Since they don’t rely on tips, some of them have no incentive to bring forth good customer service.”

There are pros and cons to having a tip-based restaurant industry, as well as the opposite.

Carlos and a group of about twenty other people go hiking in the Blue Mountains of Sydney.  Massive cliffs, waterfalls, ravines, dry and wet microclimates and clear skies follow us the whole day, although it doesn’t have the same sense of openness as Western Australia often has.

It’s my last night in Sydney and I can’t believe I’m actually leaving this incredible country.  As always happens when one is about to leave, I get closer to the girl from Mongolia name Sharleen who tells me a bit about life in her country as we sit on a park bench in the city at three in the morning as the drunks stumble on home.  There is a soft rain dripping from the sky, making it feel like a scene from some kind of chick flick– it’s a good feeling as yesterday blends into the grips of tomorrow.  There is no place I’d rather be than here.

Tomorrow, the definition of here will have a new interpretation.

 

July 15

I have to admit that I accidentally overstayed my Australia travel visa by about 12 days.  When I originally booked my flights, I had read incorrectly that one could stay on a travel visa for six months but later re-read to find that this was only for European citizens and American citizens were only allowed three months of stay at a time in the country.  Since to change the flight would have been beyond my budget, I opt to instead be thick with apologies at the airport security check and cross my fingers, hope for the best.

They play hard at first but eventually let me pass but not without compensating my entire jar of peanut butter, telling me that it could be a potentially deadly item.  I imagined some crazed terrorist taking a glob of PB in his fingers and rubbing it over a pilot’s eyes, blinding him and crashing our plane to the ground.  Then I realize that this is stupid and far-fetched, just like the modern day airline rules and regulations.

On the flight, there is no meal served for the entire eight-hour flight and like a true vagabond, I share my Ramen noodles instead of being pressured to buy a processed dinner for twenty dollars from the flight attendants.  They won’t even have the decency to share a cup of coffee with us.  I promise myself that I will avoid Jetstar airlines at all costs in the future.  Watching others eat while you starved was like insult to injury; such is life sometimes.

In Hawaii, I get flagged by the authorities most likely because my backpack was dirty, full of dust and I looked to them like the type of traveler that might smuggle drugs.  I wait patiently as they scrounge through my stuff piece by piece. “What’s this?,” the guy demands, pulling out some sage I had kept from a hike in Sydney.  I tell him what it is.

“Ok, wasn’t sure if it was marijuana,” he says.  Definitely not, I tell him.  I am tired of airport checks and want to escape the building and get out into the fresh air.

I am asked more stupid questions entering my own country than I was when leaving Australia.  Are you a terrorist?  Are you carrying anything illegal into the country?  It gives the impression that one isn’t welcome back into their own country.

On Oahu Island, it is hotter than hell’s kitchen.  This is my first time ever in Hawaii.  I flew there because it was cheaper to fly from Sydney to Honolulu, then to LA rather than flying directly to LA.  I walk into a food court where there is mostly Asian-style fast food, Filipino food, a large plasma TV featuring a preacher blabbing about God as people ate their food.  Tucked in the corner is a divorce shop offering special “military rates.”

The first human that I talk to is a homeless man on a bike who wears a genuine smile and says, “doing well, thanks.”  The first genuine smile I have seen so far amongst the fast-pace of the island.  The Bank of Hawaii has a slogan on the front of the building that says “Ready for whatever life may throw at you.”  There is a picture of a wedding, parents with a baby, and college students throwing up their tassels– as if these were the only things that life could ever bring.  Was that all we ever expected life to bring?  If more of the same was never enough, how much more did we need?  Was there a price tag for everything on the planet?

I meet a local man and ask him for directions and offer to buy him a cheeseburger at McDonald’s.  “Whatever you do, don’t sleep on the beach,” he tells me.  “They killed my friend down there.  And be careful if you go in the hills hiking– if you go off the main tracks you might run into a pig hunter or something.  You don’t want to run into them.”

By days’ end, I’ve probably walked over 15 miles and my feet have blisters since the traffic is too congested on the island and nobody bothers to pull over for hitchhikers.  Dare I say that an overabundance of tourism has in some ways destroyed the culture?

I hike to the ocean’s edge, which isn’t hard to find in Hawaii and I sleep as the waves rush against the land.

 

June 16

I hang out most of the day at Waikiki Beach, which is world-renowned for its’ pristine and optimum surfer beaches.  Hawaii is a great place if you are not hitchhiking.  I take the bus around the island just to get a sense of the size of the island.  It’s already dark and it takes about two hours or more to circle the entire land mass.  Rush hour traffic slows us down.  We pass windmill farms and the bus driver waves a few locals the Hawaiian sign, which is an extended thumb and pinky.

“Aloha, welcome aboard,” says the robot on the intercom.  The Oahu boat harbor is massive with incoming shipments of everything imaginable.  The cost of living is higher in Hawaii because of the need for imported goods.

Eventually, I make my way to the airport and sleep there since it’s already three AM and my flight for LA leaves early in the morning.  I’m not in Hawaii long enough to make a thorough impression, so I’ll have to save that for an extended return trip to the other islands.  I find the solace of sleep amongst tropical travelers and local bums.

This is real life.

 

July 18

Stotanism- a quiet resilience, the desire to keep pushing on.

 

July 20

LA greets me with its fast-paced, selfish initial façade and the city seems to move on at a speed that is reckless and inconsiderate of all things human.  I’m more than happy when I find a group of travelers that are heading in a van and a car to Colorado and all they need is help with the driving.  Coming home seems like a crash-landing, like a dream that can’t possibly be real.  Part of me is happy to be home, another part wishes I was still traveling away from where I come from; the feeling is bittersweet.

Funny enough, one member in the group is an Australian is traveling around America in a similar fashion that I travel, through mostly hitchhiking.  Bryan is the leader and organizer of our group and is traveling to the Navajo country of Colorado to build adobe houses with a volunteer group.

In a park, we meet a Navajo Indian man that has a certain kind of sadness to him.  It seems that the bottom of the bottle has gotten some of the best of him.  He invites the Australian guy to go with him to a Sun Dance ceremony and we share lunch with the native.  “I was there when the American government kicked my own people off our land,” he says.

The landscape through Arizona is littered with dead sheep, broken beer bottles amongst and incredible red sunset.  We stop at a place called Baby Rock and hike around for a while as the red ball falls over the horizon.  Phil tells us that his claim to fame is that he once got stuck in quicksand and had to have someone pull him out.

Eventually, it’s just myself and the Coloradan girl from Montrose heading in an eastward direction, as the rest of the gang is heading elsewhere.  We say our goodbyes and check into the cheapest motel on the edge of town.

 

July 21

I walk towards the outskirts with Sandra in the morning and we were offered a lift from a genuine Colorado cowboy– until this point I was convinced that they were now only in movies and nearly forever dead.  He could  just as well be the ghost of Buffalo Bill, on his last leg in the afterlife.  He holds a giant coffee mug and sports a red and white flannel shirt, a straw cowboy hat.

“I work on a farm in Gallup,” he tells us.  “I just wanted to check and make sure y’all were ok.  I seen ya walkin’ down the street with yer backpacks and all.  I could have gone myself to church this morn but it was already late and I don’t like walkin’ into church late.”

We hop in his car and he takes us out some 20 miles.  “My wife of 35 years left me,” he tells us sadly.  He pops in a CD of a country guy singing with a drawl over a slightly out-of-tune acoustic guitar.

I ask him who the artist is.  “Oh, this is my wife’s new boyfriend,” he says.  He holds a giant silver coffee mug.  “It makes me realize that she’s really gone.”

Royce drops us off and the next lift comes a few hours later from a seemingly drunk man and a Navajo woman driving a car that has no hood.  “I work at a junk yard, so I’ll fix it soon,” he says.  “Runs good anyways.”  Their lives seem raw and full of open wounds, much like their car which is in disrepair.

He has on a camo-hat with a hole in the side.  Someone has drawn I Heart Sam on the carpet ceiling and there is a faded I Heart  with a name that has been crossed out and erased.  He offers cheap tequila and accept as not to be rude.  It is disgusting and I nearly puke it out in the hot car; it’s a good thing that his Navajo girlfriend is now driving.

“You didn’t have to stop, thanks for the ride,” I tell him.

“I know I didn’t. I don’t have to do anything,” he shoots back.

“There’s a lot of good people in the world,” I tell him.

“I know there are,” he shoots back.  “And I’m not one of ‘em. But it’s ok, I only kill the people I don’t like.”

We wait in Hermosa as the steam-engine train full of tourists scoots by us.  It takes a full offer to get a lift from a man that is a sort of jack-of-all trades.  He tells us a story about a black bear encounter.  “I was at my place and I heard this mournful, whining sound and thought it was maybe a local drunk and I was barefoot and it was outside so I didn’t go.  Luckily, I didn’t change my mind because it was the mother bear mourning her dead cub which had gotten into the transformer and had been electrocuted so it would have been bad news to get stuck in the middle of that.  That was in Silverton and it was the only bear encounter I’ve had.”

Another lift comes from a girl coming from Albuquerque after visiting old friends.  “After living in Colorado, I don’t have too much interest in New Mexico,” she says.  We get into the small town of Montrose and there is the distinct smells of horse and cow shit, pulling us in like weary travelers, pungent aromas tugging at the air.

 

 

July 22

Hitchhiking towards Denver, a woman stands on the opposite side of the busy street and shouts against the grain of traffic. “ Ooo—ooooo! HEY! Everybodypraisethelord! Oooo aaaaooooo !!” (lost in translation)  She’s got a 55 mph sign on the front of her wheelchair.  Cars zip on by and don’t seem to notice her.  It’s a concert projection thrown into oblivion.

The last lift to Denver comes from a guy that is retired and lives in a cabin.  He used to work in the oilfields.  “Used to be able to work 120 hours a week, but now it’s all safety and 80 hours max.”

He traveled to South America in the past.  “People live in huts and pay nothing to live on the side of a hill.  Hell, maybe they’re doing it right over there after all and we’re doing it wrong.”  His voice is raspy and sounds a bit like a disgruntled coyote, having spent a thick portion of his life chain-smoking cigarettes in the stressful conditions of working the oil fields.

I can see the city skyline and Rocky Mountain ranges of Denver approaching in the distance and can feel the magnetic pull of the closest thing to home pulling me back.  Suddenly, it’s like I never left and the travels I experienced were just a dream.

That’s all we are is dreams, a familiar voice rings in my head.

All roads are endless and lead full circle, back to the place where you began– it’s inevitable.  There is the freedom of choice to follow the road or to cling close to where you came from.  You’ll always carry your roots, and there’s no escaping yourself.  In between choices, there are convenient excuses such as financial reasons, fears of being robbed, of not understanding another culture or language, fears of falling off a flat Earth, fear of the media actually being right with their cynical depictions, fear of being homesick.  Some of these fears are rational and should be acknowledged, others should simply be ignored.

In between, there is your decision if you choose to make it.  Your choice to travel.

Your choice, to do so or not.  One doesn’t have to travel the world in pursuit of adventure—but it’s a great way to start.  You don’t have to live based off people’s expectations.  If you get the chance to go, you probably should; it’s an interesting place, wherever you go.

All you need is a clean backpack with the bare essentials and maybe a bit of space left for the dust and stories you might collect along the way.

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

Total distance traveled on the trip was well over 24,000 kilometers (14,913 miles) by cycling and mostly hitchhiking.  Not that the distance was what mattered in the end anyways; I had conquered some of my doubts and accomplished beyond what I initially thought conceivable. Now I was home and as some of the Australians say, all buggered out.

Recommended travel books read on this trip:

Down Under by Bill Bryson

Napalm & Silly Putty by George Carlin

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane

The Inheritance of Loss by Hiran Desai

The Last Tycoon by Scott Fitzgerald

A Citizen of the Country by Sarah Smith

Adam’s Empire by Evan Green

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison

Is That Thing Diesel? By Paul Carter

The Savage Crows by Robert Drewe

Once Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman

The Kiwi Connection by John Meskell

Backpack Full of Bush Dust- Hitchbiking Southeast Asia and Hitchhiking Australia (full book, part 3)

Find the complete book for sale on Amazon or Amazon Kindle here:

April 2

After flying with JetStar airlines I can say that I’ve had worst in-flight experiences and I’ve had better.  In all fairness, they did manage to scrape us together something resembling a TV dinner meal of frozen potatoes and turkey.  The turkey had a strong aftertaste of rubber cement and I’m not sure that the Irish would have eaten the processed potatoes during the Great Potato Famine, but it was edible nonetheless.  The air conditioning is blasting and some passengers are shivering.  I ask for a blanket to borrow for the flight.

“That will be seventeen dollars,” the attendant says perkily.  She’s not joking so I pass.  I’d rather endure the cold, and budget airlines are all about endurance—get in, get out, with no expectations higher than somewhere to sit and arrive at your destination alive.

As we disembark the plane, which has arrived an hour late, the flight attendant gently tells a man on crutches that he’ll need to hurry for his connecting flight.  “Fan-tastic,” he grumbles.

It’s hard to believe that in that small window of time we’ve flown clear across the ocean and into another country.  Jet lag is exactly what the term implies it is—the lagging of the proper required headspace to adjust to differences in culture and time zones.  It’s like being sucked up into a vacuum or time warp.  Seat-of-your-pants adventure travelers such as Henry David Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson have been replaced by the frequent flyer business type.  The rugged traveler who moves by whatever means possible and does so for the sake of exploring has been replaced by the week or weekend holiday-er with a loaded credit card.  These days, everybody travels but few explore.

Jonathan, who I meet in the Darwin airport, turns out to be one of the latter few.  A sign above us at the terminal reads 31 degrees Celsius.  That is to say that in Darwin, it is hot.  Jonathan seems just as disoriented and lost as I do and after escaping more-than-casual glances of our passports from the border police, I suggest that we try and hitchhike into the city together.  I’m dedicated to hitchhiking around the entire circumference of Australia and even from the airport I choose to use the power of the thumb.

Jonathan tells me he has just flown in from traveling the Philippines islands and now will spend a considerable amount of time in Australia.  He will be in the country for 9 months or more with a working visa.  Many travelers, especially from countries in Europe, travel to Australia and end up working in the country.  Wages in the country are strong and there is plenty of available work.

We are both sweating raindrops as we cross our way out of the small airport.  A group of cockatoos chirp and cluck as they fly between gum trees.  Ten minutes later, we are picked up by a woman who turns out to be heading into town as our luck will have it.

“How ya goin’?,” she asks us.  Just got into the country!, we tell her.

“Well, welcome to Australia!,” she says.  This seems to make her happy and her face glows.  “I pick up travelers from time to time.”  She suggests working under the table like “everyone else” if I have to since I don’t have a working visa.  The conversation is short and we don’t have enough time to get to know her beyond the surface level.

We walk around the downtown Darwin area for a bit and the first thing we need is food since we are both starving.  My jaw nearly drops when I see the prices in the supermarkets; it’s nearly twice the price of produce in the States.  So that’s how it goes, I’ll either have to learn to eat bark off trees or find a way to survive this country.

“So where are you staying?,” Jonathan asks me as we make our way through downtown.

“Oh, have you heard of Couchsurfing? I’m staying with this guy, his name is Phillip…”

“No way!  I’m staying with a guy off Couchsurfing, his name is Phillip too…”

“No way it could be the same guy…”

“No way, but where does he live?”

“Bakewell area is what I have written down…”

The chances are slim but it’s at that moment that we realize that we both came in on the same plane and are heading for the exact same house.  So we decide to hitchhike to Phillip’s house together.

After a few minutes of walking, we’re picked up by a young lady heading for a friend’s house.  If hitchhiking in Australia remains as good as it is in Darwin, I’ll have to give Australia stellar ratings all around!  This girl is young, as in probably-still-lives-with-her-parents young based off her appearance and how she behaves.

I tell her I just came from Thailand and Malaysia.  “Ooohh, I’m going to Thailand soon!,” she exclaims.  “I’m going to get a boob job done in Thailand since it’s cheaper.  My parents don’t like the idea but they’re going to let me do it anyways.  In Thailand it only costs about 10,000 dollars to get the job done and in Australia it costs about 20,000 so it’s a lot cheaper.”

I promise her I’ll keep that in mind the next time I decide to call up Doc for a breast-size increase.  She drops us right off at Phillip’s house and we wish each other luck on travels and upcoming surgeries.

Phillip is not home and neither of us have cell phones so we improvise and throw our packs over the fence and decide to apologize later if he takes offense to it We head to the park for a while and go for a jog while we wait for Phillip to get home.  .  Of course, he doesn’t and Phillip is one of the most easy-going, considerate, good-humored people you’ll ever meet. We meet him an hour or so later and he introduces us to three other travelers from Germany who are staying at his place.

One of them tells us that he got a job working on a fishing boat just off the local port that went sour in the end.  “The visherman, vee vwas a dick,” he says in English with a heavy German accent.  “All da time, I vwas not take fresh water showers, only vit salt water from da sea and his vife from the Philippines meanwhile vas always washing clothes with fresh water.  Sometimes, sharks or crocodiles vould get caught in the net and with the sharks; he vould cut off the fins and let them sink to the bottom of da ocean.”

At the dinner table, he shows us his hands, which in some spots are cut right to the bone.  “Da salt water vould get into it and it would sting,” he says.  “I had to quit after a week because of dese injuries and I’m going to a doctor tomorrow.  Da fisherman was always looking down on me, saying ‘hurry up’ and calling me a ‘fawking cunt’, stuff like that.”  At the same time, he says that he would still have done it knowing what he knows now just for the experience.

One of the German guys had been hit by a car while riding his scooter while riding around locally.  What was going on in Darwin?  Why was everyone getting hurt or in accidents?  The travelers set up outside, where an Australia flag was hung up proudly as the wind blew and the mosquito zapper buzzed through the night as it turned the pests into dust.

Dinner is organized so that somebody cooks every night, making for a variety of food and less expenses for the house.  When somebody tells me that I am in charge of cooking for the evening, it usually results with an increase in heart rate and sense of panic, as making Instant Noodles is a culinary accomplishment.  I decide to do the typical ‘American’ dish, nothing more than burgers over the grill.  During dinner, a tree frog climbs over one of the bushes near the outdoor table.  Roosters scuttle back and forth in the yard.

Stephen, our host, is a deaf-mute and he has a new service dog that he is training to help him with his needs.  We practice by knocking at the door while he is with his trainer to see if he alerts Stephen.  The dog still needs some practice.

Despite the setbacks, Stephen seems to live a life that is happier than most people that I’ve met, probably because he openly shares his experiences and what he owns with other people generously.  “You gotta watch out for salties in this country,” he tells us at dinner.  “They even have been found swimming in the ocean near Darwin.  And you don’t see ‘em till they’re right next to you mate.”

The next day, Jonathan and I will walk to the ocean.

April 3

Jonathan later tells me that he is from Quebec (pronounced kwee-beck), which is the French-speaking province in Canada.  There have been instances in Canadian history where Quebec wanted to become a separate country from Canada, but this never actually happened.

While walking through a roundabout with a pedestrian passage, a car slows down and then starts driving again, nearly running me over.  I flick off my sandals and instinctively start running backwards as the car continues to come at me.  It’s not till I yell out “Hey!” to the lady driving the car that she slams on the brakes with a horrified expression on her face.

We find out that they had a baby in the backseat and she was more occupied with the baby than the driving.  A block away, the couple pulls over beside us at a parking lot.  She asks if I’m OK, if I need to go to the hospital.  I tell her it’s fine and just to keep her eyes on the road instead and we laugh, shrug it off.  “Sorry mate!,” the guy says as they drive off.  It was a real kind gesture for them to stop and ask if we were alright.

Jonathan and I venture off exploring Darwin on foot and find our way to the ocean, which as far as we can tell contains no crocodiles.  Or maybe it’s filled with salt water crocodiles that we don’t see.  Salt water crocs are the one that are known to actively hunt and eat humans.

At the supermarket, a white taxi van drops off a group of Aborigine people, barefoot and seemingly invisible to the rest of the world.  We forage the supermarket for pasta sauce, noodles, and garlic bread for dinner.

There is quietness to the area as the sun sets and creates a lava-lamp effect over the city of Darwin, swallows it whole.  The tree frog does not make another appearance at dinner.

April 4

In the morning, I wake to the sound of Stephen’s robotic vacuum driving around the living room and crashing into everything in sight.  Jonathan and I hitch into town and get a lift from an x-fisherman.  I ask him what life as a fisherman was like for him.

“It does something to you,” he says.  “It’s not an easy life mate.”  I ask him if he has seen any crocodiles in the area, the typical tourist questions.  Every other noun that comes out of his mouth seems to be cunt.  “Oh, the crocs have been migrating south since they made it illegal to hunt them now,” he says.  “If you ask me, I think they should kill the cunts…”

He’s a good bloke with a foul mouth.  He tell us that he once tried to pick up a loopy hitchhiker with his pants down but when he stopped to give him a lift and see what the deal was he said, “sorry, I only accept rides from hot female backpackers.”

We hop out of the car and thank him for the ride.  “Alriiiight m’ate, good luck,” he says.

I busk with my Martin backpacker guitar for awhile, make close to fifteen dollars in an hour and an old Aboriginal lady slowly walks over to me, throws in a coin and says, “You’re pretty good at playing dat thing mate.”

That makes my day.  Later, we get a lift back to Stephen’s place from a few guys who planned to travel to Southeast Asia in the future and were keen to listen in to any advice I might have.  In the kitchen,  I stencil in a rough map of Australia on notebook paper and map in with peanuts the route I will like to take via hitchhiking.

April 5

The next day we all make a stop at the local farmers markets since it’s the weekend and it’s on the way out of town.  I’ll be hitchhiking south towards the town of Katherine, my intentions being to loop off in the direction of Western Australia.  I say goodbye to everyone and my first lift comes from a couple that are both in the Australia Air Force and are off for a weekend camping trip.

They tell me a story of an Asian couple they once picked up who had gotten stranded after missing their bus and accidentally left their backpack and camera in the back of the truck.  “We drove all the way back to the coast with their stuff in the back and didn’t even know it till we got there,” she says.  “So we drove all the way back to where we came from and found them, gave them back their stuff.  The girl was nearly in tears.  They offered to pay for gas to compensate, but we wouldn’t take it.”

I inquired about the Aboriginals, which I was curious about after seeing some of them at the supermarket.  They told me their thoughts.  “The Aboriginals have to keep money in the family; it’s all about helping each other out.  That’s why most of them can never get ahead in life because problems like alcoholism drag the whole family down.”

They drop me off in Katherine right in front of a trail head that they tells me leads to hot springs, that actually “aren’t hot, just luke warm.”  The first thing I do is go and take a dip in the springs, which turn out to be refreshing after walking for a bit in the heat.  Giant spiders perch on webs surrounding the water hole and the locals tell me that crocodiles have been seen in the area before.  Nonetheless, many locals and tourists are taking dips in the water.  “No worries mate, just crocodiles that might want to eat ya.  Nothin’ to worry bout.”

I meet a couple Irish guys that tell me Perth is the most expensive city in the world.  It sounds like the high cost of food in Darwin is not unique to Australia.  It’s no wonder that most travelers come here to work while traveling.

I try hitchhiking for over three hours with not a chance of a ride.  Road trains, which are trucks loaded down with three heavy-duty trailers full of anything imaginable just chug on by me.  I’m told that new insurance laws and other political, bureaucratic reasons make it difficult for the drivers to stop, or at least give the ones that don’t like picking up travelers a good excuse not to.

One truck has three whole trailers packed to the brim with cattle.  I hope that I can get out of this town tomorrow.  I’ll be sleeping in the park near the hot springs, just down the road from where large families of Aboriginals sleep on the streets.

April 6

I sit at the dusty roadside with my guitar for almost a full 24 hours without a suggestion of a lift.  I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to change my tactics.  Most people blow on by and pay me no mind.  One girl even makes the effort to roll down her window and yell out “No way!”  Many people watch too much television or are brainwashed to think that the outside world is this dangerous place where everyone means you ill.  It’s unfortunate because they’ll never have opportunities to step outside of their comfort zones with that kind of mindset.

I try to stay positive but it’s becoming a real challenge to maintain that.  I’m stuck in the middle of an outback town, miles into nowhere.  I shouldn’t have come to Australia, I tell myself. My moral is as an ultimate low.  At one point I even consider buying a ticket to Asia for the rest of the trip and flying out of Sydney after three months.  Something keeps me determined though and eventually I get a lift to the outskirts of town, which turns out to be a worse hitchhiking spot than the original was.  “You’ll probably have better luck at this spot mate,” the guy tells me.

On the green road sign above me, somebody has etched these words into the sign: 39 degrees Celsius!  I hitchhiked all bloody day!  Apparently, this guy had better luck than I did anyways.  I realize that the sun is beating down on me like hell’s inferno and my gallon water jug is starting to run low.  Luckily, I run into a road worker who agrees to give me a lift back into town after I ask him.  “Your body loses up to 2 liters of water an hour in this kind of heat,” he tells me.  “You can dehydrate quick out there mate.”

