Saturday, January 9, 2016

Maybe finally I'll make it to THAT DARIEN GAP

Last Winter I tried to walk through the Darien Gap, an adventurer's Mecca, leading from Columbia through jungle, across rivers and over the mountains. It stretches from North-Eastern Columbia to Panama, or vice-versa.

I ended up unable to do it because I had to stay in New York City to take care of my affairs, renting out some of the commercial properties I own in Manhattan. The income from those properties now makes it possible for me to roam the world at will.

When I was much younger I also managed to travel, at the time with a lot less money —simply because I didn't have any. It didn't matter how long I stayed away. Now I have a beautiful loft in Manhattan's SoHo,  and an also very beautiful farm in the country. I have grandchildren, doctor I need to see from time to time — and with advancing age, the intervals become shorter and shorter. I also have an accountant breathing down my neck.

I often used to say: "It is not necessary to have money. You can also be happy without it." As I got older I found that moolah to be very useful.

Most of the time I still travel on a low budget, by sleeping in super cheap local dives, eat what locals eat, street food off street stands,  or in low cost local eateries.

For a change, ever once in a while, now that I can afford it, I check into a hotel with hot steamy showers, where I get to eat food with silver ware off plates, while sitting on a chair at a table. A house phone call away gets me someone to pick up my laundry which I later get back clean and folded. I can get a bottle of cold beer or wine whenever I like, and can drink it out of a clean glass.

I just returned from skiing in Switzerland and France.

Before that skiing happening, I accompanied my daughter Nina to Istanbul on one of her almost surreal business trips. When she visits her fabulously wealthy clients for whom she takes care of international affairs, we end up in the lap of luxury.

Now, after luxuriating in the pampered life of the well off in Russia and Turkey I, hope to be disappearing, as soon as possible, into the harsh adventures promised by the jungles of the Darien Darien Ga[..

77-years old,  despite the advantages available to old age, such as preferential treatment and ready assistance for the most simple tasks, I'd much rather be young again. Duh! Dealing with the hassles, tribulations, and adventures of youth still has a Siren Song for me.

Nowadays I often go to bed before normal bed time in the hope of prompting  an early wake up. Those early morning hours often lead me to re-live in semi-sleep dreams some of the lusty and exciting happenings of my younger years. Female companions still have the soft,  fragrant skin and the sweet husky voices I still vividly remember.

FARK, the Columbian rebel group, has signed a peace accord with the authorities. They had been hiding from government forces in the Darien Gap region,  and were a potential danger to lone travelers — to become pawns for extorting hostage release funds.

My daughter Tania bought me an "inReach EXPLORER", a little battery-powered gadget which, whenever a certain button is pressed on it, it relays, via satellite, the  gadget's position.

My kids had decided I should have such a gadget so they would know where to look for an overfed jaguar, or where they might find my remains in the floatsam of a swollen river —if I didn't return from the jungle.

That "inReach Explorer" opens a new world to me.

During all my previous journeys, 153 countries so far, when satellite phones didn't exist yet, and, of course, neither did "inReach Explorers",  nobody ever knew where I was. Sometimes, neither did I.

I usually traveled the same way the locals did; mostly in overloaded busses, in many parts of the Sahara on camels,  sometimes on motorcycle backseats, as passenger and rarely in a bush plane. I got from Danang In Vietnam to Savanakhet in Laos on the backseat of a local young man's motorcycle. Often I drove my own rigs such as bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, car or truck. I crammed into hopelessly overloaded cars. Those were mostly "bush taxies", as they are called in West Africa.  I rode on a truck from Ethiopia to Nairobi, over the Khyber Pass from Kabul, in Afghanistan to Peshawar, in Pakistan, in the Sahara. I rode on horses in Kyrgyzstan, got drenched in the monsoon as a deck passenger on a freighter from Thailand to Japan, slept in a very smelly, old car on a freighter up the Rio Negro from Manaus to Columbia, and, in a relatively nice cabin down the Niger River to Timbuktu in Mali, climbed up on Aconcagua in Chile, trekked around Torres de Paine in Patagonia, and messed around on other mountain crags in different part of the Argentinian Andes, walked over the Himalayas, mountain climbed —most of it during my Swiss Army military service — all over the Swiss Alps. Was a passenger in a patched-up Russian plane from Bamako to Timbuktu, from Calcutta to Bangkok, flew in dilapidated helicopter to many places within Siberia, trekked on skis on Arctic ice to the North Pole. Most of my travels were by hitchhiking in local vehicles, with local people.

