This blog's for ME

Almost 25 years old, asking my parents if I can sleep in their bed with them. I had thought I was going to be the 25th Prime Minister of Canada. Things had changed. 10 years later, I was still a scared little boy. The time had come to slap myself awake. One Saturday morning, November 19th, 2009, I declared to the world I would be riding my 10 year-old motorcycle from Vancouver, BC Canada to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, and back.

The official departure was August 28th, 2010. A group of well-wishers saw me off at 8:03 am.

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro around 6 pm March 1st, 2011.



My return to Vancouver came on July 5th, 2011 about 2:00 pm.

Drug & alcohol abuse, ADD, social anxiety, health, chronic pain, night terrors.

So many concerns. But I am far more interested in this question: Do I have the capacity to make this trip despite all my shortcomings?

My mission: To inspire myself to face my fears, enlighten myself on how all living things can peacefully co-exist, enjoy every moment, and see the world as plentiful and generous.

Go ahead. Call me crazy. Call me anything you like.

I'm out to save my world.



I LOVE YOU ALL



Questions, comments, concerns, threats? Contact me: jason.chapman99@gmail.com


Cock Fights














What can I say? One of the most surreal experiences - we went down to the cock fighting farm this afternoon, and fed the monkey. Save your jokes for later, this is serious business down here.

Mulege Maelstrom


This area was devastated by a major hurricane just 2 years ago. I'm relating to a symbol of the hurricane, and how this trip has been about walking into the eye of the storm. Just chatting with my cousin Shelley, and mentioned to her how she is on a journey herself, with children, and grandchildren, and a family. The only difference is that everyday on the road I've endeavoured to listen to the new opportunities that come up in front of me, and to follow them regardless of my fear, or uncertainty. With the rigamarole of daily family life, it is necessary in my opinion to build routine. To resist is to tempt chaos. One does not need to ride a motorcycle from Canada to Brazil to discover one-self, but there are certainly more chances to break that routine. To break the routine, you must shed your skin, and release yourself from the human necessity to stay organized, planned, and safe.

A 3 km ride east of town through a 3 year road construction project was for one simple goal: have the first jump in the ocean since the middle of August. The beach was full of rocks and seashells with some deep sand but I jumped up and down to get the heavy bike up on top of it. Stripped down to my skivvies with not a soul watching, then floated in the salt-laden Sea of Cortes, a comforting 86 degree wash up. The aches in my back were soothed as my body floated effortlessly in the water, and despite the salt wash the wounds on my feet also. Staying longer than my monkey mind would allow, I elect to come back to the bike and find a suitable campsite to beat the sunset. A grey haired fellow on a quad spots me, and I put my head down instinctively to avoid eye contact. I'm thinking he's a local come to tell me to get the hell off the beach. Martine. What a character.

I confront the fear by being unusually open and friendly, my usual defence. He responds in kind, and offers an awesome beach site to camp. I follow him on the road, and lose him a couple times. He comes up behind me out of nowhere and says "you need to get groceries?" "No, I'm fine, no worries" I respond. "Well, you were supposed to turn back there!" he says, with a not so subtle hint of 'why didn't you know that?' "Ok!" We go past his house, and back through a space in the fence, down closer to sea level. The road is rocky; this Yamaha V-star is built for cruising, not 4x4ing. We come down into the flats, and out onto some slick. I'm down, burning my leg with gasoline pouring out of the tank. Marty comes back, meanwhile I'm pulling a thick piece of brush impaled in my right hip. Everything has to come off, as it's too heavy and with no purchase for my bare feet to hold, I'm thinking disaster. Marty offers 'AAA'. I laugh. Fortunately the edge of the road is solid, and I put my back into it with Marty's assistance. We get it up, and Marty profusely apologizes for forgetting about the rainstorms 2 nights ago. It was such a rarity, he didn't even think about it, especially since the quad is much more versatile.

After a preparatory session, I head up a steep, rocky hill sans any baggage generously taken by Marty. A spot is found, and quickly abandoned as he motions me to come further. A trail of gloves meet me, and I'm judging him now; he had been drinking. "No," I think, "I can make this work". Safely on dry ground now, I look over the bike, and myself. Tires caked in mud, blood dripping out of thigh, and mud up to my knees. I'm exhausted. Marty tells me he'll give me time to get set up, while he goes into town to stock up with beer.

I come back into town without much fanfare, and am offered steak shish-kabobs and a warm bed for the night by the neighbours, and despite my wants elect to decline the offer but tell them I'll come over for a visit later. Marty's house is next, and a wild dog looking thing is waving it's tail, with two cute kittens lifting up theirs. Marty's rough and tough exterior is softened with charm and a silver tongue, and he yells at me to get in the house and to not be scared of it. We sit down and chat. Revolutionary Road is on the TV, and I try to tell him it's not really an appropriate movie to watch when you're visiting, but he continues on. After being a sniper in the Vietnam War, he has taken those sharpshooter skills into an entirely different world: seducing young tender women. (Over 21 as per Marty)

He told me of a time he was down at the cock fights some time ago, flirting with the local chiquitas when the head of the local cartel spots him and motions him over with a wave of the hand. Marty had unknowingly assisted him and his partner's broken down Jeep sometime before with a battery problem. The cartel boss' appreciation was soon to reap benefits, as he was on the way that day to make a bank deposit with a million dollars in a couple suitcases. Back to the fights: Marty (Martine) sits on the right hand side of the boss, with the hand of a demi-god blessing his arrival. Everyone is holding up their bets in anticipation of a winner, until 4 police walk in, and the money goes under their butts. The police look over to the boss, who puts his right arm around Marty for a moment, then takes it off. Marty's previous police problems were instantly a memory. Every time since, he's met with warm hellos and greetings whenever the policia are driving by.

On The Road Again

Within the next few moments I will leave this comfortable, loving place of Motela Espinita, and head off to Mulege, on the Sea of Cortes coast. San Ignacio is on the way, and features one of the most well-preserved missions left over from the time of the Jesuits, who came to colonize Baja in the name of God and Spain. It was built in the mid-1700's. the jesuits were the only people until then to be able to control the natives, and build roads successfully. The Spanish had failed numerous times before.

The Painter

Although my instincts tell me to be careful around certain people, I take every person at face value, and give them a chance regardless. It was my idea to get the trim painted, as I told Kiko I thought it would spruce up the place a bit. I started late, and when I got on the roof, there was another painter there. He looked at me defensively. The painter guy started on me right away. He was quite aggressively speaking in Spanish about my painting, and I just kept saying "no entiendo" or don't understand, and went back to work. Turns out after I had told Kiko it would be a good idea to paint the trim, a labourer from the south with plans to go to Tijuana was willing to barter goods. He would exchange room, board, and food for painting. By 8 pm it was completely dark, and I decided he needed it more than me, so I left him to it. Besides, I simply wanted the job done, and I didn't need any unneccessary aggression. I asked Kiko later to ask the fellow what the hell his problem was. He came back smiling, saying the guy thought I was painting wrong and that all the wood had to be scraped first. Fine, fair enough. I just wanted to get it done. I was glad to be away from it, as they use these huge brushes in Mexico that are very hard to get used to.

He did an excellent job. I remembered Tom's words about being nice to the labourers and smiling, but everytime I saw him, I just felt like defending, and giving him a scowl, but i didn't. Everytime I saw him I told him Bueno, Bueno. He finished the job yesterday, and Kiko gave him $400 pesos for his work, which was about 3 days. Last night, he got himself into trouble. He got drunk, tried to start a fight with Miguel, the sweet 24 year old kid that introduced me to everyone here. Turns out a Military sargeant from the base was here, and decided to pound the krap out of him. Kiko went over to him this morning to tell him to leave, as he said he didn't want any more problems. The fellow had an awful face I guess, as the military guy was kicking him in the face and body.

It's a sad story. The painter guy is uneducated, and probably had a tough life. Perhaps though, the Mexican justice will teach him a lesson.

Universidad de BCS


Kiko generously offered for me to join him at the Universidad to see about how education works in his town. He had 4 different classes: English, Ecology, First-Aid, and Outdoor Pursuits. I was outside puking up my sandwich for at least one of them, but I didn't miss much as it was test day. Kiko pays $1200 pesos for a semester of class - thats 6 days a week, 4 hours a day. I paid $300 pesos at the bar the other night for 4 drinks. He said the government subsidizes education here. The school was very well taken care of with probably the only patch of grass in town surrounding a cute statue of a whale.