I get a lift back to the supermarket where people walk into the store with no shirts and no t-shirts.  Instead of “No shirts, no shoes, no service” it’s more like “No worries, come on in.”  It’s really an interesting place and only the fact that my bad luck with hitchhiking it tainting my perception right now.

I walk back to the hot springs after stocking up on food and water, an Aboriginal pointing me towards a tap near the petrol station.  “You can use there mate,” he says, pointing across the street through faded eyes.

I meet a fisherman down by the hot springs who is retired and lives in his truck, following the good weather and camping everywhere he goes.  “I eat well and eat fresh fish every night,” he says proudly.  “You know, these rivers flooded real good a while back,” he says.  “Washed it up so far back that they found a salt water crocodile swimming near the Woolies supermarket… somebody said ‘ I reckon somebody outta direct him to the meat department!”  He gets a chuckle out of this.  I get the impression that he enjoys telling this story and has told it a few times before.

Meeting that fisherman is enough to revamp my spirits and decide that Australia was a good place to explore and I shouldn’t give up just yet.  After talking it over with him, I decide to try my luck at hitchhiking towards Alice Springs instead, through the Australia outback, also known as the Red Center.

“You’ll have more luck going towards Alice I think,” he says.  “More people probably heading that way.”

I sure hope that he’s right.  That night, giant fox bats swoop over my head where I sleep in tight packs and make screeching sounds.  The mosquitoes come to torture me later in the night, but only for awhile.  Then at 2am the sprinkler system blasts on, startling me from sleep and I have to quickly grab all my stuff and make a dash for the other side of the park, but not without getting pelted with water first.

This is the Australia I know so far.

April 7

I walk a few more miles to the spot that lead towards Alice Springs and after three hours or so, a working roadside truck pulled over.  I nearly jump into the air—wait, no, not nearly, I do  jump in the air—and run over to the truck.  Thanks so much for stopping, I tell him.  I’ve been stuck in this town for three days!

He’s a good bloke that is originally from Turkey and has lived in Australia since he was two.  He introduces me to the music of the Turkish ud, which is a strange-sounding instrument with a distinct sound like none other.

These days he works on the roads in the Red Center, patching up cracks and potholes that are common along this well-trafficked road.  We talk about a lot of things, from work, to life, to travel, which all blend into one as we pass masses of termite mounds that people have decorated with clothing.  The trees quickly disappear and there is the sense that we are really in the Australian outback.  There is no Outback Steakhouse to be seen in these parts—this is the real thing.

Kangaroo carcasses scatter the roadside like there was a nuclear holocaust.  Flies buzz around at every stop we make.  Muz invites me to stay in the motel once we arrive in the town before arriving to Alice Springs the next day.  He gives me a Bundaberg rum and coke in a can.  “Cheers mate,” he says.  “Welcome to Australia.  I don’t like these things, my friend gave them to me.”

A cold drink never tasted better.  Rum and Coke in a can is just what the doctor would have ordered.

No, it’s alright, I tell him.  Thanks for the ride, but I can camp.

He insists on me staying and a warm shower never felt better.  We order some food from the local restaurant and have steak and potatoes; a perfect meal after being on the road.

Sleeping rough makes one sincerely appreciate the creature comforts of a soft bed with air-conditioning.

April 8

The rain comes down in heavy sheets in the morning, which is unusual for the area, Muz tells me.  His work is canceled for the day, which was lucky for me since he will be able to give me a lift all the way to Alice Springs.  There is the feeling of momentum starting to build.

We meet up with the other roadside workers at a café and hang out under the eaves as the rain falls down off the tin roof.  Stand around drinking coffee, the workers cracking jokes and laughing about the “hard work” they will have for the day.  Rain or shine, they still get to collect their paychecks.

As we’re driving, we hydroplane for a moment on a road that is filled with a tiny river of water.  Flooding in the area is common during certain times of the year.  “Shitshitshitshitshit,” Muz mutters, but manages to let his foot off the gas and gains back control.

Muz tells me that in his opinion, the problem with the Aboriginals was that they get “throw away money from the government” so a lot of the city Aboriginals sit around all day with no incentive to do anything but drink grog (alcohol.)

In the middle of the desert road, there is an unexpected mango farm that offers sample tastes of mango ice-cream and wines.  I offer to treat us to some ice cream, which proves to be a great decision—it is delicious.  Muz tells me about his trip with friends in an RV across America a few years back.  “I loved New Orleans and all the meat—the steak, the fried chicken,” he says.

We drive for a long ways until we finally arrive in Alice Springs (some 1,800 plus kilometers later) and Muz sets me off at the supermarket.  Muz tells me that if I had a working visa, his boss would have offered for me to work for their company.

In Alice Springs, I walk passed Digareedoo shops, many backpackers, touristy coffee shops, a World War 1 memorial, and Catholic churches.  I hike to the top of the war memorial and overlook the town below.  This site was a burial site for many soldiers that didn’t make it home during World War 1.

I walk around the town looking for a place to sleep and find a church called the Angalic Church.  I find a secluded corner and catch a few winks.

April 9

That morning while walking around town I meet a guy from France who is playing his guitar and drinking coffee in the middle of the center of town.  Doing what seems logical, I join him.  “This is the best country to find work in outside of Switzerland,” he told me.  Just for fun, we jam in front of the supermarket just for fun and he sets up a sign that says he is looking for work.  I make 40 dollars in one hour, and a light bulb goes off inside my head.

This is how I could survive in Australia.

It rains all day, on and off.

Later that night, I walk to my Couchsurfing hosts’ house on the other side of town.  His name is Zack, and it is mentioned in his profile about being something of a nudist, but trust me when I say that I didn’t expect him to answer the door with his balls hanging out full bloom.  I sort of expected him to walk around the kitchen in the middle of the night naked, something to that effect.

Zack tells me about his experiences traveling around Australia in a van and going to a festival called Confest in past years.  These days he works at a hospital in Alice Springs sorting out supplies.

Speaking to another guy when they are completely naked in front of you, I learn is slightly uncomfortable, to put it mildly, and it’s hard not to be distracted by this fact that everything is literally hanging out.  I don’t think I would have been uncomfortable with it in a different setting, a different place, but this was just weird so I went to sleep on the floor and in the morning I thank him for letting me stay and decide not to stay there again.

April 10

The next day, I meet a girl from Belgium while busking in front of the supermarket. Her name is Nazarine. She is super sweet and funny enough, when I mention hitchhiking to Ayers Rock in the middle of the desert, she doesn’t think it is such a bad idea.  She asks if she can join me before I can even offer for her to come.

A little girl walks up to me while I am playing my guitar and says,“Guess what?  I like your sou—ound.” She can’t quite get the syllables and sound for the word  to come out right, which makes it that much more appreciated.

I am invited to come to some kind of “devotion gathering” where I am told there would be other travelers and music by a couple that meet me in town and have seen me playing music earlier in the day.  I can’t turn it down, so I go and meet a host of interesting characters.  They read quotes from different religions and have me play music in between the spoken word.  The people are kind-hearted and I feel welcome in this quassi-hippy get together.  Their religion, as they explain it, is defined as a “bridging together of all religions; a oneness.”

April  11

The next day, Nazarine and I walk to the edge of town and begin hitchhiking.  We wait about two hours to get a lift to Uluru (Ayers) Rock after immediately getting a quick ride out of town by a local guy in a beat-up Ute.  I try starting a fire to help Nazarine’s ear, which is apparently slightly infected since she has gotten her ear pierced recently.  I work out the chords to a song she knows called Lemon Tree and we sit on the roadside playing that song with nothing but the wind and heat outside our own company.

Nobody is pulling over until I go off into the woods to make a fire and who would have guessed that somebody decides to pull over, probably thinking a woman is all by her stranded self in the middle of the outback.  When I pop out of the woods, they might have been hiding their disappointment, although I’m not sure.

There are two guys in the car and they are planning to make a documentary about the Aboriginals that lived near Uluru Rock in order to get some funding for the communities there. Nathan, the driver, tells us his stories about his first interactions with the Aboriginal tribes.

“One day I was driving towards Uluru Rock and picked up a dead Emu that I found on the side of the road.  I wasn’t sure why I picked it up, I just felt compelled mate, out of respect for animals.  I’ve spent a lot of time in India and learned to respect all creatures.

“Anyways, I had just got back from traveling India with this fresh in my mind and I wanted to visit an Aboriginal community and all the locals said ‘no, it’s too dangerous, don’t do that’, all that sort of thing, so I of course went anyways.  So I walked over mate, and hiked into their community and out comes this old man with a walking stick and this man says, in a gravelly voice ‘hello, I am Emu Man.  ‘Well, I’ve got something to show you’ I tell him.  I run back to the car and grab the Emu carcass and give it to him.

“The next day, the man had sorted out all the feathers into necklaces, stuff like that.  That experience sent chills down my spine and changed the course of my life forever.  It determined my life for the next 25 years.”

Uluru is a long drive out into the middle of nowhere; some 450 kilometers southwest of Alice Springs.

We’re then invited to stay at a camel farm, where there are a host of interesting characters, one being a French guy who works for the circus teaching Aboriginal kids.  Nathan shows me some authentic Aboriginal Digareedoo playing, which is much rawer than the European style of playing.  He lets us listen to an audio clip of a recording he did with the village people, jamming with a saxophone, Irish flute, digareedoo, drums and keyboards.

We have a dinner of steak and are invited to stay for the night.  We both decide to sleep along the sand dunes.

Mark, the guy that works on the camel farm, tells us that they once found a dead camel and a snake trail next to it, figured that it was bitten by a snake the night before.  Mark was once bitten at night by a snake when he had to help push his friend’s car and passé dout in the car, not realizing that he had been bitten.  It wasn’t till after the hospital and later in the shower that he noticed the fang marks on his legs and he was lucky that he got to keep his life.

We grab our sleeping bags and hike into the night with the flashlight, toss them down on a soft blanket of earth that overlooks Uluru Rock.

It was like heaven on Mars: craters, desert, mystery, and all.

April 12

In the desert, the climate is the coldest in the morning when the sun’s first rays drag up the cold from the ground.  Feeling this change in temperature, my body wakes my mind and my mind is grateful for having been woken.  I grab my camera and take some shots of a fire red sun over a desolate desert with a giant rock sitting in the midst of it all.  Watching the sun unfold over Uluru is like having a magician show you the secret to magic.  It is magic.  The rock changes colors, transforming from yellow, to red, to purple, to red again and a mix of colors that simply can’t be described in words.

And it really is a wonder to many how the rock got there, in the middle of nowhere.  It seems that there is a lot of this type of geography in Australia; giant rocks in the middle of the desert.  But how did they form?  How long had they been there?  Certainly many years beyond our short human life spans. Years of plate tectonics, erosion, and sculpting by the Gods I suppose all play a part.  Regardless of the conclusions people form, everyone tends to walk up to the landscape and go wow.

The rock has two different names; one that the European settlers gave it in 1873 (Ayers Rock) and one that the Aboriginals gave it many years ago (Uluru).  Personally, I think that Uluru sounds cooler and they should just stick with one name or just stop calling it anything at all—for God’s sake, it’s only a giant rock.

We pack our gear and hitchhike to the rock, eventually getting picked up by a couple girls from Mississippi who are excited to climb to the top but have a mix of emotions based on what they have heard of what the Aboriginals believe.  To the Aboriginals, the rock is sacred and out of respect one should not climb the rock.  Many people still do despite this and in the past many tourists have fallen off and continue to meet their demise making a wrong step on the top of Uluru Rock.

Nazarine and I walk the seven kilometers around the circumference of the rock and the Mississippi tourists are disappointed when they found that the trail to climb the rock has been closed due to slipperiness from the recent rainfall.  Anyways, probably for the better; they don’t look like they are in that good of shape at any rate.

On the way back, a car full of Aboriginals stop to try and give us a ride but there car is full to the brim with people.  Night is falling over the rocks, and we are almost prepared to camp out if we have to but at the last minute a couple pull over and offer us a lift back to the ranch.

Later at the ranch, Mark gets to talking, as he is very accomplished at doing.  He tells us that his friend had bought the camel farm originally and it was a “sad affair” when they first purchased it.  “Only seven camels were at the farm and it was in shambles, but now there are over 700 camels and it is a thriving place since we are passionate about it.”

When we tell him about the Aboriginals that tried to offer us a lift and the car was full, he smiles and says,” yes, that’s quite typical, as the case often is.”

Mark says once he was jogging while working in an Aboriginal community and they stopped to ask “are you ok? Why are you running?!”  To the Aboriginal people, the only proper time to run is if you are on a hunt or if a predator is chasing you and wants to eat you.  That’s also one of the modern day Aboriginal problems and I suppose a human problem.  We used to have to run and work for our food and now we can just sit in front of a computer screens and collect it and lazily have our bodies transported in mechanical, motorized things.

With that, I walk back to the sand dunes that night by myself and lay my sleeping bag under the crystallized blanket of black and shining stars.  Never, never turn down a chance to sleep under the stars, I write in my journal.

April 13

I jump out of my sleeping bag in the morning at the sight of the sun rising over Uluru Rock.  When would I be back at this spot to see the sunrise again?  The answer was almost certainly never.  When would I witness this exact moment again?  Without a doubt, I certainly never would.  You could only embrace it.

Mark gives me some advice over breakfast and unorthodox advice at that.  He’s not the kind of guy that has had someone spell out his life for him—he has taken and crafted his own reigns and his own set of rules to live by.  He always wears a cowboy hat and he lives the lifestyle as well.  “Travel until you’re 40, work your ass off till you’re 60 and then retire,” he says.  He wishes that someone had told him that from the beginning.

Society tells and expects everyone to go to school, get married, buy a house, work until you might be able to retire at 60 or 70, and if you’re not completely dead or lacking in any energy yet, then you can find some time to travel a bit here and there with any remaining funds you might have.  Sounds like a wonderfully great way to waste your life.

Nazarine and I spend the day going on a camel tour that Mark offeres free of charge, a genuine and kind gesture.  Even when I offer some money, he declines to accept.  Camels not usually what everyone think of when the continent of Australia pops into mind.  They are not native species and were brought into the environment originally by early Arab explorers during the 19th century for transportation and construction.  With the birth of the automobile, the need for the camel to be used in this way decreased and the camels were suddenly let into the wild.

Being that much of the center of Australia and Western Australia is comprised of desert terrain, the camels thrived in the environment.  By 2008, people that studied the camel populations in Australia were suggesting that it was doubling every eight years or so—an  alarming rate of growth.  They were degrading the environment and natural ecosystem, threatening local species.  Recently there has been a push by authorities to kill off many of the camels in the desert, in hopes to put the population at sustainable levels.  Some of the practices, believe it or not, include flying by in a helicopter and blasting away at them with machine guns.  Yeah, humans.  We are definitely a strange and sometimes disturbing breed of animal.

Training camels takes months and months of concentrated patience.  They are not easy creatures to tame and even when tamed, sometimes they have it in their personality to be defiant and not cooperate.  Nazarine and I are paired with two special camels of this type of personality.  When it is time for the group of camels to move, our camels just sit there and look at the trainers stubbornly.  “What, you expect us to move in this heat?,” they seem to say.

Eventually, they do.  The camel tour through the desert is one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced but it would have been great to see one in the wild, which I never do.  I do run into plenty of other species of wildlife, however.

April 14

We say goodbye to our friend at the ranch and hitchhike back towards Alice Springs, as Nazarine is meeting some friends that are staying that way.  I have to backtrack to get my stuff anyways and find myself wishing that I had just carried it all with me instead of leaving the extra weight in Alice.

The lift from Uluru area comes from a guy and his sister from England on holiday in Australia.  The bumper sticker on their car reads: No Room for Racism in Australia.  She gives us her personal insight on Uluru Rock.  ‘When the Aboriginals signed the tourist contract, they couldn’t read, sadly,” she says.  “So it wasn’t a fair deal.  They would never just sign over their heritage and the land of their ancestors.  If the amount of people climbing the rock goes lower than 20%, they are inclined to close the site down for climbing. “

We end up in Curtain Springs, which really isn’t much of a town at all but a place for tourists to camp for free and spend their money on breakfast and hot showers if they want.

Bullet holes riddled the signs in the outback. A prehistoric-looking bird called an emu circles the camp and ducks behind bushes.  The creature is harmless enough, but if cornered it could certainly do some damage with its’ massive talons.  I have seen my first living kangaroo in captivity at the camel farm but never in my life have I seen so much road kill of one species scattered along the road.  You see so many dead kangaroo that your eyes stop seeing them after a while.

We set up our camp and make a fire.  Dinner is canned spaghetti and bread.  We are just about to fall asleep when I hear a rustling sound in the bushes and hear Nazarine mutter something like “there’s a frog” but then I realize that I’m not dreaming and she has actually said “there’s a dog” and I turn over to my left and there is a dog that is distinctly not domestic sniffing around and looking down on me.  It distinctly a dingo!

The dingo is a free-roaming dog found in Australia and some parts of Southeast Asia.  It is a descendent of the grey wolf and at times it can get aggressive, especially when in packs.  Lucky for us, this guy seems to be a lone wolf.

“Hey!,” I yell out at him.  “Get outta there!”  It dawns on me that this wild dog must frequent the area as campers probably throw their old burgers and food to the camp perimeter, drawing in the curious scents of food that the dogs pick up.  This particular dingo probably smells the spaghetti we had cooked earlier.

With that, the dingo runs off into the forest.  There is the fading sound of rustling grass and snapping twigs.

The only creatures that bother our sleep the rest of the night are a group of Germans who take their time setting up their tent and make it a point to be as loud as possible at two in the morning while doing so.  This is why I sometimes despise campgrounds, even when they are free, let alone paying for them.  Anyways, we eventually get our sleep and we do in fact wake up in the morning, mild dew slicked across our sleeping bags.

April 15

The scenery surrounding Uluru is arid, rolling hills, dry river beds, red clay, which is some ways reminds me of the landscape of New Mexico, but in most ways altogether completely different.  It takes us but a few minutes to get a ride from a couple Italian guys who are driving to Alice Springs in the morning.  They are heading east, towards Brisbane, they say and I can tell that Nazarine is thinking about jumping in with them, as she says she has friends that have work there.

So we depart in Alice Springs and agree to meet up again later on the east coast.  It’s time for me to go exploring on my own again.  I get back into town, grab my stuff, say goodbye and almost immediately set out hitching again out of Alice Springs, back towards Uluru Rock.  It’s somewhat mentally taxing to be covering the same distance you just covered but it’s what has to be done.

I get two short lifts out of town and then wait at the turn-off for about an hour and a half as cars zip by me for a ride further south.  Someone has left a fire burning at this spot and as I try to put it out, a couple police officers drive by and scold me out their window for starting a fire.  I want to say I didn’t start it and do you really care anyways?, since they’re just driving away and look bored.

I’m picked up by a couple that are traveling the Red Center and they live in Sydney.  We pass by a crow that is feasting on a fresh kangaroo carcass and they manage to pull over and snap a few shots.  They seem to be a couple that has kindled a new sort of relationship, a love with a fresh kind of energy to it.  They drop me off in the middle of the bush and I hop over to a sand dune just before dark and set up camp.

A fire-setting sky transforms into midnight dark over the lump of horizon, illuminating distant suns.  This is the Outback Sand Dune Estate, a five billion-star hotel—nothing but a sleeping bag, sand, and an immense stretch of stars.

April 16

The sun rises again in the morning, and along with it, the persistent flies.  As it quickly becomes hotter, they follow me in swarms and I find myself wrapping my face with my shirt to keep them from attempting to fly up my nose, into my eyes, my ears, and any other moisture-thick area on my skin.  They aren’t the kind of flies that just buzz by and annoy you for a few minutes, the kind that are common in the States—these flies will follow and shadow your every move until you are on the brink of insanity.

I wait for a few hours in misery, swatting the flies away, only for them to return ten seconds later, nearly 50 to 100 flies on my back.  I take to playing my guitar to keep my mind occupied on something else.  My saving grace comes from two German backpackers, who to my luck happen to be traveling all the way to Port Augusta.  I am in a long ride for the day.  The German guys love their heavy metal music.  The repertoire varies from Killswitch Engage, to Soilwork, to Lamb of God, to a German rapper called Casper.

We stop in a town called Cadney Homestead where time seems to stand still.  There is only the sound of the wind blowing in the desert and the heat burns down onto the caked earth.  Inside a roadhouse, a few local guys play billboards by themselves.  There is a heavy silence to the room that speaks louder than a crowded bar in the city.  Outside, a semi carries a small house on the back of its trailer through the outback.  Where was the house going and what kind of eccentrics lived out here?  I want to meet them.

Driving through the outback, the driver runs over a snake that darts out into the road.  The thing was about three feet long and it happened to fast to swerve out of the way.  Just another road kill casualty.  “Poor snake,” he says, and the road carries along the straight and forever sprawl of sand and termite mounds.

Cooder Pedy.  We stop for snack supplies and pass by a sprawl of houses, many of them built underground to withstand the heat.  Families live in shelters built as permanent basements.  This is an active miners’ town and one can’t help but get the sense that every town like this is temporary, despite its’ rich history.  Once the minerals run out or they find somewhere else to dig, the jobs disappear along with the people.  A man with a patch over his eye walks into the store and loads his cart with groceries for his family.  I  find it likely that this is the result of a mining accident.

They drop me off in Port Augusta and I’ve made it to South Australia, another territory.  I ask two young sheilas and a bloke hanging out near a park what there is to do in the town.  “No-thing,” one of the girls says slowly for added effect and laughs.  The bloke gracefully kicks a clump of red dirt as if to prove that there really is nothing to do in this town.

“Welcome to Port Augusta,” he says dryly.

Despite the boredom and the drag of the town, one gets the sense that there is, underneath it all, a real sense of community in this town.  I roll out my sleeping bag beside a bridge in a secluded-enough spot and fall asleep, unnoticed by all.

April 17

I’m learning Zac Brown’s song Jolene on the side of the road while hitchhiking the next day when a local miner pulls over in a Ute and offers a ride.  He’s got thick calluses on his hands and his skin is a burnt red color.  “Happy to give you a lift,” he says.  “I’m only going about 100 kilometers or so.”

I tell him that’s fine.

“Been working on farms and mining all my life,” he says.  He says that China, parts of Asia and Indonesia now own over ten percent of the agriculture stations in Australia.  “The government never talks about it, of course,” he says.  “It’s a big problem.”

He tells me a story about the miners blowing up the cop shop in the area fifteen years back because the police wanted to shut the mines down.  “They made sure that no police were in the cop shop, but they blew it to bits and they got the message,” he says.

The guy is full of stories.  He tells me he once went camping with some of his mates and a brown snake crawled right into his friends’ tent and curled up with him in his sleeping bag.  “We were having breakfast, and somebody asked ‘where’s Pete?  I’m surprised he hasn’t smelled the bacon and come out to eat yet.’ Well, we just figured that he was tired and sleeping in a bit so we let him be.  A bit later, he comes running out of his sleeping bag, screaming like a little girl.  The snake had crawled up next to him to keep warm and had finally decided to slither away.  He had been lying there, as still as possible, trying not to move!  Poor guy, we all felt bad for him.  He was lucky not to get bit!”

He stops at the local supermarket on the way to stock up on a 24-pack of grog (beer).  “You’re probably wondering why I didn’t buy from a bigger store where they sell cheaper beer,” he says.  “I only like to support local supermarkets, so that’s why I stop here, even though it’s a bit more expensive.”

He talks about the problems he experiences with the Aboriginals, in his perspective.  “We are forced to keep even the lazy ones employed in the mines,” he says.  “We basically don’t have the authority to fire them.”  He offers to put me up for a few nights but I tell him that I’ll be making my way to Adelaide.  The distance I am planning to cover in three months time seems daunting at this point.  I wonder how it would have gone had I accepted his offer.

I snap a picture of him for the scrap book as he drops me off and leaves.  “There’s an Aussi wanker for ya,” he says, laughs.

The miner drops me off and I sit down working on my Zac Brown cover again while the flies pester at me.  Ten minutes later, a woman in a silver car pulls over to the side of the road and I throw my pack and guitar in the back seat.  It becomes instantly noticeable that there is a certain type of nervousness to her demeanor.  She has an unhealthy skinny look to her and there are bags under her eyes.  She wears a short black skirt and high heels.

“Shit, there’s a cop a few cars back,” she says suddenly.  Is that a problem?, I ask her.

“Not for you, but maybe for me.  I have no registration, no insurance, and no license for years…”

We are pulled over and they search her car, find amphetamines of some sort in a Ziploc bag, an open container of vodka and her license has been expired since 2006—she’s on a joy ride, this one.  They don’t arrest her but instead ask if I can drive her car and follow them back to the police station.

“Don’t worry, we understand that you’re not a part of this,” one of the police officers says.  I’m really glad that they completely understand that.

“Can you drive this car?,” the younger, apparently wiser cop asks me.

“I’m not sure,” I tell him.  “Can I? I only have a Colorado license.”

The rookie cops looks to his senior for assistance.

“Can he drive this car?,” he asks him.

The older cop doesn’t seem to have answer.  “Do you feel comfortable driving this car?,” he asks, rephrasing the question.