Looking at a world map brings exotic names, memories of adventures to the conscious foreground.

Names of far-away cities, like Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei,

There is Kota Kinabalu, the biggest city in North-Eastern Borneo's Saba, at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, where little children advertised the use of toilets in their hoses — for pay.

Ouagadougou, the funky, and funny sounding capital of Bourkina Fasso in the center of West Africa where Emilie and I found a night club where the strobe litghts were made to "strobe" by a light switch..

Timbuktu, the historical and legendary end of the world, in Mali where just about everybody got to know me as "l'home du desert".

Luang Prabang, the Buddhist heaven in Laos that is full of monks where we found a motorized barge that brought us up the Mekong river to northern Thailand.

Pontianak,  in Borneo's Kalimantan,  drowned in a Monsoon flood, when I was there. That bustling town straddling the equator made me cross that significant line on our planet serial times in one day, while looking for a toilet..

I remember my room in Addis Ababa that was flooded from a crack in the toilet.

There is historic Stone Town, the old pirate hideout in Zanzibar off the East African coast, now a predominantly Muslim town where I had a bottle of good Chianti with spaghetti carbonara, and near where I lost an eye.

There is Monywa, in Burma where the police got on my trail because I was organizing to go where I was not allowed to go.

Garbage covered Harbin, in Manchuria, a veritable dump, I saw from the train that brought me from Krasnoyarsk and Lake Baykalon on the Trans Siberian railroad to Peking. It was freezing cold, when I was there.

I fondly remember the old woman in Happaranta, in Finland's North tip of the Baltic sea, who changed my remaining Swedish money to Finnish currency. I found it so funny when she counted out loud the unusual sounding: "Ucsi", "ghacsi", "nellia", "wheezi", "goozi" (that is how I now remember her phonetic; "one, "two", "three", "four", "five".)

Araouane is foremost in my mind. The abandoned watering station for caravans in the middle of the Western Sahara, where I lived, and loved, almost five-years, was as close to home as Zürich, Appenzell, New York and Corinth, Vermont.

The map also shows the salt mines in the vast Saharan sands of Taoudennit, that doubled as a political prison for Malian dissidents.

I see Kathmandu, in Nepal, where the barber who cut my mane, tried to fix me up with his sister — but I was there with my wife, Emilie.

Mashad with its giant mosque, the third holiest in the world, in Eastern Iran reminds me of kids who emerged from Koran school and felt justified to pelt me with rocks because I was clearly not a Muslim.

Beirut, in Lebanon, where I was totally broke financially, but then ended up making good money as a belly danker in a gay bar.

In the countryside outside Kayseri, in Eastern Turkey's Anatolia, while I slept outdoors with wolves howling in the distance, a caterpillar demonstrated me his pleasure of living in the early gray light of morning. The way the little insects whipped off the dew that had covered its torso during the cold night, then hopped off into the sunshine, inspired me, who had spend the night comfortable in my warm sleeping bag, to also hopp lustily into the new day.

Tokyo, the city I loved for almost a year — and where I fell in love —

Peking, was uneventful, even though I lost a sole on the only shoes I had.

Saigon, was memorable in countless ways that I described somewhere else in the blog. I discovered and now love, Phò.

Mandalay,in Burma, is the home of Sein, the rickshaw wallah who became a friend and whose children went to good school because I could help.