Karaoke

Raul and I got to talking while we were on the Salina (salt ponds) tour, and he invited me to his bar at the Los Caricoles Hotel. I asked him if it was the best place to be in Guererro Negro on a Friday night, and he adamantly agreed. It was a later arrival that night, and I walked into the upstairs bar about 10 pm. It was modern and well taken care of. I sat down at the horseshoe-shaped bar, where people were sitting and singing the words on the TV at the front of the bar. I had put out a facebook query as to what Canadian song would be the most popular down here. In fact my exact words were "to bring some Canadian kick-ass". I ended up befriending Eduardo, who was sitting beside me, and a pretty bonita who had a great voice. They told me there was a competition the next night on Saturday. I thought it would be much the same. No.

Saturday night, I entered another modern room in the back of the with a large dance floor, and round tables filled with over 150 people. I was the only white guy there. Every one seemed not as much affluent, but very well-dressed - this was a big deal. I asked around in my poor Spanish about how to get in on the contest. They told me to go to the bar, and within minutes I was singing "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. I nailed it. People were singing along and clapping and I'm thinking I've got this one in the bag. I finish the song to a round of applause. The DJ asks me to sing her favourite English song "Winds of Change" by The Scorpions. I had never sang it before, and told the guy behind the bar it's pretty high for me, but what the hell. Well to my surprise, it turned out really well. I finished the song, and was feeling pretty proud of myself. The organizer dude comes over right away and starts saying things quickly in spanish. I didn't understand. He takes my jacket and stuff and motions for me to follow him. I thought "oh, i'm going to get an award". Turns out the real competition was starting, and only competitors were allowed. Ah, pride.

8 people had been selected from the week before, and the crowd had their favourites. This was a racous affair, and I was overwhelmed with the people's passion for their favourite singer. The loudest fans were for Melita, a beautiful young woman with a beige dress adorned with painted peacock feathers on the bottom fringes. They were really into it, chanting her name at regular intervals and waving the signs that they made. I was touched by how the community came together that night - no TV, no drugs, not a lot of beer (there was one drunk guy who sobered up later) and a mix of young and old. I realized how much I missed a bunch of people getting together and laughing, talking, and sharing an experience together. The competition lasted until 2:30 in the morning, with each singer going at least 3 times, with a final song being drawn out of a jar. Melita was the winner, and she clasped her hands over her mouth just like a beauty queen. The prize: $4000 pesos, or about $350 but nothing compared to the adoration of her friends, and family. A very intense experience indeed

Guerrero Negro

Even if you don't speak a word of Spanish, the name of the town sounds a bit sinister somehow, something dark and forbidding like 'Heart of Darkness'. Indeed it's namesake, The Black Warrior, may have created just such an impression among the local gray whale population. The American Whaling Ship had hoped to capitalize on the lagoon's calving grounds before getting caught in strong currents, slamming against a sandbar, and succumbing to it's death knell. This shipwreck in early 1858 successfully warned other sailors of the danger for decades after, long before any permanent settlement began here. Things are different today.

History was not on the minds of the young ball players I watched today, unless it was concerning the last time Guerrero Negro met up with their nemesis from the south, the Bahia Tortugas. I loved shooting the pitcher and the action shots.

People here seem to understand the importance of ecology. The town is on the outskirts of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, the Salina hosts numerous aquatic and bird life, and the grey whales that calve here are protected from any human danger in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon. There is still a lot of garbage being thrown out in the desert, and it will take some time before Mexicans here start cleaning up the mess, and wanting to change how their environment looks.

(here's a link for more info)
http://www.parkswatch.org/parkprofile.php?l=eng&country=mex&park=vibr&page=thr

Snow in Mexico

It's a hot, dry and dusty day just past the border between the Mexican States of Baja California (B.C.) and Baja California Sur (B.C.S.), in a place called Guerrero Negro. A few kilometres out of town lies a large lagoon where the ground is covered in white crystals with three gargantuan machines including a dozer, train, and combine methodically scraping, loading, and removing it from the ground. A photograph might make you think it's the day after a big snowstorm in Canada, and the clean-up crews are out. Instead, you see a man in a t-shirt holding up a white chunk the width of his chest with a big smile on his face. And the reason for his mirth? The material in question is not snow, the bane of every municipality north of the 49th parallel, but something very different, something that has translated into big money here on the 28th parallel. It is the major reason for 50 years of relative prosperity in the area.

With over 14,000 world-wide uses from chemical production, to food seasoning, to de-icer, salt has become one of the most ubiquitous minerals for human consumption. In the 1950's, salt production became a growing concern, as San Francisco's supply was quickly falling behind demand. Several companies were looking for new sources of salt for their own production needs. Enter shipping magnate Daniel K. Ludwig, a savvy and effective businessman who was called upon to locate an area that satisfied the requirements for large-scale salt production. On a trip to B.C.S. in '54 Ludwig found the perfect place in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon of the Mexican Peninsula. With very little rain, a large salt-water basin impervious to tides, brisk winds and a high saline content of water, the area was landmarked as a perfect location. By 1957, a town was created as the labour force brought in to build the facility, and continue salt production, required the necessary infrastructure.

Exportadora de Sal S.A. de C.V., the company that Ludwig created, became the largest producer of salt in the world, providing 7 million metric tonnes to the world's markets each year. That small town, Guerrero Negro, has profited handsomely from his efforts too, even after he sold his interest in the company to Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan in 1973 amidst threats of nationalization. Since then, the population has steadily grown from 3 to 15,000 residents, with over 1,000 employed by Exportadora de Sal. This is surprising news considering the town is located in a desert. Several other towns to the North do not even register a blip on the scale of wealth compared to Guerrero Negro. But people are not the only creatures that find the area bountiful.

The salt flats used to evaporate the ocean water from the brine host an astounding array of wildlife, noteably 95 species of birds. 27 species of shore birds, to large Pelicans and Cormorants feed on the marine life made plenty by the unique biological characteristics of the environment. The bottom of the food chain consists of a bacteria that lives specifically in saline waters such as these, of such interest to scientists that NASA comes to study it every year. Gray whales come to the lagoon in the thousands every year to give birth to their calves. What turns out to be no more than a quick gas stop for people who don't have a clue what the area has to offer, it is an incredibly rich, and bountiful one for those people, and animals, that do.

Muchos dineros

I've always been obsessed with money. Well, not always. In fact, only since about the middle of high school. Somehow I decided that if I knew how to make money, I would be ok in every other part of my life. Today, I think I know how to make money, but I'm not sure. I would like to know, just to say I did it. Correction: I would like to know how to make money without killing myself. Paciencia? Well, that's gotta be a part of it for sure. Riesgo? Suerte? All of the above, and none of them are worth anything if you don't give it a try. God, I've been wracking my brain over this for years. I'm a stubborn son of a bitch, and one who would die trying to get the answer to something. My health has paid the price, in back pain, stomach aches, jaw pain and sore, tense muscles. I just keep putting up with it in a vain attempt to be rich. It's like that damn ball I just tried to hit at ballgames as a kid and just couldn't as hard as I tried. Focus? Is my ADD the culprit?

Paciencia

Today Cico and I started off the day with an amazing conversation. I had told him I was upset with a conversation my girlfriend and I had had the night before, and it went from there. He was quite surprised about the life I described for him of what Canada has been like for me. Competitive, always on the go, always looking for more money. I tried to blame it on my neighbour, but he nailed it - it was me. It was me who was creating this need to be better, to be the best. In his world, he runs a restaurant, hotel, and convenience store, and doesn't use a bank. He's lived in the bachelor's apartment above the restaurant for 15 years. Whenever money comes in, he uses it to upgrade the buildings. I really got the freedom and ease as to how he lives his life - within his own means. It reminds me of the Iranian fellow I befriended back in Vancouver who said they don't use credit cards in his country. If you are poor, you stay poor. Basically, you accept the way your life is, and that's it. I thought at the time it was unfair to those people who are poor, but I question that now.
If we are in the poor bracket, we only know we are poor if we COMPARE. If there is no comparison, there is no problem. The problem some non-profit organizations have is that they favour one person, or one family, and the rest of the community become jealous. It is easy to look at someone in the third world and think their life is so horrible, and that we must do something. Our help can be misguided so easily, as we come and go for a couple weeks, throw some cash in to the mix, and expect change. First, it's important to accept that everything is ok the way it is. Why do people want to help others in third world countries and they haven't talked to their own brother for 6 months? Interesting.
Overall, it made me realize how impatient I am. I want it all now. If I don't get it, I start to worry that I won't have enough, and start an elaborate planning session of how I can make my self better. Life is a constant battle, a constant struggle. Sure, things would have been different had I not worked so hard to change my life, but it wouldn't have been better or worse. Yo quisiera estar tranquilo. I would like to be peaceful.

