Tag Archives: backpacking

A Shitty Thing to Write About

6 Jun

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It was a bus shelter empanada that made me break that bathroom in Cartagena.

Three hours before consuming it, I was in a seedy cantina with my new friend, Atlanta: an ex-army medic and survivor of the Fort Hood massacre. Atlanta’s PTSD had pushed him to the north east of Colombia where he volunteered at an isolated jungle hostel, periodically returning to civilisation to replenish his stocks of rum and cocaine. It was on one of these trips that we met, striking up a conversation as he urinated on a police car—the sort of introduction you can only have in Cartagena. After an evening of mayhem and laughter, he decided to smuggle me back to the Sierra Nevada, too.

We found a bus shelter hidden in a laneway that, for reasons unknown, was still selling tickets in the middle of the night. We asked the emaciated Morlock behind the counter for two on the early bird bus to Buritaca.

“And,” I added as an afterthought, “one of those empanadas.”

“I wouldn’t eat that,” Atlanta said, eyeing my Colombian surrogate midnight kebab.

He had a point: it’d been baking under a heat lamp like George Hamilton for the better part of the millennium, and the hands that plucked it from the cage were varnished with grime. Nevertheless, I took a bite. It was basically Whiskas in shortcrust pastry; and while a reasonable person might think, ‘Yuk, if I wanted to eat something crusty and fishy, I could just track down Lindsay Lohan and have a gnaw on her’, I was too stubborn to admit that he was right. So I forced it down with the vigour of a dickhead.

Back at the hostel, I clambered into my bunk, set an alarm for quarter past dawn, and dropped into sleep.

My stomach woke me before the alarm could. Apparently the piscine abomination I’d just consumed was so fetid that my body’s only option was to violently expel it. Right. Fucking. Now.

I vaulted off the bunk with an athleticism that I don’t possess and spent the next hour trudging to the bathroom and back until I gave up and lay on the floor, my head resting on the tiles, breathing shallowly through my mouth like a pregnant kelpie. I was okay with this—what little pride I had was lost when vomit had leaked through my fingers when I didn’t make it off the bunk in time.

And, on a side note, I’d like to apologise to the girl in bunk number seven. If you send me the dry-cleaning bill, I’ll reimburse you.

At about 3:45a.m., my belly gave the sort of ominous rumble that tells you to find a toilet, trash receptacle, or tin-can of sorts. Exhausted, but desperate, I grasped the side of the sink, intending to use it to lift my turgid carcass from the floor. As I pulled myself up, the basin came out from the wall, separated from the porcelain column it rested on, tottered elegantly in midair for a moment or two, and then crashed to the ground like Newton’s apple.

So—to recap—I was trapped in a bathroom wearing a Peter Alexander singlet in fetching, vomit-fleck yellow, and men’s Target-brand boxer shorts with an erroneous, easy access crotch panel. Half-digested Nemo could be found in my hair. My hands clutched part of a sink with the remainder scattered in shards around me, and, to be honest, I probably smelt like a sex crime.

My stomach rumbled.

Oh, and I still needed to go.

The remainder of the basin dropped from my fingers.

 

Shortly later, I snuck to the reception for confession.

The night porter was sitting at the desk, his feet crossed at the ankles, a block of chocolate resting on his belly. He was engrossed in his laptop, which was playing pornography. He jumped when I approached him, dropping his chocolate (which is a nice euphemism for what I’d just been up to myself, really), adjusting his glasses and offering an uncertain, “Hola?”

I attempted to explain in manic Spanglish, trying to highlight the fact that I hadn’t intended on smashing the bathroom like Keith Richards on crack, but an empanada (“Which might have been cat food. You know, el gatto.”) caused me to vigorously evacuate everything from my system which had, inadvertently, caused me to break the bathroom.

Perdon?”

“I’m not on drugs you know,” I babbled. “Honestly.” For some reason it was very important to me that he know this. “I mean, I know it’s Colombia but I’m not.” I blinked, my anxious eyes jittering across his face. “I promise. But the bathroom is—”

From the desk, the naked woman on the laptop let out a moan. We both glanced at it. With one hand he slammed the lid.

“—completely fucked.” I finished.

He explained that his English was not very good, and even if he spoke fluently, he’d struggle to cohere the nonsense that I was hurling at him, so I should just shut the fuck up and show him whatever the hell I was ranting about.

To paraphrase.

I led him to the bathroom, head bowed like a war widow. He looked in. Coughed. Crossed himself.

I glanced up.

The toilet hadn’t flushed properly.

Fuck.

“The other bathroom,” he began, a smirk on his lips. “She is okay?”

I frowned. “I guess so.”

He locked the door. “Then use other bathroom tonight.”

That was it?

Wait—that was it?

He just shut the fucking door? I could have done that! In fact, why didn’t I just do that?

“They fix in morning. Now it’s late. You sleep.” He laid a paw on my shoulder and, remembering the porn, I tried not to think of where it had been.

“You need something else?” he asked.

“Do you have any Gastro Stop?”

He frowned. “I don’t know what this is.”

“How about a cork?”

“Goodnight, miss.”

 

The following morning, Atlanta was in hysterics. “I told you not to eat that shit!” he crowed.

“Be kind to me,” I mewled.

Dehydration had pulled my eyeballs into my skull and the soles of my feet were laced with micro-cuts from the porcelain. Brittle and wan, I was shaking like a dild—

…um, like a…llama. With Parkinson’s. Yeah.

I’d run late for the bus, too. Which was total bullshit. Colombians operate on ‘Colombian time’: a vague assemblage of moments distinguished by phrases such as ‘mas tarde’ and the idiom ‘ahorita’, which, to Colombians, means ‘Nowish…ish.’ It’s impossible to be behind schedule when even a nebulously binding reference to time is abstract. This bus driver was apparently a German expat because Atlanta had to bribe him to wait for my leaky arse.

“You want drugs?”

I peered at him through knock-off Raybans. “You think cocaine fixes everything.”

“I’m not sharing that. I mean these,” he fossicked in his pockets, dropping loose tobacco, receipts, lint, and lighters on my lap before presenting a battered pill packet.

I turned it over. “Codeína?”

He nodded.

“You want me to take,” I squinted at the packet, “sixty milligrams of codeine for food poisoning?” In a distant part of my brain, my nurse training came online. “I don’t think it’s indicated for that.”

“Codeine causes constipation,” he began with forced patience.

It’s true, codeine can turn chia seeds into concrete…and we had eight hours before we reached Buritaca…

“If nothing else, it’ll help you sleep. Keep the pack,” he grinned. “I’ve got shitloads.”

That pill packet would resurface a year later on a bus in Nepal.

 

My gorgeous sister and I had travelled through there in January and—aside from a slightly rapey overnight train, a pair of sunglasses landing with a squelch in a squat toilet, and a clutch of hysterical pilgrims that nearly swallowed my blanket-wielding sibling whole—we’d navigated it without incident. I even swam through crap and corpses in the Ganges, managing to emerge free from sin and dysentery. So when I kissed my sister goodbye in Pokhara, feeling bulletproof, I did what any cocky tourist would do: I gave salmonella prevention the middle finger and ate a discounted hamburger.

The following day, when the rancid meat was somewhere in my jejunum, I boarded a bus to Kathmandu, fragile and cranky. Initially, my ire was blamed on the obnoxious Americans behind me: the ones comparing the selfies they’d taken with malnourished, haunted, but tentatively hopeful Cambodian orphans on their recent poverty-porn world tour. At the first rest stop—with six hours left on a bathroomless bus—I sprinted off to abuse a roadside toilet. It then became as clear as the second line on a pregnancy test that I was screwed.

Buying a bottle of water, I downed the Colombian codeine along with a handful of Gastro-Stop, hoping to calcify the evil that was incubating within me. It worked and six Gastro-Stops later, I was in Kathmandu.

I disembarked into chaos, knowing that my hostel was somewhere, unsure of where, but trusting HostelWorld’s claim that it was a $3 cab ride away. The first two taxi drivers didn’t know where somewhere was, but could get me everywhere else for $5. I declined, and since they didn’t want to go nowhere, they followed me around until I tersely said that I wouldn’t be going anywhere with them.

The third driver didn’t speak English, but nodded with the sort of earnestness that I find charming. I showed him the address on my iPhone—a move which proved to be as useful as a bathroom door around Oscar Pistorius—he couldn’t understand it and I couldn’t pinpoint where Samjhana Street was in the melee before me. We drove through crowds, sporadically stopping to ask random strangers for directions, my iPhone proffered like pocket-sized oracle. In three Gastro-Stops we found it. I checked in, went upstairs to my room, and passed out on the stained futon.

I awoke just before midnight in a batten-down-the-hatches state that can best be described as ‘gastrointestinal Armageddon’. Throwing open my door, I bolted downstairs to the dingy washrooms. This became my first evening in Kathmandu: a veritable red, white and green kaleidoscope of bad decisions punctuated by a shitty staircase. In desperation, I took my entire stash of Gastro-Stop, something that may have caused mild delirium because I recall kicking open the toilet door at one point and swaggering to the bowl like John Wayne after an enema, snarling, “Hello again, you old bastard. Remember me?”

Even though I’d booked the hostel for three nights, I decided to leave early the next morning, because fuck running up and down stairs like Tom and Jerry. I splashed out on a hotel that had a bathroom in the room, packed my bags, and headed to the front desk.

Not wanting to pay for the whole stay, I approached the clerk with a smile and said, “Hello, my grandfather’s dead. Can I check out?”

In Australia, a family emergency trumps a cancellation fee. In Nepal, it opens up a negotiation. With a small nod of condolence, he tallied my bill, swiped my card, and presented me the receipt as if it were inconsequential: bacon rind given to a hungry dog. I glanced at it.

“You’ve charged me for three nights.”

“Yes.”

“But I’m only staying one.”

“Yes.”

“But,” I paused, trying to direct my thoughts through the fog of fatigue. “Can’t you…?” I trailed off, letting the sentence rot in the air between us like a bag of liposuction fat.

He slid a notepad and pen across the counter. “What is your offer?”

I stared at him. “What?”

“You tell me what you want to pay and then we discuss.”

“But…I,” pause. “No! My—”

“And I’m sorry for that.” He tapped the pad, looking delighted. “Your offer?”

The only offer that felt appropriate was a bucket of dicks for him to suck but I had no idea where to unearth such a treasure—not in Nepal, anyway—so I gave up. I reasoned that the money wasn’t worth the very real danger of shitting my pants mid-negotiation—a tactic that could have worked in my favour, but seemed like the sort of thing I’d ultimately regret.

 

Outside, the streets were still quiet and I stopped at the only pharmacy that was open. I bought the essential narcotics from the white-smocked clerk, neglecting to do the currency conversion in my head. Later that evening, I discovered that he’d charged me roughly three times the amount he was supposed to. A fact which bothered me roughly three times the amount it should have.

Sure, it was a minuscule amount of cash to me but a modest amount to him, but I was vexed: It was wrong, I was just a tourist. And I was sick. Vulnerable. He was taking advantage of that. He was shitting all over me. I had to say something—for colonically-challenged travellers everywhere.

Two days later, lathered into frenzy, I strode to the store with my indignant inner monologue juggling words and phrases in my head like linguistic Sudoku. I stormed up to the pharmacist, struck my fist on the counter, and said—among other things—“You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

Yep. Apparently food poisoning turns me into Dorothy from Oz. I mean: who says ‘ought to’ in general conversation? What the fuck was that? Why not just go all-out and put my little soliloquy into iambic pentameter?

At the end of my rant, he was flummoxed. Here we go, I thought. He’s going to find some ridiculous justification for it.

“Madam,” he began delicately. “I’ve never seen you before.”

My first reaction was shock, “What?” which slowly gave way to confusion, “I was just in here the other day,” then realisation, “Oh,” and finally, a throbbing mortification: “You didn’t serve me, did you?”

He shook his head.