There is also Appenzell, in the mountainous region of Eastern Switzerland, where I play cards with my brothers and where most of the old people have goiters because of lack of iodine in their diet. Now that my mother is not around anymore to make the favorite nostalgia food of my youth, Eva, my sister in law who had learned from me mother, can — and does — prepare it now.

Most of Europe I discovered at a very early age during my school vacations of my time in Zurich's Volksschule. Those journeys, all over Europe were by bicycle, scooter, car, but mostly by hitchhiking.

All those places, all over our planet, and many more that emerge from time to time from my clouded memory banks,  have some kind of a beautiful song for me.

Darien Gap, I am ready to come.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Who are those people?

Just checked "stats" for the blog about yesterday's visitors. Nobody in Switzerland where I am from has looked into it. Some are in countries where I had only casual acquaintances.  I can't imagine who the visitors might be.
United States
United Kingdom

Tuesday, January 13, 2015



Back at the farm, harvesting food.

Beavers in my pond cut down my fruit trees, but chase the Musk Rats away.

Harvest from my farm in Vermont

My beautiful farm.

When I took their honey, the bees got me in the upper part of the face.

Later they took care of the lower part.

I now have honey, pickled vegetables, dehydrated vegetables, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables, dried apples, apple sauce, apple butter, wild grape jelly, beef jerky, beef, lamb and chicken in the freezer and ...

Life is good.

• • •

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

54 FEET IN FAT VIRGIN, March, 2014


March 22, 2014

My daughter Jade called from London.

"Would you like to join Nick and Tony for a sailing regatta in the BVIs?" she said.

"Can't," I said, "have to stay in New York until I have a deal with a new store tenant."

"Come on, it is only ten days, and, unlike in your planned Darien Gap folly, you can stay in daily contact with New York by phone and by e-mail.

Ah well. 
A stitched gash on the head, a swollen nose and
shiners under both, the eye and the empty eye-
socket, kept me off the booze because of antibiotics
in the system.
I am now sitting in the Bitter End Crawl Pub of Virgin Gorda, the Fat Virgin in the BVIs, drinking tea, abstaining from booze because of six stitches in a gash on my head, black shiners under my real eye and under my empty eye socket, a grossly swollen nose, and being pumped full of antibiotics, after slamming across the cockpit, resulting in a violent winch-head encounter caused by a flying mainsail sheet during a (controlled) jibe.

Today will be the last day of racing. 

Mellifera, our beautiful 54-foot Swan, the standard of sailboat excellence in normal marinas the world over, would most likely be any marina's crown jewel. Here in the BVIs she looks puny. Hundred-plus-foot sailing and motor mega yachts, are being polished by their uniformed crews to a blinding shine all over the place. Their 0.01 percenter owners in scuffed, frayed, flapping soled boat shoes and threadbare shirts bearing the name of their mega-million dollar boats — mingle with us normal mortals and drink the same rum punch, causing all of us to talk equally stupid. Once more I realize how numb-skulled we sound when we are rum-soaked. I have to stay sober among the boozers, even after daily races, on account of antibiotics in my system.

The doctor suggested I have my head examined when I refused anesthesia for stitching a large gash on my skull. To judge my mental acuity he asked what date we were and I had no idea. Further questions about my birthday, my name, the name of our president, for all of which I had correct answers, made it clear I didn't know the date of the day simply because I was on holiday.

Glorious us. Of the four legs in the race. one time we came in second, two times third and the last one,
the one that really counted, that went all the way around the FAT VIRGIN, we managed last place.
Okay, the others had racing sails and we had but cruising stuff, not ideal in light downwind sailing.

I am glad I went. It was fun. My head wound is healing well, the shiners under my eye sockets are waning, New York still has its magic for me. A stack of mail was waiting for me. I am ready to talk to new prospective tenants. On Friday the stitches will come out of my head wound.