Mexican Dogs



I remember reading about another rider's experience with the dogs in these cities and towns of Mexico, but to experience it myself was another thing. There is so many of them, and the males all have their gonads hanging out in true form, so it is a problem that shows no signs of letting up. I had chosen a residential street to enter the town this morning, and some rather large dogs met me on the road, although it was a multicultural gathering featuring all shapes and sizes. As soon as they heard the low rumble of the bike, they took off in chase. I stopped, surprising them, and yelled firmly no. They stopped in my gaze, turning around, but some of the more aggressive ones would pick up and charge again as soon as I revved to drive away so I was forced to continue the battle. On the lighter side, a stop at the fruit stand had a beatenup and broken down dog looking after his brothers and sisters. They were all fairly suspicious of me, and started moving away as soon as I woke them from their slumber. The woman at the fruitstand had beautiful earrings, and I told her so, not without teasing her that they could catch mosquitos too. She didnt understand my humour at all, but patronized me nonetheless despite her shyness of being photographed.

Lee

At the onset of that long stretch of Southern Baja California desert, I decided to stop to take some photos of the magnificent vegetation. Within a couple of minutes a large white Dodge Dually pickup stops by, and a mean-looking white haired man exits. For some reason I'm feeling fear, and decide to face it head on. "Ola! Como estas!" I offer. No response. "Where you headed to?" he asks, and by now I'm thinking he's some landowner, or someone looking over these parts. I explain what I'm doing, and he softens. He mentions he's from Canada, not knowing where I was from. Turns out he's from Red Deer, about 45 minutes west of my home town.
Lee has been living in La Paz for awhile now, and holds citizenship in 3 countries. I gathered he was a pilot, and certainly fit the bill, with his clean crew-cut, and aviator glasses. He was heading to San Diego to see his daughter, and was forced to drive with only 4 gears, as he had just recently lost his 5th. Our conversation was interesting, and he enlightened me on several topics including flying in Mexico City (high elevation, very difficult), circumventing foreign ownership laws (the bank holds title to your property only as a national representative), and drug cartel business dealings (plata o plomo, which, literally translated means 'silver or lead', or do business with us, or die from a bullet).


He left me saying he had simply stopped to water a plant. "Which one?" I asked, thinking "What a nice man! He must be making a memorial for a fallen friend or something." "Oh, I just go out in the bush, and find one, probably that big one with the apples on it" Finally, I realize I've been away from Albertan humour in a while, and abashedly mention I wouldn't be eating any of those apples. We part ways with a giggle, and he comes over to the bike to offer some more advice on the upcoming windy road.

Nervioso

I had a feeling I was going to run into some troubles eventually with my passport, considering I had travelled over 700 km into Mexico without ever showing it.  I had moments of panic, with thoughts of a surrendered passport, be forced to return al the way to Tijuana, or some serious talking to; oh, that desert took it's toll on my state of mind.  I was already running against the wind, with the sun now officially down, and darkness the word of the day.  I pull up to the 'Oficina de Migracion', as noone seemed to be outside.  I was doubly confused after driving through a military zone, and unsure of whether I'd be met with policia, militaria, or a customs officer.  Sooner than expected, a man comes out, and in Spanish says that the office is closed, and that it wouldn't be open until 8:30 am.  I'm crushed.  I could see the lights of Guererro Negro in the distance, and there didn't seem to be any affordable accomodations within sight.  I turn around dejectedly and more than a little nervous about my upcoming sleep outside on the side of the road.  Back through the military installation, I spot some cars on the right hand side of the road, and assume they are people in the same predicament.  I start feeling somewhat better, and considerably less alone.  A restaurant further up seems open with it's 'Abierto' sign in the window, but it's awfully dark.  I ask the young man who pops his head out of the small, yellow &blue framed Corona-coloured kitchen window wall if it is indeed open, and he says it is.  Besides myself the restaurant was empty, save for a couple finishing up their meal.

The gentleman pipes in fairly quickly.  "You from Canada?"  in perfect English.  I tell them all about my trip, and the recent goings-on.  He offers to accompany me to the border after our meals, so I can at least get into town.  He tells me about his $1/2 million place in Cabo San Lucas, and how he's been unable to visit Canada due to some problems with U.S. immigration.  I didn't want to know, but I started getting a bit suspicious although I felt I was in no place to be picky about my associates.  I order a massive plate of shrimp with garlic & butter, which was accompanied with a big wicker basket of Mexican nacho chips and HOT HOT HOT salsa.  My 2nd beer staved off the heat below uncomfortable.  I buy a beer for my new friend's partner, who declines my offer of a Corona but offers her preference for Pacifico.  I was just so relieved to feel ok again I would have bought her a new car at that point.  As we're leaving, the young kitchen worker starts whispering to his female counterpart something, and I'm hoping it's about helping me somehow.  Neither of them spoke any English, so it was a hard go.  I pull out my dictionary, and we come to an understanding:  there is a campground somewhere near, and I'm welcome to stay there.   I follow him out of the restaurant over to the store, which is open as well.  A nice-looking older woman with jet-black hair tied back and glasses is behind the counter.  The young kitchen worker asks something to her in Spanish, and she answers to me in English.  "Yes, you can camp here.  It's $3 a night."  That was Lupita.  Since our lives have so haphazardly joined for a moment, things have been full of promise.  

Southern B.C.






The sun was going down fast, and clouds had moved in. It was very windy, and a bit chilly too but only 7:30 pm. The weather was mirroring my mood, but I was too far inside myself to even notice the similarities. I was still holding on to some anger about getting ripped off 130 km before.

It was the 280 km stretch of road without any petrol that I had heard about, and I thought I better not take a chance. It was the 2nd day in a row of me saying I was getting to Mulege, and failing. The bike's odometer was at 230 km, and I thought I was getting excellent mileage on my primary tank, until I leant over to turn the fuel lineand noticed I was still on my reserve tank. This meant that I was sucking the gas out of the tank at the bottom having forgotten to turn it back at the last fill-up. I had made this mistake on a quick return road trip from Vancouver, to my home town in Stettler last summer, and paid for it dearly. A fellow stopped by and had to drain the diesel out of the carbs I had inadvertently 'borrowed' from a farm quonset. I thought "Never again!"

A truck with a large white plywood sign saying "GASOLINA" was parked on the side of the dusty road near a store. I thought it was a good enough 'sign' that I should pull over. Even though I had a 5L jerry can full, I justified the move by thinking it would be a good experience to buy gas out of the back of a truck. There was a man, and a woman looking at me from the verandah of the house, or store, I couldn't be sure. Their stares were made all the more intense as I was taking a long time to take off my gloves, helmet, ipod, and sunglasses. "Cuanto Questo por Gasolina?" I query to the man. He turns around, and starts discussing with his wife, who is looking at him with various facial and body gestures to presume she was unsure of the 'gringo price' as well. He comes over to me, without answering, and walks towards the truck. I ask him to hold my helmet, being too lazy to put it back on. He takes it, and motions to throw it away. I'm not liking this guy already, and unsure if he's joking.
The bike won't even start by now it's so low on gas, so I push it over to him. "Cuanto Cuesto?" I ask him again. "Ciento sesenta," he responds quickly, and repeats after noticing my puzzled look. 160 pesos, or about $14 CDN. He points at a fair-sized red metal jerry can in the back , and I'm thinking "How do I say I only need 10L?" It sounded like a lot, either way. I begrudgingly opened the tank, and he came down with the hose and handle to insert it in. We're in close proximity now, us two combatants, forced into cooperation through necessity.
I give him 200 pesos, expecting some change. He gives me a 20 back and walks away, defiantly mixed with a slight sheepishness. It was an uncomfortable mix of unwanted emotions, the inability, or desire to complain or defend myself, and knowing I was out of my element. I was alone.