I looked around, trying to pick the offender from the line-up of neat men in matching uniforms. “Does your twin brother work here?” I gave what I hoped was a charming, disarming, and completely non-racist smile. “Maybe he served me?”

“Madam, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Okay,” I turned, and then looked back. “Just, you know, don’t overcharge tourists. Not that you do. Because, um, we now know,” grin, “that you don’t.” Pause. “I’m a nurse by the way! Yep. An egalitarian nurse who is totally supportive of refugees and…”

I prattled on like this for a while, determined to dig myself out of the hole I’d just placed myself in.

Perhaps I should have just buried my shit in it instead.

Most cats do that, you know—bury their crap.

But not this one.

This cat flings it into the ether of the internet in a scatological frenzy.

Oh, *nose boop* you humans.

26 Dec

Six years ago, I went for a sales job. It was one of those abhorrent group recruitment processes where they put a room of wannabes together and assign them ridiculous tasks, ultimately causing the recruits to transform into screeching, carnivorous toddlers that tear metaphorical flesh from bone with aspiration-sharpened milk teeth. We shredded each other like a Mexican cock fight that day, each of us furtively looking over our shoulder for the approval of the bosses who were languidly surveying their surroundings with the sort of enthusiasm generally reserved for monkeys in fezzes that rhythmically bash cymbals. It was brutal. Although, I almost want to recruit my next boyfriend like that. I picture a room of men, inexplicably wearing gold lamé hot pants, slathered in baby-oil, who will ultimately claw their way towards a date with me. Sure, that might sound a little homo-erotic, but we are evolving beyond stereotypes in society and homophobia is a reprehensible character trait in anyone, anyway. There will be a Ben-Hur style battle involving a loincloth, pitchfork, and a life-sized animatronic lion. They’ll solve a Rubix cube, blindfolded, whilst Stephen Hawkings reads a garbled version of 50 Shades of Grey; then watch Adaptation and write a grammatically correct essay on the subtle nuances in Charlie Kauffman’s screenwriting and, in the grand finale, play at least ten bars of the Ibert Flute Concerto. On the flute, of course.

I’ll let you figure out the reasoning behind the final quest.

One thing I remember from the recruitment day was the lecture from the Managing Director, a pompous Brit who liked to use the phrase, “That’s what I love about you humans”. The final two words were delivered with contempt, as if he’d evolved beyond the pettiness of his emotion-charged companions. The sentence usually preceded a ‘people are gullible’ sales principle; and after the third “you humans”, I began to wonder if he was some sort of Neuro-Linguistic alien: a sales-bot swaddled in an expensive pinstripe suit, sent here to bore the conscience laden masses with unimaginative lectures on the importance of materialism.

I hadn’t thought about this man until San Cristobal de las Casas.

I left my blankey in Puerto Escondido

I had fled to San Cristobal after the Manchesterian Mayhem, spending the evening drunk on a night bus next to a ginger-haired Australian who was polite enough to let me sleep even when, some time after midnight, my head lolled gently onto his shoulder where it stubbornly remained for the rest of the journey. I awoke to him gently prodding me a little after 6am. It was his stop and, he added with an affectionate grin, he needed the use of his arm again. Mortified, I wiped the drool from my mouth, the crust from my eyes, and thanked him for being such a cooperative pillow for the journey. That’s what happens when you mix booze with buses, you wind up shoulder-raping a fellow passenger. I’m sleeping with you whether you like it or not, hippie man.

My first instinct for San Cristobal was to book a cheap hotel with my two new friends- misery and beer. I wanted to lick my wounds in solitude, get blisteringly drunk- perhaps inside of a pillow fort- and put on some heartache-curing red lipstick before lip-syncing Chandelier by Sia. However, I knew that a hotel room would only see me listening to The Smiths, crying, and logging into Facebook where I would either shamelessly stalk Manchester’s profile, send him an irate and colourfully worded message full of exclamation points and drunken typos, or put up inappropriate and slightly maudlin status updates that I would cringe to and promptly delete the following morning. Becoming a hysterical chipmunk on Facebook is inappropriate for anyone over the age of thirteen, so I decided to book a hostel, figuring that you humans would act as a welcome distraction.

It didn’t start that way. After making halfhearted conversation with the Irish boy in my dorm who subtly chastised me for not having accommodation booked for Christmas and New Years, I headed to the bar with my laptop, planning to rectify this. Here, an older gentleman was trying to entertain a table of girls by telling them that he used to wrestle alligators in the 1970’s.

Because every girl fantasises about bagging an over-the-hill Steve Irwin type on holidays.

But this reminded me of the eccentric older gentleman that Manchester and I met on one of our first evenings out- a dude who managed to subtly work the fact that he hung out with Hunter S. Thompson during his campaign for Sheriff of Colorado into the conversation, which reminded me of Manchester, which-

No.

I packed up my laptop and headed to the courtyard. Here, another traveller was singing and playing guitar. What song? You can’t always get what you want. Pertinent. At least it wasn’t All by myself or the mariachi classic I broke my girl’s heart in a seedy cantina last Friday night. Still, it was as welcome as genital warts, so I returned to my dorm, booking the accommodation there. Tulum for Christmas Day and Playa del Carmen for my birthday and New Years Eve. I landed the last dorm bed in the city for the latter, at the slightly inflated rate of 500 pesos per evening.

For those that don’t travel- that’s obscene. Really obscene. Fucking obscene. It’s as obscene as Marilyn Manson’s mOBSCENE. And that song sucks, so you know how I feel about staying in a dorm for the equivalent of AUD$50. Basically, for that price, I want round-the-clock midget massages and a scantily clad man servant- preferably not a midget- to feed me peeled grapes whilst his twin brother lazily fans me with a palm frond. In Puerto I was spending 150 pesos on a private room. 500 pesos is my daily budget. It’d better be a backpacker’s utopia filled with interesting and open-minded people that I can latch onto like a foul-mouthed barnacle.

Casablancian

I tried to open my locker the following morning only to discover that I had somehow managed to procure two sets of keys. I’d checked in early and the girl had given me one set when I paid, then another when I was allowed into the room, something that hadn’t become apparent until I’d blearily shoved my hand in my bag and removed the wrong set. I went to the front desk to return the spare key. Here, the receptionist let out a sigh of exasperation, turned to her colleague to complain about the other staff, and demanded to know who checked me in, using the voice of someone interrogating an al-Qaeda operative. Not wanting to be water-boarded, I hurriedly tried to explain that I wasn’t filing a complaint, nor was I trying to get anyone in trouble, and I had no idea where Bin Laden’s successor was. She was retrieving the electrified nipple clamps from the drawer when an Australian accent drifted from behind me.

“I thought I recognised that voice.”

Yep. She recognised “that voice”. Verbatim. Apparently I’m shrill.

“Do you remember us?”

I turned to find the two Aussie’s that I had befriended in the bar in Puerto. The ones that I’d ditched Manchester to dance with.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world.

The odds of meeting these girls again were marginal. The odds of staying at the same hostel at the same time were even smaller. And the odds of seeing them two days after Manchester unceremoniously flung his faeces at me like a temperamental lemur was about as likely as finding the Hope Diamond in a pile of liposuction waste. Oh, the irony. It tastes like a stale salted caramel tart from that little bakery that the health inspector shut down last Christmas.

“You broke up with your boyfriend?” the blonde exclaimed.

It’s my firm belief that life, or the great deity in the sky, or the universe- or whatever you want to call it- has a sense of humor. A black one. I’d left Puerto, wanting nothing but an environment that would distract me from the very real pain that was still coursing through my veins. Instead, I’d been confronted with satire, irony and coincidence. Life is absolutely ridiculous at times. Mine is, anyway. At least it consistently gives me dubious material for a badly written blog.

“Ah,” I chuckled awkwardly. “You saw that, huh?”

“We saw,” she stopped when she saw the look on my face. “Nothing really. Just you guys talking then leaving…but the English girl you were with?”

Manchester’s dorm mate at the hostel he was working for. A girl who we had managed to silently shag beside one evening, a move which would lead me to be overly friendly to her the following day as I tried to clumsily ascertain if she’d been awake or not. “Yeah?”

“Well, you guys disappeared from her? Or something? Anyway, we hung out with her for the night because she said she couldn’t find you. That’s all I know. Anyway, how are you?!”

Sex-Toys on Chairs.

Two hours later I was on my knees in the middle of a crowded street. I had managed to slip and spectacularly stack it before two bemused Russians. It’s my own fault, really. I was listening to Skrillex at the time. That’s what you get when you listen to dubstep. The Music Gods reach down from the sky and flick you across the back of the head, knocking your tasteless arse to the ground. I never fall over when listening to metal.

A little while later a stray dog with creepy grey eyes chased me, but I managed to both evade it and stay upright. Small victories. Nonetheless, I was slightly fed-up upon returning to the hostel. Walking to the courtyard for a cigarette, I noticed a raucous group of people drinking. After five drags of my fag, one called out.

“Hey, you.”

I turned. “Me?”

“Yes, you,” the French accent continued. “Who are you?”

“Who am I?” I responded with a grin that I hoped would soften the next statement, “Who the fuck are you?”

He considered me. “I like you. Come and join us.”

I obediently sat and began to chat to the Central American dude beside me, starting with the obligatory: “So, where are you from?”

“A little town an hour north of here.”

“Oh,” I wasn’t expecting that. “And you’re here for Christmas?”

“No. I’m one of the owners.”

It was the first time I had seen an owner of a hostel engaged in a drinking session with his guests.

“You need a drink,” he continued. “Let me get you a rum.”

He returned with a fucking pint glass which he proceeded to fill with a heady mix of spiced rum and pineapple juice despite my protestations: “What, no lemonade? What kind of dive bar are you running?”

The evening whirled on from there. The group was an eccentric bunch from all areas of the globe. We instantly got along, and the alcohol poured into us as easily as the conversation flowed out. We laughed, poked fun at each other, and smoked around a plastic picnic table in a freezing courtyard in a tiny Chiapan town. At one point, the owner had a pirate moustache drawn on his face- although none of us could exactly remember why, just like we couldn’t remember how the curved finger sex toy got glued to the leg of the chair. The bar stayed open late that night, and I collapsed into bed a little after 3am, inexplicably happy again. Finding yourself in a hostel with a group of people that you instantly click with is a travelling four leaf clover. When you find yourself in this position after a man has just taken a gigantic- and figurative- shit on you, it’s even more wonderful.

The following day, I had to leave. I didn’t want to, but my accommodation for Tulum was booked and there was a hefty cancellation fee for the Christmas period. I found my friends in the courtyard. Upon seeing my backpack, the Frenchman cried, “No! You’re leaving?”

I explained that I didn’t want to.

“So don’t,” Connecticut Guy declared, lighting a Marlboro red. “Stay with us.”

“I really can’t.”

Belgium Girl got up and gave me a hug. UK Lass followed. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by people, all hugging me and pleading that I stay. Since goodbyes are not my strong point, I broke away, offered a flippant wave, and turned to leave.

“Don’t go, CC!” Connecticut called after me.

“You’re making a mistake,” Belgium cried.

“Stay! We’re doing mushrooms tomorrow,” France added.

But, with a moderate amount of regret, I left. It was harder to leave this group than it was to flee Manchester. Without realising it, without knowing anything about the events that had led to me being there, they had distracted me for seventeen whole hours. When you feel like shit, that can seem like blissful eternity.

