Men With Machetes, Bones With Souls, Mountains With Secrets

“Not even anthropologists or intellectuals, no matter how many books they have, can find out all our secrets.”
-Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Lake Izabal

Lake Izabal

„Are you afraid of death?” he asks me with the same intonation as if he is asking Do you like yellow flowers. I don’t know how to answer. My mouth becomes dry. „When you go to the graveyard, are you scared?” he clarifies.

„When I was a little girl, yes, I was scared of death and to go in graveyards, but now no. Now I am more afraid of the living than of the death.“ We both lough at the joke.

 

Hiking through the jungle

Hiking through the jungle

 

We are walking on a dirt road through a vast plantation of palm trees, the guy and me, past a palm-oil treatment plant, across a wide shallow river, and into the shadow of a jungle-covered mountain. Ivo, Joni, and the two other guys are walking ahead of us. We met them this morning. We don’t know their names. We don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys. All we know is that they are young indigenous Q’eqchi men who agreed to take us to a cave in the mountain above their village. They are wearing jeans, t-shirts and black rubber boots, carrying small backpacks and machetes.

 

Cutting a nut-like fruit called Monok from a spiky tree

Cutting a nut-like fruit called Monok from a spiky tree

 

The whole thing happened spontaneously. We were sailing along the remote edge of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake. It was getting late; we had to find a place to anchor overnight. We approached the shore where a big column of grey smoke was coming out of the forest: a village, we thought, and that’s where we stopped. From the boats we saw a few houses on the banks of the lake. Tiny, made of thin logs and roofs of dry palm leaves. Behind them, the heavy humid mountains of Sierra de las Minas: white limestone covered with thick intensely green jungle. The night fell.

In the morning the entire village gathered on the shore to meet our kayak. Caxclampon Pataxte is a small community of a few hundred indigenous Q’eqchi, mostly children. Tourists don’t stop here often, and so our visit is a huge event.

 

The people from the village greeting us

The people from the village greeting us

 

“Are there caves near-by?” I ask. Only a few speak Spanish.

„Yes, there is a cave not too far; we can take you there if you like.“ Thus begun our journey.

Once we enter the jungle and start climbing the mountain there is no road anymore. Our progress is slow and difficult. The guides use their machetes to cut a path through tangled vegetation and dig holes in the steep slopes making steps for us. The terrain is extremely harsh, at places seems impossible to pass.

 

Hiking

Ivo with one of the guides, hiking through the jungle

 

By the time we reach the cave, our guides tell us all about their struggles against the Colombian palm-oil company which, since over a decade now, is exploiting and polluting their land. The vast plantations of palm trees we have seen on our way, the smoke of the palm-oil treatment plant, the channels dumping chemical waste in the lake, are all killing the trees, poisoning the water, and bringing disease to their children. They have been robbed of their ancestral land by a corporate giant and are now fighting to get it back.

 

Road through the plantation

Road through the plantation

 

By the time we come back from the cave, we have become friends. The kind of friends who look out for each other and can count on each other. We could count on them for protection against the village crooks and the company people who saw us taking pictures and filming around the palm-oil treatment plant; they could count on us to tell their story of struggle against injustice.

 

Taking a break, sharing stories

Taking a break, sharing stories

 

We get to the cave’s entrance after about three hours of extreme hiking through the jungle. It is a small hole in the grey rocks leading down. The three guys stop at the edge of the hole to say a muffled prayer in Q’eqchi before going in. We follow. It is a place they rarely visit, they say, a sacred site for prayers and rituals; for secrets and secret knowledge. We are the first white people to ever enter this cave.

 

Saying a prayer in front of the cave entrance

Saying a prayer in front of the cave entrance

 

They lead us into a narrow dark corridor, humid and cool. We get to a chamber. The light of a small flashlight illuminates scattered objects on the floor: yellow bones, human skulls, lower jaws with crooked teeth. Some are calcified to the cave’s walls; others lay loose on the ground. It is a Tomba Maya, they explain, a Mayan burial ground. The skeletons must be hundreds of years old, they say, from the times before the Conquista.

 

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

 

Being in the presence of ancient Mayan remains is something both strange and beautiful. In the dark, my mind begins to wander. The cave with its breath of a carnivorous flower becomes a temple; I become a ghost from a faraway land.

“I am honored and deeply grateful, I whisper, to be here with you: men with machetes, bones with souls, mountains with secrets.”

 

Mayan remains inside the cave

Mayan remains inside the cave

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Waters with a Taste of Mountains.