“Comfortable enough,” I tell him.  “But I’m trying to get to Adelaide by the end of the day is all.”

“Well, we can make sure you get a chance to get there.”

Sounds good, I tell them.

So I’m driving her car to the police station, with my new friend in the passenger seat.

It takes a full hour for the police to work things out with her in a back room. There are a maximum of three police actually working at this small town station.  Across the street there is a Blockbuster Video rental.  I’m surprised to see one of the stores still in business here in Australia.  The police come out of the station and hand her a bundle of official looking paperwork and we walk over to her car.

“So you’re free to go?,” I ask her.

“Yeah, we can go but you have to drive until we get out of here.  I told them where my x boyfriend was hiding so we can get out of here.” Somehow this feels like another half-truth or complete lie but I just roll with it.  At least I’ll make it to Adelaide by the end of the night.

“Picking up a hitchhiker is illegal in south Australia,” she tells me.  Later on, I actually look up the laws and they make it clear that hitchhiking is legal, but it is recommended to avoid it.  Not that I really care what is written in a book—if it’s doing good and not bad, it shouldn’t be illegal anyways.

She tells me that one thing that isn’t illegal in South Australia is prostitution and she reveals to me her profession.  “I’m a high-class escort,” she tells me with pride.  “People message me online for my services.”

I can’t help but ask her how much she usually makes for her services.  She remains entirely open and eager to talk about it.  “I usually make 300 dollars an hour,” she says.  “There’s one guy that has his wife drop him off right at the house, knowing full well what happens.  Another guy just wants someone to take to the movies.”  There is something really sad about both sides of that equation.

I drive for about fifteen minutes, following the speed limits as we make our way down a winding road towards Adelaide.  The blinkers are reversed to what they are in the United States.  “Use the other blinker,” she says impatiently.

It dawns on me that I’m getting driving lessons in Australia from a drug-addicted prostitute; not exactly the best way to learn, but interesting nonetheless.

At a petrol station she decides that she’s going to take over the driving.  Dear God.  In hindsight, I should have just got out of the car and found another ride.

She’s got the music cranked to an ear-piercing decibel.  The speakers sound on the verge of being blown and she’s got her high-heels welded to the accelerator.  We’re going over 180 kilometers an hour for most of the way until we get to the city.  She spoons her finger in a jar of strawberry sugar spread and offers me some to lick off her finger.

“No thanks,” I tell her.

“So, have you got laid in Australia yet?,” she asks me.

“No,” I tell her.

“I know this road and where all the speed cameras are is all,” she says.  She is careful to slow down at every camera. On the way to Adelaide, she stops at a few of her “friends’” houses (I use this term lightly) and I get the impression that she just trying to get a fix of some sort of drug so while she is in the house, I hop out when she’s not looking and walk off into the city to get away from her.

I wander around the city for hours until I find a place called the Bike Kitchen, which is a co-op where people can fix their bikes as well as rent out bikes for days.  My plan was to rent a bike from the place but fate would have it otherwise.  The building is essentially a giant garage with couches sprawled everywhere.  Conveniently, there happens to be about two other nylon-string acoustic guitars lying on the couches so three of us that are music-inclined have a jam in a triangle.

One of the people I meet is Jessica and she invites me to stay at her place for the night.  Two husky dogs greet me at her door, one of them just a puppy and the other the pup’s mother.  They invite me into their home. “Wroarwolwolf!”

My backpack is immediately covered in husky dog hair fibers.  The house is a clutter of books and shelves and the couch feels like home for the evening.

 

April 18

In the morning, Jessica makes coffee and tea and we have a conversation in the backyard with the company of the husky dogs.  She says that she knows some musician friends that have jams often and we might be able to join them in the next couple days.  She tells me about her friend who lived on a hippy commune in Australia during the sixties.

I take off on a bicycle and explore some of the city.  Adelaide is full of trails through thick gum tree forests that are fantastic for cycling.  I follow the trail and conveniently get lost for miles until I find myself in the middle of downtown.  There is a transportation system called the Adelaide-Bahn, which is essentially a bus that follows a track with no traffic lights or stops.  The locals tell me that it is the second biggest system like this in the world, the largest being in Germany.

German settlers were some of the early colonizers of Adelaide and the surrounding areas so the German influence in infrastructure is not surprising.  While cycling, I meet a guy named Rick who offers to take me on a short tour of some of the coastal areas in the next couple days and I can’t turn it down.

Jessica and I climb to the top of Mount Lofty and bring the dogs with us.  It is the first time that I see a kangaroo as the dogs catch onto their trail and chase them out.  Out comes a kangaroo, with wide steady, magnificent hops and the dog close behind it.  The dogs never catch up to them as the kangaroos are too fast.

We also go to a jam with about eight different musicians and I bring my guitar but fortunately, there is also an electric guitar that I’m able to borrow as well.  It’s a bit of a train wreck most of the time with all the people but fun nonetheless.  There are a wide range of personalities at the house.  Mostly, we improve on cover songs by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, amongst others.

April 20

I take Rick up on his offer to go on a tour of the coastal areas near Adelaide.  He stops at all the local pubs to make bets on his favorite horses.  He notoriously loses every time and walks out when he knows that his luck is out.  An old coal train passes us by at a café near the ocean bay.

Jessica invites me to the Adelaide 420 Festival which has a turnout of maybe 100 people.  It’s a funny gathering where everyone lights up a joint at 4:20 and blows smoke into the air.  That’s what this feels like.  Blowing smoke.  The air is light-hearted, a fun energy when the footy game gets out.

I’m not really into the whole marijuana scene although I do think that is should be completely legal, as it shouldn’t be the governments’ decision as to what you can or can’t do, especially with something nearly as harmless as pot.  Jessica prods me to play some music, so Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix seems appropriate for the occasion.  A guy in a tie-dye shirt starts singing the same verse over and over again since he’s maybe too stoned to remember the rest.

Purple haze is in my brain

Acting funny, and I don’t know why

(repeated, over and over again)

I can’t help but laugh.  It’s a free-spirited event and there are good vibes everywhere.  I feel like I’ve been in Adelaide too long though, despite the hospitality.  At the Adelaide bridge, we find a piano player busking and we have an improvised jam.

I have the desire to move.  Tomorrow, I will.

April 21

The next day I make it to Murray River on two separate lifts.  There are lots of young people out driving about since it is the Easter holiday which means lots of cars with the passengers drinking beer while driving.  “Melbourne is a great place,” one guy says.  “It’s like Adelaide but better.”

It’s a sharp contrast to what Rick told me, recommending avoiding Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bun) altogether and venture through the small towns.

So I get into Murray River and nobody stops.  I replace my broken G string with a D string and invent my own tuning and take to playing it with a cigarette lighter as a slide.  A few people pretend they are going to pull over, only to peel off once I start walking towards them.  One guy throws a glass beer bottle out his window and it shatters on the guardrail.  There is hospitality of all sorts.

There truly is no such thing as a free ride when hitchhiking.  You pay for your ride in the patience it takes to wait for somebody to pick you up and for putting up with some of the hazards on the road.  The elements of weather and stupid people are two of the biggest hazards.

I get turned around in a small town going the wrong direction, cars blasting by me.  An old man who looks to be about eighty years old is warm when I start talking to him.  He’s working in his garden and says he’ll give me a lift to a better spot when he’s finished.  Two minutes later, he comes back and says he’ll pull his truck around.

“The rats have been getting into my vegetable garden and eating the roots,” he says.  “I built a garden just like this one for my daughter who lives in Katherine as well.”

He tells me that he remembers when they announced over the speakers at school during his childhood that World War 2 had ended and they could leave school for the day.  “We went home and there was an excitement to that day I’ll never forget,” he says.

“Well, this is the Murray River,” he says as we drive over a bridge.  He starts singing a tune that almost sounds familiar, but isn’t.

I went cruising down the river, on a Sunday afternoon

A Google search later reveals that it is in fact a song by Blue Baron and his orchestra from the late forties.

He tells me there are many churches in the areas surrounding Adelaide because of the stretched influence of England’s churches.  “In 1836, the Queen of England declared everyone had to be Christian.”  Sounded like a great social experiment to me.

Next I’m picked up by a commercial fisherman and given a lift to the town of Horsham.  The ride is short and I can’t gather much from him other than the fact that he makes about 25 an hour working on the dock.

Then there’s the IT guy that picks me up in Horsham as the sun goes down over the lake.  He is coming back from a two-week surfing trip and has his surf board on the top of his van.  “On one day, the dolphins followed me while I surfed,” he says.  He has two daughters and they weren’t into surfing so he goes on excursions by himself every time he gets holiday time.

We drive through kilometer after kilometer of farmland in the dark.  I walk into a public park to try and find a place to sleep for the park and hear a strange gurgling sound.  A creature less than a foot tall is seemingly playing hide-and-seek behind a gum tree an in the black I can’t make out what it is.  It then shoots up the tree and disappears but I can still hear a guttural sound that sounds like rolling masses of marbles.  Later, a local tells me that it was most likely a Kuala.

I take shelter under a church awning since it is raining and throw out my sleeping bag.

 

April 22

I’m picked up by a guy from Bangladesh, which is a small country just to the east of India.  He tells me about when he first migrated to Australia and had to do whatever he had to do in order to survive.  “It was rough at first,” he says.  “I had to sleep in train stations because I couldn’t afford to pay for an apartment.”

He is now an electrical engineer and has increased his living standards since those days.

Three hours later, we arrive in Melbourne and I set out exploring the city on foot.  It has a cosmopolitan feel to it and the Asian-influence is prominent in the city center.  Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants and cafes are common scenery here.

April 23

In Melbourne, I’ve been passed along from my new friend in Adelaide to her niece Charlie, who happens to be a musician.  The whole house is a musician sanctuary and without any real introduction, I just walk into the room where four people are having a jam and that’s how we meet each other.

I spend a portion of the day busking in front of the supermarket for food funds.  Melbourne has some great graffiti along the slabs of concrete that run along the city alleyways; there is the presence of a thriving art scene.

April 24

I try taking Charlie’s old bicycle out to explore the city but the cables are so rusty that they snap and I find myself blasting down a hill with no brakes and have to use my feet to come to a complete stop.

April 26

While busking downtown, I meet a local guy named Tony who is out of work and living on the streets.  He was a plumber by trade but his luck had run out and he had been laid off.  He tells me a story about an Aboriginal woman who had claimed that a wild dingo had taken her baby off into the forest.  There was a lot of scrutiny and skepticism surrounding the story but later it was proven that it was entirely possible.

I venture back to Charlie’s house and all of us get some kind of 30-minute bug.  The virus must have been airborne and out of 8 people staying in the house, 7 of us got sick.  Diarrhea and puking ensue.  Tony and I go to a place called Lentil as Anything, which offers great vegan-style food and live music.

April 27

I leave Charlie’s place in the morning, Charlie being the last one to get the virus that is floating around in the house (that makes eight out of eight) and he has it the worst, locking himself in his room for the entire day.  Over dinner, Charlie tells me a story about a friend of his who was busking with his guitar in the street when a pub owner kept stepping out and telling him to “shut up or get lost.”  At first, his friend ignored the pub owner but when he wouldn’t stop demanding for him to leave the busker took the guitar and smashed it over the top of the guy’s head to wear as a death necklace.

“It really was death necklace,” he says.  “When the police arrived, they couldn’t pull the guitar off the guy’s face without damaging his jugular vein.  They finally found the busker and the guy called out from the back of the cop car, the guitar twisted around his neck ‘that’s him!’”

Tony laughs.  “Story of my life,” he says.

That night, I sleep in a park beside a bunch of people that wind up on the streets for different reasons.  A few have definite drug problems (which they keep to themselves) but one guy from Malaysia had been promised work and was let down when he arrived.  “The man that purposively arranged work for me stopped contact as soon as I got here,” he says. “Now I’m stuck living on the streets with no work.”

I find staying with them more interesting and eye-opening than staying at a youth hostel, where it’s just partying and people doing the same sorts of things they would do in their home countries.

That night, possums come out of the woodworks and crawl over our sleeping bags, looking for food.  They have a sluggish behavior about them and crawl around in the trees during the day.  There are families of possums living in the park.

There is Tony, who has shown me nothing but kindness.  He had some issues with his x-wife and eventually tells me he got caught trying to steal a car and it caught up with him in court.  My observations lead me to conclude that the core of his problems is drugs and it’s really a shame because at the heart I know he’s a good person.

There is Kiwi, the crazy guy of the group from New Zealand who is the least responsible and seems to be hanging out with a different woman every night.  He has a crazy laugh and seems to be a bit of a problem-starter at times with the group because of his loud behavior.  He doesn’t give a shit.

There is Malaysia, who is stranded in Australia due to a scam disguised as a job offer.  He said whenever the cops come to break up the camp he just “runs off and returns later.”

Then there is Bong, who is from Cambodia.  He meditates every night before going to sleep.  “Meditation is truly about listening to yourself,” he says.  “It’s about letting things go.”

I’ll miss these guys when I’m gone and I wish them the best.  Tomorrow I plan on leaving.  I can’t stand to stay at this hobo camp much longer.

April 30

The problem with hitchhiking out of cities is that it is a task that is near impossible.  I take a train  to the outskirts of the city and it isn’t until I am halfway there that I realize I’ve left my notebook at his apartment.  I scramble off the train and head back, only to find out an hour later that he has left and the door is locked.  With no phone, there is no way to get hold of him but borrow someone else’s phone and every time I call him nobody answers.  Leaving the journal behind is out of the question.  It would be leaving a piece of myself behind.

I spend most of the day waiting at the apartment, entertained by Tony’s mother her sister, who bicker away like only old women can do.  The local drunk invites me in for a beer and he cranks on some tunes by an artist named Chris Rea.  “I’ve got my habits,” he said.  “I drink four to six beers a night.”  He pops another one open, asks me to play a tune on the guitar.

“Stay true to yourself,” he says.  “Most people never find out how to do that.”

He’s got this distant glassy look in his eyes as he sits in his chair and I’m not sure whether I should take it as advice or a compliment but it suits me just fine.  I go for a jog to pass the time.  I have a beer with Tony’s mother.  I don’t tell her that he’s spending most of his time living at a hobo camp when she asks how I met him—it’s just not my place to do so.

So I’ll spend one more night in Melbourne and having grabbed my journal this time, I’ll be ready for leaving the city (round two!) tomorrow.

May 1

Two hours of standing underneath the shade of a tree on the edge of town later, I make it out of Melbourne.  An Indian man gives me a lift just three kilometers or so down the road.  While waiting, a car pulls to the side of the road and does the “haha” disappearing trick again.  I just shake my head.  Maybe I’ll see him further down the road with his car broken down.

A half hour later, another guy pulls over.  The car is dirty, filled with empty pop bottles, the seats torn, the upholstery in various states of decay.  He tells me that he is coming home from work and can’t travel because the government won’t let him leave the country.  “Forty years ago I fired off a few rounds of ammo in a place I wasn’t supposed to,” he tells me.  I don’t ask him where this was.

He points in the direction of green sloping hills in the distance.  “I live in the hills,” he tells me.  “I love the view from my window.”  He expresses his concern about the number of Asians in Australia.  “They’d take over if we let them,” he insists.

He drops me off on the end of a series of road construction and I walked to the point where the speed limit began to increase.  A man picks me up in an SUV and tells me he is involved in organizing cricket tournaments and selling sports memorabilia online.   As we pass by, he points out that we are passing the birthplace of one of the winning horses.

“I’ve been to Thailand about ten times,” he tells me as we pass rolling hills.  “Name’s Wayne,” he tells me and hands me a business card as he drops me off at the truck stop.  “If you get stuck tonight, give me a call and I’ll put you up for the night.”

An hour later I get a lift from an Indian man who is taking his father around sight-seeing in Australia.  “It’s my father’s first time in the country,” he says proudly.  He explains that he works on an orange farm and has lived in the country for five years and has a family here now.  A wife and two kids.

“When I first came here I was sleeping in public restrooms and using the hand drier to stay warm,” he says.  I ask him about India, a country I have yet to visit.

“Once I ran into a tiger in my home country.  It was only a few feet away from me once I noticed it.  Luckily, it did not attack me.”

He has another story about a friend of his who saved a tiger from the jaws of a crocodile.  When he tells it, it sounds like it could be an urban legend or some kind of fairy tale but the sincerity in his voice is there.  “My friend bandaged and cared for the crocodile and the tiger now lives in his house.”  I imagined a tiger that the family named Fluffy walking around there house and kids playing with it like it wasn’t some wild creature that could potentially eat you.

The small town of Griffith and the farmland surrounding it is filled with orange farms but the season won’t start for another few weeks.  We pass a juice factory and row after row of grain and orange plantations.  I nestle my sleeping bag in between some tall gum trees.  The clouds in the sky are pondering rain so I wrap myself inside my waterproof bevy sack.

May 2

My gear is damp in the morning from the light rain and I find myself walking the wrong way out of town.  A road worker passes by me and then reconsiders and turns around, gives me a lift to the direction that I need to travel.  “No worries mate,” he says.  “I get paid hourly anyways and I’ve got all day to finish my work!”

He spins off and leaves me to eat my can of Ravioli on the side of the road.  A local mechanic picks me up next.  He’s carrying a trailer with a ride able lawnmower on the back.  “I fixed this for someone in town and have to drop it back off,” he says.  I help him get it off the trailer and he sets me off on some country road in the middle of nowhere.

One car is passing every half hour on average.  There is open country and a small country gas station/supermarket on the corner. I wait for at least two hours until my ride out of there arrives.  A man and his wife are on the way to pick up their son from the local jail.  “Can you pass me up a beer mate?,” the man asks, who thankfully is the passenger for this trip and not the driver.  It’s one in the afternoon and he’s already on his way to being all-out drunk.  He offers me a beer and at first I say no, but then decide why not, how many times do you get picked up by two country-folk on the way to grab their son from jail?

His wife chides him and tells him to stop swearing.  His mouth is rolling marbles of four-letter words.  I gather that his son was arrested for possession of a large amount of marijuana which seems to be a family franchise of some sort.

By the end of the day I somehow end up in the small town of Griffith, being that I have no map and just a general sense of direction.  I’m walking up a steep hill when a lady out for a walk curiously approaches me while she is out for a walk herself.

“Where are you going?,” she asks me cheerfully. “And what are you doing?”

Both of those are good questions, I tell her.  We chat for awhile and she invites me over for tea and the next thing I know she is asking me if I’m looking for work.  There is a box truck sitting in front of the house.  “My husband and I were looking for someone to take over the milk route while we go away for travels,” she says.

This idea is enticing and stops me in my tracks for a moment.  The idea of working and living in a small town and getting to know the locals in a more intimate setting sounds like an experience.  I consider this for a minute and ultimately decide to hitchhike out of Gundagai, to continue my trip moving north towards Cairns.

She drops me off at a gas station a few exits down the highway and as I’m waiting there I go in the gas station for a snack.  I grab some fruit snacks and head back to my spot.  Nobody seems to be interested in stopping.  It’s at that moment that I look down at my bag and it’s decorated with cartoon characters that look like milk jugs.  Maybe it’s a sign, I think during an inspired moment.  Maybe I’m destined to give it a go at being the milkman in Gundagai.

Impulsively, I stick out my thumb and head back in the direction that I came from.  The person that picks me up happens to know Tom and Nancy. He drops me off at their doorstep.

We make a fire and as I gather logs Nancy shows me a red back spider that has decided to make its’ home in the damp wood.  “You’ve got to be careful with these,” she said.  “Red back spiders like to make their homes in damp places.”  As soon as the log heats up, the spider crawls out.  Red back spiders are tiny but distinct in appearance with black bodies and a red dot on their backside.  One bite could potentially kill a healthy adult human.

Tom comes home from working on the farm and I spend the night hanging out with them and their three young kids.  We drive to the local pub.  Everyone has come here for Friday night—it’s not even a question of will people go, it’s just a habit in this town.  I meet the local firemen, a Canadian girl that is working the bar, a guy from Argentina, amongst a host of other characters.

The television is playing an important footy match.  It’s Australia vs. New Zealand.  The Kiwis come out at the beginning of the game and deliver their famous war cries.

May 3

I wake up before the crack of dawn and helped Tom out with the local milk route. “Back again, eh?,” the local guy at the gas station says as he stocks the shelves.  Everybody really does know everybody in this town and it results in curious glances as to who the milkman’s sidekick is for the day.  I help him move boxes of milk with a dolly after picking it up at a cooler shed.  Two hours into our shift, the sun is beginning to rise.  So this is the life of a small town milkman.  It’s hard work.

“I get used to which business owners want what and when,” he says.  “So a lot of the time I’ll just come by and stock them up before the weekend.  I hate getting called out on a Sunday by one of the motel owners saying that they ran out of milk.  A motel without milk can be an outrage for some customers.”

Later in the day I go hiking in the hills of Gundagai.  I can’t get to the hills without crossing one of the locals’ fences so I knock on the door to ask for permission.  I’m welcomed by one of the nicest families I have ever come across.  They just laughed it off.  It’s probably not often that they get travelers asking to cross their land.  “Oh sure, go ahead!,” a jolly woman says.  “It’s common land anyways, anybody can use it!”

The rolling deep-green hills overlook the town at the peak, overlooking curvatures of grassland , horses, cattle, the fresh air stretching for miles and miles.

The couple invites me in for tea when they are done and they tell me about their travels through New Zealand.  “Our daughter wants to see the landscape where the Lord of the Rings was filmed,” the father says.

While working the milk route with Tom I was introduced to a trucker and local bee keeper who has offered to give me a lift towards Sydney the next day.

May 4

I find the truck driver to be nice enough, although just maybe a bit borderline-racist.  He jumps right into talking political, a subject I often try to avoid amongst all company, especially when hitchhiking.  His ideologies are that China is going to invade Australia soon, the Arabs are taking over the world, and the Jews are responsible for the uprising of every war in human history.  He is keen to point out where he frequents the local brothels in Sydney.

I have him drop me off along the outskirts of Sydney along the highway.  I don’t want to go into the city because I already know how difficult it is to escape the Rat Race maze once you are inside it.  The shoulder that I have to work with has minimal space and the traffic zips by at 120 kilometers an hour.   My luck has it that somebody pulls over five minutes later.

The first lift passed Sydney comes from an Aboriginal kid in a van who is on his way to catch a good surf.  The back of his van is decorated with surfboards.  He says that sometimes he does surfboard repairs to make money.  We stop in a small coastal town for a couple stout beers.

He is one of the most down-to-earth people that I’ve ever met.  “My grandparents were Aboriginal, they met at a Christian commune during the ‘Stolen Generation’ period,” he tells me.  The period of the Stolen Generation was a tragic period in Australia’s history where thousands of Aboriginal kids were ripped from their families in the name of progress and religion.

We sip on our frothy beers.  “My mom and dad used to live in tents, my dad following the work of the Australian railroads when they were building it.”

This kid has the desire to travel in his blood.  His mother was a woman on the move even when he was in the womb.  Alongside us there is the sound of waves crashing against the shoreline as we hang out on the hilltop.

That night I make to the small town of Macksville.  Lifts come from a lady who kindly gives me replacement sunglasses for the ones I’ve lost, a strange intellectual type who is intent on quizzing me on the history of US president to which I miserably fail, and a couple environmental activists on their way to stop some oil fracking in inland Australia.

Almost everyone mentions the notorious backpack killer Ivan Milat, a crazed backpacker serial killer who murdered at least seven people in the 1990s and buried them in the Belanglo State Forest.  For the benefit of the citizens, he’s now serving a sentence of life in prison inside a tiny room with white padded walls.

Inside the activists’ van, somebody has written in The Trans Van in black marker on the upholstery of the ceiling.  They offer me raw salmon.  The activists take me a great distance north and tell me that there recently was an area that was sacred for the Aboriginals that the government paved over with a new highway.  “We always bypass it with the old highway,” she says.  “One time we accidentally drove over it when we got turned around and bad things ended up happening.”

It gets dark and we move through miles and miles of dense gum tree forests and farmland.  We listen to raw punk rock music and BBC radio.

In Macksville, I camp behind a grocery store witness two speeding comets as I sleep under the stars.

Backpack Full of Bush Dust- Hitchbiking Southeast Asia and hitchhiking Australia (Full book, part 2)

Find the paperback copy for sale here:

March 14

I take off towards Thasongyang the next day, passing through a National Park.  The day is hot and my face is scorched like a lobster from the relentless sun.  I cycle a bit and hitch rides in the back of lots of trucks which makes for a good adrenaline rush.  I end up in some town of which I don’t remember the name and set up camp in the park.  Camp involves only an inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag.  Unexpectedly, there is a fan blowing at the gazebo so I keep it on through the night to rid the mosquitoes.

I dream about tomorrow, which will be more rigorous riding followed by more Thai food, followed by more rigorous riding.  This is the life of a vagabond.

 

March 15

The next day I set out and find a giant golden Buddha statue that rests on top of a hill.  It is posed so it is resting while lying down on the hill, overlooking the landscape with wonder.  Curious, I cycle to the top and explored the small town and the people that surround it.  It is early, and adults and kids alike are already up and cooking food.