Feliz Navidad

Christmas Day arrives two days later. I’m on a beach in Tulum. The water is cold. It’s overcast, and I am sitting on my sarong listening to music when a couple kissing catches my eye. My thoughts are drawn irresistibly back to the many sunsets that Manchester and I enjoyed in much the same way on Zicatela beach. Knowing that I had to make peace with things, knowing that I couldn’t carry an iron heart through South America- my goddamned backpack is heavy enough- I tried to reframe the events in a positive way. And this is what I came up with:

Manchester was obscenely good looking. Horrifically attractive. Looking at him was like staring at a solar eclipse: it’s magnificent, but you get the sense that a protracted gaze will sear your retinas like rump steaks forever. He actually modelled once. For Prada. Oh, he didn’t set out to, it was offered to him- which makes the whole thing even more fucking intimidating. He wasn’t narcissistic enough to try and model, just attractive enough to be scouted one windy winter’s evening. He told me the story during one of our many stay-up-chatting-until-sunrise nights. Manchester’s stories rocked, I’ll grudgingly give him that. They were delivered with a loquacious, laconic wit, often contained excessive amounts of narcotics or a hilarious misunderstanding, and were summed up succinctly at the end: “So that’s how I modelled for Prada”, “So that’s how I woke up in a Mexican jail on my birthday”, “So that’s how my grandmother wound up in the garden with a used condom on her shoulder”. Now, I’m far from shallow- it’s usually a person’s energy that attracts me rather than their visage- but, if nothing else, I can now arrogantly say that I once dated a Prada model with incredibly dexterous fingers. Yep, lil’ ol’ fidgety, gawky, clumsy CC managed to repeatedly shag a male model in Mexico. Sure, he hurt me, and it didn’t end well, but instead of focusing on that, maybe I should look for the story, rather than wallow.

Could I have gotten here without the people I met at San Cristobal? The people who reminded me how to laugh for an evening? Could I have gotten here without the unyielding and most welcome support of my loved ones in Sydney, who all answered my Facebook call to arms with love, compliments and positivity?

No.

And “that’s the thing about us humans”. Without meaning to, without realising what we are doing, we can help someone when they most need it. Sometimes we know that assistance is required, and we pass the metaphorical hat around. Sometimes we have no idea that we are bringing someone up from a San Cristobalian pavement to their feet where they can dumbly survey their surroundings like a newborn calf after a bush fire. It’s the nectar of humanity that lies within all of us. It’s beautiful. And it can mean everything to someone. However you want to describe it, it makes me smile, it makes me grateful, and it makes me promise to pay it forward whenever I can.

Voy a Surfear

15 Nov

I need to be honest with myself. The charade has to stop. Something happened today, and I simply can’t lie to myself for one more moment. It doesn’t matter who started it, who called who a cry-baby, it ends now. It’s time to be an adult and admit one simple truth:

I suck at surfing.

Like really, really suck at it.

It’s okay. In the half hour walk from the beach I’ve made peace with it. My ego, which lay in tattered shreds, has been scotch-taped back together. I mean, it’s not like I’m a total spaz. Well, I kind-of am, but I have plenty of skills that more than make up for my lack of grace on the ol’ longboard. I can wiggle my ears, you know. It’s true. I have a some sort of bizarre muscle mutation in my cranium which allows me to move them without touching them. When I was a kid I used to pretend that I was Samantha from Bewitched, but a horrible accident meant that I could no longer wiggle my nose, so I had to resort to ear calisthenics to cast spells instead.

That’s not true.

Well, it is, but after typing it I realised how weird it sounds.

I’ve never been particularly athletic. In school, my best friends and I would enter P.E class, clutching our limbs and moaning like World War 1 soldiers on the front line. Diseases that had been cured would come out, “I can’t play volleyball, Miss. My polio is acting up again.” Once, during the headily petulant era of Year Nine, I wagged P.E. My friend and I walked to the shops and ate ice cream instead- a move that threw down a gauntlet of decadence that would scurry behind me like Thing Addams for decades. My teacher noticed that I was missing. Not my friend, just me. Apparently the absence of an argumentative, pubescent horror child that made her life difficult was notable. It certainly wasn’t my Lacrosse prowess that kept me in her memory, anyway.

I played softball after school for one season. I wagged that, too. When forced to play, I would stand in Right Field, disinterestedly watching the ball bounce by as my team mates shouted things like “fucking move”. My parents would watch from the sidelines, pretending that they had a child who was a source of pride. “Maybe don’t just stand with your arms folded, CC,” my mum helpfully said after one particularly heinous match. “Try and, you know, look interested.” I’m not sporty. Anything beyond lifting weights while scowling at the floor, or running on a treadmill like a hamster to Don’t Stop me Now by Queen is beyond my capabilities. So, my decision to take surf lessons was really an act of bravery. I’m still a soldier on the front line, I just have a better excuse than polio now. ‘Hungover’ usually works.

My first surfing lesson was fun. I was with five fresh-out-of-the-army Israeli’s, one of whom, bafflingly, couldn’t swim. I don’t know what drives a person to choose surfing lessons as a leisure activity when they look like a three-legged Collie flailing in the water, but Lame Dog Goldstein did serve as misdirection for my suckiness. You might think I’m mean for saying that. The way I see it is, he either has, or will, slaughter about seven hundred and eighty six Palestinian children in his lifetime. I have the moral highground. Which means I can compare him to a disabled canine. Don’t like it? Well, email me and we can engage in a long debate on Zionist Propaganda and anti-semitism. I’ve read The Gun and the Olive Branch. Well, half of it. But I’ll win, anyway.

Enough of that, though. I didn’t think that my crapness was any more than the average level of I’ve-never-done-this-before. Sure, I’m Australian and I should know how to surf, wrestle crocodiles, and match a cork-adorned Akubra to any outfit, but I watched Jaws at the tender age of ten and as a result I’ve managed to get through thirty one years with minimal time in the ocean. In my first surf lesson, I kind of stood up. Kind of. I did manage to get a good paddle going. Then I sat on the board, staring pensively at the ocean like some ludicrous Layne Beachley. It was fun.

This lesson something happened. I’m not entirely sure what.

Perhaps I should have been practising. I could have spent my nights lying on the kitchen floor and leaping up like a ninja instead of drinking beer and socialising. The whole thing is probably my fault- I’m not taking my non-existent career as an amateur surfer seriously.

In the fourty eight hours between lessons, the Israeli’s had all been transformed into Hasidic Kelly Slater’s. The one who couldn’t swim was gone, replaced with an impossibly attractive girl who carried herself with the arrogant grace of the genetically blessed. The bitch could surf, too. She even did a fist pump as she rode the wave. A fucking fist pump. It’s true- I saw it as I clutched my surfboard, choking on salt water. “Fucking Israeli’s,” I muttered as I tried to sit up. Karma- or God- tipped me off the board then. I looked like a Down Syndrome porpoise as I remounted.

The instructors are lovely, and incredibly patient with me. “CC, you look really tense. You need to relax,” one coached. “Don’t think that can’t do it, don’t think that anybody is judging you-”

“I’m judging me.”

“And don’t feel that you have to stand up, okay? Just have fun.”

“You’re right. I’m allowed to completely suck at surfing. It’s my right to be absolutely terrible and I’m going to milk it.”

When it became clear that my ‘kneel on the board and let out a high pitched shriek’ technique wasn’t working, I was taken aside and given special ‘stand up’ lessons. “Oh god,” I exclaimed to the instructor. “I’ve fallen behind the class and need extra tutoring. I’m in remedial surfing now.”

He laughed and offered me some advice. “Try not to, you know, be so awful.”

Whatever he said worked, I managed to stand up and balance on the board without a wave twice. Therefore I can do it, but I don’t think I can do it, so when I am on a wave, instead of casually rising and giving a little fist pump, I find myself thinking, Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, fuck, fuck, fuck, stand up! Stand up! Stand- gurgle, gurgle, choke.

At the end of the wave I’d surface rapidly, choke on the Pacific, and flap about. I must have looked like a dying seagull because the instructors would look at me in horror. “CC! Are you okay?” I was always fine, the only thing that took a real battering was my ego, which, after two hours, was almost worn down to a nub. I was called over and told to try another wave. I asked the instructor what time it was. I think he knew I was two seconds from fed-up because he said “If you like, catch this wave and then you can go back to the sand.”

“So I can sit on the shore and suck at surfing quietly from the sidelines?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you!”

I managed to stand up for a nanosecond on that wave, and the adrenaline was enough to make me want to go back out. I didn’t, though. I was battle-scarred. I grabbed my thongs, ripped off my rash vest and began a long trudge up the stairs back to the surf school.

In a bikini.

And nothing else.

Sometimes you just can’t get it right. Not only did I suck in the water, I sucked on land, too. For reasons that still remain unclear to me, I chose to leave my clothes and towel at the school. So I had to walk the main street of town in pool-underwear. In Puerto Escondido, you can’t walk anywhere without running into people you know, so my solitary trudge of defeat was witnessed by many acquaintances. “Hola,” I would say to people, trying to cover my midsection with a sea soaked rash vest. Do you like the travellers physique? I’d think. The soft lumpiness is thanks to Corona and chocolate. Look at this bulge, I’ve had to eat seventeen tacos to get that bulge. Have you ever seen a chickie with a rim of flesh there? No? That’s right, I’m hot shit. That’s why I’m almost naked in broad daylight. Thank me later.

Some days you are a triangle peg in a world of Layne Beachley’s, some days you are a general on the front lines, bravely fighting polio, but most days, self deprecation can soothe a shattered ego.

Kind-of, Almost Two Years Ago Today

11 Nov

Every year, on the anniversary of my divorce, I light scented candles, listen to Morrissey, cry, and play with myself.

That’s not true, silly. I just wanted a snappy opener. As boring as it is, I don’t indulge in any bizarre, ritualistic behaviour on D-Day; but ironically, for the last two years, I have found myself on the other side of the world, ensconced in a romantic entanglement of sorts.

It’s Groundhogian. Last year I was making a u-turn across Europe to meet a Kiwi in Amsterdam, this year I found myself with an overly affectionate Italian. Let’s call him Titto- as was his request if I ever spoke about him on the blog. And, fuck-me-gently-with-a-tent-pole, I really hope he doesn’t read this.

Because this is the story of how I fled Titto.

Fled sounds melodramatic. But ‘made a impulsive decision to leave one morning after things began to get particularly intense’ was too verbose.

When Titto and I first met, I was, embarassingly, wearing nothing but a Bonds wifebeater singlet and a pair of bright red, Wonder Woman underpants. Before he knew my name, he had seen more of me than most first dates do. Amazingly, despite being confronted with the sight of my big, white ass, he began to chat to me and, amazing-er-ly, we clicked.

Our travels plans differed- I was heading to Cuba and he was starting work in a hostel in Acapulco. We swapped Facebook contact details and kept in touch. A pocket of time appeared in the week after Day of the Dead. We could meet up again. He started to organise the details, seemingly spending hours on Google. Links were sent via email, clicking them furnished my screen with magnificent-looking beaches. ‘What do you think?’ he’d ask with an emoticon wink. Apparently, the only thing I had to do for our spare week together was show up and be adorable.

Plans changed when he had a fight with his boss and had to leave Acapulco immediately. He asked if I wanted to leave Day of the Dead before the main celebrations and travel to Guatemala with him. I did not. I was disappointed but I didn’t want to chase a dick down a rabbit hole, so I did what any normal girl would: I dealt with it. I booked a hostel at a nudist beach and figured that if we were meant to meet up again we would.

As fate would have it, we met again. Titto was unlike any man I had ever met. Aside from the affectionate, macho, chivalrous Italian blood that pumped through his veins, he was completely open with his feelings. It was a novelty. Australian men aren’t like that- being courted by an Aussie is a subliminal game of chess. You don’t listen to what they say, you watch what they do, you think three moves ahead, and you endeavour to entrap them in a checkmate.

Mwahaha.

The whole situation was fantastical. Surreal. Laying tangled in a hammock watching the sun set, eating fresh guavas for breakfast, long slow make-out sessions on the sand followed by hair-pulling nights beneath the mosquito netting as the waves crashed outside our cabin window. We hitchhiked. We held hands and strolled along the coastline. It was like a tampon commercial. It certainly wasn’t reality- no reality that I know, anyway. That’s the problem with holiday romances. They exist in a dream state, a realm where you are unfettered by the mundanities of life. As a result, they will never, ever last beyond the trip- believe me, I have tried. The only way it can work is if you choose to stay at the party forever- if you kiss the nuances of reality goodbye and live in the Wonderland of travel. Titto asked me to do this on our first night.