Drug Wars

I've asked the opinions of a couple Mexican friends of mine here in Guerrero Negro, about their opinion on the drug wars.  First, the government opened their big mouths and said "don't worry about the violence with cartels, they're only killing each other".  When the cartels heard this, they started killing innocent civilians to prove that they were serious about their protest.  In short, the government, police, and army are favouring some cartels, and calling out others.  This angers them obviously as they feel unfairly treated, and retaliate accordingly.  They spend a big chunk of their money on defence, such as serious weapons.  Their weaponry is far superior to the policia and militaria, as they must not only wait for their budgets from the government, but have numerous other concerns to worry about. 
It's ridiculous to worry about the supply, when the demand is so huge.  North American drug usage and consumption is enormous enough to whet the appetite of any Mexican, Central or South American ambitious enough to take a chance.  Mexico is the bottleneck by land, and despite recent improvements with a new President, 2 mayors in Sinaloa were assassinated recently. 
Mi amigo told me this country is a dangerous one for journalists, and I believe him.


 Here's another article, with more information, and other links on the subject:
http://www.zimbio.com/Sinaloa+Cartel/articles/bjm17Mi2l7H/Mayor+Marco+Antonio+Leal+Garcia+Murdered+Victim

Motela Espinita

I just fell in love with the people at the Motela Espinita I had to stay longer. I promised I would do some painting for them; the place was looking a little run down, and there was just something missing. There was so much love, and family, and friendship here, why the hell wouldn't you want to promote it? The owner, Francisco, said he would pick up some paint for me so I could do it up for him. I think he forgot. We're on Mexican time here, y'know? So, I'm trying out some free-flow writing here - I understand everyone from my best friend to my mom is reading this right now, and under the premise that you can't make everyone happy, I'm going to try and not for a change. I'll make myself happy. Just so you know, that concept scares the bejeezus out of me. Oh well, I haven't done enough things today that scare me. I hope you enjoy.
Mexico is one of the biggest states of machismo in the world. The guys are still slapping the women around down here, but women are starting to put a stop to that, they're saying "no". I have been in this town for 3 days and 2 nights, and I've befriended the owners of this place, some locals, and I'm working on the militaria. Next is the policia. I just smile like a guy who doesn't have a clue, and they seem to warm right up. Raul tells me journalism is a dangerous job here.

C'mon Jason

Ah.... the battle of the mind.  The last 24 hours have seen a marked difference in my moods.  Questions, constant questions, and ill at ease with life and my place in it.  What am I doing here?  What is my value here?  Am I even relevant?  Why is life so difficult?  Why am I never consistently at ease?
I took a Landmark Education seminar called 'An Invented Life'.  The premise behind the 3 hours on one night a week for 3 months course is simple:  you can create yourself, from scratch, in any fashion.  The people in my group, when given the opportunity, unanimously agreed:  The one thing they want for Jason, is to be at peace within himself.  Why can't I find peace within myself?  Am I so attached to the belief I have about myself right now?  If I've taken all these courses, and truly believe I can change how I think, and therefore change how I feel, why am I not doing it?
As I write this, I'm finding this indelible urge to cover up, to hide the truth, to whitewash my thoughts for you.  I really want to look good in front of you.  I want to look composed, cool and with it.  Maybe to be successful in life you have to keep those inside voices to yourself.  Once people find out what really goes on in your head, they will chastise you.  It's for that reason I wrote 'THIS BLOG'S FOR ME'.  It wasn't for some selfish, self-centred motive, except to write for my enjoyment, for my pleasure, for my judgement only.  It was simply to remember why I'm going through all this effort, and hardship - to honestly, and truly create my world, in my image.  Woah, talk about a God complex!  Seriously, I believe that for me to truly feel at peace in this world, I need to see it as one that works for me, not against me.  As a recovering people-pleaser I find this the hardest, trusting myself that I will be ok in the world as myself, with my own thoughts, actions, and personality.  My world seems to teeter a bit when I start thinking and postulating that maybe who I am is inherently retarded somehow, somehow something missing, or defective, or wrong, and is unable to survive in this world.  Maybe, I start thinking, I need to consult with someone else, or ask someone else's opinion.  If the world was a simple, straight forward eat what you can catch, pro-create, survive and die, then I have no doubt I would be fine.  But this world, this seemingly ever so complicated social network one needs to be successful.  That is the crux, a constant battle of not being good enough, not feeling good enough.  In my mind, there is always someone who can do it better, and fighting this thought only makes it worse.
Teaching English as a Second Language was special, in that I created being a teacher from scratch.  From shutting down my company, to taking teaching lessons, to getting the job, and enjoying the hell out of that job, it was all mine.  After about a year into teaching, I was unable to consistently plan my lessons.  I was the Activities Coordinator too, and getting home at 8 or 9 o'clock, with an empty lesson plan was not good.  Eventually, I was going to school without a lesson plan.  Complete and utter improv.  It was working out, but I started feeling so badly about my performance, so embarrassed of what I was giving the students for their hard-earned money, so scared of being unable to answer questions from students.  I had to quit.  I just had to quit.  I couldn't find a way out.  I couldn't find a way through.  It was a disaster.  The job I loved so much, gone.  By my hands.  My mind just stopped working.  The strict rules, and regiments I placed on the creation process bound my hands so tight, I could barely put pencil to paper.  Now, today, those same feelings are coming out.  Who the hell am I to think I can write?
Patience is the key.  Patience is a virtue.  It might take all night, but that's what it might take to get the process going.  I have chosen this life of constantly creating new challenges for myself, and I must continue to believe in the process.  I am not the man I was 3 years ago, and yet those challenges still exist.  I must continue facing them until I feel I'm in a place where life is at ease, and there is peace within myself.   This is exactly what I was looking for when I chose to make this trip.
Here's an excerpt from my friend Robert's website for artists:

Working from life in natural situations is a shared invasion of privacy. Relaxed and in their environment, you are in a position to see their flaws. They, on the other hand, can find a miracle in your efforts. Share yourself and your gift. Both will be treasured like no other. "People," said Bernard Poulin, "don't often get a chance to stare at each other. They begin to tell you about themselves. It's like a confessional. It's a privilege to share someone's life like that."


It really came at a perfect time, as I'll gladly open up and share with people, as long as I know they understand, and respect that I'm giving them a gift of myself.  Just now, a fellow walked through the room, and we had a perfectly fine, comfortable greeting in Spanish.  This is my third day in Mexico.  I guess I can do some things right.  

The B.C. forest

What an alien world, and such an isolating, desolating, lonely feeling it evokes!  Some of the most thought-provoking rides yet, especially solo.  The land seems so bereft of life, and yet, it is full of vegetation, with countless varieties of desert plants. 

One Life One Chance

Travel through Baja California has been sensational, in many ways if not to awaken the senses. Amazing vistas, the smell of charcoal burning in stoves, and a chorus of exotic birds mingling with early morning rooster crows, and barking dogs. Several stretches yesterday of blown-out roads, and construction which made for slow going, but the only highway menaces were the rotting carcasses of the odd pet gone astray. I took it all in stride; I was riding my motorcycle in Mexico, an experience I had never even dared to dream just one year before!

Cactus farms were quite fascinating, and a reminder this wasn't Kansas. They love them here, as a vegetable variety, that tastes similar to a combination of a zucchini, and cucumber. Do not try this with the one in your kitchen window, as they are not the same. Overall,
it's a very fertile area, with alien-like mounds set in mathematical distance from each other. These are built to minimize weeds, and allow for easier pulling of veggies, which are planted on top.

I believe the things we should really be scared about are the things that don't even cross our worried minds. A stop in town is met by two large German Shepherds who don't like motorcycles. I stay calm, and turn off the bike as soon as possible. The auto shop owner calls them off. A peace offering: pork chips, to somehow ward off any bad puppy mood. As soon as the bike is started, they act up again. I yell at the younger one to go home, and I need to everytime I rev it to get on the highway. The deep dirt mixed with gravel, combined with the threat of a dog attack required some attention. Here's a pic when we were on the same side; I still sensed he wasn't too keen on me leaving.

