Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The beginning

Monday, February 15, 2010

(Chapter 1)
The beginning

The jungle was overrun with sounds. There were little monkeys on the road, basking in the sun. So we decided to stop. They were as curious as we were: "Who are these people?", they surely must have thought. They allowed as to approach to just a few feet, playfully, but by the time we got too close, they just vanished. These were very fast monkeys. We had been on the road now for what seemed like the entire day, but the day wasn't in a hurry; it kept on pounding with incessant heat and glare. The road seemed to be going on forever. This was, after all, the Amazon. We left Cayenne traveling on the coast; a sneaky road making its way through the thick forest. It was indeed a sight to behold. Finally, we reached the river that served as the border between French Guyana and Suriname, Now all we needed was money to cross it. The Chinese dude in charge told everybody he was running late--like if anybody cared--and proceeded to show everyone inside the boat. We figured, hey, at least we are going across. What could be the worse that could happen?...and it did.

Okay, so, here we are; but are we? This China-man was in no mood to listen to our poverty rap, nor was he in a very generous mood neither. So he immediately called the police. Next thing we knew, we were sitting in front of this huge individual asking us questions that we didn't have any answers for; like, where is your money?...do you have a visa?... where are you going, or rather where do you think you are going? All that in a very strange dialect of Dutch and a whole variety of hand symbols and not-too friendly gestures. I couldn't understand anything he was saying, so I mumbled, shyly, "Sir, I don't understand you." Suddenly he stopped, stood and as he leaned towards me, he said: "Okay, do you understand THIS?" and a fist as big as a football appeared right in front of my inadequate face. I'm not sure what happened next, but we ended up a short time later crowding on a bus with a silent driver back into the jungle that we were trying so desperately to avoid. NO food, no water, no money, no talk. We were a bunch of sorry-ass hippies on the road...

We were going to jail, that was a fact. We were told in no uncertain terms that we were going to the lock-up for cheating the China-man at the border crossing. We then knew we were about to be fed; what, that was a whole different question.
The trip lasted for about three hours. No-one spoke a word, not us nor the driver. One thing we knew for certain: we were still on the road towards an unknown destination. We eventually reached a town called New Nieckery which was located, of course, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by absolute nothingness, just a muddy road and pure Amazon jungle. At one point, I felt as if the entire cacophony was just a choir of laughter as we were the joke of the whole region--people, monkeys and birds. In any case, everything was, to us, still a great adventure. Then we stopped. "We are here", the driver said, "now GO!" What?...who, us? --we asked, incredulously. He calmly responded, "Yes, you!, Go!! . . . GO!!"
We were not going to jail. Not only that, but as he closed the door after we descended, he threw a paper bag our way that had some paperwork with our names on it, plus two twenty dollar bills. We were absolutely ecstatic, barely managed to say thank you as we retreated into the fast approaching darkness.

We'd been on the road for four days now, little sleep, almost nothing to eat except for some rice and bread, but we had managed to go through four countries. Our destination was unchanged, Amsterdam or bust.

Two, sometimes three, hippies on the road hitchhiking through the Great Amazon jungle for days on end was more than we had ever expected, managing to fool "balseros", befriending cops and eluding jail, while our trip was an altogether exhilarating experience. This is why we took the trip in the first place, for the ones who were so scared that they couldn't or wouldn't, and for the stories we were going to tell our grandchildren. At those moments--I can recollect fully--I was wearing my heart on my sleeve and my soul as the suit. Now we were about to cross to another unknown land, British Guyana. I knew we were going to eat some great chocolates and I was really looking forward. At least the people there spoke a language that we kinda could somewhat understand. I felt as if we were the only white people on the entire planet; the culture shock had been amazing, except for the French Guyana, which was heavily populated with whites as well as mulattoes. But now, whoa!, this was definitely a black people's nation. "I want some chocolate," was all Raphael heard me say. Incredibly he wanted to go...to the movies!! So we ended up in the movies( outdoors) eating lots of chocolate.
It was an illuminating time, a very exciting experience. This was our first "English" encounter, but for the most part it turned out to be a demonstration of our abilities to combine sign language--our own invented kind--plus all the languages that we managed to express ourselves with at the time, and that was, in itself, a glorious thing. Or so we thought.

I hadn't spoken to my parents since the trip started. I thought of them fondly, but somehow I knew it was going to be a long time before I would see either of them again. So we carried on, without maps or compasses, meeting new people, sharing everything. I didn't know it then, but these were going to be the best years of my life, and as Rapha later confessed, they were his, too.

Here we are, thousands of miles from home, with a passport near its expiration. How in the world are we gonna get to Europe? On a ship? A plane? This was not going to be a cruel joke or a tease. No way. We were going to make it, how, well, that was going to be another story.

Ronnie was working happily in Caracas, Venezuela, when we abruptly came into his life. Since he was Rapha's brother, I knew he would persuade him to leave that life for a life of the unknown. Rapha was a master manipulator, a brilliant mathematician who left little to chance. We were destined to be three on our way to Europe, and he was gonna make sure it happened just like that. Don't ask me how, or what he was going to do to make it happen, but he figured three were better than two and that was that. I had no special argument one way or another, so I let the chips fall where they may.

For now, that was just the plan, since we were nowhere near Caracas, yet. There is more jungle to traverse, more rivers, more fares. We pulled silver plated wire from our backpacks and we continued doing what we did to get this far, making bits of money here and there by making these strange artifacts that Rapha designed to take the place of earrings, sometimes necklaces, other times bracelets. I said, "People aren't gonna buy THAT, c'mon!" As usual I was proven wrong. Again. We really amassed a fortune in Brazil with those ugly things; people were making lines to buy them.