“Would you ever leave Sydney and stay in Mexico?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

I struggled to explain the relationship that I have with my loved ones without resorting to saccharine statements like ‘they are my heart’. I explained the deep bond we share, fortified by time, laughter and pain. “I can’t leave them,” I said finally. “I’d miss them.”

He didn’t agree and argued the point. “But friendships don’t last forever.”

“Neither do most relationships,” I fired back. “But my friends and family have been more of a constant presence in my life than any man has. They are always there for me and vice versa. I don’t want to leave them.”

“That’s sentimental.”

“Loyal.”

Besides, am I alone in thinking that this is a particularly intense question to throw at someone after twenty four hours together? Isn’t this the Holiday Romance equivalent of “How do you feel about getting married in Fiji” on a first date? Perhaps he was just harmlessly discussing the future and I am simply cementing myself as an emotionally retarded Fem-bot, but when said hypothetical future means that one of you has to give up everything well…no. Sorry, but that’s too Romeo and Juliet for me. Plus, I have shared more major life events with my Sydney comrades than I will with any man who comes into my life. Don’t make me choose between you and them. Just don’t. You won’t like the decision that I make.

And what happened to enjoying the moment in the moment without worrying where it’s heading? Why force it? If something is meant to happen, just let it happen. Yes, that statement crosses into the sticky realm of Fate and Destiny, but it’s my limited experience that no matter how much you want something, trying to mold life into your plans never works. One of the hardest things that any of us will have to do is let go of something we really want and trust that, in one way or another, it- or something better- will come to us. I don’t believe in pushing an agenda; partially because I am painfully aware of the type of female that does, and partially because I try to enjoy the show without peeking behind the curtain. If life has a plan different to the one that you have in your head it’s frustrating as hell, and there will be many nights that you pout into your pillow at the injustice of it all, but at least you won’t frighten said reality away. If you relinquish control, things you want may never come to you, but at least you know that you didn’t fuck them up- they were just never yours in the first place.

Says the emotionally retarded Fem-bot.

Actually, that whole fucking paragraph sounded like a tampon commercial.

Ergh.

Anyway, it was enough to vanquish my fragile emotions. With that conversation, hairline fissures began to appear in my rose-coloured lust goggles. ‘Affectionate’ became ‘Stifling’. ‘Macho’ became ‘Domineering’. And ‘Wow, he’s so open with his feelings’ became ‘Do we have to fucking talk about this again for the love of chocolate just shut up and stop acting like a god-damn woman’. My skin began to crawl. I became infected with Seeing The Future as well, and I didn’t like what I saw. It was suffocating. I was in a locked cage that he perpetually carried, periodically sticking his fingers through the bars for affection-attention?- the last lights of my freedom fading away as he carted me across Central America like a prized parrot.

I know. Poor, poor CC. She finds herself a devastatingly attractive man who appears to be crazy about her and she isn’t happy because it’s just too much. I should dry my tears on sex stained sheets in my fucking beach-side bungalow.

Relationships are delicate in the beginning.  You need rose-coloured glasses when you look at your beloved because you are often discovering all of their idiosyncrasies. The fluffy bubble of infatuation acts as a talisman of sorts. When you are in lust, the fact that they are chintsy, over-protective, or a nocturnal lip-smacker, doesn’t bother you; and you need that to progress beyond the first stage. You need absence, too. To miss them, to think about them. They have to exist in your dura mater as a fond memory for affection to grow. And this wasn’t happening. Titto was poisoning me with his presence. The ‘Leave Sydney’ conversation gave me an urge for space. When he didn’t give it to me, the urge became a compulsion to mentally point out every tiny shortcoming he had.

The decision to leave was a lightning bolt. My poker face is not my strong suit, and he knew that something was up. I politely asked him to leave me alone, which he did- albeit furtively glancing at me from the top of his laptop all morning. When even a silent gaze felt suffocating, I figured that getting breakfast in town by myself was a good idea. I knew that I had to snap myself out of my foul mood, so as I moodily stomped to the main street, I indulged in the sort of practical, reasonable self-talk that every chick does to stop herself emotionally overreacting to something.

And it didn’t work.

The more I thought about the situation, the worse it felt. Finally my brain snapped in a characteristic moment of CC impulsiveness: ‘Fuck this, I’m leaving. Today.

And I did. The hotel in Puerto Escondido was booked as the banana/chocolate crepes were shoved into my gob.

Sounds selfish? It felt awesome.

Freedom is a drug, man.

As is chocolate.

I dreaded telling him. With good cause. He reacted as every man does when their ego is bruised- he became a petulant child: “I knew it, I knew something was wrong. Why do you want to go? Why are you leaving me?” he whined.

What I hoped was gentle came out clichéd: “This isn’t you, dude. It’s me. You have to understand, I have been single for two years. I like my freedom, and to spend a consistent 48 hours with someone is too much. I want space.”

We argued. Why didn’t I go tonight? We could have dinner. Why did I have to leave him right now? Why?

I felt helpless. Cunty. To try and make an awkward situation less painful, I tried throwing money at it. That usually helps, right? “I’ll give you the money for the accommodation.”

He didn’t appreciate being turned into my low-budget rent-boy. “I don’t want the fucking accommodation.”

“I’m only trying to help.”

“I have no reason to stay here without you,” he said sulkily. “The only reason I came here was for you, and now you are leaving me.”

It was a cheap shot that didn’t register. I wanted to say ‘I’m a psych nurse, buddy, and I’ve been through a divorce, if you want to hurt my feelings, you have to try harder than that.

But I didn’t. I acted like an adult. “Well, you can have the money, anyway.” I rose to pack.

He followed. “When did you decide this? Why can’t you leave tomorrow?”

The more he talked, the more my resolve strengthened. I bid him farewell and waited for a taxi to the bus station.

“You really should take a collectivo, instead. It’s more economical.”

I glared at him.

He sighed. “Do what you want.”

In defiance, I paid for a private taxi to drive the hour to Puerto Escondido. From the backseat, with the wind of the highway relentlessly massaging my face, I worked on feeling horribly guilty about what I’d just done.

So, what’s the point of it all?  I’m sure there’s a lesson hiding in this, but what? That I’m emotionally unavailable? I have ridiculously high standards? That I’m just holding out for a six foot fireman who can bench press a fridge? Preferably one who volunteers at an abandoned kitten’s shelter in his spare time. Maybe I should just give up and buy some scented candles.

How about this for a lesson- no matter how many times you make my toes curl, if I begin to feel even the slightest bit trapped, I’ll run like a flock of seagulls?

Get it? “I raaaaannnn, I ran so far awaaaaaayyyy”?

No?

Come on!

Anyway, if nothing else, this experience has strengthened what matters, which means I’m probably Fem-bot Version 2.0. And while I can’t wrap it all up in a neat bow, I can give you a moral- You never chase a Y-chromosome down a rabbit hole.

You only ever chase a white rabbit with a pocket watch because he has the magic mushrooms.

The Adventures of CC and John West

9 Nov

Day of the Dead

Sunday night, I found myself in the middle of a Day of the Dead parade, hurriedly looking over my left shoulder, with a pink iPhone shoved in my underpants.

Yes. In my undies. Down the front.

It’s a sentence that will stop anybody from borrowing my phone ever again. Unfortunately for me and my poor iPhone- which is now affectionately nicknamed John West- I had no other option. How did I wind up in the middle of a street parade with a mobile phone awkwardly prodding at my genitals? Let me explain.

It’s my last night in Oaxaca and I am almost dias de los meurtos‘d out. I’ve hung out in cemeteries with Kentuckians, photographed parades with impossibly chic French women, and tonight I just want to grab some dinner and enjoy the fact that I have my dorm to myself. I’m sitting in Zocalo, smoking and reading a book on my iPhone, when a guy sits uncomfortably close to me, furtively eyeing me as I put my phone back in my pocket. He starts to talk. His name is Gustavo. And, hey, even though we just met, why don’t I add him on Facebook? His eyes drift to my pocket. Right now.

Something about Gustavo gives me the willies. I can’t put my finger on it. It could be that he sat very close to me, it could be that he appears twitchy and nervous, it could be the fact that he was wearing headphones without listening to music (I mean, come on, that’s weird, right?) or it could be the fact that he fingered my ring when he shook my hand.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

I mean, he shook my hand and ran his finger along the Claddagh ring that I wear on my ‘fuck you’ finger, tugging it ever so slightly. In any event, after five minutes I want to leave my creepy companion and retire to my hostel. At 9pm. Like a thirty-something geriatric. I rise.

So does Gustavo.

I pause.

“Go,” he gives a strained smile.

I wait, frowning. “You first.”

He motions with his hand. “No, you.”

It’s an excessively polite Monty Python skit. I start walking. He trails me. I abruptly zig-zag across Zocalo. He zig-zags, too. I reach the edge and stop, turning around. He stops too, pretending to be fascinated by a jewellery stall.

If Gustavo is a crook, he’s a clumsy one. Nonetheless, the walk to my hostel is down a quiet street and I really don’t want to punch a Oaxacian- with or without nefarious motives- so I take the long way through the crowded parades, figuring that I can lose him.

When out at night, I no longer take a bag with me, choosing instead to wander the streets with my possessions in my pockets, like some heavily pear shaped bag-lady. The problem is, Gustavo knows where my iPhone is. I’m not sure if it’s paranoia or common sense that drives this, but I decide to move my stuff from my jeans pockets, just in case. My coin purse fits in my shirt pocket. As I do up the button, I ponder where to put my phone. My shoe? My bra? Oh, wait- I know!

And down the pants it goes. It’s ingenious, really. Look, if the evening were to escalate to a strange hand being in my knickers sans consent, a missing phone will be the least of my worries. And while it’s not comfortable, it is set to vibrate so if someone calls me, well, things will improve considerably.

Hierve el Agua

Twenty hours, a bus, a collectivo taxi and four chain smoking French men later, I am two hours from Oaxaca, at the ethereally beautiful Hierve el Agua.

It’s 5pm, and if I want to make my bus to Pochutla, which leaves Oaxaca at 9.30pm, I should probably leave. It’s still light and I make the 1km walk back up the hill, pausing to admire donkeys, cacti, and men herding goats. Near the top, I see a couple get into a collectivo taxi. Perfect timing. I’ll climb in and be back at the bus station in 45 minutes.

But I wouldn’t be writing this post if the collectivo waited. It didn’t. It skidded away as I was nearing the top.

Hmph.

No problem, though. Another will arrive. I perch on a rock to watch the sun set over the mountains, painting the sky with a kaleidoscope of pink and orange. I take several thousand photos of it.

sunset4sunset3

sunset5

snuset2Beautiful, isn’t it? However, as 5pm slides into 6pm, I begin to wonder where the hell the next collectivo is.

Six melts seamlessly into 6.15. I’m tapping my foot. Hierve has closed. Tour buses are trundling past. Nobody else is making their way up the hill, and the French dudes from before are absent. I begin to wonder: Do collectivos come this late? Am I supposed to wait here? There is nobody to ask. I decide to walk to the guard booth that we passed on the way in. Maybe people are still there. Maybe they can call a collectivo for me. There is one road leading to the booth, so I will pass anything coming this way, anyway.

So I begin to walk.

Alone.

In the middle of nowhere.

At night.

It’s getting cold, so I put my cardigan on, crossing my arms protectively over my chest. It occurs to me that I now look like a horror movie victim. Not the slutty one that dies first, maybe the bookworm who bites it spectacularly in the third act. I’m utterly isolated out here. Even my Mexican SIM card service has abandoned me. My only companion is Mother Nature, and the donkeys that randomly hee-haw my predicament. It felt like Wolf Creek 3. Or Mexican Creek, perhaps: ‘In Hierve el Agua, nobody can hear you scream…

It’s completely dark, did I mention that? Like, totally dark. I can’t see my booted feet on the road. If I don’t get devoured by a carnivorous goat, there is the distinct possibility that I will trip in a pothole and fracture my left ass bone, or step in a bear trap and have to gnaw a limb off like a rabid monkey. Therefore, to keep myself from spinning out, I begin to sing ‘Dry the Rain’ by The Beta Band.