I walk back down to the bottom of the cliff and once the road becomes too narrow for safe cycling, I opt to stick out the thumb.  I am picked up by four college-age people, one of the girls on her way to the hospital to get paperwork for her new job.  Before that, we end up at a coffee shop passing my guitar around and a few of them playing Western tunes.  Why is Oasis so popular in Thailand?  He starts strumming and singing Don’t’ Look Back In Anger.

The hospital is covered in wooden furniture and does not have the flawlessly clean, ultra-sanitized look hospitals in the US tend to have, which are clean enough to make one sick.  I got the impression that all the patients waiting in that room are going to get the care that they need.  There is no demand for endless red tape of paperwork, for proof of insurance, all of the mud that slows the American healthcare system down.

We venture into the National Park and walk through the river.  They are kind enough to ask a monk if I can sleep in the temple for the night, which to my surprise, after looking over my sweaty, sun-baked presence over, actually says yes, I can sleep there.  I feel like a guest of honor.

Anyways, the next day I am going to push on towards Thasongyang and should make it there before nightfall.  I roll out a mat and sleep in a house by myself nearest the temple, on a cliff overlooking the river below.  I go for a swim in the river and wash away my sweat before sleep.

I go to the local store and bought some fruit.  Young to-be monks were pile into the back of a few pickup trucks and collect their food supplies.  They all have freshly shaved heads, orange Buddhist robes, and bright smiles.  It is magic.

March 16

I cycle as far as I can, granted the limits of my rickety-rackety single-speed bike.  The two-wheeled machine thump and clank along, until I find myself along a dirt-stone jungle road that if attempted, will reduce my loyal stallion to a clump of horse shit.  At one point, I pass a woman who is balancing a bowl of fruit on her head without using her hands—truly no small feat—and other than that, this is a lonely road.

Hot. Humid.  My shirt clings to my back like old Scotch tape.

I can’t figure out if I am entering a jungle heaven or a jungle hell.

I stick out my thumb and accept a lift from the first truck that comes shaking on by and they motion for me to hop into the truck bed.  The bed is rusty, full of dirt, tools, and wood.  I help them unload at their village, the lines on their face revealing creases from hard work.  What do they do to get by?  Where does the wood come from? What do they say when I leave?  What do they think of this Farang traveling alone on a bike on this jungle road?

There are so many things I wish to ask, to express, to communicate, but the language barrier is like a mortar wall.  Instead, we just smile and nod.  Khap kun khrap.  A form of politeness and gratitude.

I pass kilometer after kilometer of sugar cane plantations.  A kid pops out of nowhere and asks if he can ride my bike.  Thinking light-heartedly, I say sure.  As he rides off down the hill, I realize that he could easily take off with the thing, but that is just my fear of being taken advantage of getting the best of me.  Being alone in a jungle can do that.  The kid just laughs and smiles as he rides, his feet not quite long enough to reach the pedals.

Stopping at cafes to eat Thai food whenever I can, men laze around in hammocks while women cook.  My appetite is always ravenous after having cycled many miles.

I  walk into a 7/11 and try to practice my Thai with the locals.  Sa wa dee, khap.  Su bai dee mai?  ( Hello, thanks.  How are you?)  I was the strange Farang, the barbarian on a bicycle that couldn’t speak the language properly.  The Thai language is spoken with different tones and if the word is not pronounced exactly correct, the word can be misinterpreted into something completely different than what you are intending.  The strange looks people sometimes give me says that I often don’t achieve the desired word.  Sometimes a simple khap (thanks) and a wai go a long ways.  In Thai culture, the Wai is a gesture of respect that is given by folding your hands together in a prayer-like way and with a slight bow.  I buy a map of Thailand at the 7/11 for reference and move along.

I keep moving along a thickly forested area where a cattle herder moved his cattle with the aid of a black dog.  The dog seems more interested in watching for and chasing birds than anything else.  I learn the hard way not to accept a lift from a tuk-tuk, since they either don’t understand the concept of hitchhiking or don’t want to.  They give me the “tourist rate” for two kilometers and I hop off, the driver nearly driving away with my bike still on top!

It is one more lift that got me into Thasongyang.  The guy even drops me off in front of the hospital where I am to meet Kraisee, who is a doctor at the facility.  He even alerts him to let him know that I have arrived.

Kraisee welcomes me into his home and I feel humbled, like a guest of honor.  And here I am, just some lowly vagabond hitchhiker.  His family lives in his house, including his wife, daughter, and his wife’s mother.  When a man marries a woman in Thailand, he almost literally marries his wife’s mother at the same time. They also have a few miniature dogs running around.  His wife makes a meal that is so explosive to the taste buds that I can’t possibly describe it.  She is an expert at making microwaved bananas.  The bananas in Thailand are typically much smaller and sweeter than I am used to as a Westerner.

The grandmother eats traditionally with her fingers and I am able to speak fluently with Kraisee, as his English is proficient.  After going for a bike ride to a local café with him and his wife, we go riding with his daughter and he shows me the country of Myanmar, which is directly across the river, just a swim away.  “Many people cross the river to work in Thailand illegally,” he tells me as we gaze at a young man using some kind of bicycle raft contraption to glide across the water.

Desperate people and opportunities call for desperate measures.  The immigration problem with Mexico and the United States is not unique in the world.  Later, Kraisee shows me refugee camps that surround areas near his village.  “They were originally supposed to be temporary,” he tells me.  Kraisee is a strikingly wise man that I immediately respect and grow a liking to his family.

In the living room later, I stumble across the Hotel California chords and play for his family upon request.  The grandmother speaks only Thai, so she communicates with a radiant smile and teaches me the word “alloy” meaning “it’s delicious!”  I say this after every meal the family insists on treating me to.  To turn it down would simply be disrespectful.

Together, we explore Mae Usu Cave, which is an area surrounded by steep escarpments and caverns filled with stalagmites and stalactites.  Water runs through the cave and it is filled with bats that aren’t timid to swoop low when tour groups come through.  Cattle graze in the nearby area.  His daughter takes to playing in the mud.  Kraisee tells me that a bout of malaria has been a problem in the nearby area.  I keep this in mind as I swat at the few mosquitoes.

After sleeping on a stone bench in Chang Mai one night, resting my head on a fluffy pillow in an air-conditioned home never felt better.  For three days, I’m part of an ultra-hospitable and friendly, tight-knit Thai family.

March 17

The irony of staying with a great family away from home is that you do start missing your own family at home.  It’s a feeling you learn to embrace and repress at the same time.

Kraisee tells me about his travels in Japan, where he mostly stayed in hostels along the way.  Being a traveler of life himself has allowed him to open up his home for Couchsurfing.

I play a game of bad mitten with their young daughter, who is also a gifted math whiz.  She has a program on her phone that is a sort-of math contest and she pumps out math solutions faster than I can whistle, melting my math brain into fried rice.

We drive to Tak, where Kraisee and his family have another home.  Kraisee is hesitant at first, not sure that the quarters will suit his guest’s needs.  Without telling him that I slept on a piece of stone one night, I tell him that I am not picky, and whatever the situation is, it will be fine with me.

I fall asleep that night to the sound of a rather large lizard crashing around in the ceiling.  There is a picture of Kraisee at a college graduation ceremony, with the King of Thailand in the background.  “That was in Bangkok,” he tells me.  “All Thai people go to Bangkok for this ceremony when they graduate college.”  He says this with a humble pride.  Kraisee is a man of many accomplishments.

In Thailand, the King is highly respected and there are pictures of the king on billboards everywhere in the country.  The King is never joked of or talked ill of.  Thailand is an old country with a rich history and heritage and it’s best when visiting Thailand to be respectful and keep your opinions to yourself, especially regarding the King, unless you have an ambitious desire to end up in a jail cell.

Every half-hour or so, I’d hear the lizard go AGLOOOOOOK AGLOOOOOOOOOOOK in a long, guttural sound similar to the clucking of a chicken but more alien in presence.  That night I dream of a knock at the door and when I open it, a seven-foot lizard creature stood on three feet and greets us.

 

March 18

After some reading with Kraisee in the brief coolness (and I mean brief) of the morning while the roosters crow I take the mountain bike down a dirt road where dogs bark at me and a man comes out and motions for me to not go any further.  The grandmother gives me a memento of a miniature Buddhist statue, to which I reply “alloy” just to hear her laugh one last time.  She says something to Kraisee in Thai and he tells me that she “wishes to have me back any time.”

They set me off along the main road and I hitch rides from about three different trucks to Koatchi and then return to Phitsanulok.  It is more or less on the way so I figur why not—and I have to admit that want to meet back up with Matt and Chompoo and the cute girl at the Raw Milo ice dessert shop.

I get dropped off in the college area and find her at the same place.  Somehow I am expecting something different, yet all is the same.  All of what appears like chaos to me has a stillness.  The same buzz of scooters and the clutter of eclectic Asian shops and food carts.  In the middle of it all, there she was, her face bright red and a smile on her face.  I meet some of her friends and answer their questions, aske some of my own and they all go home on their scooters.  I invite her to dinner but it is at that moment she tells me she has two kids to go home to.  I help her closer the shop.  It is late, already a bit past two AM.  A bit late to be getting a motel room.

I ride my bike to the college campus and lay my camping equipment onto the ground and check into the lovely Musquito Hell Hotel.

 

 

March 19

I end up moving after the initial torment by swarms of mosquitoes to a shelter in a slightly windier area, which keep the bugs mostly at bay.  After waking, and amped up on a cup of local coffee, I cycle the ten kilometers or so back to Matt and Chompoo’s place.

We wind our way later in the day to the local herbal sauna and I found myself making small talk with the local monks.  One was a middle-aged man, with a bald head (I guess all monks have bald heads) and joked with Alfeo and I that we should find Thai girlfriends.  “Europeans have very large,” he assures us, making an exaggerated gesture with his hands.  Some people played a game where the objective was to roll small heavy balls the size of tennis balls into a small circle and knock out your opponents’ balls.  Others sit down and played chess, had conversation, or worked out.  It’s all done with a lackadaisical, happy energy.

Alfeo and I go cycling through the village and at one point I somehow misjudge the trial bank and fall off, nearly rolling into the river.  Alfeo asks if I am alright, but he can’t hold in his laughter.  Maybe I should’ve bought one of the eels and released it into the river for life longevity after all!

We walk two buildings down to the café that sells fried chicken and rice.  Thai soap operas play on a small TV inside; love affairs and melodramatic scripts.  Matt tells me that it is too bad that I am leaving before April begins.  Soon in Thailand there will be the Songkran Festival where the locals celebrate the wet season by throwing large buckets of water and water balloons at each other in the street.  The cities go mad with excitement after suffering the months of dry season.  I suppose I’ll have to save something for next time.

March 20-21

I catch the bus to Bangkok just to try something different early one morning.  The cheaper bus for tourists runs early and crack of dawn early– meaning five AM.  I reason the justification of not hitchhiking for once on the novelty of riding the train in Thailand.  I want to have that experience.  Alfeo and I ride together in a crowded, sweaty train, passed a village of ancient ruins where monkeys climb on ancient Thai ruins.  The train whistle blows and we chug through the backyards of villages.

People walk up and down the aisles at every stop selling different kinds of Thai food.  I buy some kind of treat that tastes like cotton candy but is in the form of a hot tamale, yet it’s not tamale, it’s just pure cane sugar essentially.  I eat a bit and give the rest to a kid’s mother sitting next to us.

Eventually, we arrive in Bangkok and part ways.  This is the plight of the traveler.  You get used to greetings and goodbyes, flow like a river.  Somehow, I wind up again at the protest area by the twitch of my nose and meet a local man who tells me about his hitchhiking on the east coast of the United States in the seventies.  “One American that picked me up spoke Thai and had learned some of the language during Vietnam.  That was pretty cool,” he says.  “I just recently retired from working for the airlines for thirty years.”  He gives me a small vile of formula for my mosquito bites on my legs.

It is raining in Bangkok and as I make my way around the city on the bike, I am drenched with wet.

A friend of a friend is playing at a local bar that night, so I meet up with Olga and her boyfriend, both musicians that are from Russian and Ukraine and have hitchhiked together the entire way to Bangkok.  That night they are playing a gig, so I make my way to the bar to hear them, getting lost in the city for a few hours before finding them.

Despite Annan being out of the city and at a friend’s wedding in Los Angeles, he offers for me to sleep at his flat that night while he is away.  In the morning, my plan is to make it out of Bangkok.  At this point, I have to start making tracks south—I have over 1,800 kilometers to cover by hitchhiking and just over a week to do it.  My flight from Singapore to Darwin, Australia will be on April second.

 

March 22

I get lost in Bangkok and my plan is to make it as far south as I can and get rid of the bike, which in some ways is dragging me down.  I get sucker-punched into going to a professional Thai boxing match after watching an advertising truck ride up and down the streets calling out “come see prooooofessional Thai boxing! Tonight! Starts… eight o’clock!”

The technical term for the style of boxing I watch later that night is Muay Thai, and it known as the “art of eight limbs” , combining the use of shins, knees, elbows, and fists to battle opponents.  Really, it should be known as the “art of beating the pulp out of someone” because that is what basically goes on in the ring.

People are gathered in a busy touristy bar scene with the ring front and center.  The boxers proceed to beat the living crap out of each other.  Young Thai women try to drag me into the bars, but I am not interested in being viewed as a bank on two legs.  I have to gently pull away from one woman’s grip after kindly trying to tell her that I have to get going.  There is a darker side to Bangkok, one of prostitution and sex tourism; I can feel that it is prevalent in the area.

Escaping Bangkok is like getting out of a tornado while trapped in the center—it just isn’t an easy thing to do.  Traffic is packed into every inch of street and every vehicle spews black smoke out of its’ exhaust.  I get directions from a few handfuls of locals, but even they aren’t sure how to get out.  Nobody fully understands Bangkok, not even the locals, so there is no chance the traveler will ever be able to wrap his or her head around it.  Once you’re in Bangkok, there is a tendency to get trapped and stay there.

“You turn left,” they told me, pointing to their immediate right.

That night, somehow I managed to make it to the bus station alive on the outskirts of the city, sell my bike to a tuk tuk driver for the cost of a ticket, and jump on a bus to the next town south, which happens to be the town of Chompon.

March 23

The bus rolls into Chompon at about three in the morning, where I avoid the initial bombardment of “where you go?!” and “hello!” and “you want texi?”  offers from tuk tuks and I wander around the town in the late hours.  The food they have fed us on the bus has upset my stomach and given me a case of diarrhea.  I find a hotel and sneak inside when nobody is looking, as nobody usually does when it’s two in the morning.

I keep walking to the end of town and even at four in the morning; the town is already coming alive.  Families chop vegetables outside their homes, women sweep with their home-crafted brooms, kids play in the small yards. If it weren’t for the fact that it is pitch black outside, you would have thought it was already midday.  I admire the work ethic and friendly demeanor of the Thai people.

I get directions from a man that is out for a morning walk as we move right passed a minorly disassembled electrical cable that sparks over our heads.  I walk around it and the man is not afraid to walk directly underneath it—this is normal scenery for him.  I wonder how long the cable has been dangling and sparking.

The sun is rising over the train tracks that move underneath the bridge that we walk over, painting a surreal photographic style image.  Hitchhiking, a beastly Nissan truck pulls over (it’s always a truck in Thailand) and I hop in the front.  He insists on taking me to meet his wife at his house and we have a breakfast together.  There is a pile of cracked coconuts in his front yard, if you can call it a yard, which is really just an open patch of dirt.  His wife is pregnant and they seem to have a happy life.

I say goodbye and begin walking along the main road in a southern direction and with my luck the first car that drives by happens to be the police.  There are two of them together and my experience tells me that they’re going to tell me what I’m doing is illegal, and I’m going to play the ignorant tourist and have to find another way to get to Malaysia.  To my surprise, that’s not what happens.

The police are almost too happy to see me out here on this empty road with my thumb sticking in the air and my dusty backpack.  They are excited to get photographs in all sorts of cheesy ways and it becomes some kind of photography contest and I’m grinning so wide that they can’t seem to get that real serious shot out of me that they must want.  I imagine them posting the photograph on the wall back at the station, bragging to the boys that they have done their good deed in the tourist department helping a Farang get to his destination safely.

Although they do speak English, it is broken and hard for me to understand at times but they suggest that I get into the back of the cruiser, which I do and they begin riding down the road at speeds that are well over the posted speed limit.  At this rate, we’ll be at the Malaysian border before any of us can ask for a pit stop!

They jet up next to a family van while riding in the right lane and motion for them to pull over.  Oh my God, oh my Buddah, I’m thinking.  What is going on here?

“You wait here,” they tell me.  “No show passport to anyone.  We find you ride.  You wait here friend.”

They hop out of the car and talk to the family for a few minutes, while I wait in the car somehow wishing that I was on the road by myself without their assistance, despite their desire to help and be friendly.

In moments, they return with stretched smiles on their faces.  The smiles say, mission accomplished!  We have found the hitchhiker a ride!

“Ok, you go with them now,” they tell me.  “We find you ride.  You go to Hatyai.”

I can’t be reluctant in this case.  I am in the trusted hands of the Thailand police.  So I agree to ride with this family, although it goes against my hitchhiking etiquette, which is that someone should willingly pull over for a ride.  This ride feels pressured, forced by the police, even though they are helping out.  You can’t do anything but laugh at yourself and the predicament.

Why didn’t I just stay at home and just work a regular job like everyone else?  Only because this was possible; I can’t make this stuff up.

I sit with the family dog in the backseat and after some small talk in English I ask them where they are headed.  “ We go to Hatyai,” they tell me.

“Yes, but is that where you were going originally?,” I ask.

“ We go to Hatyai.”

“ Is that where you planned to go?  Or were you not going that far south?”

“We were going to our home. It is twenty kilometers north of Hatyai.”

“Ok, you can drop me off there.”

Now that the police are gone, there is no way I’m letting this family drive out of their way to give me a ride—that’s got to be bad karma for the rest of my trip if I allow it.  So they drop me off near their intended turnoff and I thank them for the lift.

I get my first lift from a guy traveling on a scooter but with the added weight of myself backpack we’re traveling at the light-speed of 5 kilometers an hour for three kilometers.  I could have walked faster but the entertainment and break in monotony are much appreciated.

I stumble into a café and meet a friendly lady and her kids who offers me bananas and I give her daughter my Grinch shirt, which I had been waiting to give to the right person and the right moment anyways.  She laughs and runs off to show it off to her friends.  On the road, the lesser possessions you have, the freer you are to travel.

I also get a lift from a truck driver who is more than happy to have me as company.  I feel like a spectacle that he shows off to his friends.  When I go to pay for the meal at the local café they refuse my offer no matter how hard I try.  The trailer of the truck is wrapped in a dirty green canvas like a military vehicle.  The cab is an off-white.

A few short rides later, I make it to Hatyai and wander around the streets trying as much local dish as I possibly can.  I even try fried grasshopper at once; not that I find it appealing, if only for the novelty.  It tastes like grease, with a grasshoppy aftertaste—I can’t say that I’d make a go for it again.

While walking, some kids drive by on their scooters and throw a hard bar of soap that hits me in the leg with a solid THWACK.  I’ve been wandering around for hours, am exhausted from carrying the weight of my pack, and am not really sure what I am looking for.  Everything is so exotic to me that I can’t make any sense of it.  Nobody speaks English.  The stinging pain of getting pelted with a hard bar of soap in the shin makes me feel alive though not in a good way.

Finding my way back to the bus station, I run into some tuk tuk drivers who are calling it quits for the night and have spread out blankets and are sharing some laughs.  I am walking passed them, uninvited; when I hear one of them call over to me to join them in English.  Maybe it is the guitar that catches their attention or maybe the downcast look on my face at the time.

Minutes after introduction, we’re passing the guitar around and they’re offering me shots of Thai whisky and forcing me to sing back the lyrics of traditional Thai songs.  I have no idea what the words mean, for all I know they could be having me sing the anthem to Stupid Foreigners.  After little time we’re laughing and some of them are falling over in the grass.  We must have been quite a sight, except it’s past two in the morning and nobody’s awake, nobody else cares.

An hour or so later, I decide that I need to get some sleep and suddenly we’ve all become great friends.  It’s amazing what music, Thai whisky and a sense of humor can do to a group of people.  “I take you to bus station, you can sleep there, my friend,” one of the guys offers.  Drunkenly, he puts the keys into the tuk tuk and I’m gracious for not only the ride but the fact that the train station is only a few feet from where we are.

He talks to the security at the bus station, and while this is happening, his tuk tuk starts to roll away down the hill.  He’s forgot to set the parking brake! I jump in and stop the tuk tuk from its ultimate demise of crashing into the nearby trash can.

The giant fan hanging above the tiny bus terminal is a saving grace from a cascade of mosquitoes that are flying in for the evening feed from the local stagnate stream.  I curl up on a bench and get ready to fall asleep.  The less you own, the less you have to worry about.  A group of Thai people in front of me have gathered around the TV to talk politics, pointing at one of the leaders speaking in front of a microphone.  I stop and stare and I can relate, yet I can’t speak.

March 24

I wake to the sound of passengers and commuters shuffling around early in the morning.  One of the drivers offers to give me a ride to the Malaysian border for another special rate, so I opt to walk out of town and find the road to hitchhike out of there.  What fun is riding in a contained bus anyways?  The hitchhiker finds his or herself in a situation that is completely spontaneous and there is an instant opening for conversation.  On buses, we sit and read our books, we listen to music on our gadgets, we become comfortable, just like at home.

I get picked up by a semi-truck driver just on the outskirts of the central business area.  He doesn’t speak a lick of English, but I play him a tune on my guitar and that breaks the ice.  The driver stops for another hitchhiker who was is an English guy, also heading for the Malaysian border.  He gives me a great deal of insight into traveling Australia.  He is a long-term world traveler who has traveled to many parts of the the world and finds work wherever he goes.

He drops us off right before the border, as the driver doesn’t seem to want to deal with customs and explain to them who we are.  “This border is seedy,” Joe, the English traveler tells me.  “A lot of Malaysians come to southern Thailand for semi-legal activity and to do things that aren’t accepted in the popular culture, if you know what I mean.”  Brothels are on every corner here, he tells me.  The hotels are run-down and it’s impossible to not get approached for “services.”

It is a liberating feeling to have the freedom to cross with ease into another country, but borders are only glorifications of our false senses of security.  The overwhelming feeling of paranoia and tightened borders is worldwide.  The border officials are stern and without personality but they give us no hassle in crossing into Malaysia.

We decide to hitchhike together and it takes about ten minutes to secure our first ride.  He is going about 50 kilometers south into Malaysia.  The roads are larger, wider here, with less potholes and the lack of roadside vendors on every road is a change in pace.  Part of me is sad to leave Thailand, content to be in Malaysia.

Just recently, on March 8, 2014, the Malaysian plane, a Boeing 777 carrying 227 unfortunate travelers had seemingly disappeared into thin air and was all over the news.  The airline had left Kuala Lumpur after midnight and lost contact with air traffic controllers around 1:22 a.m.  Since I am writing this, billions of dollars have been spent in search of the plane to no avail, and the whereabouts of the plane remain unknown, with plenty plausible theories and conspiracy gossip in its’ wake.

The man that picks us up wears a taqiyah, which is a cap that most Muslims wear.  His name is Fawaz, and he is just returning from Thailand after giving a speech at one of the colleges.  I am riding in the back, so it is hard to make conversation other than the occasional comment or two.  Joe asks Fawaz what his theories are on the downed Malaysian plane.

His response is interesting.   I’m not sure if he’s serious or if he’s just pulling my leg because he knows I’m an American.  “I think the Americans hijacked the plane,” he says.  He waits for some kind of expected response from me—I’m only listening.  “You see, I know the Americans have access to this island near the Philippine Islands and they could have stashed it there…”

It’s either the biggest outrage or the most inflated conspiracy theory I’ve ever heard.  Propaganda is dispersed on all sides, always.  He drops us off and we continue our journey south.  My goal is to make it Ipoh, Malaysia by nightfall, where I have a host for the evening.

We get dropped off at the tollbooth along the expressway and continue along.  One man stops and Joe went to talk to him.  I overhear the driver saying, “you see, I am texi…” as he points to a clipboard.  Nope, not interested, he tells him.  The car speeds off.

We’re eventually picked up by a woman from Myanmar who is heading to Butterworth for a nursing job she has been hired for.  She gives us a ride a good portion of the way until it is time for us to go our separate ways.  Joe is heading for the Malaysian islands in the opposite direction.

The third and final ride for the day comes from a group of Pakastani construction workers piled in the bed of the pickup truck.  The boss man comes and talks to me.  “I can give you ride to Ipoh,” he says.  “But first I must go to pick up the human, and then we will go.”  The human? What is this guy involved in? Some kind of human trafficking?  Then it becomes apparent he is only talking about picking up another employee, only that his word for it is human.

The guys take turns strumming at my guitar and talking obscenities.  One guy flexes his muscles.  “ We like to do pumping, PUMPING,” he says.  He makes pelvic thrusting motions and laughs.They pull a tarp over the truck to keep the hot sun from burning holes through our skulls.  The driver insists on buying me a meal at lunch time.  I pull out my wallet to pay for my meal but he refuses.  “I take care of you,” he says.  “I am Muslim man, my job to help you.”