My promise to stop earlier, and avoid night-time driving paid off as it should. Around 7 pm, after stopping at the Mercado for supplies, a final 'camp' sign just outside San Quintin (san kwi-teen), or more accurately Los Cardenas, about 300 km south of the Tijuana border. A dirt road turns into another, with a garden grove of hundreds of trees neatly planted in lines with green grass planted in between. It could have been a backyard in Chilliwack. I mention this to Ed, the caretaker of the property, and he confirms my suspicions. losolivosrvpark.com is around $6 a night, in stark comparison to the KOA in San Diego.
That was exactly how it was developed. A couple from the other B.C. spear-headed a non-profit organization, funded the start-up cash, developed a board of directors, and bought a piece of property made into a campsite, and base camp for volunteers, who are picked up in San Diego. When they arrive, they form groups, and start creating projects for the local community. Here is their link:

http://www.onelifeonechance.ca/index.cfm

They may build a house, or cook a supper, but whatever they end up doing, the transformations are profound, for both the giver and receiver. Shoes, for example, are in such great need here, that people are moved to return home without their own. The people have tears in their eyes they are so thankful because it may be the first set of decent shoes they've ever owned. The pair of shoes you have on right now would be fought over if given the chance.

To the right is Ed, and the bus they use to pick up volunteers. He's a fellow blogger, writing about his experience down here volunteering his time for others. http://edinmexico19.blogspot.com/
He has most kindly allowed me to hook up his telcel connection directly to my computer to speed things up a bit. This company is owned by Carlos 'Slim' Heju, currently the richest man in the world ahead of Buffett and Gates. As there are no income taxes in Mexico, he must have a few connections here to have catapulted himself into the upper echelon of rich. Landlines are hard to find, so any wireless, or cellular connection is often the only way to communicate - and it all funnels through the pockets of 'Slim'. His mere existence must give some people here a bit of imagination to think of what is possible, regardless of your nationality.

As I write this, all sorts of travel advisories are in effect for Mexico, according to my mother. Puts a guy at ease.

Mexican Nightmares


Joel had teased me years ago when he was staying with me. His son was over from Ontario for the weekend. One night, I was having some kind of crazy nightmare, and was yelling like a frantic Mexican "Ya ya yayaya". I don't recollect what I was dreaming about, but I scared the hell out of him and Isaac. This morning, in San Diego, I couldn't fall asleep for the longest time, but when I did, I was dreaming of all sorts of people in my room, stealing things and extorting me for money. It was a relief to be in a hotel and realize the door was locked, but the bedroom was separated by a doorway from the living room and kitchen.
I was expecting to camp, and found the KOA in Metro San Diego. The city had literally engulfed it. There was a queazy feeling in my stomach about the cost of this place, yet I was fascinated by the idea of campgrounds in the middle of the city. I postulated about what I would say if someone asked me where they could camp in Vancouver. Stanley Park? Langley? I was at a loss. The young, exuberant man who drove up on his golf cart jumped off and had his clipboard in his hand within seconds. He told me the price: $49. That's right. $49 to pitch my tent. I said "Forget it". A 10 minute drive away, and I had a $44 hotel room with a kitchenette, and especially warm shower. This journey is turning out to be long stretches broken up by warm showers. I'm ok with that for now.
The Mexican border came and went. It was so fast, I ended up getting a bit lost in Tijuana trying to find it. I ask a police officer on a motorbike, and he tells me to turn right. I end up at the back of a several mile long wait to get back into the states. I get hassled by a man on the side of the road in a wheelchair, and I give him a buck for some really bad advice. I elect to ignore him, and back my way up. A woman with a few blemishes on her face, but excellent English, directs me backwards, and over a cement barrier to get going the right way. Now that's help I don't mind shelling out for.
Soon, two white police vans in the opposing lanes put on their sirens, and I thought "shit, I've illegally entered the country and they're going to put me in a Tijuana jail." I put on the gas. The first of 3 toll booths come up, and I ask the guy "habla ingles?" "A little," he sheepishly replies. "Where is the border? Why didn't I have to give up my passport?" He told me that until you enter another Mexican state, you do not have to show your passport at Tijuana. I couldn't believe the months of worry over the state of the Mexican border at Tijuana ended up to be so easy. There were two armed guards with massive guns at one point, but they simply waved me through, and nodded their heads when I gave them a big smile.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVpKCfot6xc

So, here I am, in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico and my back is starting to really hurt. A cup of every piece of seafood known to man, bathed in a briney liquid set me back $5. Is this really 80 pesos? Well, it's definitely healthier than a McDonald's burger although my stomach is acting up a bit. I will be trying for Mulege, a town on the eastern side of the Peninsula, on Joel's suggestion.

Where in the world is Carmen San Ysidro

Damn, I'm hilarious. I have to be patient with my brain, it will work when and only when it wants to. I never played the game Carmen Sandiego, wasn't even sure exactly what it was about, but as soon as I'm in San Diego (or the southerly suburb of San Ysidro) my brain comes up with a reference to an 80's computer game.
The Mexican border has been a psychological blockade for several months and now, I am 1 mile away from it. The emails from Eddy about drug wars, worried parents and girlfriend, and of course several people's looks along the way after hearing I'm going through Mexico. It's a surprisingly chilly night; I'm back into the tent tonight for one last night before the behemoth is vanquished tomorrow. Me and the Mexican border. Somewhere between 0800 and 0900 hours. Must continue to put out positive vibes, especially in the face of fear and doubt.
Many religious references in San Diego, with a trailer sporting big, bold lettering "JESUS CHRIST IS THE LORD. IT IS NOT A SWEAR WORD." A bone-china white church with two parapets jutted out of the side of the 405 highway heading south. Oh yes, there are Christian extremists too, we only hear about them when they're burning the Qur-an in Florida.

Thousand Oaks, CA

*M*A*S*H* was filmed in these hills. What a short commute for the actors like Alan Alda who may have lived in Thousand Oaks! Finish the shoot, and be in the pub for 9. It would be rare these days to have such a successful, and long running show. The 1960's boosted the area's prominence when the first of the large scale developments came to town. Since then, 'T.O.', as the locals call it, has become one of the safest, best places to live in the United States. Such a contrast to L.A. Big on families, and community, this city has a small-town feel and all that a metropolis has to offer.
We all went down to see Michael's brother Alex play flag football. The coach was pretty intense, but he seemed responsible with how he communicated to these kids, and also to give them inspiration. This was followed up with a multi-birthday party at Mark and Sheila's house. Michael, his brother Alex, Uncle Earl, and Great Grandma all have birthdays in the same month, so we had a whole bunch of tri-tip steak, bbq chicken, ceviche, home-made salsa & chips, and wine/beer. They have a big, gorgeous house with a huge backyard that goes down into the valley, with a swimming pool and hot tub too. The house was full of kids, laughter and good times.
Paula and I had a wonderful walk through a local park here, that boasted several horse trails with magnificent scenery. I'd never seen so many cacti in my life. Michael's friend made some prickly pear jelly and I tried it, almost like strawberry, but like rhubarb needs a lotta shuga. Seems I was so impressed I just couldn't stay out of them. It was the first time in 10 days that PJ and I really got to hang out. The outlook of the trip has altered for a moment; I now have some trepidation of the trip, and am reluctant to leave the safe confines of T.O. It has become an impromptu home, but once again, I must leave. Insecurities, fears, doubts, and laziness must be abolished, again and again and again.

L.A.'s Fashion District

It was a decent excuse to check out L.A.: I needed to get a passport. If you ever need someone to find the most expensive parking in a city, come and talk to me. The parking lot below the Canadian Consulate seemed like a slam-dunk - two turns off the freeway, and I'm there. The attendant informed me motorcycles had to pay for parking as well, of which I told him I wasn't surprised. The surprise came when he told me it was $20 per hour. I ended up paying $8 for about 13 minutes of parking, as I had hit the office over their lunch hour. One block away, and I got parking all day for $5. Once all the passport photos and notarizing were completed, I could do a bit of sightseeing.
I hadn't a clue that I was in the middle of L.A.'s fashion district. Stores upon stores stacked with rolls of fabric, others filled with mannequins wearing tight jeans, and street after street of sunglasses, t-shirts, and especially women's clothes. A hidden alcove was full of people, music, and store staff yelling out their special deals. It was a large marketplace reminiscent of Mexico, with hidden walkways, and store behind store. It was intriguing to me that everyday, these people sell stuff. All day, every day, they don't have food on the table unless people buy their stuff. I felt a bit of an empty pit in my stomach, I didn't know why. I take a break at Chessco's for some authentic Mexican food, get chatting with the couple beside me, and they end up paying for my meal. I create a new word, combining Karma, with Charm: Charma. Do not confuse with Charmin people. That's a whole 'nother joke. A homeless Vietnam Vet sits down and shows me his poetry at the Starbuck's. His name is James Harper, and here is the opening verse as an excerpt:

Vietnam is my TEST-A-MENT
I was taken from home and trained to kill,
Another human being against my will.
He fought real hard to protect himself, and his land.
I had no choice but survive and now I live with blood on my hand.