This is the definition of my life, lying in bed in the sunlight…

So, at this point I have officially lost my mind.

A set of headlights approaches. Feeling more and more like Laurie ‘Boo’ Myers, I flag it down. It swerves past me, slams on the brakes, fishtails, and halts. It sits, idling maliciously. With a small amount of trepidation, I approach.

The Golf Cart

Hola,” I begin uncertainly. “Ah…” I pause to gather the correct words, then begin in a slow, overly-enuncative voice. “Neccissito una collectivo taxi para la Mitla autobus stacion?

His reply? Spanish. Of course.

I try again. “Autobus? Para Oaxaca?

Spanish.

Nothing is ever easy. In frustration, I throw random words at him: “Autobus. Mitla. Oaxaca. Saucepan. Toilet seat. Turtle procreation proclamation. Anything?”

This continues for an uncomfortably long period of time until I begin to understand a single word he is saying: “Voy.” i.e.- ‘Go.’ He gestures to the cart and I come to the hopeful conclusion that he’s saying, ‘Jump in, love. My chariot will rescue you on this cold evening.’

Five minutes later I am sitting in a golf cart as we drive back to the place where people wait for collectivos. We pass it.

Nothing is ever easy. Where the fuck is he taking me?

A group of people stand on the road, holding hands like some Hillbilly Mexican Manson family. The cart skids to a halt. The Manson’s approach. Two men, two women, two children. They begin to pile in. I skid over. The women are particularly portly and won’t fit. I skid over more. I now have one ass cheek perched precariously on the seat. They fit. Unfortunately, I don’t. A man sits beside the driver. There is still a man and two children to fit into an already full golf cart. In the spirit of charity, I move my bag from my lap. A moment later I have a small child randomly perched on it. Her sister stands beside her, staring at me in that openly curious way that kids do. A lady gets out, a man gets in, the lady sits on his lap.

We now have 8 people stuffed into a vehicle no bigger than a 1976 Mini Cooper.

Pause and picture that.

I am shoved up against the side of the cart, angled diagonally, holding onto the seats. I look like a proud father with his arms around the family at Christmas dinner, but there is terror in my eyes, so I probably look like Tony Soprano during the final season of The Sopranos. With, you know, hair and stuff. Wait, he’s dead now, isn’t he? Okay, so I look like a live, female, average weight version of-

You know what? Never mind.

Anyway, the side of the cart is made of flimsy, waterproof fabric. There’s no guarantee it will support my weight. The whole thing smells like an impending brain injury. The golf cart’s engine is spluttering and, in a mark of automotive protest, it won’t travel beyond the speed that the average egg-and-spoon race is run at. This gives me plenty of time to think about how much easier my life would be if I stuck to organised tours like a proper tourist, instead of stubbornly opting to do it all myself. I could be in an airconditioned tour bus right now, happily trancing out to the new Opeth record on my iPod. Instead, I am squished like a Skittle between a fat woman, a sheet of oil cloth, and a potential future in a motorised wheelchair.

Life on the Highway

After fifteen days, the family exit the cart. My ass can spread out again. There is relief for five minutes. Then, relief turns to horror as I am deposited on the freeway like a sex crime victim.
It’s every little girl’s dream to one day be left standing on a highway, at night, in the freezing cold, with a now almost desperate urge to urinate, isn’t it? The driver thought so. He pointed at the small group of people waiting, called out, “Collectivos!” and gaily puttered up the hill.

Apparently, this is where the collectivo’s pick you up to take you back into town. I wait awkwardly beside my car-less comrades. It’s just after 7pm. We are in the middle of what could arguably be the desert. Despite wearing jeans and a cardigan, my teeth are chattering.

Ha- I am now officially The Chattering Cat.

*Boom tish* Thanks folks. Hey, try the brisket- it’s fantastic.

For every set of approaching headlights, the four of us desperately throw our hands out. Cars speed past. Hitchhiking seems like an option. Or suicide. Or, frankly, squatting to pee in front of strangers.

I’m not sure how I get myself into these predicaments. Really. I don’t welcome chaos. I don’t ask for trouble. But when I travel, my sense of wonder often runs neck-and-neck with anxiety and dread. Let’s not forget that I have no fucking idea where I am. Well, I can pinpoint “Mexico” and in a pinch narrow it down to “two hours from Oaxaca”, but aside from that I’m screwed. I could be on Pluto. It’s certainly cold enough. I smoke cigarette after cigarette, trying to stave off cold, hunger and possible stress incontinence.

Life would be so much easier if I knew more Spanish. I could ask these people beside me, ‘What the fuck is going on (!?!) Is it normal to wait a fucking decade for a fucking collectivo on the fucking highway at mothershagging nighttime?! How do you people do this? Why do you do this? Yes, the night sky is radiantly pregnant with twinkling stars, but there is a little place called civilisation, and in it they have transportation options. Let’s talk about that over a Corona sometime.’ We would bond. They’d hug me, adopt me as a foul-mouthed surrogate child, and I’d feel infinitely better about the whole ‘I’m kind of almost lost’ mess.

The Dudes

A bus approaches. Without thinking, I stick my arm out. It slows. I get on with one other fellow. The doors creak shut behind us.

The bus contains men. All men. Workers, by the look of them. There is one seat available. I take it. I have no idea where the bus is going but it’s warm, there is Mambo music playing, and it smells like the Miami Heat locker room after a Celtics game: sweat, dejection, blood, and cum.

The bus stops. Half of the people get off. The driver turns and addresses me in Spanish.

I suppose that I have to get off the bus now.

Wait- I have to get off the bus?!

…No!

It’s warm and safe and although your taste in music sucks, I’m not standing on the fucking cold freeway again.

I can’t guarantee that I didn’t say that out loud. Really, I don’t remember. I think I disassociated.

He says “taxi”, points, then physically shooed me. Off the bus. Now. Come on you silly tourist. I don’t have all night.

I exit the bus. He doesn’t charge me. Small win.

AND I discover that he has dropped me outside the bus station that I initially caught a collectivo to Hierve from.

Awesome.

But it’s now shut.

Hmph.

Three guys from the bus approach me. They ask where I am going. Tired, desperate and thoroughly fed up, I pout, “Oaxaca. Taxi,” and cross my arms like a two-year old. They reply in Spanish. I don’t understand them. They motion up the road. “Taxi. Oaxaca. Aqui.”

I walk. They turn around every now and then, addressing me in Spanish. I repeat the one phrase that, ironically, I can now say flawlessly, “I’m sorry, but I only speak a little Spanish.” They laugh but continue to speak Spanish. Since I have no idea what they are saying, I begin to answer thusly, “Yes…no…bottom left…fourty seven…last Tuesday…”

One says, “Speak English.”

Yes. Not ‘hablas inglés‘ but ‘speak English’.

I stop, now more than a little indignant. “Can you guys speak fucking English?”

They laugh. “A little.”

Cunty. Very cunty.

They ask if I want to go and smoke some weed with them. Oh, sure, I think. I’d love to abandon my inhibitions with a group of strangers who have spent the last ten minutes poking fun at me. Sounds awesome. Let me get my coat. “No, thanks,” I begin with a smug grin, “I don’t smoke weed anymore. You see, I smoked a lifetime’s allowance between the ages of twenty and twenty two and I have to wait for the multiverse to catch up with me.” Sure they can’t understand me, but being clever in stressful situations makes me feel slightly better.

As we walk, my paranoia rises (see why I don’t smoke weed?!) I have no idea where I am going, I just know that three guys have indicated that if I follow them down a dark street, I can get a taxi. The walk begins to feel like a trail of lollies leading to the witches house in the forest. Following total strangers into darkness seems about as clever as amputating fingers with toenail clippers. So I try to find a taxi as I walk. But whenever I stop to flag an approaching set of headlights, the guys stop, too. They tell me that I have to keep going. I have to follow them because taxis don’t stop on the street.

Seriously- what the fuck kind of bullshit is that? ‘Taxis won’t stop on the street’? I just hailed a motherfucking bus from the highway. And it’s been my experience that you can’t walk down the road anywhere in Mexico without a taxi hopefully beeping it’s horn at you. Either you can hail them from the street, or I perpetually have a stream of toilet paper trailing from my pants and they are trying to tell me.

Now I’m convinced- following these boys any further will be about as safe as a marriage to Ike Turner. I stop in front of a store that appears to be open. The store owners are standing at the door. Good. Witnesses. I open my mouth to say, ‘My name is Casey Millikin and in the event of my disappearance please call the Australian Embassy on-‘ when one of the guys walks back to me, stopping just inside my personal space. “You have to follow us to get a taxi.”

“That’s okay,” I say, looking at approaching headlights. “I’ll hail one here.”

“Are you scared,” he asks suddenly.

This catches me off guard, which apparently makes me forget how to speak. “…Hu?”

He grins malevolently. “Are you scared?”

“No, I’m not scared,” I say, sounding fucking terrified. Of course I was scared. You’d be, too. Only a high level sociopath would feel no fear in that situation.

He lunges at me. “BOO!”

I still had to wee, you know. It’s a miracle that I didn’t widdle like a firehose in fright. In fact, if I had spent my life procreating like a normal person rather than existing in a state of arrested development, it’s entirely possible that a weakened pelvic floor would have made me wet my pants right there. He walks away laughing and I bravely mumble that he should really find an opportune time to fuck his mother.

The dudes leave. I remain stubbornly in front of the store. Another golf cart approaches. I flag it down.

Necessito taxi para Oaxaca?”

He drives me 200m up the road and charges me ten pesos. No- It’s not a rip-off. It’s the best ten pesos that I have ever spent. It’s a dollar that assuages my fear. It’s a coin that ensures I won’t make a YouTube cameo as a headless corpse in a snuff video.

Anyway, to wrap it all up, I get a cab to Oaxaca, pick up my luggage from the hostel, have the best wee ever, and make it to the bus station with three minutes to spare.

I said before that I don’t know how I get myself into these predicaments. I have an idea, it’s probably my robust taste for adventure- the same thing that will arguably be my downfall; but I’d be lying if I said that a small part of me didn’t enjoy these moments. Not at the time- at the time I’m a puddle of anxiety and fear- but in retrospect when I am safe, weeing, and warm, I giggle like a maniac. Perched on the hostel loo, enjoying a good-ol’ micturition, I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to stifle the laughter. The thing about periodically finding yourself in situations where you don’t know if you are going to make it out without the loss of your dignity is that you really appreciate the little lights beyond the tunnel: flushing toilets, safety, the first drag of a Marlboro Light washed down with a mouthful of lemonade while waiting for your bus to Pochutla to arrive. My god. They’re like sunshine in summer.

The point of this post was actually to point out that my, um, Cuban experience has infected me with moderate levels of paranoia. I’m not sure I like it. It’s making me paranoid, actually. I’m paranoid about becoming paranoid. I usually don’t look at the world through a filter of mistrust. I usually don’t keep a mobile phone in my underpants. Here, I have had two evenings in a row where my survival instincts have come online. While it’s nice to know that I have enough common sense and intuition to allow me to escape unharmed; it’s also a big crash to earth to discover that you can’t automatically trust people. Maybe I’m not paranoid, maybe I just have a sense of safety awakening in me, something animalistic that has stirred and raised it’s furry head from slumber. Maybe there’s a fine line between security conscious and paranoid; and I am, for the first time, learning to skirt it.

Whatever it is, please call me on +52 5551 366 354. Anytime. I may need help, or I may just have a mobile phone in an opportunistic location. Either way, you will quickly become my favourite person.

I don’t know what to call this. “Cemetery”? “Night & Day”? Meh. Who cares.