The truck blasts on through the mountains and limestone caves.  I imagine elephants and monkeys roaming freely on the outskirts of town.  Azzam meets me near the local water park where they drop me off; in a place as sweltering hot as Malaysia; a water park is a considerable business investment.  I jump into the car and head to his place near the University.  There is an English guy who has been in Ipoh for about a month already and we will be dropping him and his Muslim girlfriend off at the train station in the morning.

 

March 25

In my notebook the next morning, I scribble in the distances I have to cover in order to reach Singapore for my flight out of the country on April the second:

Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur-  201 kilometers

Kuala Lumpur to Melaka- 136 kilometers

Melaka to Singapore- 232 kilometers

To me, all these distances seem doable in a days’ time, granted I can actually get rides.  Azzam is a great host and takes me out to the local cafes.  The food cuisine in Malaysia is tasty and diverse, since the country is a melting pot of cultures, mainly Chinese, Muslim, and some Thai.  From his home in the morning, we can hear the morning Muslim prayer that is heard across the soccer field.

Azzam tells me a story about a friend of his who had spent some time teaching in Singapore.  “My friend’s wife was a stay-at-home wife while he worked as a teacher during the day at the university,” he says.  “ All day long she was writing her friends back home, saying that she missed them, that she was all alone, especially that she hated the country of Singapore…one day there was a knock at the door.  It was the Singaporean police and they ordered them twenty-four hours to pack up and leave the country.”

One evening, Azzam and I sit outside a café and taste some authentic Indian cuisine.  Nam bread and the spicy sauce they serve it with along with a fruit drink becomes my favorite meal combo.  He also introduces me to satay, which is chicken dipped in peanut butter sauce and tossed over a thick flame for about ten minutes.  It’s just as bad for you and delicious as it sounds.  The taste is crisp, sweet and indescribable.  We take a tour through the Sultan’s palace and we are the only two people walking the tour that day.  I can’t help but feel that the attendant’s eyes follow us through this blatant showcase of immense wealth.  A black and white picture shows of one of the former sultans playing field hockey.  The description claims that hockey originated in India.

We try some fresh mango from a food stall and I can honestly say that if eating a fresh mango meant that I would lose one day of my life, I would gladly take this exchange.  It tastes heavenly compared to processed candy bars.

We went to a Chinese temple where the monkeys hang from trees and swing off the power lines.  I hope that I’m never reincarnated as a monkey because their lives seem to be a constant miserable struggle.  There is not a moment when some other monkey is not taunting another monkey, pulling at each other’s hair, or fighting to become or remain alpha monkey.  It’s maybe similar to the human rat race, except arguments erupt over much more petty things such as food, water, shelter and survival, on a superficial scale. 

Azzam says that he enjoys his teaching career and it has been a constant positive challenge for him.  “It requires incredible dedication,” he tells me over Indian food one night.  “In a way, you are responsible for the rest of their lives.”  One of the best moments during his career was when he was transferred to a different school and while he was walking off during the ceremony, he overheard someone whisper “there goes another good one.”

One night I drive the car back to the house because his leg has poor circulation and is acting up.  I take this as an opportunity to take driving lessons in Malaysia.  To drive on the wrong side of the road in Malaysia (in my American perception) is to drive on the correct side.  The driver’s side is where the passenger’s side usually is and everything is a mirror image of what I’m used to.  You have to dodge crazy scooterists and motorcyclists all the time.  Every second on the road could very well be your last.

Ok, so it’s really not that crazy.  But it’s a lot of fun.

Even the blinkers are a splitting mirror image of what I’m used to.  To signal a left turn, you flick the blinker downwards.  Nonetheless, we manage to make it home alive with my host making only a few gasping sounds and there are no heart attacks along the voyage.

Azzan has given me an outstanding introduction to Malaysian food, culture, and hospitality.  For the most part, Malaysia seem to be a corner of the world where different ethnic groups have learned to tolerate each other without building gigantic mortar walls or blowing each other to bits.  Geographically, Malaysia’s strategic position attracted trade and influence in its’ history.  Hinduism and Indian people dominated the early timeline, Muslims entering the country as early as the tenth century and a colonization of the Portuguese (here come the Europeans) in Melaka during 1511.  Remnants of former kingdoms and the way in which they have transformed into modern society are scattered everywhere.

It’s time to leave Ipoh and in the morning, I’ll be hitchhiking to Kuala Lumpur.  I tell Azzam that I plan to go for a jog around the park near his house.  “Oh, you don’t want to do that,” he says.

“Why’s that?”

“There are wild boars around here.”

“Oh, that’s ok,” I say, I’d like to see one from a distance.”

“Yes, but there are wild boars.”
Hmmmmm…..

“I’ll take you to a park tomorrow morning,” he suggests.

Running into a wild boar or being charged by one doesn’t sound like bad travel adventure credibility but I decide to take a rain check on that one and head to sleep.

 

March 28

We hop in Azzam’s old red car and he drops me off at a convenient spot for hitching just passed a toll booth.  The traffic is slow enough where they can get a good look at me and hopefully form a quick conclusion that I am not entirely crazy, although maybe only partially.

Like a good vagabond, I have crafted a cardboard sign that reads in bold letters “KL” and it works wonders.  Within five minutes, a non-compatriot has pulled over to offer a ride.  Lucky me, he is going all the way to Kuala Lumpur.  I share my bananas with a middle-aged man dressed in semi-casual business attire.  He is from the mother country of India and a devote Hindu.  His job involves selling medical equipment all over Malaysia.

The conversation moves to the topic of the “education crisis” in America and also, evidently in Malaysia.  “In Malaysia, one big problem is there are too many medical universities and aspiring doctors and not enough demand for the profession.  Too many degrees, not enough jobs for many…”

We are driving by jungle terrain in the distance, green cliffs that shoot out of Earth in sudden and unpredictable shapes.  “Hands-on training becomes difficult with that many applicants—37 medical universities, thirty-seven!—have sprouted up in the last five years.  It’s just gotten out of hand, this model of universities working as a business.”

We pass by one of the Sultan’s palaces as we gain distance to KL.  As far as I know, there are currently eleven sultans in Malaysia and it is an integral part of their history.  That’s why his humored comment surprises me.  “Just another large home where some giant idiot lives,” he says.  A moment of pure truth.

We scoot on by endless rows of palm tree plantations.  Large sections of jungle have been wiped out to make way for this huge part of the Malaysian economy.  I’m not one to wave a finger and say “shame on you” here; it just is what it is.  “The economy used to be based on rubber tree plantations, but they changed it when the demand for palm oil went up around the world,” he says.

Palm oil is used in many worldwide products that most people would not expect, such as toothpaste, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, many shampoos, women’s makeup, moisturizing lotion, chocolate bars, Ritz crackers, and Pringles chips just to name a few.  The issue with palm oil is that it can lead to heavy deforestation, climate change, and indigenous rights abuses.  Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil; hence it’s worldwide appeal in cooking.

My driver continues his rant.  “Anyways, now the rubber trees are back in high demand but the government went ahead and changed it to palm oil trees too soon.”  Rubber trees or palm oil trees, they form a fortress of foliage surrounding the entire freeway.  There is no telling how far into the jungle these plantations stretch; the consumerist culture of the world is the limit.

I thank him for his conversation and the lift and he just turns it around and thanks me.  So starts my exploring of KL at the main bus terminal where he drops me off.  There is the bustle of traffic, honking of horns, spewing of exhaust, people yapping on cell phones, hydraulic pressure releasing on buses.

I venture my way into the Indian market.  There is a distinct smell of fish rising above the overwhelming smell of diesel gas amongst massive amounts of food being cooked.

I walk for miles and miles in the city by myself, viewing some of the tallest twin towers in the world.  Post 9/11, there is something about the word Twin Towers that holds a sour aftertaste.  Still, there it is, at night time shining and in all its’ beacon-to-big-business-glory.

Later after dark, I meet a couple backpackers staying in hostels from Sweden who are traveling with another guy from England.  The busy markets are closing—no more people selling homemade whistles on bicycle carts, no fried food, just the soft shwww shwwww sound of workers sweeping the leftover mess into a pile in the middle of the street.  Nobody would have heard them over the high-decibel commotion of the day.  This is all in preparation to repeat the markets again tomorrow.

Westerners aren’t hard to pick out, especially in a foreign country when they’re loud and staggering on two feet.  I decide that I can’t have a fully functional conversation with them and walk away somewhat disappointed.  Maybe I should get drunk with them?  Or maybe I should just go to sleep for now since I’ve been walking all day.

I take a walking tour through a Hindu temple and am completely perplexed and ignorant to what I am seeing.  Hinduism is a polytheistic religion with many different Gods and ways of worshiping.  The temple is decorated with all sorts of animals and artwork.  Outside, people smash coconuts as an offering to the Gods.

As I pass by a massage parlor, an attractive woman tries to sell me a massage.  No thanks, I say.  She then grabs my arm in an erotic sort-of way and smiles, suggests with a whisper a “special” massage.  It doesn’t take a massage specialist to gather what that means.  I wish her a good night for now and stagger half-asleep into an Internet café and fall asleep in the chair until daylight, my hour time-limit long since up.  The shop owner doesn’t seem to care.

March 29

I wake to the sound of shuffling feet, people already bargaining roadside prices in the early AM fog of customers.  I walk some more, searching for a good location to hitch.  This proves a struggle and quite possibly futile—people seem to make more effort to run me over than anything else.

The static white noise of the big city.

Half-limping with the small elephant pack on my backside, I enjoy a Malay breakfast at a café called Zhing Kong.  Eventually, I opt for the more accepted way to travel, at least to get to the outskirts of KL.  I purchase a bus ticket for a short ride to Sungai Besi where I walk for a mile in the wrong direction until I get to a highway roundabout where there is less convoluted traffic.  Sweltering, scorching sun and zero trees for shade are my options.

My first lift comes from a young man who has work for the day installing cables outside of KL.  This is a short lift that puts me at a more open, engaging spot for hitchhiking.

The second lift comes from an older guy who served in the military during the 1960s.  He was a parajumper.  “We had to jump from a plane that was at minimum, 10,000 feet high so that the enemy could not hear the plane.  This often meant that you’d have to gauge your jump in the dark.”  His eyes become reminiscent and with a hint of wetness, fondness for the past.

The topic easily transitions to the mysteriously disappeared Malaysian Being 777 airplane.  In KL, I had seen locals gathered around small TVs in cafes and speaking energetically about their thoughts on the planes’ whereabouts.  Being that I don’t understand the Malay language, it was impossible to know what they were saying, yet you could hear the passion in the voices.

He was sure that the US could intervene and eventually discover the plane’s whereabouts or final demise.  “They have technology that can view kids from the sky above, playing cards miles below,” he says.  “Surely, the satellite images should be able to pick something up.”

He tells me about his adventures taking a bus all around the United States.  “Maybe I’ve seen more of the country than you!,” he says, laughs.  It’s a truism that often times travelers have seen more of any given country than the native born; there is a tendency to make roots and stay in one spot.  The traveler moves freely, in between and through local boundaries and borders, both blissfully ignorant and open-minded to the next outsider town on the horizon.

The driver is old and stubborn, and being so, when we get stuck in a traffic jam he blocks people trying to pass us illegally on the shoulder.  Cars and trucks honk at us; impatient ones floor it through the grass median throw us dirty looks that could melt the devil to sidewalk ice cream.

The last lift on the way into Melaka comes from an Indian man who kindly invites me to stay for a few days at his home in Muah.  I gracefully-enough decline his offer, as I already have a host in Melaka for the evening.  Every corner I turn I find myself showered with hospitality.

My host accepts me into her home, despite being behind my intended date of arrival by a landslide of three days.  She is a caring, classy lady who goes by the exquisite and deserving title of Miss Melaka.  She is a representative of this entire city! Her home is full of travelers: a girl from England, a girl from Italy, and a couple from Canada.  She also has five small dogs that roam the house like giants and greet everyone enthusiastically with long, flappy, salivated tongue caresses.

That evening, we all share company at an Indian outdoor café.  Miss Melaka knows the man that works there and makes our food.  Nam bread and carrot and watermelon fruit drinks are my favorite.

At one point, the road has me so side-tailed and exhausted that I start doing the head bob thing and nearly fall asleep and crash onto the table.  This has us all laughing and to my non-verbal request, we head home through narrow city streets, barking dogs, and closing shops but not before stopping at a bar called Me and Mr. Jones.  The blues music drifting into the streets sparks my interest and pulls us in.

We slide into the bar for a few drinks and I jam with the owner, classic Clapton tunes.  When we leave, there is silence, with the gentle brush of the swaying river nearby.

There was a break in the peacefulness and serene as we passed a yellow dog that bore its’ fangs and barked wildly and viciously at us from a balcony.  Somewhere in Melaka, there was a peaceful beastly dog who enjoyed yapping at strangers that passed by.  Maybe all the cuddly demon wanted was a treat.  Anyways, we kept walking, laughing, lost in the streets, the conversation.

So it goes.

March 30

Miss Melaka takes us to a private access pool overlooking the ocean the next day.  There is some type of irony in the fact that we are in a pool of water when we could be swimming in the actual ocean, but it has its’ quaintness and novelty.  Earlier I had tried to go for a jog alongside the ocean in the neighborhood, only to find a sign posted showing some military figure with a gun at a citizen running away in fright.  It was both comical and terrifying at the same time—I decided not to jog there.

We went to a bar that ran alongside the river and an interesting Indian man came and sat beside us.  Miss Melaka fills me in later that he was a well-educated man and read widely.  He drinks his beer and likes to talk about governments.  “I have no fear of the government and it is racist,” he says.  He is a well-practiced doctor.  Later, he sets down his beer.  “I’ve got to be going now.  Nice to meet you.  There is a line of miserable people waiting for my help tomorrow.”  The lines on the man’s face are deep.

We eat more Nam bread.  The Italian girl, Aria tells me about her plans to travel to Sydney, Australia after Southeast Asia to be with her boyfriend.  We eat some more Nam bread, mix the carrot fruit drink with watermelon.  Not bad.  The carrot with the banana?  Ok.  All three together are almost amazing.

So it goes.

March 31

That night we travel to an area of the city that is a Portuguese port where they still sell Portuguese food and the culture is vibrant.  As we get out of the car near the port, I have quite possibly the strangest encounter with the tourist poachers I ever encounter.  They come at us in groups, trying to sell us tickets to a museum before we even get out of the car.  It is like a movie scene, a proper title quite possibly being Invasion of the Tourist Zombies the Sequel: At the Portuguese Port in Melaka.

The Canadian couple brings out a tiny IPod and speakers and a green ball that glows in the night air.  We walk along the ocean dock and she twirls and dances with her magic ball.  The night air and waves crashing passed the full moon is magical.  Not to mention the kids that do tricks on their bikes along the dock and the Portuguese mango drink that tastes like paradises’ liquid with a sour plum at the bottom.

The Canadian girl loses her ball at one point and I am already swimming out in the ocean by myself, the waves tossing me from side to side.  It’s an entirely vulnerable feeling being swept by the ocean in the pitch dark, in depths that you can’t understand.  A giant tub of moving salt water stretching over seventy percent of our planet.  It’s hard to wrap one’s head around.

I swim out to retrieve the glowing green dance ball and couldn’t keep my imagination from drifting to the thought of being pulled under by a shark out for a midnight cruise in search of something good to munch on, maybe my flapping legs that resemble something of an injured seal.

These thoughts are easily washed away with the water.  If it’s your turn to go, you will surely die.  If it’s not, you won’t.  The ocean is no more dangerous at night time than it is during the day; it only appears that way.  It reminds us of how small we are in the spectrum of everything, larger and beyond our limited perceptions.

April 1

Miss Melaka gives me a ride to the toll booth on the outskirts of town in the morning to begin my hitchhiking to Singapore, my final destination for this trip in Southeast Asia.  Miss Melaka tells me that her family used to have to drive to Singapore to buy clothes when she was a kid.  Much of the land we are driving on used to be just ocean, the concrete being developed on unsolid ground.  “The current mayor is doing an OK job,” she says.  “Some people don’t think so, but we have access to a lot more resources in Melaka than we used to have.”

I receive lifts from two truck drivers after being dropped off, both who say they have families in KL, shipping anything and everything back to KL from the ports.  The third driver that swooped me up was heading all the way to the Singapore border.  He is a Muslim man who invites me for coffee and insists on paying for it and goes off for ten minutes to perform one of his daily ritual prayers towards the holy site of Mecca.  I develop a high level of respect for Muslim people while in Malaysia.  Prayer five times a day, regardless of your busy schedule and months of fasting are a required part of the religion.

Over sips of coffee, he talks about life.  “I want a simple life, for my family,” he says.  “Life is short, maybe only 50 or 60 years long.”  He puts in a CD that was a mix of Malay prog-rock and American country.  I am beginning to like this guy more and more.

The checkpoints at the Singapore border have a high-tech feel.  Masses of people are herded like cattle into air-conditioned buses.  One bus driver tells me that it is “seven ringgit” for the bus to the city but I smell a foreigner rip-off special and get a better deal from another local.  Hitchhiking in Singapore would be a bit like trying to hitchhike in a massive cosmopolitan city like New York—not really a feasible option.

Really, I could’ve jogged into the city faster than we moved through the snail-paced traffic jam across the bridge into Singapore.  What was the point of all this technology and transportation if it just created headaches and slowed us down?  This city must make George Orwell roll over in his grave.  Technically, gum is not allowed in Singapore and you can get a hefty and the possibility of jail time for smuggling it in.  Gum is illegal, but other things—such as prostitution—are completely legal.  Singapore is a place I’d like to return to in the future to try and grasp it a bit more; it was just a bit too big to wrap my head around in one day of exploring.

“I think that Singapore is the center of finance for the world market,” a business man tells an associate as they pass by.  Commerce is at every corner and not an inch of land is not developed with business real estate or high rise establishments.

I will say the food in Singapore is truly amazing.  It is a unique mix of food unlike anywhere else on the planet.  The architecture is as modern as it can get without looking like something straight out of the Jetsons and it has been called the modern finance capital of the world.  To me, it was just a giant cage filled with endless shopping malls and I wasn’t able to meet up with my host while in Singapore as she was out of town.

So, after walking around the place for hours and having satisfied my curiosity, I take the metro to the airport and book into my flight for Australia.  I am heading to the Outback, the Land Down-Under, the only country that is actually a continent, the largest island in the world.  First I have to get some sleep, and that takes some careful airport location planning as there are cameras everywhere (and I mean everywhere, they point at you at every corner) in Singapore and it is hard to sleep without being bothered by security.

Finally, I find a place to bed down on the carpet floor and call it a night, happy not to waste any more funds in Singapore.

Australia is waiting on the other side of the ocean.  As well as sting rays, salt water crocodiles, a multitude of poisonous snakes, and other things that could potentially kill you.

Backpack Full of Bush Dust- Hitchbiking Southeast Asia and Hitchhiking Australia (full book, part 1)

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February 22

Leaving America.  Harsh, cold gusts of frosted wind come surging down the Rocky Mountain pass as I wait at the round-about in the mountain country for a ride.  My bones feel like they have been transformed into ice, my breath into visible frost vapors.  I’ve been waiting for almost a half-hour as people zip on by me, expressions of bewilderment on some faces, others on cell phones, others staring straight ahead pretending not to see me.

You can hear the gusts of bone-chilling wind coming down the mountain side as thick clumps of snow get stuck in the pass and spew it onto the hitchhiker below as skiers and snowboarders pass by comfortably in their warm automobiles.  Snow covers nearly everything but the portions of the pavement where the snowplows had come through and met the challenges Mother Nature provides.  The mountains launch into the blue and cloudy skies; majestic, ancient, and indifferent to my plight.

Tall and majestic, endearing and infinite; people, on the other hand, small and temporary– thoroughly finite.

I take to doing stretches and jogging in place when there were no cars and sticking out my thumb when they come around the round-about.  They have a split-second to see me and make a decision whether or not they pull over.  I am on a four-day timeline to make it to Los Angeles for my flight into Bangkok, Thailand.  My arguably aimless plan is to bicycle and hitchhike around the countries as much as possible, but if I don’t make it to LA for my flight I probably will be going nowhere.

In Idaho Springs and in the Rocky Mountain territory of Colorado in the middle of winter, many of the traffic consists of skiers and snowboarders out for their weekend thrills.  My current mission is to hitchhike from my base city of Denver to the west coast of America in Los Angeles.  I will  head out on an epic adventure through countries I’d never been before: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia.  The trip will last for approximately five months, with miniscule planning and open road.

The mountain laughs and hacks another icicle-indicted loogie onto my clothing.  I wrap my hands around my red and frosted face. Am I going to make it to LA?  More importantly, where am I going to sleep tonight in this cold? Sure, there will be times for fun and creative exploring on this trip, but for now survival instincts are kicking in and my brain is saying “get out of the cold, now, now!”

Harsh cold gusts of wind come spurting down the mountain side.  I wrap my scarf around my face as a shield.  This isn’t all so bad though.  At the same time, I feel alive and alert as I fight the freezing cold.  I can think of worse things to be spending my time with: maybe working a desk job in a crowded cubicle space in the middle of an industrial city, maybe a life sentence of boredom watching the clock tick.

Gusts of wind shoot down the western slopes.  Harsh.  Cold.

Eventually, a Nissan 4-wheel drive comes coasting and pulls over to the small portion of shoulder the road offers. The trouble is over, and a new adventure has begun.

In the preparation of the months before I left, I wasn’t completely decided on what to bring for a trip as long as this.  I’d done various trips around the States and through Western Europe, with mostly bicycling and a mix of riding trains and a small amount of hitchhiking.  Through hitchhiking from Denver to Colorado Springs every weekend for about a year, I discovered that hitchhiking was a great way tap into the locals.  A boring, familiar road was transformed into something exciting, fresh, and spontaneous, and after these experiences I decided that hitchhiking would be my main mode of transportation for this epic adventure.  Not to mention, the trip suddenly became affordable.

So as I stared at the stuff that was sprawled out in front of me, which was to be my only belongings for my life on the road for five months, I once again took another possession and threw it to the side.  You take what you think you need, divide that in half.  Once you have done that, you cut that in half even again.  The ultimate goal is to travel as light as possible, with as little baggage as necessary.  Your possessions are a burden.  Your freedom and yourself is the most you want to carry, along with survival basics, maybe a dash of sanity.

In my backpack, you could find the following things:

  • Big Agnes sleeping bag rated for -10 degree Fahrenheit temperatures
  • Bevy sack to keep dry when it rains
  • Undergarments for when it’s frigid cold in the mountains
  • One pair, regular socks
  • One pair, wool socks
  • 2 boxers
  • 2 t shirts
  • 1 pants
  • 2 shorts (one gym style, one casual khaki)
  • A notebook (for journal writing)
  • An IPod (for pictures, Wi Fi, music)
  • One Martin Backpacker guitar (for enjoyment, sharing, meeting people, busking)
  • Passport, IDs, etc.
  • Boots (overall unnecessary weight, only used a few times, and wouldn’t carry next trip)
  • 1 book (keeps sanity on lonely roads, always easy to trade with someone when finished reading)

By the time everything is crunched and compressed into my backpack and I am ready to leave Denver, it is already late in the afternoon.  Riding the local light rail transit to the outskirts of the city, I start talking to a nice couple who are asking where I am heading with all the gear.  It is a beautiful Colorado day to start, the sun’s presence felt directly on my backside and enough cumulus cloud coverage to make it comfortable.  Bill and his wife have done a considerable amount of hiking in the hills of Colorado, and once while hiking they had ran into a bear.  Bill is also an avid Colorado bicyclist, something I can instantly connect with him on. He tells me that he once had an encounter with a Colorado brown bear.

“They tell you to wave around and ‘look big’, but when it came to it, I just ran!”  It worked for him, obviously; here he was, offering me a ride to the outskirts of Golden, Colorado to begin my adventure.

They drop me off at the highway merge along Interstate 70, which has the safety of an ample shoulder to stand off to the side, drop my stuff and stick out my thumb.  There I wait for about 20 minutes or so with no ride offers, smiling at the oncoming cars and trying to remain positive.  Our modern culture has become one that thrives off fear, impatience, and a general distrust of other human beings.  Through hitchhiking, one learns this quickly through actual experience.  The majority of people that have the generosity to offer rides overall are of the Baby Boomer generation, who have travelled with positive experiences hitchhiking when it was more accepted into the culture.  Most people are looking for an easy excuse to pretend they don’t see you, to pretend that they are so wrapped into their cell phones and other gadgets that they don’t have time.  We wonder why so many of us our depressed and in a constant state of stagnation; we don’t recognize that a few moments talking with a stranger can be more meaningful often times than chatting with a familiar person or friend.