Now he wanted to do them again. Sure. Why not?. So we re-started. There was no place to go from there, it really WAS nowhere. There were no roads even; we had to take a plane. But to where? Trinidad and Tobago seemed like a pretty good destination. Maybe we could pass as "tourists..."

A few days later we landed at Port of Spain, the capital of T&T. We quickly slipped into the city and found a cozy place to rest our tired bones. Since we were staying at this hippie's hotel, we started hurrying up our productions of those ugly items with the purpose of a Grand Sale. It worked. Soon we were at the main plaza selling the stuff to "other" tourists. Then we could be on our way to Venezuela and onto our final destination, Amsterdam.

We lived in Caracas without much fanfare, partying a lot, since Ronnie would know all the hot places and staying here and there with some friends and other acquaintances. It was really a sweet time; each of us found a girlfriend, so we really had it going. One day we decided it was time to check out that place in the mountains called Merida, where the magic mushrooms come from. Oh , boy! We certainly weren't dissatisfied. We were told if one takes them right after a full moon, the potency quadruples. They were not kidding, either!

We found out that there were charter flights to Europe from the Caribbean town of Bridgetown in Barbados. Since we couldn't afford round-trip tickets, we were prepared to go with a one-way. What could they do, send us back?. No one had a real idea how close they came to that.

Soon it was time to make the final assault on the senses. All the unprepared preparations were in place, passports were forged or checked, t-shirts and jeans were packed and we even shaved, although our hair was a spaghetti-like mess. We were ready for the Big Time.

No one in Luxembourg took a look at us without staring outright, the poor airport officials didn't know what to make of us. We were nothing but a bunch of no-money hippies in t-shirts with one-way tickets, while the whole nation was covered in three feet of snow. Unbelievably, they gave us 40 minutes to exit the country. It looked like they did those things back in the days. These were still innocent times, and anyone who has traveled in those times knows exactly what I mean by this.

Free. We are finally in Europe and we are free...who could have guessed it?
(continued on Chapter 2)


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An unexpected visit

(chapter 2)
An unexpected visit

Back in high school I always dreamed of adventure. I felt it was just a matter of time before i could exercise my Great Escape. I KNEW it was just a matter of time, among some other small issues, like permission from the adults and things of that nature. And a passport.

The phone rang at my parents' house and "they" where asking for me. Then the visit came, and now they wanted me. Bad. They were all wearing suits, and they were escorted by two military supervisors. They had my name on the list and they were coming to sign me up." They" were the Army, and I suddenly had no friends. My Dad promptly offered them chairs to sit down as they engaged in discussing my future induction in the Service.  Hell, no, I thought to myself. Why?  Why me, why now, who is deciding?  I waited, I paced, I sat, and my mind was racing. I was done; but I didn't want to accept it. If i was to make a move, it would have to be immediate and I would need some money, quick. Lots of money.  So this is what I did...

The getaway

Since the military wasn't what inspired me the most, I quickly decided that it wasn't an option. After all, being 17 was really what counted since the world was out there, and all for the taking. No, I didn't prepare for much. I had a great backpack, had a passport (which was about to expire), got a down sleeping bag, got maps to all neighboring countries, jeans, t-shirts and a jacket, and in less than three days after getting some money from who else but Mom, I was ready to hit the road. I did my best to assure her that everything would be fine, like if I had any idea. Tearfully, she handed me the equivalent of a real fortune, something like $200 USD plus a huge bag of Mom-made sandwiches, a thermos full of coffee, home-made brownies and lots of candy and chewing gum...I kissed her while holding back the tears and I left.  Many years would pass before I saw either of my parents again. I headed North towards the border with Brazil. I remember clearly that my head was exploding with excitement. I had been on the road before, this same road that now was gonna take me much further. So this for me was the Big Time and a whole new set of emotions were going through all the fibers of my being. It was almost as if I was destined to do this; born to run as they say. Indeed, I was just following my destiny.

Monday, February 15, 2010

40 minutes to leave the country

(Chapter 3)
40 minutes to leave the country

Fine. So far so good. We figured 40 minutes is better than no minutes at all; hence, we couldn't be more happy.
Strange looks and stares came upon us everywhere we turned. It must have been way below freezing and we were in t-shirts, jeans and sandals. This was not good. We quickly unpacked and started putting on more and more shirts over shirts and jeans over jeans to the point that we must have looked ridiculous, because the people who were staring started to laugh and to groan about us and all around us. We needed to think, think, damn you!  Time was passing and we were nowhere near getting a ride out of there. The cops were watching, oh, sure. They wanted to make sure we were leaving. So bad that they even gave us a ride to the freeway where we were now standing and freezing our asses off. Menacing clouds were threatening  heavy rain as the late afternoon progressed. Our chaotic stand came to an end when a tip from a good man sent us scurrying into the city. Suddenly there was hope.

Maybe, just maybe, there was something like five minutes left on our exit clock when the man shocked us with an amazing solution. The plan was to try to get a vehicle from a rent-a-car agency that needed to be driven back to different cities throughout Europe. This was our chance, but a problem ensued when neither of us had a driver license--not a legal one anyway--so here we were, back at square one. As fate would have it, another hitchhiker showed up at the agency trying to get a ride out to Amsterdam.  Wasn't that the place where we were going? I suppose "lucky" would be a humble misnomer at this time, because he did have a driving license.  In less than two minutes, we filled out all the paperwork furiously, got the gas, the car and the subsequent driver and we were on our way to our destination.  The cops who witnessed the whole charade were ecstatic and we left them very impressed with our hustling abilities and broad smiles on each of their faces.  But no one was more  amazed than we were.  After all, if things would have turned out otherwise, we were going to be sent back to banana land in a hurry.  That very same day.  Lucky.  Real lucky....

The End ?
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