3 Nov

Follow me on instagram @casey_mareeee
Come on now. Don’t be lazy. I even added a link.
All you have to do is click.
Please?
….you have to validate me. You just have to! I don’t know what I’ll do otherwise.

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Part 1: Havana Sure Can Suck

23 Oct

Friday Morning

I was on my way to the Hemingway Museum when I had a conversation with a Cuban woman who initially mistook me for an extraordinarily pale local. When she found out I was travelling alone, she asked: “Are you nuts?”

I laughed. “The possibility has been raised.”

She grinned, high fived me, and assured me that Havana was safe.

Eight hours later I was mugged.

I almost didnt start the post like that. I nearly started it with: “I was mugged in Cuba”- an extremely strong opening line. It throws down a gauntlet, sets a tone. Or, I could have began with, “I needed a CAT scan after I was mugged, so I am now part of an elite club that has experienced the quality of medical care in Cuba first hand” but that sounds overly melodramatic. Maudlin, even: ‘I went to Cuba and all I got was this lousy CAT scan.’ Plus, the CAT scan was just a formality because I hit my head, and it turned out normal, anyway. My brain is normal. Nobody who knows me would believe that.

But yes, I was mugged. It was fucked. I’ll rewind the tape and tell you about it.

I had gone to Hemingway’s house in the morning and planned on booking a bus to Santa Clara that afternoon. I navigated Cuba’s crappy bus system to the Hemingway Museum without a hitch, but managed to board the wrong one on the way back. As a result, I got to Havana later than expected, so rather than book my Santa Clara ticket I decided to grab a drink at El Floridita– the bar that Hemingway used to frequent- and write a blog post. Three hours and two mojitos later, it was about 7pm and I was hungry. It was still light, so I began the walk back to my hostel to eat my leftovers for dinner.

I was four blocks away when a man came up behind me and grabbed my bag, trying to reef it off me. I turned and grabbed it, struggling with him. He pushed me and I toppled off the kerb. I continued to wrestle with him until the strap on the bag broke and he ran off.

Wednesday Morning

Now, to thoroughly confuse you all and rewind the tape again to a few days earlier; I was having breakfast at a cafe when the owner warned me about leaving my bag on the table as I was eating: “People will snatch it and run off. They will be gone before you know it.”

In response, I made a joke about tourists not wanting to run at all; especially not after bag snatchers.

Friday Night with The Locals

Well, not this tourist. This tourist jumped up and sprinted off after her mugger without giving the matter a great deal of thought.

I’m not writing that to make myself sound brave. I’m not, and it wasn’t an act of courageousness, anyway. When adrenaline starts pumping, you don’t think. You just react. That was my reaction. Was it foolish? Yes. Besides, what was I going to do if I caught him? Ask politely for it back? Negotiate in bad Spanish? Punch him? My only thought was that I needed to get my bag back- it had my passport in it. I never carry my passport around, but I was booking bus tickets that day. My iPad was in it. My iPhone, which had lived in my pocket all day, had been transferred to the bag at El Floridita. Everything was in it. I needed it back. I turned the corner after him and saw a local lady standing there.

“Where did he go?” I panted.

She pointed up the street and I continued to run until it became clear that Usain-Bolt-The-Bag-Snatcher had disappeared into the streets of Havana. A group of kids sat on the curb. I asked where he went. They didn’t know.

“Please help me, he stole my bag.”

They laughed.

It was the laughter that did it. I burst into tears. The laughter abruptly died and a girl stood to approach me. I blubbered and pleaded and jawed about my passport being in the bag. I must have looked sufficiently pathetic because she indicated a phone and told me to call the police.

“I don’t know how,” I wailed. How do you call the fucking police in Cuba? Triple 0? 911? An interpretive dance?

She told her friend to call the police, then proceeded to try and calm me down. Reassure me. She asked me what happened. How many there were. Could I describe him?

I described him as best I could. “He was tall. Black. Sinewy. He had a shaved head.”

Yep. I basically said, ‘He was big and black.’ A black man stole my handbag. I must have sounded like every paranoid American I have ever encountered: ‘He was black- that’s all I saw.’

Wait- that’s politically incorrect, isn’t it?

‘The suspect was of Afro-Cuban heritage…’

A lady approached. “Senorita,” she said. “You dropped this.” In her hands were my sunglasses and head scarf, both of which had flown off when I gave chase. It was such a simple gesture but it touched me. That’s the thing about Cuba, the moment someone robs you of your faith in humanity, there are several others who will restore it just as quickly. It’s a strange place. The land of juxtaposition.

I thanked her. Profusely. With big bubbles of grateful snot escaping my nostrils.

Friday Night at The Cop-Shop

The police arrived. They didn’t speak English, and Michel Thomas hadn’t taught me the Spanish word for “robbed”. After getting the story from the kids, they indicated that they were going to drive around and told me to keep a look out for the mugger. It was dusk at this point, and long shadows had begun to crawl over the streets. It was hopeless, but I jumped in the back of the car.

We never found him. They drove me to the police station and I gave my statement to the one cop who spoke broken English. When that was done, they led me out into the waiting room. I sat down.

For four hours.

Yes. Four fucking hours. During that time, I became aware of various aches and pains. Both knees were skinned. There was a graze along my jawline. My head throbbed. Upon inspection, I discovered a walnut-sized lump. I had the beginnings of angry bruises on my knees and my hip. My back hurt. My muscles hurt. My bones hurt. Getting mugged in your thirties sucks. You aren’t malleable, anymore. You can bounce back from anything in your twenties but if you struggle with someone and get knocked to the ground at 31, well, shit will ache afterwards.

I asked the cops how much longer it would take. I knew that Cuba operated at a snails pace but this was ridiculous. Four fucking hours! The cops didn’t speak much English, but kept indicating that people were driving. I can only assume that cops were driving the streets? Looking for the mugger, maybe? They were taking it seriously and as I waited I figured out why. You see, Cuba is a safe place because the penalties for crime are so severe. Theft isn’t particularly serious, but assaults are. Since the mugger knocked me off my feet in his desperation to get my bag, the crime had probably segued from petty theft to assault. Assault. On a tourist: the countries proverbial bread-and-butter. If they find him, he’s fucked. Although, in my muggers defense- and I don’t know if I should write or give a shit about that, but- I don’t think he meant to knock me over. I think he saw me, picked me, and figured that he could snatch the bag and run. I don’t think he expected me to fight back and so it escalated. I’m lucky: he could have pulled a knife. I could have been knocked unconscious. Or he could have done something far, far worse to the young lady in shorts and a singlet walking the streets of Havana at dusk.

Friday Night: Hospital Part Uno

Eventually, the police came back. They didn’t find the mugger or my bag. They drove me to my hostel, and one cop waited in the car while the other took a second statement- a particularly tedious one because this cop didn’t speak a word of English. He indicated that I had to go to the hospital to get checked out.

“Tomorrow?” I asked hopefully in Spanish.

He shook his head. Not tomorrow. Now.

So, I was bundled into the back of a cop car for the third time that night- I spent more time in fucking cop cars than my goddamn attacker did- and went to the hospital. The doctor spoke English. I told him that I’d hit my head. He told me to lie on the floor.

“Pardon me?” On the floor? I was flummoxed.

He repeated it: Lie down on the floor. I glanced at the cop behind me. He nodded. I looked at the doctor, wondering if it was an error in translation.

“Lie on the floor?” I indicated the floor below me.

He nodded again. On the floor.

I glanced at the examination table beside me. “The floor? As in this tiled thing beneath my feet?”

On the floor.

So, to the ground I went, thinking to myself, I know Cuba is a third world country, but surely hes not going to examine me on the fucking floor. He told me to stand up, and I realised that it was some sort of crude neuro-obs test. The doc and the cop spoke in Spanish and I was bundled into the car again to get a CAT scan. Mind you, it was after 1am. I was mugged at about 7.30pm and I hadn’t eaten anything. I was exhausted, sore, teary, fragile, hungry, sweaty, dehydrated, and dizzy. Confused, as well. Remember- I speak basically no Spanish. I had no idea what was happening, I was just mutely following the cops wherever they led me.

Plus- and I’m ashamed to admit this- my reservoir of trust in humanity had been drained after the attack, and this was stimulating my overactive imagination. I began to wonder if I was safe in the hands of the police. Were they really taking me to another fucking hospital to get a CAT scan in the middle of the night? Didn’t that sound a little ludicrous? How did I know that they were taking me there? I was locked in the back of a police car with two big dudes driving me through deserted streets that I didn’t recognise. I was scared. Fucking scared.

I know, I sound spoilt and paranoid. Whatever. I call it ‘disarmingly honest’.

Friday Night: Hospital Part Dos

At the next hospital, the doctor asked me if I drank.

I nodded.

“How much did you drink tonight?”

“Two drinks.”

He wrote on the CAT scan referral “App: Alcoholism.”

Yep. I travelled the world to be diagnosed with “Alcoholic”. Thanks Cuba. I was not drunk. Even when I was attacked I was not drunk. You may be reading this and tsking, thinking that I took a gamble on my personal safety and paid for it. Could I have caught a cab back to my hostel after El Floridita? Sure. But it wasn’t dark and I was close to home. Besides, the girls who I met at the hostel- who have been living in Havana teaching English for over a month- frequently went out alone at night. I was dressed like a local- hell, I’d been mistaken for a local that morning. And aside from my watch, which is the size of the average death-row prisoner’s last meal, I was not drawing attention to myself. I had no reason to expect that this would happen. So if you are thinking that I brought it upon myself, well: you can fuck right off.

Sorry if that sounded abrasive. It’s been a long 96 hours.

Saturday Morning

I had to go to the police station again to pick up the police report. Cuba operates at its own pace and the four hours I waited at the station was apparently not long enough to type something. I was told to ask for the Officer who was with me at the hospital. Officer Tomayo. By using a Russian Lonely Planet map, bad directions from a local, my feminine wiles, and a bike taxi; I finally managed to locate the police station.

Officer Tomayo had gone home.

“That’s okay,” I explained to the woman. “I just need to pick up the report.”

Nope. I couldn’t just pick up the report. I had to wait for Tomayo. And he wouldn’t be back until Monday night.

It was Saturday morning.

Without the police report, I was told that I couldn’t get an emergency passport.

And my hostel, which I was due to depart that day, was now fully booked.

So I was stuck in Cuba. Potentially homeless. For three nights.

Every solo female travelers dream. For me, it came true. In a fluorescent, Caribbean, technicolour nightmare. The situation was a shrapnel bomb that kept detonating.

I had to get that report. I pleaded with her. She shook her head.

So I burst into tears. Am I proud of it? No. I don’t use tears to get my own way. Usually I argue or, as I prefer to see it: I speak passionately in loquacious English. That wouldn’t work in this situation.

Besides, it’s not like I forced the tears out. They were there already, I just stopped holding them in. An ocean of salt water lurked beneath the facade for the next four days. It would randomly gush when reading Facebook messages, dealing with apathetic Cubans, or when I was told I couldn’t eat a hamburger. Or borrow a pen. Or sit in a local’s diner.

Anyway, the tears worked. They took me to the Immigration Official’s office. Curiously, she didn’t speak a word of English. How is a country with an education system as advanced as Cuba unable to churn out officials that speak fucking English? This is a country that exports doctors, for Christ’s sake. Is basic English- the language of 90% of the tourists that they rely on- too fucking hard? How can a street hustler speak perfect English, but a station full of cops not understand a word of it? It’s linguistic laziness.

I managed to get my case across in broken Spanish. She made a few calls, took me out the back, and gave me the police report. Success. Finally.

Saturday Night with Rum and Black Nail Polish

I checked into a hotel near the Embassy. It had a television. And the internet. I logged into Facebook, intending to message my dad, sister, and best friend to tell them what happened. I didn’t want to anybody else to know. It was still too raw. There were messages from my dad on Facebook already, actually. Asking if I was okay. Apparently some sixth sense/ father-daughter bond had told him that something was up. The first sentence of the group message I composed was “Don’t freak out”, which is the quickest way to freak someone out.