Now, already April 6, the rainy season has started in the Darien Gap. With no particular desire to slog through muddy jungle at a time when the mosquitoes really swarm, and not in the mood for swimming across swollen, debris-carrying rivers I resigned myself to put off that jungle bash for the time being. 

At my age, just had the 76th birthday, it would be prudent not to make plans too far into the future ... you never know when a ton of bricks will fall on your head. That assault on the head has already started with last year's motorcycle summersault in Zanzibar and now during the violent head-winch encounter in the regatta. In earnest it came yesterday when I had a stent placed into one of my coronary arteries that now makes me feel like shit. 

Sic transit gloriam mundi.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


New York, January 15, 2014


If my world was perfect I'd now be somewhere in southeastern Panama, scouting for a way to get around National Police patrols to walk through the Darien Gap to Colombia.


In late Fall, while still on my Vermont farm, I got notice that the financial source which makes possible my forays into the wilds of our planet is drying up. The tenant of a store I own in Manhattan that, every month, had promptly paid me a lot of rent,  announced he'd have to move out (they had done well in my space and now moved to a much larger one).

I rushed to Manhattan, contacted friends who might have connections, and real estate brokers. In no time did I have two potential new tenants.

On interviewing them I found one to be the kind of person where, after shaking hands with him, I'd be tempted to count my fingers to check if they are all still there, and the other was a small Chinese art porcelain maker who'd sent his cousin over from nearby Chinatown to check out the space. Neither of the two instilled enough confidence for me to let them take over the space.

Now I have to stay in Manhattan, to check out new prospective tenants, to negotiate with them and deal with brokers. Lawyers get involved. Instead of sweating while bashing through Central American jungle, I have business lunches, and boring office meetings, while my mind conjures up cool adventures.

I am chomping at the bit to get there, just as I have announced in this blog since quite some time.  I have already gotten e-mail from blog readers that ask: What about that Darien Gap?

My present situation reminds me of a passage in a Strubelpeter story by Wilhelm Busch an Austrian writer who, about two-hundred-years ago, coined the moniker: Erstens kommt es anders, und, zweitens als man denkt, which loosely translated says in a facetious way: No matter what you think, things turn out different than what you think.

I googled for dates of the rainy seasons in the Darien Gap. I don't want to risk having to swim across rivers. So far I am still fine with time. Just check the blog from time to time. One of these days I'll be there.

Google also told me that the Panamanian National Police won't let anyone into the Darien Gap anymore because it creates bad publicity for the Panamanian tourist industry when, ever once in a while some foreigner disappears in its territory.

My kids, in a clearly facetious way, root for me to get caught and then spend time in a Panamanian jail for ignoring the interdiction. They say I'd lose the pot belly I have recently acquired.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


New York,  November 19, 2013


The Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan offers rooms (suites) for forty-five-thousand dollars per day.

Oh yeah, the article where I found out about that bargain, also said that efforts are under way to increase availability of such pricey hotel accommodations in town in order to satisfy the demands by well-off visitors.

A brochure offers Manhattan digs for rent, priced as high as 125,000 dollars per month. The 125,000 dollar per month one comes with a south-facing garden … duh!

85,000 per month gets you seven bedrooms and two fplcs (fire places). At another, a 8.500 per month dwelling, you are pampered with washer/dryer, wine cooler and abundant storage, but in the advertisement for that one it says specifically that pets are not allowed.

There are about fifty of those kinds of digs listed in the brochure, the least expensive I found, at 2,800 is for a one-bedroom with marble bath.

I live in a beautiful, comfortable SoHo loft that I converted in the eighties to residential from a plumbing supply warehouse. It is in a neighborhood where nowadays are local restaurants that feel to me like home away from home,  I have friends and friendly neighbors. Whatever outlandish goodies I might fancy are practically at my fingertips. When in the early morning I go out to get the newspaper, I exchange "good morning" with several people that are also out at the time. Some aspects of big city living, even in Manhattan, feel like country living.