The cop that pulls over to give me a hard time doesn’t seem to care.  Rules are rules, and he has nothing better to do but enforce the status quo that the elitist propaganda prophesizes.  He tells me in a passive-aggressive sort of way that I can’t hitchhike there, that it’s dangerous, and that I’ll have to move on.  Pointless.  I point out that there is a safe shoulder, traffic is slow-moving here, and that it’s really no problem for me.  What harm is there?  Why is it, all of a sudden, other people are expected to be responsible for our own safety? Who should decide what is ‘safe’ for oneself?  Furthermore, is complete totalitarian safety what people want?  If it is, I don’t want a part of it.  Being intelligent and thinking for yourself, using common sense—that is one thing, but a society where others think for them and enforce the rules with fines and penalties only creates one of stupor and lacking creativity, lacking trust and genuine companionship.

On the other hand, I maintain my composure and opt to have no problems, so I choose to walk away.  I walk on, along a winding mountain back road that leads to the next merge ramp where hopefully he won’t bother me again.

My back is soon covered in sweat from my pack and the sun’s rays are beating down on my face.  I cut across a farm to find the fastest route back to the main road.  The ambition is to make it as far as possible before dark.

Three miles of trekking later and no ride offers, I make it to another merge ramp.  I’m standing next to a cattle ranch alongside the road.  Tourists and locals stop to snap a few pictures and move along, many of them driving straight passed me in the same direction.  An hour or so later, relief comes with a lift from a man in an old classic- style car, who tells me that he lives in Golden and is an avid hot rod enthusiast.  “The first Saturday of each month, they have a hot rod event in Golden during the summer,” he says.  “A lot of people don’t know about it, it’s not really publicized or anything, but it’s fantastic.  People drive in from all over the country, there is nothing like it.”

We don’t get to chat much before we’ve already made it to the best spot he can drop me off, which is off the exit and merge ramp in Idaho Springs.  I eventually get a lift from three snowboarders who are doing a warm-up pot smoking ritual before hitting the slopes.  The warmth of the smoke in the car and the heater blasting are much appreciated after pacing back and forth in the winter temperatures!  “Are you heading to the Breckenridge bro?,” they ask me, assuming that I’m just heading out to do some skiing or snowboarding.  They are surprised when I tell them that my destination is LA to fly into Bangkok, Thailand.

And that’s where I find myself at the roundabout in Breckenridge, and the Nissan 4-wheel drive is pulling over to grab me out of the snow.  I brush the white flakes off my face, make a pathetic attempt to dry the wetness off of my face and quickly hop in.  The warm blast of the automotive heater is inviting.

The man’s name is Dillon, who is originally from Wales and has lived in the United States for 27 years.  He says that he used to hitchhike from college to his place instead of using money his mother gave him for a train and spent the money she gave him on beer instead.  He has travelled extensively through Europe and employment opportunities had brought him to the United States where he made roots and started a foundation for his family.

He gives me a lift the 38 miles or so to Vail and drops me off at the four-way intersection.  It’s gotten dark by now and the weather is getting colder, more snow is on the way.  I usually do refrain from hitchhiking at night time, but I know that I want to cover the distance and get far out of the Rocky Mountain Range where it is at least a bit warmer and make some distance tonight, since I got a late start.  I stand under the well-lit street light at the Vail roundabout with a flashlight so that cars can see me clearly. Traffic at the roundabout is slower, which is a good thing, but the traffic is becoming scarce later into the night.

A police officer comes by, and this one is a lot nicer than the one I encountered near Denver.  He asks me if and where I plan to sleep for the night and if I get stuck in Vail he can probably find me a warm place to stay.  With that, he drives off and leaves me to my own decisions and fate; he is the definition of mountain town hospitality.

An hour or so of waiting, and a truck with a trailer pulls up along the merge ramp.  Excited to get out of my cornered and chilly spot, I jog up to the vehicle that has pulled over.  In the trailer, there are tool boxes, welding equipment, cuts of wood and other items you might find on a construction job site.  I later learn that he works as a welder in Williston, North Dakota.  As I approach the truck, I am cautious, being that it is late at night.  I’m willing to put my hands into the trust of fate just to get out of the cold for a while.

His name is Rob, and he is travelling with his girlfriend from Poland.  She is mostly quiet and laughs often.  Her name is Marcelina.  Rob seems confused as I approach him, and he says that they had actually stopped to check on the trailer for a moment.  I acknowledge this and tell him that it’s no problem; I’ll just wait for the next ride that comes.  Then he reconsiders, talks it over with his girlfriend for a moment and tells me that I can come along if I like.

I jump in the back seat and cram in next to their overweight husky dog, which almost instantly warms up to me and lays on my lap.

Rob has just returned from Williston, North Dakota for a few weeks of hard work in a dirty, filthy, stinking oil field.  Williston used to be a quiet, sleepy town in North Dakota until it was discovered that it was sitting on an enormous oil field.  Once oil is discovered, it seems like it is only a matter of time this day and age until big oil corporations and governments come around, sniffing their noses around and looking out for their own monetary interests.  Once they did, big business took over, and it was possible to extract the oil and natural gases through the controversial idea of fracking, the quiet little sleepy town was transformed almost overnight into an exponentially-growing boom market.  It’s a familiar story; history on repeat.

People from all over came running to the oil fields, seeking work and new opportunities.  Opportunities came with heavy prices, short-term prices in monetary terms, long-term prices in environmental damages.   “There is such a demand for workers and employees in Williston, such a shortage that they are offering some of the best wages in the country,” Rob says. “I know a guy that drives a semi-truck carrying natural gases and he makes over 100,000 dollars a year.  Even McDonald’s hourly pay is usually 17 or 18 dollars an hour start.  The catch is, the builders and industry can’t keep up with the new demand for building and housing development.  So you have a waiting list for housing, and the rates are jacked up because of all the people looking for a place.  Average price of a single-bedroom apartment is 1,200 dollars.”

“So you can move out to Williston, almost guaranteed decent paying work, the drawbacks being that there is next to nothing to do in Williston, so most of the workers take to drinking on their spare time, if they have any at all.   North Dakota also gets cold in the winter time.  A cold that bites through your bones and it’s not easy working conditions.”

Rob has worked in the oil industry for years, and says that there is always work in the field.  He later hands me a business card, in case that I want to find work when I return from my trip.  They stop in Glenwood Springs, where Rob and Marcelina head off to enjoy the hot springs.  They make a deal with me that if they see me still standing where I am at my hitch-point when they return; they will offer me a lift the rest of the way to Grand Junction.  In Grand Junction, I have arranged to stay with my friend Bryan, which will be much more comfortable than sleeping out in the bitter cold this night.

At this hour, it’s almost a sure thing that nobody will stop for a hitchhiker on the side of the road, so I go into the filling station for a cup of warm coffee, then head out after fifteen minutes, wait a bit less than an hour, and no ride comes until the same truck and trailer pull up alongside the highway.  Rob and Marcelina turn out to be as good as their word. I hop in, and we make small talk and exchange laughs all the way to Grand Junction.  Rob seems tired from his long working hours in North Dakota and all the driving he has been doing on the road.

Some of the wait times are over an hour and I have the challenges of hitchhiking through the night during the middle of Colorado winter through the Rocky Mountains, but overall I am happy to meet these people and make it to Grand Junction to stay for the night.

Despite the days’ uncomfortable conditions, it’s the discomforts that are at the same time alluring and draw my soul to a trip like this.  All waits in life turn out to be worth it, in the end, although when you’re waiting alone in between the mountains and the mountains act like a snow globe and paint you with frost it sure doesn’t seem like it’s worth it.  You stand there and shiver, you shake the snow off your coat, brush the wet off your neck, you pace back and forth uncomfortably.  Then somebody picks you up, gives you a lift to somewhere else.  Then another person picks you up, gives you a lift to somewhere else.

So you’ve made it to somewhere altogether different; a piece of unfamiliar land, streets of unknown people, a piece of unfurnished life. How does that feel?

Grand Junction, the largest city in Western Colorado, welcomes me with its’ massive western slope and mountain air.

Day one of this trip ends with a good friend and a warm couch to sleep on—I thank my lucky stars that I’m not doing half-bad.

So far.

February 23

Bryan and I have climbed Mount Elbert in the past, which is the highest peak in Colorado.  The peak sits at 14,400 feet (4,400 meters) and is a truly rewarding climb which offers no tourist cafes or stores at the top, but rather a view an all-natural setting, endlessly stretched mountain ranges, fresh mountain air, and stunning views of the peaks and clouds.  Bryan and I had not chatted or seen each other since we did the climb months ago, so it was good to catch up and chat.  He told me about the creative writing degree he is pursuing, and various creative he ideas for fiction he is brainstorming.

He shows me his pride and joy, which is a large and healthy green plant in his backroom, the result of Bryan’s care and attention and the Colorado’s newly-opened liberal marijuana laws.  The plant is green and orange, stretching towards the ceiling and still growing.

I shuffle through my pack and realize that I had lost a few items when I tossed it onto the back of the trailer the night before.  Casualties include the loss of a jar of Peanut butter, a quality water bottle, and my re-usable, dry-erase, laminated fluorescent orange hitchhiking sign.  This morning, I count my losses and head back onto the road.  The positive way of looking at it was that I had less stuff to worry about losing now, while on the other hand, peanut butter was an essential traveling food source.

Bryan drops me off at a merge ramp that is filled with construction; orange cones and a cluster of chaos and enough driver confusion to not entice anyone want to pull over. I wait there for over an hour until I decide that the spot was not conducive to hitchhiking and I needed to start somewhere else.  So I phone Bryan, and he drives back, also carrying a piece of pizza box cardboard and a marker to make a hitchhiking sign.  With a fat black permanent marker, I simply write “WEST.”  No driver could argue with or throw their hands up to that!

In a matter of five minutes at my new spot (minus construction!), a red car pulls over along the merge ramp, and we’re off.  Scott has long hair and is physically fit, and it becomes apparent that he has a true passion for life spent in the outdoors.  He tells me that he has hitchhiked a lot himself, and he spends most of his time kayaking in Moab.  “I’m heading to Moab now,” he says.  “Borrowed my friend’s car to get back.  This thing runs great!”

Scott often gets around the Colorado River by hitchhiking to one spot, and then kayaking back to his vehicle.  So he understands how hitchhiking can go sometimes, and never passes up someone in need of a lift.  “The way I see it, I’m going the same way anyways,” he says.  “What’s it to me?”

Scott has a friend who got busted for having possession of some pot in Utah, a state where it is still illegal and looks like it will remain this way for some time given the conservative ideals.  “My friend was a Coloradan, got busted and the judge in Utah told him ‘tell all your Colorado friends that it’s not legal here’ and stuck him with a $2,500 fine.”

The scenery in Moab is incredible and indescribable in words.  The Colorado River runs through much of the rocky land, and rock formations and landscapes beacons anyone’s imagination that moves through it.  Much of it was considered sacred land by the Native Americans, and as your eyes take in the scenery, you can easily understand why at a basic level.  Moab has been a popular tourist destination for mountain bikers, hikers, kayakers, and outdoor enthusiast’s altogether.

Scott takes the scenic route along the Colorado River, as it winds and snakes along the dusty, rocky mountain terrain.  He explains that the river has been at ultimate lows the past few years, but he’s hoping this season’s thaw will bring some of the best kayaking that they have experienced in years.  He extends his hospitality beyond just a ride and after seeing my guitar and hearing me play, invites me in for a drum circle with friends later that evening.  I consider this, and really wishing that I could, decline the invitation as I have to keep moving.  My timeframe doesn’t allow for it, unfortunately.

I walk along the center of Moab, which is more like a small village, with authentic and refreshing non-commercial style cafes and bars.  It all has a homely, semi-hippy, mountain-town, laid back feel to it.  I pop into a place called Wake N’ Bake, which doesn’t offer what you might think it does, but you can settle for a few delicious breakfast burritos.  The road makes one hungry, with the soul’s appetite for movement, the stomach’s appetite for food.

I walk out of town with some friendly waves from the locals.  This town likes to acknowledge that people are alive and it’s small enough to retain a genuine friendliness.  The next ride comes from Max, a traveling guy from Montana who is heading to Salt Lake City.  He wears a blue bandana and lives relentlessly free.  He tells me that he tripped on acid and went hiking the night before.  I can tell that he’s plenty good to be driving at the moment just looking at his eyes.

The conversation feels like the desert we are driving through, wide-open and limitless.  He sets me off near a Subway center and tells me a few words of wisdom before departing that he has learned while hitchhiking.  His sense of humor is sly, inspired.  “If you’re ever in a tough position getting a lift,” he says,” tell them you have been hitching forever and feel like ‘a man that fell off a haystack wagon, into a porcupine quill set, ran over by a heavy-duty truck, you’re starving like an Ethiopian, feet been walkin’ on fire, feel like hell on two legs, and going great’, THANKS!”

Without a doubt, the boring people never pick you up when hitchhiking—the characters and free-spirited ones do.

We’re in ultra-conservative, religious Mormon country now.  “I think I’ll refrain from committing the ultimate sin,” Max says, gesturing towards a McShitald’s.  He walks into a Subway and we depart separate ways.

The sand mountains in Utah appear like the faces of humans departed, ancient and forever, our lifelines only a hiccup in the story of the planet; irrelevant despite what some of us forcefully try to believe otherwise.  Some of us live today the best we can with how we know how to.

Despite this, I walk across the street to the McShitald’s and solemnly break the eleventh commandment on my small budget at the price of two cheeseburgers. Thou shall not eat crap food from Corporate food chains. 

I hang out for a while, then walk into a grassy area, throw out my sleeping bag and call it a night.  Sleeping under big black mountain sky makes me feel strangely at home.

February 24

In the morning, I sit inside the Mcshit’s and drink dollar coffee, my feet thawing out as there was some frost on my sleeping bag in the morning.  I hitch south on Interstate 15 after a few hours spent warming in the building.  I spend enough time at the Mcshit’s to know the entire soundtrack by heart—music by The Smiths plays over and over again, on a worn, tired CD player, and by the sixth time I hear it on rotation I know it’s time to leave.

The previous ride has put me a bit further North than I intended to, but the company alone has been worth it.  I wait on the merge ramp and get bored, start doing pushups and mountain climber exercises to stay warm and motivated as I wait.  I get a lift from a guy who tells me he is a Mormon and on his way to complete a roofing job.  He drops me off just a few miles down the highway, but sometimes small rides are appreciated just to break the monotony in scenery.  Mormon hospitality and it’s genuine finest.

I’m picked up by a rancher just outside of Salt Lake City, who tells me there are 140 bundles of hay in the back of his trailer.  We get to talking and he senses I might be a good worker, so he makes the offer to pay me by the hour to help unload his trailers of hay on the few stops on our way west, and I agree to this.  We make one stop at a family’s ranch and unload over 50 bundles of hay for their horses.  The family has three horses: one for the husband who turns out to be a journalist, one for the German wife, and a small pony for their little girl. This side of the country also has its’ fair share of wild horses still roaming around. They are the definition of an American country family.  I imagine what life must be like living out here in the solitude; the scorching hot summers and the comfortable winters, living off the land.

After our first stop, we’re driving along and suddenly we hear a deafening POP sound, followed by a thumping of what distinctly could be nothing other than loose rubber flapping around the truck trailer’s rotors.  We pull over, and sure enough, that is exactly the case.  The rancher is pissed.  “ Ahhh, hell!,” he says.  “Well, I’ve got a jack in the back of the truck we can fix it with… I just bought this trailer, lucky I have the spare!”

I offer to help him change the tire, and he drives the trailer onto a portable jack and we spend an hour pulling the rubber out of the rotor, which has managed to become stuck and wrapped around the axle too!  Just an hour later, we’re back on the road, passing through a small town where country folk are gathered around tables outside a filling station, drinking coffee and chatting.  “Just some farmers sitting around having a bullshit festival,” the rancher says.

I walk to the restroom, passed laundry machines where a few copies of the Book of Mormon rest.  No good citizen in this country can do their laundry without reading the Book of Mormon.  Everywhere you go there are reminders of where you are.

Before long, we have crossed into the state of Nevada and it’s immediate at the border that casinos begin to pop up more often than trees.  People sit around like monkeys, addicted to pulling levers and sliding in bills, hoping for their chance at a way out of the Rat Race.  There are some that have lively expressions on their faces, but these are the few; often there are older faces with vacant expressions and tired eyes, worn faces and stubborn hopes, leftover coins.  Gamblers pull slots with hopes of winning big, the realities of losing paychecks and retirement plans.  The place buzzes with an energy you can’t define at every highway exit—everything here is a miniature Las Vegas, mimics the tourist Mecca and the development seems to have a sharp disregard for the actual mountainous landscape, as if to say we will tame this land by not acknowledging it.

I’m staring out the window, trying to take it all in as we pass through.

“The desert’s trippy at night, aint’ it?,” the rancher says, noticing my quiet.  The mountains become alive and there is a faint glow, almost an eerie presence to the desolate landscape.  Or is it desolate?  Sometimes cities feel more desolate than this, this just feels like it’s away from everything else, it stands alone.  Maybe this was why fate had us cross paths?  So that he could avert his truck from rocketing off the cliff?

Miles through the desert, the rancher is becoming tired and nearly drives the truck off a sharp ledge, which I alert him of and he pulls it to the other side.  We wind up in some small town I can’t remember the name of, not that it would matter what the name of it was anyways.  I get the impression that the locals don’t even know the name of this town, and they don’t care for that matter anyways; all that matters is that this is their town, and it welcomes outsiders slowly, like syrup slowly runs out of a maple tree.

We march up to a small bar and have a seat.  Some locals are playing pool, a few bar flies just hang around, a few old men shoot the breeze and talk about things like farming.  Horses, cattle, machinery, and milk are in the vocabulary.  Laughter fills in the gaps.

Everybody knows everybody here and nobody’s afraid to look you square in the eye, in fact it’s an expected politeness in conversation.  An older woman pours us a couple stout beers, and we put them down like ales.  My eyes are itchy from bailing hay.  People smoke inside this bar, nobody cares.  Dollar bills are nailed to the walls with goofy messages and signatures.  A sign welcomes patrons: If you got a problem, then find the door. Pictures of Elvis, Nascar drivers decorate the walls.

We speak to the bar tender, and old woman who makes small talk about locals and people I don’t know, yet she talks to us like we know them.  I feel like I’ve known this lady before, somewhere, some place.  One of the ladies the bartender talks about apparently lives in a trailer just outside the bar, where she lives a pharmaceutical-induced life and occasionally does non-commercial drugs, has an alcohol problem and is schizophrenic.  She stumbles into the bar at one point, says something that nobody finds audibly understandable, walks out of the bar.  The bartender looks at us, shakes her head, is speechless for a moment, and then says, “That’s what I mean.”

We leave the bar, make our way to Las Vegas, grab a ten dollar meal, find a cheap motel with a hot tub that feels amazing after working and sweating all day long, crash out in an air-conditioned hotel.  We sit in a hot tub and a guy introduces himself as a biker type and the conversation finds its’ way somehow to the state of modern day America and the direction it might be going.

“I think, if we just keep working hard, we’ll be alright,” the man says.  “Things aint’ what they used to be, but we just gotta keep working hard.”

Like the road, you just keep rolling on; hard pavement, cement and stone, winding on.

February 25

The next day I help the rancher bail the rest of the hay on a ranch in Nevada.  He has a refined system of organizing the hay when he is through, and it takes a while to get used to his methods of madness.  On one ranch, there is an old man who is 85 but appears healthier than most 40 year olds and has a youthful edge and spirit.  He’s all smiles and laughs; years of working on the ranch have retained his youth.  He wears a straw cowboy hat and boots.  We are surrounded by cattle and desert, more cattle, a lot of desert.  An old lady walks up, and the old man says, “excuse me gents, I’ve got to go.  I like hanging out with old ladies.”  He gives me a wink, like he got off with a great deal in life and it’s his big secret; I can tell by their attitudes that they probably go out dancing together at least two times a week. Maybe three.  They walk through their ranch holding hands.

A young guy working as a ranch hand seems shocked that I would even consider going to Asia by myself.  “What ya gonna do over there?,” he says, chewing on a toothpick.  “ Where you gonna sleep?”

I plan on figuring that out on arrival, I tell him.  This seems to satisfy him enough.  He spits sunflower seeds onto the ground.

Traffic picks up the pace near Vegas and turns into a wide highway.  A billboard sign proclaims “Are You Going to Heaven or Hell?”, showing a picture of fire beside clouds.  Alongside it is a 1-800-number.  Maybe somebody somewhere calls this number and asks somebody if they know the answers to these questions and believes the response.  Only in Vegas can you find extremes like this.  Come to Vegas, and we’ll get you connected to the God hotline right away.  Fast solutions, temporary answers.  People concerned with where they’re going after this life, but content on spending this life pulling levers and staring idly into computer screens full of cartoon characters and blinking dollar signs.

We make it into downtown Vegas and the rancher drops me off near the bus station.  He tries to get by without paying me a cent, but I have to put my foot down and remind him to keep his word. Somewhat reluctantly at first, but also willingly, he hands over a crumpled twenty dollar bill.  Good enough, it will cover a bus ticket out of Vegas to LA.

I walk through Vegas to get some quick bite to eat, by a man painted as a silver statue, an attractive woman in high heels doing a photo shoot, homeless asking for change, tourists gawking at buildings, entertainment and barrels of humanity on display; it’s a playground of quick bursts of hope for visitors and then back to nine to five office spaces and the extended time till the next vacation.  This circus is widely appealing and accepted, as long as it brings in large amounts of cash for the Vegas Empire.  Ladies dressed in peacock dresses, men in spandex, it’s shocking to the eye on every corner, and so commercial your brain feels dulled, or is it overwhelmed?

Somewhere amidst all the chaos, there’s a ticket office man selling a way out to LA for fifteen dollars.  I’ll take that, I say, thank you much.  As night approaches, the lights of Vegas are just as blinding as they are attractive, a bit like a magnet with a solar-powered eclipse; this place is a fading, sometimes faded dream.

After hitching from Denver to Vegas, riding on the bus feels like cheating in a way, but the idea of hitching out of the gigantic Sin City sounds akin to walking barefoot in Hell’s hell.  Opting to take a bus, we cruise to LA with steady motion until we come to a near stand-still in rush hour traffic.  I once ran the LA Marathon a few years back and this was my first impression of LA outside the images of Hollywood, movies, and rock star lifestyles that the media has pumped into everyone’s psyche.  My expectations had been high I had been highly disappointed.  Not many people seemed happy, everyone was in a hurry; I couldn’t help but see a beautiful ocean-landscape transformed to ugliness by human beings.

At the same time, good people are everywhere, and I was able to meet one of them in LA using the Couchsurfing website.  Couchsurfing is a website where travelers can meet locals and stay with them, find out a way of life and also host other travelers.  I’ve been a member on the website for over eight years now, and it’s grown a lot since I first joined—both good and bad elements to that growth.

I take the train from the airport to North Hollywood and met Leonard in the parking lot.  He is an interesting guy that had similar interests in marathons, a creative outlook, and a positive, helpful demeanor about him along with a bright sense of humor.  His vocation involves building sets for Hollywood and was working on one for a Superman movie at the time.  One of Leonards’ recent guests has been a German guy that bought a 100 dollar bicycle and cycled from Miami to California—no easy feat!

My time with Leonard is short—like most of the time spent people on the road. You try to make the most of the time you have.  As I take the train to LAX Airport, I am amazed at the amount of planes that are outbound from the city.  Every hour, it seems like another metal bird has launched off the pad, just a steady stream of jet engine roaring at decibels above the collage of city noise.  The city noise is too loud and drowns out any sounds nature might still make.  I can’t help imagine a post-apocalypse scenario in this city where all the humans are gone and how quickly the trees and Earth would just grow over and regain reign of this environment, where the insanity of endless development ends and the ocean can breathe again.  This version of LA has its’ appeal, but not yet—America has to become Rome first.

Still, this is home for some, for now.

While on the train, I meet an eccentric Indian man who lives in Paris and is visiting his son in LA.  I offer him a seat beside me, and funny enough he is also heading to the airport to return to France.  He is a slender man of 59 years.  He talks about his passion for making documentaries, and hands me his business card.  At one point, he pauses, deep in thought, gazes out the window into the Hollywood hills.  “I used to have an office in LA but then the dream died,” he says.  “So since the dream died, I died.  I died, so now I am celebrating my death while alive.”

He speaks in poetic form.  I take these words with me as I went through baggage check to my plane.  We scurry passed security scanners, red and green buttons, and surface-friendly but stern security, passed an assembly line of humans awaiting clearance.  Machines treating people like machines.

You’re free to pursue happiness as long as you don’t appear suspiciously happy.  Thank you for flying on these airlines, and rest assured that you might be a terrorist.  We’ll check you at random, but certain people get checked randomly more often than others. 

Eventually, the plane is boarded and I’m on a Philippine Airlines flight to Bangkok, Thailand.

The Rush song “A Passage to Bangkok” plays in my head:

 We’re on the train to Bangkok
Aboard the Thailand Express
We’ll hit the stops along the way
We only stop for the best

The plane takes off.

There is an expression that all roads lead to Rome.

In this case, the sky road leads to Thailand.