He was adamant that his poetry was on the internet, but it wasn't. A couple other bloggers had referred to him and their experiences in meeting him, but no actual website devoted to his writing. Meeting him left me with an empty feeling - good people just not able to get anything going in life. Hopeless, meaningless, the future exactly the same as the present. I questioned whether this man would be able to find peace and happiness in his life. Somehow I consoled myself by reasoning that humans are amazingly adaptable, and that regardless of one's circumstances, no matter how difficult, can see light in the most impossibly dark places. I have a feeling Mr. Harper has a few smiles in his day nonetheless.

Salsa

I'm fairly proud of my dance abilities, but salsa is something I didn't have a lot of experience with. Paula's husband Michael is an accomplished, and professional trumpet player, and a salsa band that was playing in L.A. asked him to fill in at the last minute. We got to go along, and see The Conga Room that had a $25 cover charge and $8 beers. Since we were with the band, we didn't have to pay the cover charge, although it took a bit of fenaggling for me. The ownership group includes Jimmy Smits, Sheila E., Jennifer Lopez, and will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas, and features a latin beat to their music and ambience. We got kicked out of their VIP area because we weren't drinking Cristal and Veuve Cliquot, at $300 price tags on the menu.

http://www.congaroom.com/

Michael is an amazing trumpet player, and is one of the few that makes a great living as a professional musician. He has grown enough to have over 30 students each week, and continues to be asked to fill-in for several gigs, including his own band. Seems musicians in the area have a tendency to be a bit flaky, and Michael is making a name for himself because he rarely says no, and he can read music on the spot.

I too, learned to dance salsa on the spot. They were having lessons that night, so I watched for a while, and imitated as best I could. When a woman came up to me and asked me for a dance, I felt I was ready. We got onto the dance floor, and I knew something was wrong. "You start with the right foot, don't you?" I asked. "Yes," she replied. I had to re-learn salsa on the spot, because I learned to start with the left foot. She was very forgiving! It's a hell of a workout, and a fun dance, with a lot more hip movement, and sensuality than two-step country dancing, or the jive. The band that Michael filled in with were authentic and most excellent.

Cousin Paula

It's 2:45 am Thursday September 9th, and I'm thinking I will never get to my cousin Paula's. I somehow recalled all the proper directions from I-5: San Diego Freeway, Ronald Reagan Freeway, Highway 23 south to Avenida de los Arboles all the way to Westpark Blvd. Take the first right, and first right again into the parking lot of the complex. Once again, the night was so very cold on the bike, and it was a relief to finally stop. Paula's complex seemed massive, and despite the roar of the motorbike, we were unable to connect. I finally asked a security guard, who told me to consult with the directory at the entrance, so I did. Suddenly, I see two figures walking towards me - ok, I'm here. Paula's husband Michael is a bit of a night owl, so my late arrival didn't bother him too much. Paula conversely was expecting me at 11 pm, and had called the DMV and highway patrol to see if I had turned up anywhere.
Paula and I became closer when she moved to Vancouver to be an actor. I was apprehensive at first about this relative I'd have to take care of, but she charmed me to the point I told her she could move in with me. She ended up staying for 9 months. An eternal light of sunshine, and such a positive, loving, person Paula is a gem. I wonder if she was happy to return the favour.

Don't Lose Your Passport

Somewhere between Reno, NV and Mettler, CA, Jason Chapman's passport ended up, probably the place on the side of the road where I stopped for a break, and had the bike fall over, twice. In an attempt to right the 500 pound vessel myself, the passport must have squeezed out of the pouch around my waist. What would you do if you found yourself suddenly travelling in a foreign country without a passport? Would you have a complete meltdown, sift through every bag and each pocket countless times, or call every single gas station, hotel and restaurant that you stopped at since you last recall having it? Would you endlessly retrace your steps in your mind, and imagine things being different if you had just paid more attention? Well, I engaged in all of these activities, and none of them brought me any closer to having a legal travel document of identity in my possession. Somewhere between Reno, NV and Mettler, CA, Jason Chapman's passport ended up, probably the place on the side of the road where I stopped for a break, and had the bike fall over, twice. The ensuing struggle to right the vessel probably dislodged it from my pouch. This fact created more internal tension the longer I sat and thought about it, so I eventually gave up hope of ever finding my old passport, and began the steps to replace it.
The ubiquity of the internet helped me out substantially. All the required forms are available on Passport Canada's website, as well as a detailed list of items to remember, and things not to do, to avoid any lengthy delays. It is a good idea to stay calm, and read everything thoroughly. If something does not look right to the Passport Canada people, who can be very picky, they will deny your request, and you will be forced to start the procedure all over again. Even if your signature happens to go outside of the white border indicated, your application will be denied. The passport photos, too, must conform to certain restrictions. Passport Canada demand specific dimensions, and quality of the picture itself. Personally, it took me three different photographers. in the L.A. area to get it right. The particular photo to the right was deemed unacceptable, notably for the shadows under the ears, surprisingly not because of the stunned look on my face.
Several other important steps must be taken as well. A form specifically stating that you had lost your passport must be filled out, and a guarantor is required to vouch for your identity, and must have known you for at least 2 years. The local police department must be notified and a report filled out, as passports can be a hot commodity among criminals, who use them for identity theft. It is absolutely necessary to have all of your identification, cards and documents scanned, and stored in your e-mail account, so that you can access them anywhere in the world. If all of your personal items have been stolen, you only need to get to a computer to print them off.
Obviously, the best advice is to make sure you don't lose your passport in the first place. It can easily ruin your entire vacation, especially if you are only gone for a week or two. Missed flights, and being late for work just aren't an option for a busy family who simply tried to get away for a short trip. But, we are human, and things happen. The good news is that you're going to be ok, and by preparing before-hand, as well as following Passport Canada's requirements, you will be on your way with minimal stress and discomfort. Failing that, you can always make the most of it, and enjoy an unplanned extension to your holiday.

Paradise

The first gas station I got to, I asked the attendant about the 'Sierra Grande Hotel'. Richard the Tuna Boy and Irene had told me about a 'burner-friendly' hotel in Reno that offered a 2-for-1 deal, when I stopped them to say hello outside the Gerlach pub. I asked the young fellow manning the cash register for a yellow pages, which turned up nothing. He didn't know anything about it either, but he did say "well, this guy would know," when an elderly gent walked in. Sure enough, the Grand Sierra Resort (helps if I got the name right) ended up right where he said it was. I was expecting a 'burner-friendly' establishment to be an old, run-down place with ripped off wall-paper, and rooms stinking of stale cigarette smoke. But no, it looked to be the biggest in Reno, with a massive casino, movie theatre, funquest play park, RV park, and the list just goes on. Driving into the parking lot, I saw an art car in the shape of a skull, and I knew this was the place.
It was exceptionally interesting to see all the hippies from Burning Man mix and mingle with the gamblers, and businessmen. As I was dressed rather conservatively, if not a bit dusty, I attracted one comment from a fellow who said, "there's something weird going on here. I'm feeling way overdressed." I'm sure the hippies and I appreciated the warm showers, hot tubs, swimming pools, and warm, clean beds more than anyone else in that place. I soon found out why the hotel was so cheap, and why they wanted us there so badly.
Free drinks were served to anyone who was gambling. Never being much of a gambler, I would do it only if I happened to be in a casino for Bonnie's show or something. This time, I had two days to waste, and recover, and hey I was getting free drinks. I lost $80 on the penny slots, realizing that the odds on these machines were never really in my favour. There's a reason why these places build casinos: to make money. I was happy to quit while I still could, yet I wondered about these people, these perfectly fine, normal, capable people, who come to gamble everyday. It seemed like such a waste of humanity - these people inserting their money into the machine in hopes of winning big. What would be possible if, instead of casinos, they were out doing meals-on-wheels? Would that make a difference? I felt deflated, and disgusted with myself. Perhaps I was reading too much into it. This just wasn't in Vegas, or Reno. All throughout the main streets of Montana and Idaho. One place in Montana offered a casino and a laundromat, so you can gamble and wash your clothes at the same time. Convenience! I enjoy the casino machines, and I enjoy video games, and movies. Before these things, and TV came along, people had to entertain themselves. What did they do? They talked, they had dinners together, they went for walks, they worked together. I don't need a doctorate in sociology to see a link between the break-down of our social connections, and societal ills. We need to give ourselves some reason to connect with each other, help each other, and be generous with our time, one person at a time.