The digs I found last year in the vicinity of a pitch dark bus stop in southern Ethiopia for 1,80 dollar per night, one of the cheapest during my recent travels, quite possibly made me a happier camper — even after having stepped into a sewage ditch, resulting in dirty smelling feet in the dark between the bus stop and the hotel — than the pampered 45,000-dollar-per-day-hotel-room-dweller in Manhattan.

As mentioned often in this blog, my purpose in traveling is to experience how people live in the countries I visit, to eat what they eat, to travel they way they travel, to experience some of the problems they experience; like police corruption, traffic and pedestrian congestions, contaminated water and strange food of questionable provenance. I also get a taste of their misery, along with their joys and laughter.

The Manhattan visitor in the forty-five-thousand-dollar-a-day-digs is not likely to find out how good some of the local Big Apple street food can be. He won't experience the culinary delight of a spicy Italian sausage with sautéed peppers and onions from a griddle, packed in between a crusty bread. When you bite into that Italian sausage, it leaves a reddish, fatty smear from ear to ear, as if painting a big smile across your mug.

He is not likely to come across classy street performers in Washington Square park or in Central park, or in Union Square park. I saw Philippe Petit doing his tricks on a rope stretched between two trees. He later became a famous sensation for his high wire walk between the World Trade Center towers and the film "Man on Wire". In Washington Square he performed for coins thrown into a hat.

The few times I happened to stay in first class hotels, eateries, or saw performances, I found they offer more or less the same standardized fare all over the world. A first class wine tastes the same at the Peninsula in Hong Kong, as in the George V or the Meurice in Paris, the Raffles in Singapore, the Carlton in Cannes, the Imperial in Tokyo, and, yes, at the Four Seasons or the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.

One of the best theatrical/ music performance I ever saw was not in Manhattan's Lincoln Center, but in a Tanzania train station where some waiting fellow passengers did a lusty, improvised war dance in street clothes, accompanied by home made and improvised instruments.

One time, in an extremely unlike place, I hit the jackpot with wine. My brothers and I were fishing in Canada's Labrador at a godforsaken a-hole in the middle of nowhere in the barren land. The place didn't have a restaurant but two greasy spoon diners, across the muddy street from each other, both belonging to woodland Indians. On a whim, Peter, one of my brothers, asked if they had wine.
"Only one kind, red," the toothless man said.
"How much?"
"Oh, gimme five dollars," the man said. He brought the bottle.
Our eyes almost popped out. The bottle was a Mouton Cadet, Mise en Bouteille au Chateau Rothschild. The other diner across the street in the small town, we found out, had the same Mouton Cadet Rothschild and nothing else.

We figured, a container full of the stuff from a ship wreck must have washed up on the shore, or there was an over-supply of that vintage and the Chateau's business powers that be, instead of destroying it, sent a container full of that elixir for a song to that godforsaken place in Labrador where, because nobody-who-is-anybody ever goes there, it would not influence the price among the world's cognoscenti.

Traveling is much more fun, and much more exciting, when I am on a few-dollars-per-day budget. It promises totally unexpected discoveries. Best of all, I am likely to meet fellow travelers who have the same kinds of goals as I. Unlike business travelers or leisure searching blasé jet setters they also search for exciting, out-of-the-way wacky adventure places far from the organized holiday hotel, cocktail and beach crowds.

To a frequent reader of my blog it must sound redundant, but I can't help shouting out ever once in a while:

 I have a love affair with our beautiful planet!

The Darien Gap will have to wait for me 'til some time in January. We'll have a family reunion in London for Christmas. Going from a cold, wet place to another cold, wet place, from New York to London, doesn't sound exciting except it will be grandkids, kids and grandpa.

At least, unlike in the Darien Gap, in London I won't be plagued by mosquitoes and won't be stalked by jaguars, and won't have to wade across rivers and there won't be FARC rebels to deal with. London Bridge will be more comfortable for a river crossing but it will also be less exciting.