Then I bought a three dollar bottle of rum, painted my fingernails, and worked on feeling sorry for myself. I was alone, in a third world, communist country without my passport. Internet is nearly non-existent here. I had $200 with no way to get extra cash. I had no credit cards. I’d just discovered that my worldwide travel insurance didn’t cover Cuba. The Embassy was closed until Monday. I didn’t know how much an emergency passport would cost. I didn’t know if I could get a flight back to civilisation once I got it. I had two nights booked at the hotel. What if my passport cost $200 and I had no money for a place to stay? Was sleeping on the streets of Havana with a ten kilogram backpack in my future? I couldn’t even make a reverse charge call to MasterCard for emergency funds because, according to the staff at the hotel, reverse charge calls are not possible in Cuba.

I want you to stop and imagine yourself in that position. The fear. The anxiety. The isolation that comes from not speaking the local language. Having nowhere to go. Having nobody who can help you. Having no foreseeable options. It’s terrifying. I bleat about ‘Authentic Travel Experiences’ on this blog a lot. Well, I just had one. Where I had no control. I was free-falling in Cuba and the sense of inertia was nausea inducing. I stopped eating due to stress. I just sat in my room, smoking, watching Spanish dubbed movies, and replaying the incident over and over. What if I never fought back? What if I acted like a proper female and screamed for help, instead? Would people have come to my aid? Would it have scared him off? Could it have never happened?

I checked Facebook and discovered that my call to arms had come through. My sister sent me wonderful, reasonable words that immediately calmed me down. She researched where I should go, what I should do, who I needed to speak to, and what she would do on her end to make my life easier. My best friend spoke to a mutual friend of ours and together they passed the hat around, pooling funds that he offered to send me through Western Union. My dad contacted relatives who all offered help, love and advice. When I needed them the most, they were all there for me ten times over, and the love that I felt through their messages made me burst into fresh tears. I don’t think that I can express what their gestures truly meant to me. It meant the world?

No.

It meant something much bigger than that.

Anyway, I could keep typing about my shitty life in Cuba but this post is long enough. I’ll close with this, to round it all off in a nice, circular way: Six hours before I was mugged, I had been at Hemingway’s house on the outskirts of Havana. You can’t enter it, but you can peer through the windows. When the guard’s back was turned, I surreptitiously reached into the bedroom window and touched his bed.

Yes. I’m lame.

But

I touched Hemingway’s bed (!)

I was so excited that I stopped and snapped a selfie on my phone. It’s a picture that is now lost, but in it, my eyes are alight and mischievous. My face, creased in a grin. I am happy.

Ridiculously happy.

I have no idea what lies in store for me that evening.

In that photo, I am just a giddy fan-girl at one of her favourite author’s houses. I look relaxed, excited, and free.

The image of me outside his bedroom window will now only exist in my memory, but it will stay there forever. Alongside my favourite Hemingway quote, which is a very pertinent thought for my current situation: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

The Sasquatch Factor Part 1

19 Sep

It’s difficult when an anonymous blog gets read by people who know you.

While I labour under the delusion that my writing can occasionally hit a level of refreshing candour, this blog has also contained the tongue-in-cheek phrase: “I have an enchanted pussy.” I cringe when people discover my writing. I have come dangerously close to ‘online diary’ in the past, and I have been told that no man who reads my inane ramblings is ever going to want to build a relationship with me because I sound like a neurotic lunatic who perpetually plays the victim. The person who said this was only being spiteful to try and hurt my feelings, but he infected me with a spell of writers block nonetheless. Indeed, I have written many things about the following subject, and they all exist in a folder on my computer titled NEVER TO BE PUT ON THE BLOG. After much thought, I’ve decided to post this and, rather than bleat about personas or censor my writing, I’m just going to man up and vomit something straight from the heart up onto the page.

Last year I wrote the following phrase “I don’t have my heart locked in an iron cage, waiting for Prince Charming with the right key.”

It sounds lovely. It sounds like I’m whimsical and hopeful; that I wear flip skirts and ballet flats, trilling through the streets in the sunshine, humming to myself, playfully tipping the hats of small children as I pass them and giving elderly couples in the street a knowing, yet slightly wistful gaze. It sounds like I frequently stare to the top left of the screen, wearing an open expression and a Mona Lisa smile. It’s manic pixie dream girl-ish. It’s something Zooey Deschanel would say.

Unfortunately, it’s bullshit.

The truth is that my emotions have been more repressed than the Christian Right.

I knew I was shutting down but I didn’t know what to do about it. I wrote “What the fuck is wrong with me?!” in my diary, underlined it three times, paused, scribbled it out, stabbed myself in the hand with a pen, drew blood, went to the Emergency room, and cried. Then I pushed a few perfectly lovely gentlemen away, got accused of acting as if “men don’t have emotions”, chugged four bottles of quality red wine, watched reruns of The Office, and clawed at the screen like a wounded panther when Tim and Dawn finally kissed.

Most of that isn’t true.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a friend, where I passionately argued that no man truly wants love, that things began to crystallise. I think my exact words were: “Women want love. Men want sex. Every now and then they get love via the sex, but they never set out to find it.”

He stared at me. “You think that men don’t want to be loved?”

“Of course not.”

It was a statement that hung in the air, pathetic, like an overweight trapeze artist. My friend, being my friend, didn’t push it.

Now, fast forward a few months to a coffee date with my ex-husband.

Meeting him for coffee seemed like a terribly adult thing to do. I could describe it by using words like “closure” and “the positive processing of negative emotions”. I figured that we would bond, heal old wounds, and set a bimonthly coffee date for the foreseeable future. It was nice to see him again. He looked completely different, as, arguably, did I. We drank organic espresso at my favourite hipster-alleyway cafe in Parramatta and I sat, slightly bewildered as my closure turned into his pissing contest. For three hours I was held captive for the one-man show entitled “My life is so much better now that CC has left me”.

It amazed me that we had become completely different people, with completely different priorities, who had taken completely different paths. One of us now works sixty hours a week, he is obsessed with money. And cocaine. He chain smokes, drinks a bottle of red wine each night, seems determined to snort the Bolivian economy up his nose, and has become a rave aficionado. The other has stopped doing drugs, barely touches alcohol, runs, meditates daily, and has quit her job to live a pauper’s life from a backpack for the better part of a year. I began to think of the thread that once held us together, a thread that started as strong as Mithril but slowly frayed to oblivion. I stared at him, looking for something, anything. A connection, a spark, a fucking clue that I had shared seven years of my life with this man, that this bodacious raver dude was once my favourite human being in the world.

I got nothing.

It’s pertinent to say now that the reason I had shut down emotionally was a reaction to the end of my First Big Love. We all know the one- the love you feel before you become a hardened, cynical thirty-something. The one that you can experience without baggage. The love where you can make impulsive decisions because you can’t conceive that you will ever be dumped headfirst into the sand. Because you haven’t been truly broken, you soar a little bit higher. I don’t believe in ‘soulmates’- which is something I will talk about in tedious detail in part two- but I did think that I had found the human to stand beside for the rest of my foreseeable future.

The coffee ended with him asking me what my plans for the weekend were. I answered truthfully, “I’m still trying to save money, so they’ll involve copious amounts of green tea, Dylan Moran stand up comedy, and a couch, or makeshift fort of some description. You?”

“I’m getting on the piss tonight. Then I’ve got a party Saturday night. And we are drinking in the city on Sunday.”

If he was trying to make me feel like a loser he certainly succeeded. We bid farewell. That evening, I got a phone call from a friend. My ex had binge rang everybody he knew, desperately trying to find someone to get drunk with, if not Friday night, then Saturday or, in a pinch, Sunday. “He’s had to take a second mortgage out on the house, you know,” she added conspiratorially. “So much cocaine…”

I was sad. After everything we had been through, all that we had seen of each other, I’d like to think that if there was anyone that he didn’t have to wear the mask around, it would be me. Apparently not. I don’t care if he is a fantastical, cocaine snorting, Tony Montana type or a homebody who spends his time laying on an old brown couch with a hyperactive Jack Russell stretched across his belly, but he obviously does. Maybe he can’t take the mask off. Maybe sadness has moulded it to his features permanently and he has really become an ageing, yuppie raver. The only thing I can take from the coffee is that he’s not happy. That insecurity has taken root in his brain and grown like a weed. This makes me sadder than I’m comfortable admitting. Life throws things in your path that can make you or break you. It’s what it does. Your two options are: climb or wallow. That’s it.

I now know that I have walls around my lil’ heart, walls that I wish were shorter but walls that are manageable, nonetheless. That’s all any of us can do with our issues- don’t delude ourselves about their existence and learn to get by with them as best we can.

That coffee date was unequivocal proof that he was never the guy for me. We were left to our own devices for a year and became completely incompatible with each other. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that I can now relax the fortress a little bit because he was never a Big Love, but a blip. A blip that probably should have ended when he had a three month affair with a coltish bartender who had the doe-eyed awkwardness of Bambi walking on ice, but instead limped and blipped on for another three years. Maybe this means that I don’t have to look at every man who crosses my path through a prism of “How are you going to fuck me over and take away my freedom?” Maybe this means that I can put on my flip skirt and swish through the streets, singing softly under my breath and smelling apples in the marketplace, red lips curved into a Mona Lisa smile.

Me llamo CC

17 Sep

I’m about to spend eight months backpacking through South America.

So I’m trying to learn Spanish.

I illegally downloaded the Learn Spanish with Michel Thomas series and have been spending hours wandering through a nearby park with my iPod in, speaking badly accented espanol out loud as bewildered cyclists speed by. Occasionally they understand me, causing them to crash, spectacularly, into a deciduous tree when they realise that the young woman walking alone at dusk is proclaiming “I NEED IT NOW!” to the air around her. I gesticulate when I speak Spanish as well, who knows why. Maybe I don’t look ridiculous enough on a daily basis. I imagine that I look like this

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minus the beard. One does not simply speak Spanish in a park. One does not simply emit a bilingual double entendre at sunset. One does not simply use phrases like ‘one does not simply’ without obliquely referencing the meme it’s from.

Thanks to Mr Thomas I can be unleashed on another continent where I will point at people and exclaim things like tengo hambre! (I have hunger) quiero comer algo! (I want to eat something) quiero comer algo porque tengo hambre! (I want to eat something because I have hunger). It’s interesting that the phrases I can recall the easiest are those that bleat about the apparent lack of digesting food in my stomach- perhaps I am subconsciously preparing for travelling on a budget. I can also remember how to ask for “ANOTHER glass of wine, please”. I can’t even remember the words for ‘red’ or ‘white’, just wine. Any wine. All the wine. Bring me food and wine. And a serf. Pronto.

There is a part in the course where he teaches you “I have” and its derivatives. He then instructs you to say: “Don’t you have it for me now? But I need it! Why don’t you have it for me? It’s very urgent!”- a group of sentences that I cannot utter without the temptation to stamp my foot. I can now throw a tantrum in Spanish. I know how to complain- I can say that something is too expensive, too hot, too slow…I’m going to enter Colombia sounding like premenstrual Naomi Campbell. If only I could learn “Don’t you know who I am?!”

The only positive things I can say are “I want to buy something” and “I love you.” So if I’m in a restaurant:

Waiter: Are you enjoying your meal?

CC: I love you.

Until recently, the only way I knew how to ask for things was to say quiero which is “I want”. I want this. I want that. I’ll be like a bratty toddler. A fat American child with a fistful of dollar bills, gesticulating, clicking my fingers and ordering around scowling South American’s who cower before my Western might. Trying to come up with a slightly more polite way to ask for things, I opened Google Translate, playing with what little Spanish I know to see if I could figure out how to say “Could I have…?” Instead of “I want…!” I put what I imagined to be “Could I have a glass of water?” (puedo darme una vaso de agua) which translates to “I can give me a glass of water!” Exclamation point optional.