„First the earth was created, the mountains and the valleys. The waterways were divided, their branches coursing among the mountains. Thus the waters were divided, revealing the great mountains. For thus was the creation of the earth, created then by Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth, as they are called. They were the first to conceive it.“

-Popol Vuh

River and Mountains

River and Mountains

 

Very gently, like a thief entering a sleeping house, the fairy Morgana slides through the gates of the mountain: the mouth of Rio Dulce. It is the entrance to another world. Rocky shores (temples without roofs) overgrown with dark trees. Dark trees (sorcerers with sleeping birds and snakes in the hair) stretching thin fingers down, down to the green waters of the river. Green waters of the river (messenger of the tallest mountain and forgotten places) carrying aromas and the petrified reflections of ancient gods.

 

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

 

Nothing happens. Like in a vacuum. Like in a dream. Rocky shores, dark trees, green waters of the river-serpent. Only forest butterflies, men of maize in cayucos carved from tree trunks fishing with nets made out of Mayan secrets, and our alien boat sailing through the mountains perturb the slumber of this enchanted world.

Nothing happens for three days and three nights. We remain anchored near Cayo Quemado, a few mile before the town of Rio Dulce, unable to continue, slowly letting Guatemala soak in our bones through our skins, through our eyes, ears, and mouths.

Our mornings are populated by crystal drizzle, the smell of small fires, and the cry of a black forest bird.

A silent cayuco sneaks next to our boat. A mother with three children older than time are selling tamales. She made them this morning over the fire, with her hands and her magic. She put a chicken bone for a skeleton in the middle of corn-rolls and wrapped them, like you would wrap a newborn baby, in palm leafs. Over the fire, under her spell. They taste of palm leafs, smoke and flesh.

 

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

 

Our afternoons move slowly in the heat of the summer and even stop for an hour or go backwards. Time here is not the same.

On the second day we meet the river people. Half human half fish they live in the river from the waist down and in the forest from the waist up. They have small wooden houses built on the river banks. Their canoes glide like snakes on the surface of the waters. They have no other roads but the rivers. Their enemies are the invisible river crabs.

 

River People's House

River People’s House

 

Our evenings are purple with white dots. Purple like the mountain. The white dots are river lilies and egrets returning to sleep in the trees.

 

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

Our nights are filled with the distant songs of frogs and cicadas, and the melancholic cries of the river manatees.

 

Sunset over Rio Dulce

Sunset over Rio Dulce

 

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Cuba: An Introduction

Esto No Es Cuba

 

For years we dreamed of visiting and exploring Cuba. Starting in Havana with its rich cultural and historical heritage, we were planning to travel in the interior of the country as well and see authentic Cuban life in rural villages, away from the big city and the touristic resorts. This plan didn’t work for various reasons.

Before sailing to Cuba, I read a thick book: Anderson’s Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life and I couldn’t help but admire Fidel Castro’s struggle against military dictator Batista and Imperial America’s interests and presence in Cuba in the 1950-s. Castro, Che Guevara and a  handful of rebeldes hiding in la Sierra Maestra started a movement that grew and spread and sparked a full scale revolution which overthrew an unjust cruel regime and implemented social and agrarian reforms in the early 1960-s. To us the Cuban Revolution, like the French Revolution (and any other revolution) was, and still is, the greatest event in any country’s history.

Che Guevara graffiti on a wall in Havana

Che Guevara graffiti on a wall in Havana

 

In Cuba, we were expecting to find „the accidental eden„: a country small and isolated but independent and dignified; a land unspoiled by big industry where all crops are organic and the food is healthy; a defiant welcoming people that stood undefeated and proud so close to an imperial giant. We wanted to show to our children that an alternative is possible and can work for an entire nation. An alternative to capitalism, consumerism, globalization; a whole different system organized around principals of equality and simplicity, where people were not reach in possessions but nevertheless educated, healthy, and happy.

We didn’t find that country and our romantic expectations all burst into pieces in just a few days.

Instead, we found a ruined place with building crumbling over their residents and streets resembling war trenches; dirty stores with almost no merchandise inside; people begging for a dollar or a T-shirt or a roll of toilet paper or anything at all, with tears in their eyes and no pride left in them, cheating, stealing and prostituting themselves to survive another day full of incomprehensible misery, afraid to speak out their indignation; a dysfunctional system that has abandoned its citizens in deplorable state to fend for themselves; and a government implementing its rule with police force, propaganda and cruel restrictions to basic human rights.

 

A street in Havana

A street in Havana

We arrived in Havana on July 24, just in time for the big national holiday: the anniversary of the Moncada assault 26 de Julio, but we didn’t see any organized celebrations and festivities.

The first Cubans we met were the immigration and border officers, a doctor, the dock masters, and a drug dog who one by one boarded our boat upon arrival. They all, except the dog, asked for propina (a tip) in a way we couldn’t refuse. One guy even returned our five dollar bill and said he couldn’t accept less than twenty… They also „liked“ our big garlic which they spotted in the galley and of course took some of it. This unpleasant situation lasted for a few stressful hours. One by one various officials boarded Fata Morgana and extorted American dollars from us. And this is the „normal“ procedure for all boats arriving in Cuba.