Pyramid Lakes

An other-worldly site greeted me about an hour's drive south from Gerlach. It was Pyramid Lake, which had a deep blue hue and a large pyramid shaped island in the distance. The perfect shot taunted and tempted me closer, but alas, it did not happen. The town of Nixon is part of the Pauite Indian Reservation, and I got talked into having an Indian Taco from a trailer set up by the gas station. About 5 little children were running around, asking about the motorbike, almost burning their hands on the exhaust pipes from curiousity. Two of their moms were making the tacos in the trailer, and had 60 people waiting for them the day before, Monday, which is traditionally the most common day for exodus from Burning Man. I instead had an audience to myself with great service, and some fun watching the kids crawling on vehicles, and running over to the store for candy. Their grandpa had just shown up with some money.
This was the intersection of 447 south, and west to Reno, so a quick turn past Pyramid Lake, up the hill, and onward to civilization. As I drove towards the setting sun, I wondered how people lived here, all year round, in this desert.

Gerlach, Nevada

We literally stopped at the first place advertising food off the playa. It cost us $13 for a couple of burritos and cokes, and that little kiosk must have made a mint waiting for people to come out. I lost my 3rd pair of Victory sunglasses, special to me because the lenses pop out to be replaced with other colours. I spent 20 minutes looking for them, and finally let them go. A young woman helped me for awhile, and then said "come on over, I've got some goggles you can use." She had a large trailer with quite a few pairs hanging up on the wall. "I'll take those," I exclaimed, pointing to the blue bug-eyed ones. "How much?" I asked. "Nothing," she replied. I had lost, and gained something quickly, and I thought the new ones worked considerably better. "See," said Danger. "Once you truly let them go, the universe came in and took care of you." I felt like no matter what, I'd be taken care of.
The proprietor of the kiosk was Sylvia, 89 years young. She really looked 20 years younger, so I asked her the secret. "I work hard everyday," she said. Makes sense. After waiting for a big white limousine to fill up with gas (and the bitchy woman driver), I replaced the gas used in my tank, as well as the 5 litre jerry can I lent to a young woman in need. An air-conditioned diner, and bar was a block away, and I spent at least 3 hours there enjoying it. Bacon cheese-burger, fries, and a cold beer was all I wanted; it was the first time in almost a week I had seen a television, or used a phone. Compulsory calls to mom and dad, Bonnie, Eddie and Steve were all gladly completed on the payphone with a calling card.
Being in contact again with friends and family was a godsend. I had bought

Exodus

After a mass of humanity parked out in the desert for a week, then abruptly left, what remained was a vast emptiness. Our camp had, just 24 hours before, boasted several large tents, two kitchen areas, 25' of astroturf, a bar, and a shower, not to mention several hang-out spots and a hookah-pipe arrangement available in the back of a trailer. Now, it was completely gone. This was the experience I yearned for, to feel completely alone in a hostile environment, and still be 'ok'. Many parts of this journey have challenged my need to be accepted, and feel part of a group. Unfortunately, I feel this natural human need could compromise the entire journey. Although I have, and will assuredly meet many groups and individuals, I must ensure I maintain my goal, and purpose: to put myself into difficult circumstances, enjoy the moment, and find a way out.
"Oh, what's this? Another dust storm?" Danger and I started our vehicles up easily this time. We had to push start my bike the day before, as I had left the lights on. The efforts were that much harder for us, until I turned the ignition to 'on'. He also had to boost his VW van from giving us his lights the night before while packing Anne and Omid's car. Leaving our vehicles here were not an option, as was any other debris or MOOP (matter of of place), so we did a quick walk around of the area. The intention to 'leave no trace' is yet another core value of Burning Man. Generally, people are extremely conscious of what material they bring in, and consequently, bring out. It's challenging, actually. After our entire camp picked up, it seemed as if our camp was certainly left without a trace, but after an in-depth look, a couple large nails, and small pieces of garbage were still there. A horde of volunteers will scour the entire site, in anticipation of the inspector, who takes a random square mile area to check. If he/she sees any foreign objects within that area, the festival will not be allowed to return the next year. Since there are thousands of people who live for this experience year after year, everyone does their best to ensure it's continued operation.

Tom's Texts

Let me try and recollect Tom's response, when I casually texted him a message "Anything to say about Costa Rica?" His replies came with the rat-tat-tat-tat of an uzi. "Always Smile. Always be nice to the labourers they are prone to sudden violence. Never carry more money than you are prepared to lose. And the most important, have FUN! Good guy, that Tom. He's doing what he's gotta do - 3 kids, and a wife, not unlike many families today. They are a very happy family, but I wonder how happy other families are? It would be so tempting to fall into a world of routine, habit, and complacency: get up, go to work, have dinner, go to bed. Sleep in on Saturday, go to Church on Sunday wake up Monday morning and do it all over again. As I sit here on my cousin's porch chillin' out, I can't help thinking it wouldn't be so bad.

Burning Man Exhibit G


I lucked out and found a home with Diva's Garden, especially since many of them are members of Radiant Heat, a fire dance troupe. They were one of 36 groups to participate in the burning of the man, and combined with the fireworks, and lights from the city thousands of lumens of light energy hit the eyeballs. Each of them were given special passes to enter the inner circle, and everyone else had to stay outside of this area. This is undoubtedly a wise decision, considering one man in year's past decided it would be a good idea to meet his maker by running into the massive fire created by the pivotal moment of the festival, the burning of the man.
The crowd gathers 'round the perimeter, about 50 metres from 'The Man', and anxiously await the inevitable explosions that spell the demise of the structure. It is a massive undertaking to not only build The Man, in all it's artistic splendour, but to rig it in such a way that, when dynamite is carefully placed and calculated precisely, will collapse safely without falling into the crowd. Going back to the fire dancers, you might think they would be a little nervous, being this close to a 60' burning structure, but they didn't seem to. Maybe they have come to terms with the fire, and no longer fear it. It's possible they just don't care, getting swept up with the impetus of the moment.
And what a moment it was. 'The Man' raises his arms mechanically, inviting the fire in all it's glory, to consume. The frenzied pace of the the fire dancers pull the spectators in, and the fireworks begin. It feels like hours, but only minutes pass before explosions at 4 points on each of the 4 pillars rock the place. Moments again, and the entire monolith is awash in flames. Eons later, the structure finally collapses. I head out, anticipating a rush of people, and catch a boat safely docked, enjoying the festivities. A sandstorm hits again, this time with a fury. Zero visibility led to a trip over a fallen bike, and ending up too far away from home camp again.
What is all this burning about? People say "have a good burn", and I can only think it means to pace yourself during the week, taking in all the experiences you can, without burning out. There is a definite link between creation, and destruction. Perhaps we all suffer from a fear of loss, a fear of losing that which we have, but what is created again, and again, and again, is something new. It is not necessarily better, or worse, in my opinion, but new nonetheless. A new world to create in, a new experience to grow within.

Beginning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgZP7Th3LoA

Middle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XOHB-mIJSw

End: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3m440jeASQ

Burning Man Exhibit F

Make no doubts about it. If you want to meet new people, go out in the middle of the searing desert, and camp in your tent for a week. As I had only arrived Thursday night, and many of my camp-mates were there since Sunday, I felt it was a wise decision to stay through Monday, and leave bright and early Tuesday morning, just to get a more well-rounded experience to match. This choice paid off in spades, as I got to know a man by the name of Danger (on left), who was camping next to us, Anne and Omid. The playa dust covered us all, especially me since the Burning Man initiation. We were laughing so hard, because it took about 20 minutes for this picture to be. It was an exceptionally cool evening, and I chose to don my leathers for the first time since Thursday night.
Anne and Omid were unable to change their reservation for the hotel that night, so we all worked together into the night pack their car. Pack, push, pull and stuff more accurately. After they left, Danger thought it would be a good idea to jump on the bike with me and roam around. Although this contravened the official BM code of ethics, we somehow justified it. As the camps had dwindled, it would be that much easier to find some action. After climbing up into a wooden loft, and a couple other impromptu gatherings, we came upon the Tuna Camp. There was a smattering of food left for the 40 or so people there; unbeknownst to us, this was the legendary location of the Tuna Boys, who bring in thousands of pounds of sushi grade tuna from Oregon every year, and purposely avoid advertising their location due to unprecedented popularity. Since the food would not be featured on this week's Food Network episode, I feel it would be much more valuable for you to read about Danger.
Danger has been living out of his van for 14 years, and looks like he could be a cop or businessman, eats healthy and looks it. He has chosen this life, and achieves personal growth at a phenomenal pace. The odd stripping gig in Oregon floats the boat, but for the most part, he just makes a go of it by helping others, and an unemployment cheque. He inspired me for the freedom he has achieved, and his attitude on life. Always smiling, often laughing, and open to every experience life has to give him, he is a joy to be around. I asked him once "wouldn't it be easier to just get a job and do whatcha gotta do?" He said "no way man, this is the life for me. I have everything I need, and then some. Whenever I need something, it just shows up. I can't stop now." It begs the question, "what do we really need to live a good life?"