In Spanish, words ending in ‘ion’ and ‘ical’ are similar to their English equivalent with slightly different pronunciation. Therefore, I can also ask, “What impressions do you have of the political and economical situation in Spain at the moment?” How handy. This is a phrase that I don’t believe I have ever uttered in my native tongue, but, thanks to Mr Thomas, I will now be able to corner bewildered Peruvian men and grill them on their opinion of another countries fiscal policy. Since my Spanish is shaky at best, asking anyone that question would mean that I couldn’t understand their response, unless it involved the words wine, love, and hunger. So unless I’m asking about the economic climate of France, I’m screwed. Besides, assuming that I did manage to understand their opinion, what would I respond? I can barely hold down a political debate in English, the best I could offer in Spanish is, “My name is CC. The chicken is too slow. You look very expensive and I want to buy you today.”

Basic phrases elude me, and I wanted to learn a better way of parting ways with someone without resorting to the slightly melodramatic Hasta la vista. Don’t ask me why I’m so desperate to learn ‘goodbye’. I don’t know ‘the weather is nice today’, I don’t know ‘how old are you?’ but for some reason- out of the thousands of words in the English language- I’m worried about how to say ‘goodbye’. My conversational focus in Spanish is appears to be ‘I love you’ and ‘Goodbye’. Don’t analyse that too much. Anyway, I hit Google Translate again, typing in what little words I know, trying to see what I could come up with. I entered this:

Voy a la salida ahora

Which roughly translates to “I’m going to the exit now.”

What an amazing way to excuse yourself. I’m tempted to start using it in English. “Your party was fantastic, thank you so much for inviting me but I’m going to the exit now.”

I used to work in a hotel where we had a lot of Chinese tour groups stay, often on their way to the Blue Mountains, The Opera House, or any other place in Sydney that was not the suburban toilet that Eastern Creek was (is?). The language barrier was often hilarious. One woman came to the desk and asked for something in Chinese. I had no idea what. A koala? Food? Shelter? The first four Black Sabbath albums on vinyl? After some awkward back-and-forth, she eventually pantomimed brushing her teeth.

Unfortunately, she exaggerated her movements and I’m immature.

“Oh, you want to give a blow job? Hold on, I’ll just see if I can find someone…”

If there’s a hell, I’m going there.

But first, I’m going to the exit now.

Death’s Door

29 Aug

I nearly stepped on a dead bird the other night. I wasn’t paying attention. I had trudged downstairs into the cold to buy toothpaste,

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when I saw it laying headfirst in the corner of my apartment block. A magpie. It’s distinctive black and white tail still ruffling in the breeze. I did what any normal Sydneysider would: I grimaced, frowned at the minute inconvenience of an awkward sidestep, pulled my hood down over my forehead, and kept going.

My mind was elsewhere, you see. On a car. That I owned. That wasn’t selling.

Fuck the dead bird. I had finances to fret about.

For weeks, my car had sat, forlornly, on Carsales without a lick of interest- aside from the phishing scam that earned the acerbic response “I know this is a hoax and I hope you catch a particularly aggressive form of Chlamydia”- it appeared that nobody wanted to buy a 2001 Volkswagen Golf with electric sunroof, four new tyres, rego until November, call Casey for a…

And I needed to sell the damn thing to fund a large chunk of my upcoming backpacking trip.

After a stroke of inspiration that hit after one too many green teas, I fashioned a witty sign that would turn the car into an eye-catching advertisement on wheels: “FOR SALE- a car so deafeningly awesome that even Batman would drive it.”

Unfortunately, this didn’t work, either. A security guard misread it and accused me of racism (“You can’t say that even a black man would drive it! Give me your keys. This isn’t America. I’m taking the sign down.”), causing me to repeatedly shriek “Batman. BAT-man. Not BLACKMAN!”, my desperation inevitably making the situation exponentially worse (“I mean, come on, Batman isn’t even black…”), and now, long story short, I’m not welcome in Westfield Eastgardens anymore.

I was privately beginning to wonder if it would ever sell, so my thoughts were locked on hypothetical mathematics problems (“How many days would I have to exist without food in subtropical heat before selling my ass becomes a viable option?”) and wondering whether I would ever have to suck something for bus fare.

But, back to the bird. I returned, toothpaste in hand, to see two young nurses from my building staring intently at it.

Nothing on television, perhaps.

They clocked me approaching, waved, smiled, and pointed at the bird in a “fancy that” kind-of-way. Apparently, it was still alive. Don’t let the fact that it was lying, motionless, in a crumpled heap fool you. One of the girls saw it breathe earlier.

“How much earlier,” I wondered out loud. “Could it be a death rattle?”

She glared at me. No. It was not a death rattle. These two had put a combined six years of university training together to diagnose the bird with “sick”. Probably with bird-flu.

Boom tish.

The conversation morphed into awkward; the kind of stilted exchange that occurs when you are confronted with someone that you’ve swanned past on the stairwell for three months without acknowledgement. At some point, someone suggested that we ring WIRES to take care of the bird, the bird-flu joke was repeated on the off-chance that it would garner a laugh the second time around, and before I knew it, I was upstairs, mobile phone in hand, speaking to a reedy-voiced chap from WIRES. I addressed him with the clipped tones of someone who has better things to do- salami and coleslaw on rye, a chilled bottle of Beez Neez, a hot shower, and the latest trashy Alex Delaware thriller- while he spoke in the earnest tones of someone who gives a shit and wants to help.

“Have you contained it?”

“That’s not really necessary. It’s just lying there.”

Silence. “It’s not moving?”

“Apparently it’s breathing,” I volunteered optimistically.

“He sounds like he’s on his way out.”

“How do you know it’s a he?” I asked, intrigued.

“…Pardon?”

“It could be a ‘she’. Shouldn’t you play the pronoun game?”

Silence. Throat clear.

Tough crowd.

“Can you put him in a box?”

I grinned. “A pink one, or a blue one?

Pause. “Or a crate?”

“You mean a magpie casket, of sorts?”

Exasperated sigh. “Don’t you have anything to put him in?”

I glanced around my room, not overjoyed at the thought of sharing my battered blue suitcase with a potentially infectious bird. “Not really.”

“Can you wrap it in a towel, then?”

I looked at my washing basket. I really like those towels… “Um,” I began.

“You need to do something to keep it comfortable until tomorrow morning when we can send someone out-”

“Tomorrow morning? It’s probably going to be dead by then.”

“That’s why I’ve instructed them to give you a call before they come.”

Five minutes, two tea-towels and a battered mop bucket of unknown origin later, I was back downstairs. The bird was still breathing, completely motionless, and about to be put in a bucket that probably had residues of spew, semen and regret in it. Happy times. I apologised to Patient Zero in advance, picked up the tea-towel, and dithered, flapping my hands uselessly at the wrists.

I didn’t want to touch it.

I’d never picked up a sick bird.

…or a healthy one.

Or a newborn baby, come to think of it, and one seemed to be as unenticing as the other.

I scratched my jaw. Looked around. Put down the tea-towel. Crouched. Stood. Put a hand on my hip. Exhaled. Frowned. Stepped forward. Stepped back. Tapped my foot. Did the Hokey Pokey, and eventually threw the tea-towel back down on the bird, picking it up gently, wincing, relaxing when it didn’t move in my hands, and carefully laying it in the bucket.

Now what to do with it? I couldn’t put it inside- what if it died in the middle of the night? My neighbours would have to blithely troupe past a bucket filled with rotting bird (or ‘foul fowl’- HA!). The floors would be painted with acidic oceans of regurgitated coffee. And there was no way I was taking it upstairs to my flat. What if it perked up in the middle of the night only to peck my eyes out in a hilarious, Hitchcockian display of misplaced vengeance? Plus, having it up there meant that I could utter the phrase “I’ve shared my living space with a dying bird more recently than a healthy human male” without a trace of irony. No thanks.

Besides, there was no way it was going to last the night. I had done little more than indulge in some volunteer magpie palliative care. I didn’t have any sub-cut morphine to share, but I did have enough ammunition for a half-hearted blog post where the phrase “kick the bucket” could be worked in. So- not a total waste of time.

The following morning the rain woke me and, frightened that I had committed an innocent bird to slowly drown in a watery bucket of death like some ornithological Ivan Milat, I headed downstairs.

The damn thing was still alive.

Furthermore, at some point during the night he had been moved inside, transferred to a coloured blanket and- judging by the empty vial of Water For Injections beside him- nursed with small sips of sterilised fluid.

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He was wrapped like a baby, looking as blankly content as a sick bird could manage.

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Now, I’m not saying that this was excessive, but he certainly wouldn’t have received that level of care in the accommodation blocks down the street, and I began to wonder if there was a level of cunning in his choice to crash land where thirteen cooing, nurturing, Florence Nightingale types happened to live.

WIRES rang, informing me that they would be out at some point during the day, so I had my feathered patient until then. I found myself wandering up and down the steps, peeling back the blanket, checking on him like a fretting mother. As morning turned into afternoon, I reasoned that Patient Zero was getting closer and closer to travelling towards the big aviary in the sky, so I made some phone calls, eventually finding a bird hospice- Featherdale Wildlife Park. I spoke to The Birdman of Featherdale, actually using the phrase “I don’t think he’s going to make it” several times during the conversation. He chuckled, validated my completely misplaced feelings of affection for the bird, and told me to bring it down.

On the way, I indulged my penchant for the theatrical, slapping the steering wheel in impatience despite the complete lack of traffic on the road and indulging in a Turner and Hooch-style dialogue: “Don’t you die on me, man, don’t you die…just hold on…”

In response, the bird was silent, giving my awkward brand of humor a thoroughly unimpressed gaze:

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Still better conversation than my ex-boyfriend. Boom tish.

At Featherdale I learnt that I hadn’t saved a magpie at all. It was a Currawong. Apparently this is an easy mistake to make if you are either a) ignorant, or b) too entitled to educate yourself on the nuances of native Australian fauna, you spoiled, selfish little Sydneysider.

Still better conversation than my ex-boyfriend. Boom tish.

My Currawong friend was diagnosed with neurological damage. Together, The Birdman of Featherdale and I deduced that it had flown, headfirst, into the building, dropped like airplane flotsam from the sky and laid, twitching, on the ground. Here, a gaggle of ovulating empaths decided to bundle it up like a baby doll and play Mrs Doolittle.

The Birdman informed me that the level of neurological damage the bird had suffered meant that it couldn’t stand up.

In other words, I had driven a quadriplegic bird to a wildlife park on my day off.

The Birdman would see how it fared overnight, but if it was doing no better by tomorrow, it would be euthanised.

My shoulders slumped. The morning had been an exercise in futility. My new friend was ultimately going to be gassed like a holocaust victim before being hurled into an industrial bin out back, laying beside soiled nappies and half eaten Kids Club combo meals. The apartment blocks that I live in have a racial demographic that I affectionately call “Little Calcutta”, why couldn’t they contain an avian ‘Mother Theresa of Westmead’ who could work a miracle on a brain dead Currawong of unknown gender?

I shrugged. “At least he’s not starving to death in the rain.”

“If we can save him we will, but we won’t know until tomorrow.” He laid his hand on my shoulder. “You did the right thing, you know.”

Moments like this I curse the fact that I can’t keep a poker face. “It was just a dumb bird,” I pouted, toeing the ground like a petulant teenager, “As if I’d even care…”

He gave me a pointed look, his hand still on my shoulder. “I think you do care, CC. I think you do.”

Okay, so that part never happened.

An hour after I got back, I received a text message. Someone wanted to test drive my car. Half an hour later, I received another. The following day, another two.

I must have generated some good karma somewhere.

Skeptics will call that an Idea of Reference.

Airy fairy types will call it Synchronicity.

Quantum physicists will quibble that The Law of Attraction was a rad theory before Rhonda Byrne bastardised it in The Secret.

I just call it a cute way to kick the bucket on a blog post.