February 26-28

We’re on the airlines being given the typical safety speech about where the oxygen masks are located, how to do things that require a high IQ such as buckling your seatbelt and finding the exit doors when my arm rest falls off my chair. Literally just falls off.  I hope the mechanical aspects of this plane are designed better than the upholstery!

“You are on board a 747. There are ten emergency exits, five doors on the left and five doors on right…,” the computer recording says.  In the event of an emergency, is somebody really going to go through the diagram in their head before finding an exit door?  No way! They’re going to panic and crawl over as many people as they need to in order to get out of there!

On the plane I sit next to a woman who lived in LA but was from the Philippines.  Her sister has just recently died in the Philippines and she is heading back for the funeral.  Her flight home is bittersweet; visiting family while mourning a loss.  The airlines offer three square meals while on board and complimentary wine if you know how to ask—good service also.

We have so many privileges these days, flying being one of them.  The ability to fly over vast oceans and land on the other side of the planet in ten hours is incredible.  It’s easy to forget that not everyone has access to this sort of thing, and people that live in first world countries are the privileged few.  Before traveling overseas, I spent some time sleeping in my van and living frugally while I worked to save up for travel.  If there is a strong enough desire to do something, a person will find a way to accomplish it.

At my layover flight in Manila, Philippines, there is an attendant offering me a towel to dry my hands off when I am done.  Being catered to makes me feel strange and slightly uncomfortable, but this is how things are on this patch of land.

I grab my pack from the belt; check to make sure everything is there.  All is well, except a glass jar of Nutella chocolate spread (whose wise idea was it to put it in glass rather than plastic anyways!?), so I head off into the city.  I walk to the ATM and pull out the Thai currency, referred to as Baht and jump on the train, having no idea where I am going.  Confusion ensues.  I have the loose idea of finding the center of the city in Bangkok, but I learn that there really is no center in a city as massive as Bangkok.  It’s endless sprawl and every inch is developed or in-development, there is nothing else.

Riding the MRT, it feels like something out of a science-fiction movie to me.  The train rides high up with the buildings of the city and looking out into the endless concrete that feels like it is a backdrop for a movie, surreal.  People speak Thai at rapid-fire speed and all by brain can translate is white noise and body language—my own ignorance at not knowing the language.  I am excited and shaken at the same time—some real electric culture shock. I make a commitment to attempt to learn as much Thai as I can.

I take the airport train to the end like my Couchsurfing host had suggested and got off.  People move about quickly, yapping on phones as tuk tuks, pedicabs, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, and every means of transportation you could possibly imagine blur by me.  Crossing the road involves first speaking to the traffic light Gods, and then crossing streets quick enough that the Gods don’t have time to change their minds about your immediate mortality!

In Thailand, a tuk tuk is basically a three-wheeled automotive rickshaw that is common transportation in many parts of the world.  As soon as I got off the train and into the bustling tourist area, I am approached by all sorts of people trying to sell things and pull funds off me.  You can understand that this is what everyone here does for a living; for better or worse, tourism has become a huge part of Bangkok’s industry.  I was going to try to walk to my friends’ place, but it is not easy finding my way around the city, and I finally give in to a persistent tuk tuk driver as he holds on dearly to my sloppy directions and tries to understand my English.

The directions read that I am to go to Level Four of the main interstate, but trying to express this when I don’t really understand where it is anyways is not an easy task.  We go racing through the city streets, a combination of exotic foods and gasoline fumes mixed together.  I am amazed and impressed at how all the chaos of Bangkok seems to meld together and it is unbelievable that it actually works.

The driver turns around and asks me, “You English? Where you come from?”

America, I tell him.  “Oh very good, ‘Merica.  You have good time in Thailand. I show you.” He throws back his head and laughs, weaving in between small slivers of gaps in traffic that make Jeff Gordon look like a handicapped amateur driver.

He turns around and faces me again, offers me some cards with pictures of naked women.  “You want girls? I show you good time.”  No thanks, I say.  No girls, I just want to find my friend.

“Your friend live on level four?,” he asks.  I think so, I said.  I’m lost!

I stop by a local bar and a woman comes by and asked me if I would like a beer..  She comes back a minute later with a bottle of Tiger beer, which is one of the staples in Thailand, an Asian brew crafted in Malaysia.  It’s not a bad beer, but it’s not great either.  I’d give it only a slightly better rating than American crap beer like Budweiser just for being slightly exotic. Nothing to write home about, although I’m writing it here.

The music of Mariah Carey and other female divas from the 1990s blast over a small set of speakers in the bar.  Karaoke is immensely popular in Thailand, as well as sappy love songs that spill into the streets at night with drunken compatriots singing along. I have been dropped off in the wrong area of town (not that I knew where the right area was), so I get in touch with my host and we agree to meet at a nearby rail stop over Wi-Fi as the bartenders’ little boy runs around and I let him strum on my guitar.  When he becomes bored with that, he thankfully takes to destroying the bubble wrap I had wrapped the guitar in rather than demolishing my guitar.

Thailand is in the middle of a kind of revolution, protest and uprising against their current Prime Minister. As an outsider, politics of another country are difficult to understand if you haven’t lived inside the country.  A military coup and uprising amongst citizens is going on at the central districts of Thailand.  They are protesting against their current Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, whom many people no longer support and want  out of office.  She is being accused of stealing from the country and not serving the people.

In the center of the protest area, contrary to the fear and suffering that the media tends to be broadcasting all over America, I find the most interesting people and I find Thai people open to share time and talk with me and even in some instances offer free authentic Thai food.  My only rule while traveling is to eat as wide a variety of food as possible.  Protesters carry the Thai flag and high and there are live musicians performing on a stage in front of the protest area. Apparently just a few days ago, a few people died at this spot during an uprising, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the atmosphere here.  It is uniform, vibrant, and has mostly friendly vibes all around.

I share my guitar with the locals sitting in the open area on the streets and one man told me that he was “doing this for his family” and that’s what brought him here.  Even though I cannot really understand it, I can respect it.

I have a mild case of jet lag and eventually stumble my way by fumbling for directions from the locals.  I meet Annan at the rail stop and we walk together back to his apartment, which is beyond a bridge in between local markets all along the streets.  Annan has traveled a lot of Europe and made his way around through busking with his guitar.  Our music interests connect us right away.  “What were you doing in the protest areas, Soy Cowboy?,” he says.  “Man, it’s dangerous there!  I don’t know why all the tourists go there.”

I just shrug it off and we start playing some guitar.  I fill up the water from the water containers in the parking garage of Annan’s apartment.  Much of the water from natural reservoirs in Thailand is not safe to drink, so purified water in plastic bottles is the way most people do it, purchased at any supermarket or 7/11.  Seven Eleven gas stations are everywhere too, and it’s quite nice to walk into an air-conditioned building after cycling or walking through the humidity and heat!

Annan made some basic Thai food and we chat about his travels through Europe.  The next day I walk into the local area by myself, over a bridge where people are fishing out of a polluted river, people working in construction are building something near the bridge.  I’ve never seen machinery that looks quite like what they were using.  A man scoots by in a motorized cart filled to the brim with home-crafted broomsticks.  People eat some alongside the sidewalk, street vendors rule the roads.

I’m completely lost in the infinite industrial maze of Bangkok.  Letting go, lost is a good feeling.

 

March 1-March 2

Annan and I spend the next day with some of his friends rock climbing in a jungle area in the outskirts of Bangkok.  The bus rolls on, kilometer after kilometer, factory after factory, street vendors lining the streets.  There is no clear end in sight.  Annan turns to me, smiles.  “We’re still in Bangkok!,” he says.  It’s incredible and unbelievable how long it goes on for.  The bus stops everywhere to pick up more passengers, sometimes the driver waits for up to 15 minutes.  Every extra passenger they can squeeze on is more money for them—some passengers get irritated because of this.  Inside the bus, there is a wooden floor and a 3-foot long gear shifter that the bus driver cranks hard to lock into the gearing.  We’re cruising down busy roads, cars, tuk tuks, scooters, and motorcycles zigzagging through traffic.  Although Bangkok is like nothing else in the world, I feel a certain kind of relief to get away from big tourism in the massive city sprawl.

My climbing skills are sub-par to the experienced climbers that join us.  We take a tuk tuk out onto a dirt country road and carry mattresses that are used to set at the bottom of cliffs to break falls if we lose our grips.  There is an increasing deafening sound of cicadas chirping that is louder than any insect chorus I’ve ever heard.  It pierces the ear and it never occurred to me that humans could potentially lose some of their hearing through the sounds of insects until now!

I start at the bottom and try to climb up the smallest ledge and eventually succeed.  The larger one we later move on to I find much more challenging, unable to reach the top no matter how many attempts I make.  Annan is an experienced rock climber and Spidermans to the top with finesse and ease.

 

 

March 3

After the climb, our groups depart and I find myself traveling with a guy from Quebec, Canada who is doing a meditation retreat in Nakhon Ratchisima.  It is going to be one week of intense meditation, away from civilization in the jungle with the opportunity to speak with a monk afterwards.  Steve and I ride the bus together to Nakhon Ratchisima for 35 baht (about 1 dollar).  There is a small TV at the front of the bus and music from Thai pop culture plays through the speakers.  It does have the effect of coming across cheesy at first, but I observe that the pop icons come across in their videos as more sincere and less selfish and individualistic than the icons in Western culture.  The messages represented in the videos are ones of unity and togetherness.

In one music video, it shows the singer eating with her friends; another video shows a woman running after her boyfriend to find him cheating on her.  I can’t help but notice that the smiles of the pop stars somehow come across more genuine.  It’s something in the eyes, something in the facial lines.

Steve and I get off the bus in Nakhon Ratchisima and nightfall had already come.  Tuk tuk drivers approach us asking,” you need teksi, teksi?”  We stop at the local markets and buy some fresh fruit and semi-spicy noodles—delicious! Everywhere you go in Thailand, there is always fresh fruit available.   Everywhere you go in Thailand; it always seems that people are smiling so it is also called The Land of Smiles.  We walk for miles until we found a hotel to stay at for the night.  A giant spider awaits us in the hallway that leads to our room.  At first it just hangs there, creepily, almost like an ornament until it scurries up the wall.

I wash my clothes in the sink, hang them out on the balcony to dry.  Gazing out into the distance, there is a vacant parking lot overgrown with weeds and old motels.  I am filthy from the road and climbing that day and a shower never felt better.

In the morning we walk and explore the village until we get hungry and walk into a local café.  We find locals that are interested to meet travelers and the food is amazing.  Thai food has a wide variety of flavors and also has lots of greens and vegetables mixed into it, often with a fair amount of spice thrown in for good measure.

We eat our food hungrily, and I find myself having to use the bathroom.  When I walk in, I find out that there is no toilet paper and nearby the toilet there is a tub full of water with a bucket resting inside it.  I can use enough logic to conclude that I’m pretty sure what you’re supposed to do with this when finished, but not positive so I go and ask Steve if he’s used them yet and he just laughs, writes the tutorial on a napkin.

It’s things like this that make traveling to a foreign country worth it!

One is to wash one’s orifice with a small water hose, then finish the clean-up with a small amount of tissue paper.  When complete, a person is to dip water out of a bucket and then pull the small plunger to flush.  This whole procedure, foreign to me, conserves water.

The noise of traffic and coughs of exhaust smoke.  It’ hot and we find ourselves buying drinks at every corner, every drink served with a straw.  Steve leaves that night and heads out the rest of the way towards where his meditation retreat will be.  I walk through the streets trying to find a motel and run into a Turkish man who has been “stuck in Thailand” and is waiting till his return flight home.  He says there is nothing to do here, and he misses his family.  I don’t ask much else about how he got here.

Inside the motel, there is a wobbly and dust-caked ceiling fan, a small bed, a shower with cold water.  On the balcony you can view apartments in various stages of decay.  This will be home for tonight.

March 4

I wake up and venture into the streets, where there is a commotion and vendors selling everything from spicy noodles to pig heads.  I’m not in the market for a pig’s head, so I just stop and observe.  I find the locals are always willing to help out a traveler.  One particular woman from a Honda dealership offers to drive me to a bicycle shop when I walk in and ask her if there is one nearby.  I’m in the market for a cheap bicycle to adventure around Thailand with.

She stops at an outdoor bicycle shop, where the shopkeepers bang on bicycle with hammers, turn on bolts with crescent wrenches.  The shop is simple and has many newer bikes from China.  “We sell you bicycle for chip chip,” they say.  The word for bicycle in Thai is pronounced jak-ay-yan, I learn, and begin refer to my bicycle as this.  The word sounds good when you say it.

I buy the first cheap bicycle I can find, settling for a single speed imported from China. It’s a red, yellow, and black bike called a Shadow.  It will follow me everywhere I go in Thailand. Quickly, they fasten on pedals and rip off the bubble wrap from the bike in this tiny little shop.  There is the clutter of grease and tools everywhere.

I say goodbye to the Good Samaritan lady from the Honda dealership and pedal off into the city.  While riding, I hear a snapping sound and the seat falls off of the post.  Jak-ay-yan (the Thai word for bicycle) is already falling apart!  I ask for directions and somehow find my way back to the shop using the address from the receipt.  The shop keeper doesn’t say anything and they get to work immediately, banging and twisting a new seat onto my bike.  This is the norm with cheap imported products; things break, you replace them.

That day I cycle about 100 kilometers towards Khon Kaen, and end up on the outskirts just before dark. Riding out of town, it becomes apparent that the bicycle crank was not tightened properly and is loose.  Still, I’m happy to have the freedom of a bicycle and the open road.

I ride by electric workers working on power lines while standing on nothing but a wooden ladder.  One street vendor sells flame-broiled crabs.

I visit a temple and hitchhike a bit, am surprised at how fast a ride is offered in this country of helpful people. The temple is amazing, with paintings of the history of the Thailand Kings and empire.

My intentions are to sleep underneath one of the many gazebos that are along the roads but it doesn’t end up that way.  I find myself without a place to sleep and it’s hard to find shelter off the road since every inch is populated around here.  It’s dark and not safe to ride anymore, so I approach a family that lives off the road and kindly ask them if I can sleep on the grass by their house.  We exchange smiles, even though we don’t speak much of each other’s languages—there is a commonality in our body language, we both mean each other no harm.  At first, I sleep on the ground and the mosquitoes immediately start buzzing around my head.  I’m in for a long night, I think to myself.

Then the girls come over, one of them holding her newborn baby in her hands.  “You can come, to stay with us,” one of them says. I am shown a kindness that I can’t describe, invited into their humble home, which is essentially an overhang made of straw and bamboo, a small TV in the corner where their young kids watch cartoons and the News occasionally plays.  I take out my guitar and try to connect with them that way since I can’t speak Thai.  They offer me a Coke with a straw, which I accept, some food, which I decline.  Roosters and dogs roam their area freely.  The women are young, maybe 14 or 15.  They both have kids.  I offer some cashews I have left-over from a Trader Joe’s in America.  I fall asleep on the table inside their hut, suddenly a part of a Thai family for tonight—getting lost in a foreign country isn’t so bad.

The family sits around a small table and a fire as they eat dinner amongst the glow of the small TV which plays the news and soccer.  They finish eating and crush up the remaining food and feed it to the awaiting, anxious dogs.  There is a stranger in the home and that is me.  In the morning, we will wake to the sound of roosters.

March 5

In the morning I set off as the family sets up their shop.  They sell fruit along the side of the road every day.  This is their life.  I cycle for a long ways until my plastic pedal snaps off and I set the bike down and hitch into Khon Khaen.  Somebody picks me up in less than two minutes—I’m not sure if it’s because I distinctly look like a foreign traveler or if people in Thailand naturally look out for one another.  It’s maybe a bit of both.  Every time it never fails and I am often given more than a ride and showered with hospitality.

In Khon Khaen, I cycle around the city observing.  A Mormon kid rides around on a bicycle trying to sell his version of God to the Thais.  I think to myself that these people don’t need his God; they have the mountains surrounding them and our in God’s country already.  Modern day   Elephants walk up and down the city, some stop at bars to eat peanuts out of people’s hands.  I circle the same block a few times, passing by interesting shops, outdoor bars.  In the darker alleys there are places called Go-Go bars where attractive women stand out in skimpy clothing and I’m told that there is a price to take them home.  So I’m told.

A guy introduces himself at one of the bars and spots me a beer, a very kind gesture.  There is a local cover band playing songs acoustically on the center stage and the atmosphere is light-hearted and genuine.  I like this bar.  I have my guitar on stand by and show it to my new friends just in case my high hopes are right and the musicians are open to a jam.

A few minutes later my new friend is speaking to the band in Thai and they welcome me to the stage with open arms and we have a go.  The woman has a beautiful voice and she nails the song “What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes.  I improve on rhythm parts until it’s time for a tasty guitar solo.  I’m in pure bliss and the audience is reciprocating the energy.

That night I leave the bar and it’s already near 230 in the morning and beers and laughs.  I feel very welcomed and even at home sometimes until everyone starts speaking Thai and it becomes apparent that I’m not a local.  Then I say “hey, hey, hey—WHAT’S GOING ON?”

It’s too late to find a hotel. Stray dogs follow me around on my bike as I try to find a shelter to sleep in. Dogs bark and chase after me and an old woman comes out of nowhere tapping her cane and yelling at the dogs in Thai to stop.  She’s bent over her stick for support like her life depends on it.  “Mai, mai!,” she says.  Where did this lady come from? I swear she just appeared out of thin air!

Kids stand outside a candy store and I ask them if there is a park nearby.  I need a place to sleep.  I follow them on their bikes and find a couple decent trees for shelter to call it a night.  I cycle up to the 7/11 and get some food and buy them some candy for their help.  That night I’m tormented by mosquitoes and my own sweaty condition for about an hour and then I fall asleep till then sun comes up.

March 6

In the morning, I roll out of my slumber on the ground and go for a bike ride around a local park.  A few locals are using the outdoor exercise equipment that seems to be everywhere in this country.  There are very few fat Thai people, not like in America.  I meet some locals who appear to be living on the streets or down and out in some way who offer me Thai whisky.  We drink together and pass around the guitar and share some laughs next to a local lake.  After that, I’m ready to get out of town and move on.  The city comes alive with people walking, bustling traffic, and the sound of some kind of contest on a loud speaker across the lake; I have no idea what they are saying, but it sounds exciting.

I cycle for ten miles or so out of town and the bicycle falls apart some more.  The crank case is loose and shifting back and forth—it’s only a matter of time till it snaps.  It doesn’t worry me, this only offers an opportunity to do what I call hitch biking, which is just what it sounds like—hitching but cycling instead of walking!  It’s a lot of fun, and it works well in Thailand, maybe because it’s not so common to see a tourist of European decent on a bicycle.

The guy that picks me up is Charoen and he spots me a coffee despite my mild protest against it.  I try to counter the offer by buying him a coffee but this doesn’t work either.  I hitch from this point and get a lift from a family piled into a van who set me off for the police station, thinking that I am lost and want to catch the bus.  The thing is, most people picking me up don’t understand the concept of hitchhiking, they just see someone on the side of the road that needs a lift.  It’s hard for me to communicate to the people what I am trying to do, which is really a good question anyways.

So I buy a bus ticket, which takes us blasting through the mountains and as we carve around the curves through the dense jungle terrain I am glad that I didn’t hitch here—there is hardly any shoulder at all.  There is Thai music blasting over the speakers and we rip through the mountains, the bus driver slams the shifter into gear.  There are always two employees on every bus in Thailand—one that drives and one that checks the tickets.  There is a cushion in the back of the bus that someone has put up as a foot rest. Ingenuity is seen on every corner in this country!

I hop out of the bus and hitchhike the rest of the way and a family picks me up.   I’m riding in the back of the pickup truck and the pollution is bad enough that I wrap my black bandana around my face.  The mountain ranges are incredible, green and jungle-like. A dense haze of smoke lingers near the ground from heavy traffic. Construction is everywhere and you can see whole families piled onto one scooter.  The father of the family hands me a water bottle through the window of the truck cab.  The whole family smiling and happy to help me out—I feel honored.

I make it to Phitsanulok that night and pop into a local café called The PL Café.  A couple musicians who say they are from Norway play soft covers of Willie Nelson, the Animals and other Western classics.  This place has a classy feel to it.  I order a glass of wine.

Browsing through a magazine, an article talks about the importance of raising children to be bilingual, trilingual, or better.  An article reads:

Most importantly, the ability to communicate using skills are also important factors too.  Most importantly, the ability to communicate using a second or third language is essential in widening a child’s opportunities into the modern world.

The magazine focuses on shaping a child’s future through education.

That night, I meet with my Couchsurfing hosts for the evening, Matt and Chompoo and their baby girl.  Matt is originally from England and met his wife Chompoo while traveling, who is from Thailand.  Together they teach English privately at their home.  Chompoo focuses on the Thai part of it and Matt focuses on the English part.  Their home is in the middle of the city, right next to shops and cafes.  Matt tells me about his times traveling in Australia and working illegally for eight months until he got caught and kicked out of the country.

The area they live in attracts a lot of mosquitoes and every moment you open the sliding door the buggers sneak in.  The upstairs bedroom of the house has an opening so they fly in freely.  We get revenge with mosquito zappers shaped like tennis rackets and electrocute the masses of flying varmint.

We take a walk along the river in Phitsanulok where one lady sells bags of eels, turtles, and fish for releasing back into the river.  These water creatures represent different things—eels bringing good luck, turtles bringing long life, and fish bringing an easy life.  We unfold a blanket and have lunch beside the river and it’s a beautiful day. Young students walk up to me and ask if they can practice their English with me and I am impressed at their skill level at learning a second language at such a young age.  For better or worse, English is becoming the universal language.  It makes basic communication through one language worldwide possible, while also having the negative factor of tending to polarize the world and westernize everything.  McDonald’s, 7/11s, and Starbucks’ now decorate and obstruct the Earth’s geography.

Matt takes me on a tour of the market area and we walk through ancient and modern Buddhist temples; this is where the young and old collide.  The ceiling stretches on to the sky and the fixtures look like they are paved in gold.  Walk inside any given temple and you will always find a giant Buddha gazing down at you.   In Thailand, nearly 95 percent of the population practices Buddhism.   People rest on their knees, bow down to Kaaba, and the Buddhist shrine.   Before you pray, you must lift a small elephant with your pinky.  Inside these temple walls you can feel the presence of a religion rooted deeply in traditions.  There is the clicking of some cameras and Iphones, non-traditional intrusions of technology.

Along the murky riverside, families gather for lunch and bought food at the roadside food carts.  Birds chirp above the commotion below.  Kids in school uniforms dart about on bicycles.  Scooters zip on by.  The road is narrower than the extra-large American roads I am used to.

We try a host of different fruit and foods, one of them being Khunam Gluay, which is sticky rice, shredded coconut, bananas, and sugar (of course) wrapped into a green leaf.  It’s full of sweetness and just as good as it sounds.  In Thailand, you have the choice of having regular or sticky rice with your meals.  Often times the sticky rice is served more commonly with desserts.  Cane sugar plantations pop up like common grass in Thailand, so many of the desserts taste better since they use natural sugars.

Later, Matt and I venture off on our bicycle to his “favorite temple”, which turns out to be one of the oldest in the area.  We follow a bike path along the river, piece of the sidewalk cracked, but winding and fun.  Locals fish along the murky river bank.

At the temple, monks do push-ups, pull-ups, crunches and other exercises as we wait for the herbal sauna to begin.  There is a sugarless grape drink that has been set out that has an expected bitter aftertaste.  The drink is also supposed to be a part of the cleansing process before sweating every ounce of stress out of your every pore.  Before entering the sauna, you take a small bucketful of water from a larger bucket and drench yourself to clear yourself of grime before entering.  I follow Matt into the small quarters, pulling back an orange curtain where it is immediately completely dark.  I hear men speaking in Thai, but only see dark.  The sweat shatters down my face almost immediately.  The effect is immediate—the monks inside breathe controlled and deeply.  The idea is to stay inside as long as you can tolerate, which for me ends up being a mere two minutes at first.  The feeling of fresh, cool air on your face and body after being in the sauna is renewing, like rolling in the snow and dipping into a hot tub afterwards.

There is a communal feeling to the whole place.  Monks are highly respected in Thai society and I find them to be tolerable and respectful people.  A common question tends to be “where you from” and a smile and nod-gesture can go a long ways if you don’t speak the local language.  Kids approach me as we walk along the river.  “Excuse me,” one kid says slowly.  “ May I practice my English with you?” Of course, I say.  How can you say no to that?

Then the questions ensue.  “Where are you from?  What is your name? What are your hobbies?”  I’m not sure if I should feel flattered or offended; it’s all in good fun anyways.

That night, I slept and Matt and Chompoo’s place on the floor in one of the rooms of their English school, turning the fan on high to blow away the mosquitoes that had snuck through the crack between the door and wall and were now buzzing around the room.

The next morning, I’m pawned off to another Couchsurfing host in Phitsanulok.  Matt offers to take me there on the back of his scooter, which unfolds to me clutching to the back of the seat for dear life with a wide smile on my face.  Scooters and cars honk at one another to alert them of their presence.  The fresh smells of roadside food vendors and auto-pollution meet together to form an olfactory experience of overstimulation.