Burning Man Exhibit E

Amanda had graciously loaned me a peddle bike when I stated my quest to reach the trash fence following the previous day's failed attempt. It was a kid's bike, and a bitch to push. Erin said she'd join me, so off we went. The travels sailed by so much quicker, and I appreciated round wheels over bipedal motion. We saw the remnants of 'The Man' from the burn the night before, with embers still poker-red hot from the intensity. A small group of people gathered round the wreckage as if to pay homage, and mourn the end, and simultaneously welcome, the beginning, of something new. I can only presuppose. (NOTE: I rarely make up words, but I do tend to mis-use them from time to time) We continued on, pushing deeper into the unknown. Clear, sunny blue skies significantly helped the mood, and pushed away the disturbing thoughts from the night before. Success! The orange, plastic junk fence arrives! We ride for awhile on the perimeter, and see a view out of Mad Max: A solar-panelled DJ booth, each of 5 dark blueish rectangle radiating out of a silver flower's stem. Beside the music, a drape-laden caravan full of comfy bean-bag mattesses and bodies lying about. A rather buff fellow sporting buttless, tan-coloured leather pants and cowboy boots, and ginch. That's it. Not too wild in this environment, but his dancing put him in a whole new category. He was going from 'sprinkler' to 'shopping' to just grooving with all the beautiful hippy chicks. Erin and I joined that dance party, at 9 o'clock in the morning, we were dancing, and having a blast. I knew there was probably an hour and 1/2 of sleep between all 2o of them, and they weren't about the finish the night anytime soon. We were glad to have an experience to fuel a memory that will last forever.

Burning Man Exhibit D


The time had come to get lost. I wasn't sure if the rumours of deaths at Burning Man were really true, but I still felt as if I was embarking on a final journey. Perhaps it was merely a symbolic one. Perhaps the well-stocked backpack was cheating, in a way. Regardless of the infinite possibilities I set off with a pirate's constitution looking for his hidden chest of treasures. The goal: find the trash fence. Lacking in romanticism, but heavy in meaning, I set off past the centre of the camp, or the Man, past the Temple, and onward, splitting the clock due north, or 12 o'clock. Actually 11:11 was the approximate destination, a venture quested only because someone told me to check it out. All I found was endless desert. Imagine absolutely nothing. A void, filled only with sand on the ground, and darkening skies above. Now, you've walked for about 1/2 hour, and still nothing. Now, you're getting it. You're completely alone. There is noone to save you, noone to talk to, noone to feed and clothe you. A subtle change occurs in one's mind and heart, and a choice is inevitably made: stay with it, or run back to safety.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDI7vdGuLoo

Moments later, an oasis, of sorts. 4 table settings, replete with white linens, dusty wine glasses, and china plates, reminiscent of a dinner party gone awry in the belly of the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. That desolate, that isolating, yet still eerily human. A few more moments of trudging through the desert, and 4 big, comfy couches accompanied by numerous plastic palm trees, umbrellas and table, and inhabited by a sleeping couple obviously planted there to scare the shit out of me. By now, I'm wondering how people can seem so comfortable, and unassuming in such a hostile environment, and at the same time questioning my own personal boundaries. Turns out I had very little tolerance, but this realization came late, as I still had to make it somehow back to camp. My overconfidence in my natural male ability to know exactly where I'm at directionally was further tested with a sudden white-out dust storm. My sunglasses were ill-suited to the intense wind that somehow squeezed sand granules between the impossibly small, microscopic space between glass frames and face. Looking down to somehow escape the torture of glass shards on eyeballs, I try to maintain my composure, and continue on towards camp, around 7 o'clock in respect to the camp layout. The wind delays for a moment to open up a massive construction set of ladders, ropes, and poles. "Hmmm..... I don't recognize this playset, but what the hell. Oh, they have a bar too." Turns out it is the Nexus Camp, situated on the very edge of 10 o'clock. A few steps to the right, and I would have missed a 50,000 strong human outpost right out.
Instead, I'm greeted by a bartender who says I can have a drink if I tell him a joke. Forever and eternity passes, and I cautiously come up with one. A white guy comes up to a urinal, and a black guy is beside him. The white guy looks at the black guy, and notices he has 'Wendy' tattooed on his willy. "That's crazy! I have the EXACT same tattoo on MY willy. It is a reminder of the love of my life, Wendy. Is your girlfriend's name Wendy, too?" The black guy hesitates for a moment, looks over, stretches his willy out, and says "No, man. It say 'WElcome to jamaica have a Nice DaY.' That was literally the only joke I could come up with on the spot. Classy guy that Jason. Luckily the next bartender said it was opposite day, which only translated to a vodka orange juice instead of a rum and coke. Diva's Garden was the true oasis, and felt like home upon my return.

Burning Man Exhibit C

As is common in most social interactions, there are many opportunities to become confused about one's role in a community, and even hypocritical, given time. I had heard that the founder of Burning Man created the genesis of this event after his girlfriend left him, and the subsequent heart break that ensued. I can only imagine those initial years, ones that were free of governmental restrictions. We can all argue the pros and cons of having several varieties and sizes of governments that rule us, but in those early days, one can assume it did not resemble the Burning Man of today. Today, the Festival has a board of directors, presumably made up of the original group of people who started it, and others who have jumped on board along the way. They have lawyers, full-time staff. This year, they elected to have a coffee shop, selling a variety of cold and hot drinks, as well as selling ice. One of the founding principles of Burning Man is that there be no exchange of monetary funds. These recent developments initially seem to tarnish the mantra out there in the Nevada desert, and left several people I spoke with feeling a bit uneasy. It didn't matter that the money was going to the Gerlach High School. It was just a gnawing feeling that this special place wasn't that special after all. Then, the more ominous thoughts of the impossibility of such a society in the real world, and you start feeling downright depressed. We heard rumours of mafia involvement, even. Being so close to Vegas, and Reno, why not? They can smell money. We met a nice couple who were looking after 28 RV's that they had rented out to festival goers, just going around to each of them for a whole week, and having some fun thrown in there too. At $2 to $5,000 a week, that's a significant chunk of profit margin. Can we ever truly escape it?
I had a friend I met at our grad reunion who said he recalled I was a communist. That was a shock. I used to have a picture of Lenin above my bed, a Red Flag with gold sickle above it, and made up a short-lived moniker of Vladimir. Oh yeah I was a piece of work! It was all a bit of a joke, and a little jab in the side of those things I didn't like about America. They were simply the opposite, I thought, and therefore was something to get behind. I was surprised that people actually took me seriously. I really hadn't a clue as to how a society that I barely recognized could survive, and how they would do it. I did love that there were differences in the world, something to choose from. Doubtless I would have been thrown in jail for any of these suppositions today.
All of these thoughts made me value compromise, and the need for it in any society. Above all, tolerance amongst each other is tantamount to a healthy society and culture. Any government or ideology that actively abetts, or punishes open thought, can only be destined for ruin eventually. There must still be some way of melding, and integrating the best of everything. Is it possible? Can a perfect world really exist? I know that is all anyone who has overthrown a government, suggested, or even forced a new ideology onto their people, simply imagined a better world. Maybe it's even a better world for him to the inclusion of others, but irregardless an improvement for someone. With that comes the eventual negatives, and drawbacks to any society. But every human experience must be molded, and adapted as it rolls along, and provide for that person's needs, whether it be physical or spiritual. As far as societies go, overall, Burning Man did a pretty damn good job.

Videos of my journey

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