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.