We meet Jordan in a café area near the local Naresuan University campus, not far from the local library.  Somehow I manage to get there by asking the locals “ sah-moot-yoo-nye-khrap”, which as far as I know is supposed to mean “where is the library?” but I get mostly puzzled looks and a few understand.  I can’t help but feel like I’m asking them “where do I go to take a crap?” although khrap is actually a form of politeness and respect in the Thai language.  At the end of every sentence, you say “khap” if you are female and “khrap” if you are male.

Jordan offers us ice-cream at one of the local ice-cream-coffee shops.  He tells us that he’s been teaching English at the university for nearly five years, but has taken a break from teaching for now.  He met his wife while teaching at the university a few years back.  “She helped me to understand Thai students,” he says between bites of ice cream.  “In my experience, Thai students are relaxed about everything and do not get interested if things are not fun.  My wife helped me overcome that by making the lessons fun and engaging.”

Matt and I depart and Jordan gives me a short tour of the campus.  Dogs in Thailand seem to have a unique place in society, much unlike that of the Western world.  They roam freely and wildly, without collars and nobody has a problem with this.  Stray dogs roam the campus and approach us, tongues draping out of their mouths and bouncing from side to side.  Jordan has dog food in his backpack and I get the feeling that it is one of his daily rituals as he sets piles of food down for them to eat.  He divides the puppy chow into separate piles so that they will not fight over it.

Jordan tells me that the campus we are walking through used to be entirely rice paddies.  We pass small bodies of water, which he tells me are the remainders of the land that once was.  “There are still remnants of the land that appear as if they were once rice paddies so you can tell,” he says.  The water that used to be scattered has now been settled into holes around the campus. We pass an old tree that appears to be an extended hand with a middle finger raised to the sky.  “That’s what we call the F-You tree,” he jokes.

March 7

Jordan maintains his Canadian citizenship while working in Thailand by traveling back to Canada once a year. He is a well-traveled person, especially on the Asian continent.  He had also spent time teaching English in China. “You have to be on the native soil every so often to keep your Canadian passport,” he says.  There is a field that we walk through, filled with a few rotting logs, tennis courts.  “Some students spotted a nest of baby cobras living on campus under those logs a few weeks back,” Jordan says.  “They called the specialists to come take care of them.  The dogs got to a few of them and killed them, sensing that they were dangerous.”

Since Jordan’s wife is not in-tune or approving of the Couchsurfing concept, he says, he has arranged for guests to stay at a local motel.  I find this somewhat strange, but this is part of the whole experience—you never know what you are in for.  Jordan and I agree to meet for a free breakfast downstairs in the morning.  It sounds better to me than sleeping outside with the mosquitoes and black cobras.

March 8

The next day we walk through some of the local markets, which seems to be the common thread of life in Thailand.  It is the pulse of Thailand’s heart, where everyone meets for gossip, business, and time with families and friends.  I feel accepted among this community but there is always that constant feeling that I am the outsider—there is no escaping that in Thailand, I am referred to by the locals as a Farat, the outsider with European ancestry.  Not that they say this to me upfront, but it is common knowledge; every society has their words for outsiders, some of them soft, some of them harsh.  All in all, I find Thai people to be respectful and polite people.  There is a reason they call this place the Land of Smiles.  I can’t help but smile as I walk through the market.

The outsider, the Westerner, the Farat.  I’m just another one of those on holiday in Thailand.  It wasn’t till later that night when walking around the college area by myself that I ran into a striking gal named Nus that I found myself wishing I spoke Thai more than ever.  She ran a dessert stand along a side street near the campus.  I suppose I was by myself, maybe even a bit bored, maybe even a bit lonely.  It’s a big feeling to be in a country where nobody speaks your language, there are no tourists, and to be walking the streets alone.  Just her smile was enough to captivate me, it lit up the streets more than the dim streetlamps and the flashing of passing headlights on scooters.  So I did what should be done and bought an ice and fruit dessert.

Nus and I exchange messages via a translator application she has on her phone (there’s an app for everything, isn’t there?) and we make small talk, share a few laughs.  The area is busy, with lots of college kids zipping around on scooters, couples riding together, vendors selling everything from sushi to squid.  I help Nus close down her shop.  She hops on her scooter.  “I go home now,” she whispers.

Then I head off to find a place to sleep, which doesn’t result in anything in my price range on campus, so I opt for the local park, which then results in swarms of mosquitoes flying around me.  Mosquito Hell has come to help me stay awake for a near sleepless night.  After fruitless attempts of swatting them away, I hop on my bike and ride to a place where there is more wind and less water, meaning fewer mosquitoes, and fall asleep.

March 9- March 11

In the morning, I catch a bus to the other side of town and meet back up with Matt and Chompoo.  We walk into town where Chompoo’s family works at one of the roadside cafes eat an almalgamation of delicious Thai food.  Alfeo, an Italian traveler joins us at one of the restaurants and we decide to be brave and ask for the mildly spice papaya salad.  Seconds after eating, our faces are bright red and our mouths exhale flames.  Alfeo and I go exploring the city together on our bikes and later Matt joins us for the local herbal sauna again.

We play a game with the kids studying English at their home school so they can practice their English.  At the same time we are practicing our Thai.  The kids seem to enjoy getting a kick out of our lacking Thai skills and they put us to shame with their English.  “How do you say seven?,” one of the girls asks when it’s her turn.  Alfeo and I are counting out loud.  “Soon, neung, song, sam, see, hah… hok… jed!”  There is a lot of giggling by the kids and good practice for them.   Matt makes it into a Jenga game to make it interesting for the kids.

Matt and Chompoo set me off with tofu and banana donuts in the morning and I’ve only traveled about twenty kilometers or so out of town when I hear a loud snapping sound and look down to see that my chain has broken in half.  At this point, I’m not much surprised since this bike was obviously created at the Chinese factory with the design purpose of immediately falling apart.  So I did what seemed suitable for the situation: I stick out my thumb and waited for a ride, which turned out to be only five minutes.

The first ride is with a family: a wife, husband, and three kids who are watching Fast and the Furious in the backseat with Thai subscripts.  The Dad occasionally drives like he is Vin Diesel himself; weaving in and out of traffic while his wife white-knuckles her seat and occasionally utters gasping sounds.  They insist on treating me to lunch and the language barrier is very real but nothing is mis-communicated with the exchange of a few smiles.

I find myself lost on the side of the road but with a general sense that I have to head North towards Chang Mai.  A few short lifts and one bus ride through the mountains later, I find myself arriving in the city.  Not before passing through dense jungle mountains and twisty turns on a bus that barrels through the narrow roads like it is on a mission to fly off the cliff and not  make it there alive.  From the looks on the passengers’ faces these conditions are normal and we do make it alive and as far as I know, I am not still breathing.

In Chang Mai I find a bicycle shop and watch in marvel as a husband and wife who own the shop bang away with just a wrench and hammer and fix my bike with a new chain and new ball bearings.  The level of intensity that they put the machine back together with is impressive, their efforts becoming machine-like and straight-ahead until the job is finished.

While riding around, I meet a guy on a street corner with a guitar and after we make introductions, he naturally ends up inviting me a few blocks over to the gig he is about to play in an hour.  How much better could this luck get?  I joined the duo (himself and his friend) in what becames an acoustic trio in a lounge-style bar, playing the standard Western covers (ironically) such as Hotel California, Wonderful Tonight, Champagne Supernova.

I cycle through the streets for over an hour until I finally meet with Amber, my Couchsurfing host for the night, who happens to be from Germany.  Before meeting her, I find myself lost and without a cell phone to call her, struggling to find the right amount of currency to make the pay phone work.  An old woman closing up her shop next to me was my saving grace and just sort of smiles, walks over and puts the correct change into the machine.  I must look quite pathetic to her, since she also gives me some food, which is undeniably incredible.

Amber meets me at the pay phone on her scooter and together we sweep through the city streets.  Even she is a bit lost herself but it’s a better feeling to be lost with someone else.

It is a miracle that my bicycle doesn’t fall apart on the way to her apartment.  The mechanic shop owners had done a solid job fixing the bike.

March 12-13

Amber has a job working for her company based in Germany, which has outsourced to Thailand.  She has made friends with some of the locals and knows a few cafes to eat at down the street.  After she takes off for work, I take off on my bike to the hilly side of town and into the mountains.  The fast pace of the markets change as I make my way pushing my bike up the windy road towards the top, birds begin chirping, the crowds altogether disappear; it is a pleasant contrast.  I have asked a local what is at the top of the mountain and one guy has told me there is an ancient temple.

A group of kids give me a puzzled look to see me pushing my bike up the steep incline as they make their way down.  I hike up a dirt trail to the top where there is a stream of water flowing, statues of lion-like creatures, majestic Buddha shrines, statues of women with animal paws, and stuff that I can’t wrap my head around, stuff that just makes you go wow.   The temple sits at the peak of the mountain, overlooking the city sprawl below.

A girl prays and makes a small offering to her ancestors at the Spirit House across on the opposite side of the stream.  A Spirit House is a shelter for spirits that have left Earth and it is believed to keep them content with a place to stay.  Many traditional homes in Thailand have Spirit Houses in the backyard.

As I sit next to the stream and breath in the fresh mountain air, I watch a few monks move a massive concrete bath into one of the ponds of water with only two bamboo sticks.  Bamboo is incredibly strong and could carry an elephant if you had enough bamboo to support the structure and people to carry it.  One of the bamboo sticks snaps in half and the guys nearly lose the concrete bath they are carrying.  I offer to help them carry it across (just for the novelty really, not sure how much I actually help) and they later tell me that it was going to be used for the setting of the movie The Man With the Iron Fists.  I’ll be watching for that one when it comes out.

What kind of wildlife is in Thailand?   I meet up with a green vine snake as I came down the dirt trail; luckily it was slithering away into the forest instead of approaching me for a greeting.  It is to my relief that when I later looked the snake up on Wikipedia I found the description to be Deadly Poisonous.  Ah, what reassurance, it could only kill me, that’s all.  Most snakes leave you alone unless bothered anyway, but the primal thinking is always there—fight or flight.  With snakes, it tends to be flight.

That temple in the mountains has to be one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.  Down below, tourists are sticking their feet into giant fish aquariums and letting the fish eat off the bacteria.  There are other attractions in Thailand.

Hitchhiking America, Take One (NYC)

(Michigan-Indiana-Ohio-Pennsylvania-New Jersey-New York)

I’ve officially started a trip around America that will last me from now (January) until most likely late May.  This plan is to hitchhike America and hike as much as possible.  I’d like to find a folding bicycle if possible to travel around towns and the outskirts with but so far have had no luck in acquiring a good used one.  I’ve owned the Dahon folding bicycle before, and I’m in the market to buy the same model I used to have, or the Dahon Jetstream, which is a foldable mountain bike with 20-inch tires.

The idea of being able to fold the bike into a something the size of a small suitcase and hitchhiking to the next spot is enticing.  I’m planning to meander down as many backroads as possible as possible and meet as many locals as I can.  I’m curious as to what is going on in my own country before I venture out to explore the rest of the world again.  Some of these questions include, but are not limited to:

* What is going on in the country outside of what the news media presents?

* What are the effects of massive consumerism, and what are its effects on the small towns (especially) in this country?

* Are there really “crazies” that pick you up when hitchhiking, or are most people inherently good?

In short, I’m interested in finding out about different ways of life, non-traditional ways of going about accomplishing things, and I want to meet the people of this country and write a book about it.  The rest of this blog will be written in the present-tense, with intentions to bring the reader into the experience.  This blog has evolved from “Hitchhiking Colorado” and become “Hitchhiking America.”

In late May/early June, my friend Steve and I have a plan to attempt to climb all (or most) of the 14,000-foot peaks in the colorful state of Colorado.  Both of these trips have been fermenting in our mind’s for awhile, and it’s time that they are seen through.

By the way, if you’d like to read more or my travel-writing, you can find them on Amazon.

*Backpack Full of Bush Dust (my most recent book, hitch-biking through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and hitchhiking around the entire continent of Australia)

*Hitchhiking Colorado ( more about the characters met while hitchhiking in Colorado)

*The Bicycle Bum Diaries (bicycle touring in North America and Europe)

All of which are available on Amazon and Amazon/Kindle.

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My brother and his girlfriend drop me off in Indiana, and I dart across the highway when there is no traffic since there is no place for them to turn around for some distance.  I’ve taken to carrying a small dry-erase board achieved from the Dollar Store, so I’m able to change the intended destination with ease.  At first, I write New York on the board and a woman with New York plates drives by taking a bite out of a big apple (no pun intended) and flashes a half-smile, looks away.  She’s obviously going the exact same way that I’m going but doesn’t want to stop for whatever reason.

After waiting a half-hour, I realize that my running shoes that were tied to my backpack must have fallen off, so I find myself darting across the highway again to find them resting in the rest station parking lot.

I’m heading to visit my girfriend in New York for New Year’s Eve and a few weeks after, so I try changing my sign when “New York” doesn’t work to “Not Crazy”, and when that gets only a few chuckles, I change it to “For A Girl” and decide that it might come across as too soft.  So then I eventually change it to “NY” and an hour later, some 15 New York plates later, a small grey car pulls over to the shoulder.

I hop in with a nice guy named Chuck who is maybe in his late-forties and he drives me all the way to the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, where he lives.  He has just come back from visiting family near the Lansing and Detroit areas for the holidays.  The road rolls on, flat and speckled with light flakes of snow.  Chuck has a friendly energy, having done some hitchhiking himself getting to and from rock concerts when he was younger.  He lived a more traditional lifestyle before he was 40, and after he was 40 began travelling to Europe and even Northern Africa.

His favorite band, who he has followed around on tour from time to time is Cowboy Junkies.  He pops one of their CDs into the player; the band has a soft sound with a female-singer that sounds reminiscent of The Cranberries.  Once, while in Morocco, Chuck recalls when a local guy put a cobra around his head and took a picture of Chuck while doing so.  “It didn’t dawn on me that maybe I should consider whether or not it was poisonous until after the fact,” he says.  “But then, it’s one of those things, that if I had thought about it, I might not have got that picture.”

Amongst other stories, one of the better ones is his recollection of driving through France in his rented car and seeing four cute Belgian girls on the side of the road all hitchhiking together.  Chuck picked them up, and the girls piled into the backseat.  ” The exits come up quick along the expressways in France,” he says.  ” The girls were warning me to slow down sooner, because I was used to long exit ramps in America.  So we’re driving, and this cop along the shoulder standing alongside with a radar gun clocks me and motions for me to stop.  So he came up to the driver’s door and I told him ‘je regrette, no parlevous francais’… in my broken French, that sort of thing.  He sees all the cute Belgian girls in the back and I think he had a heart and let me off.  So it left me a good impression of France.”

Chuck mentions that at one of the bars in France that offered a free drink to anyone that could sing a song in a foreign language (foreign to their native country) and Chuck sang Frere Jacques, which resulted in a free beer.

Chuck lets me off at a rest area and I continue the rest of my hitchhiking onwards to New York from Ohio.  It’s getting close to dark as I wait along the edge of the rest area.  The canopy of dead trees just over the fence are starting to look like it might be my sleeping quarters for the night.  Cars packed with travelers heading home from the holidays pass me by, some of them smile and wave. The rest area is packed with semi-truck drivers taking a short break from the road and families anxious to fill up with gas and merge back on the highway.

nyc-skyline

An hour or so later, I get lucky and somebody stops, after passing me.  Reverse lights turn on and the cars backs down the merge ramp.  I motion for a white van to slow down that is speeding towards this Good Samaritan.  I meet Aaron (the driver) and his Dad, who is in the passenger’s seat.  I learn that Aaron’s dad used to be a doctor and recently his mother committed to suicide.  Despite this, Aaron is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met and he recently lost his job and is looking for a new one.  I know that he will achieve this based on his attitude alone.

Through the long drive through the rolling hills of the Pennsylvania country side, we talk about everything and anything.  The dialogue doesn’t stop.  He tells me about the 16Personality Test, which I’m skeptical about at first, not being one to take multiple choice tests or have any faith in them.  After taking it though, I would have to say that it is entirely close to being accurate.

Aaron’s dad tells me about his adventures as the “only black guy hitchhiking through the mountains of Vail, Colorado in 1976.” Being from Detroit, his Dad follows the Detroit Lions game on his phone application.

 Since it’s cold for the night and I’ve developed enough trust with Aaron and his dad and they’ve decided that I’m most likely not an axe murderer, I stay in a motel with them for the night and we drive the rest of the way to New York in the morning.  FOX news is the first station that blares when we turn on the TV. I imagine millions of people around America, listening to and absorbing the same propaganda and rhetoric. “Go fool someone else,” his Dad says, changes the channel. I ask him what he thinks of Obama’s presidency. “He didn’t accomplish all that he said he would,” he says. “The Republican party has too much money. His agenda has been manipulated by that influence.”

We watch an old mob movie from the 1940s, where his Dad becomes nostalgic for the days when things like plot and dialogue were a requirement for movies.  The scenes are drawn out longer, there is more build-up to the movie’s climax.

His Dad tells me that he was working as a doctor in New York City when 9/11 happened.

During the ride into Pennsylvania, we even touched on race in America, as Aaron is African American.  ” Black people are a minority in this country and a majority of the population that the police harasses, arrests, and sometimes kills,” he says.  Driving through a McDonald’s drive-thru, I notice Tesla electric car chargers displayed along back near the dumpster.  It’s interesting to see these here, and uncommon.  I can imagine that in twenty years or less you’ll see these at every corner but for now, it seems like more of an advertisement.

People begin driving erratically, honking from behind and then cutting you off by mere inches.  This is proper New York driving etiquette. “The closer you get to New York City, the more fucked up it gets,” Aaron says. “Tolls can get backed up for miles. It can take hours. Once every 4 or 5 months, a semi-truck gets wedged under the bridge since the driver is following the GPS blindly and not paying attention to the signs. It’s crazy driving around here.”

 We cross the George Washington Bridge and the concrete jungle of NYC skyscrapers can be seen on the other side of the Hudson River. Aaron’s dad tells me that owning a car in NYC can become a huge burden since it’s hard to get around with all of the traffic and the maintenance costs are high. For now, I have arrived and in a few weeks I’ll take off again, heading south to explore the southwest (Arizona and southern California) and then continue heading southeast, following the areas where the warmer weather frequents for winter.

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The Bar ( a short story)

“I’ll have your finest cold one, whatever that one is please.”

The old bartender slides a bottled beer down the counter, effortlessly.

“Where ya from fellar?”

The question implies that most people that venture into this dark bar aren’t from here.  The bar is a essentially a wooden shack, nestled amongst rows and rows of cornfields.  While the cowboy had been driving, it popped up like a river of sugar water in a sour land. Irresistible.

“From somewhere else,” the cowboy says dryly.

The bartender says nothing.  This response has been common for the 40-plus years he has owned the bar.

In the bar there are no decorations.  Just old plywood full of nails, some rusty, and some sticking out like loose hinges.  There’s no need to ask if he takes credit card.  It’s implied that this bar doesn’t.  There are probably a million stories about lonely, weary souls that have wandered into this bar, the cowboy thinks.  The air is still, and none of them are spoken of.

The cowboy tips back his beer, drinks.  He might not really be a cowboy, maybe he only acts and dresses like one.  Neither of them ask into detail, so neither of them care.

” What you passin’ through for?,” the bartender asks.  This question is arbitrary.  It doesn’t require a thoughtful answer. How is are you? 

“Got me some busnezz’ I’ll be takin’ care of further south.  Just passin’ through cuz’ I have ta’.”

At that moment the door swings open freely.  A man enters.  Black business attire, black tie.  Shoes shined.  He shuffles the stool, exchanges to indifferent glances at the bartender and the cowboy.  Has a seat, comfortable enough, legs crossed.

“What’ll it be for ya?,” asks the bartender.

“A drink of your finest cold please,” says the business man.

The bartender pops open another bottle, slides it across the table.  There is silence for a while.  Both customers appear tired from the road and not yet ready to talk.  When the cowboy and the business man begin talking, the conversation goes from sports to talking about making money.  This is the only thing they really talk about.  The bartender interrupts politely.

“So, have you heard the deal about this bar before?,” the bartender asks.

Both men shake their heads.  No.

“Well, it’s a bit of a story but I’ll give yous’ the shortened version.  I started this bar back in the thirties, just after Prohibition ended.  I invested everything I had into it and then some.  Me and my wife, who passed on while back, bless ‘er soul.”

The bar is silent.  This bar doesn’t offer a jukebox.  Nothing fancy.  Just a plywood stable and cold beer.

“Well, one day there was a fire in the bar, started from the grill in the back.  We used ta’ serve burgers here in our heyday.  Anyways, my wife were in the back room doin’ some work when the fire started, we got stuck.  You probably won’t believe this, but we were both stuck in the fire and it burned to the ground.  This bar was not more.”

The cowboy and business man stare blankly at the bartender.  You can hear the wind rustling the tall grass just outside.  They say nothing.

” So we both died in the fire, my wife and I.  Well, come to find out, the powers that be had screwed up and we weren’t scheduled to leave this world yet.  See, they made a mistake and didn’t know we’s’ was’ in the bar. Our lives weren’t supposed to be over yet. So they told us we could have our mortal lives back, and they’d even rebuild the bar.  That took the snap of a finger.”

‘ Only thing, my wife was scheduled to leave, whether I liked it or not.  Since it seemed to unfair, we all reached a compromise that my wife could still stay at the bar, the only thing being that we both had to become ghosts. So she still technically lives here, keeps me company and the bar lives on, giving stragglers like yourselves comfort from the road.”

“That’s a pretty good story yous’ got there,” the cowboy says.  He lights a cigarette.  Deep inhale.  Blows a ring of smoke away from the bar.  The business man glares at the door.  Exit.

“All of it’s true,” says the bartender.  “…And the kicker is this.  My wife has the power to look into a man’s soul and know the very date he’ll be leaving this Earth.  You can’t see her right now, but she’s actually standing right by my side right now.  In the form of ghost.’

‘So have a look at the back of your beer.  You’ll find your expiration date for this Earth.”

The men exchange confused glances.  Spin their beers around.  Expiration dates are on the label.  Cowboy’s beer says he expires in fifteen years and some change.  Business man expires in 32 years and some cents.

” Is this a joke?,” says the business man.  “Seriously, where’s the cameras?”

Both customers exchange glances and kindly tell the bartender that he’s weird and that he should screw off.  They leave.

Outside the bar, they talk about their business ventures, the cowboy owning a ranch and the business man investing in stocks.  They don’t seem interested in much else.  A paper bag blows on along the road.  The air is cold, yet fresh.  Stalks of corn sway in the wind.

It’s at that moment that the man that had been sitting by a booth in the corner of the bar runs outside.  “Here,” he says, handing both men a beer.  ” These ones are on me boys.  You gents look like you could both use another beer before you hit the road.”

The cowboy and the business man exchange glances, look at the expiration date on the back.  It says the expiration is set for today for both men.

“Joke’s over,” cowboy says.  “This isn’t funny and we’re leaving.”

As they’re walking away, a semi with a loaded trailer comes skidding out of control along the snow.  The trailer crashes off the hinges, diving straight into the bar with a crash louder than ten cannons fire off at once.

“Backpack Full of Bush Dust”, now available on Amazon!

Here is an insert from my latest book, now available for sale on Amazon at the following link, for both hard copy and Kindle versions:

http://www.amazon.com/Backpack-Full-Bush-Dust-hitch-biking/dp/1501001914

I sleep in Coolgardie on the hard ground in the middle of the bush.  The sleeping bag is covered in wetness and a thin layer of melting frost as the sun rises.  In the middle of the night a truck driver and pulls up next to my spot and is surprised to see me when I say hello; he wouldn’t have seen me if I hadn’t introduced myself in the dark.

“Thought I was hearing things!,” he says.  He takes time to clean and wipe out his cab.

I have various short rides all the way to Salmon Gums, which is a town small enough that you can only buy groceries at the local post office.

One guy that picks me up is a stocky Aboriginal who used to be a boxer and now works at a correctional facility.  He pulls over while I am hiking with my thumb out and even though he hadn’t initially seen me, he offers a ride in his Japanese Supra.  He shows me around town and takes me to a scenic overlook.

“This here is wheat country,” he says.  We are surrounded by green rolling hills and farmland.  “I’m from Melbourne, just moved here five months ago.” He says that he mostly deals with illegal immigrants from Iran and other areas of the Middle East that arrive by boat.

“The boat driver gets paid about 100 dollars per person to bring migrant workers to Australia,” he says.  His car is fast, efficient, and quiet as we cruise along the highway and a speed of 180/kilometers an hour.

Just before dark, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal man who is a Christian pastor.  “It’s a good job,” he tells me.  “We’re in the business of counseling, marrying, and burying people.”  He pops in a cassette of a local band, I imagine him as someone thoroughly involved in the community.  He pops in some Jesus-inspired country music and old-timer style porch bluegrass all the way to Coolgardie.  He offers me the rest of his KFC chicken.

We pass along miles and miles of pipeline.    “That water pipe goes all the way south,” he says.  “It’s for drinking water.”

He drops me off on the outskirts of town and it’s long since passed dark.