In the next few days we met more Cubans. We noticed that those who were corrupted like the border officials, or those who had relatives in America sending them money and things, managed somehow to live comfortably, but the ones who were trying to lead more honest life and had no relatives outside of the country,  lived in complete misery, even though employed.

The Cuban doctors, teachers, drivers, janitors all receive a ridiculous state salary, the equivalent of about 10 to 20 US dollars per month which cannot cover basic expenses like food, electricity bill, water. And pensions are even less.

 

Tita, 82 and Roberto, 83 in their downtown Havana apartment. Both retired. To survive, they collect fresh water and boil it at night, selling it in plastic bottles to neighbors the next day. ( The municipal water in Havana is dangerous to drink if not boiled)

Tita, 82 and Roberto, 83 in their downtown Havana apartment. Both retired. Tita’s pension is about $ 8 per month. To survive, they collect fresh water and boil it at night, selling it in plastic bottles to neighbors the next day. ( The municipal water in Havana is dangerous to drink if not boiled)

In Cuba, there are two currencies: the Cuban peso for the Cubans and the convertible peso (CUC) for the tourists, which complicates the crippled economy further and is insulting for the population. The convertible peso’s value is almost the same as the US dollar. 1 CUC costs 24 Cuban pesos. There is also food stamps for the population (as if the entire population is underprivileged or in a state of emergency, which they pretty much are). This is the only country in the world that distributes food stamps to its citizens outside wartime, which get them a small ratio of basic products like rice, beens, eggs (if there is any),flower, sugar, and salt but this is not enough to get by. And they cannot afford anything „fancier“. A bottle of 1.5L orange juice costs 1.5 CUC. One beer is 1 CUC. One bread is 3 CUC. So they are pushed to resort to alternative ways of providing for the family.

A truck driver makes about 360 pesos or 15 CUC per month. So, he will steal the truck’s fuel and sell it, as well as most of the load, property of the state. Thus, often, the goods don’t get to the stores and nobody wonders why. A construction worker makes about the same salary as the truck driver. So he will steal construction materials and sell them. Thus, buildings and roads are falling apart often killing residents, the whole infrastructure is crumbling, and nobody wonders why.

 

We tried to find and buy bread. This is the local panaderia, bakery. All they had was galletas, dried hard bread.

We tried to find and buy bread. This is the local panaderia, bakery. All they had was galletas, dried hard bread.

But if Cuban people today are stealing and cheating and prostituting themselves, it is because they are pushed to do so in order to survive, not because they are inherently bad. It is the last consequence in a chain of consequences. And in the base of the chain is, with no doubt, the American embargo.

In the years after the Revolution, as a response to a massive nationalization of American business and assets in Cuba, United States placed an embargo which prevents American companies from dealing with Cuba, as well as US citizens from traveling  to Cuba. It also sanctions non-US corporations trading with Cuba. Thus, during the Cold War, Cuba’s economic survival mainly depended on trade and assistance from the Soviet Union. But after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, Cuba was left hanging in thin air, alone. And the US embargo is still on.

 

A Cuban Girl

A Cuban Girl

The embargo is cruel, unjust, hypocritical, and simply ridiculous. Its stated reason for still being in effect after half a century is the lack of democracy and human rights in Cuba. At the same time, USA has supported and even helped to implement cruel dictator’s regimes in the region: Pinochet in Chile, a bunch of dictators in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and many many others. Instead of helping to liberate the Cuban people from communist oppression, the embargo is causing poverty, famine, and suffering among the population.

But the embargo is not the only reason for the present malfunction of the communist regime in Cuba.

In such a deplorable economical state of affairs, a political system based on principals of „equality“ cannot function at all. Pretty much everyone is „equally“ poor. And in such an environment corruption on all levels easily takes root. The entire communist idea, the principals of the Revolution, got corrupted long ago and today the poor Cubans we met are placing the blame for their dire situation entirely on the Cuban government who seams has abandoned them, or more precisely, keeps them as slaves. „What do you think needs to be done?“, I asked a man (whose name I cannot mention here) after he invited me in his house with dirt floors and no windows which he shares with his daughter and four grand children, to show me how Cubans live so that I can show the world. Getting very close to my face, with an intense look, he answered: “ Fusillar a Castro“ (Shoot Castro).

A poor Cuban household in Jaimanitas, near Havana

A poor Cuban household in Jaimanitas, near Havana

Later that day we witnessed an arrest further down the street in Jaimanita, a small village near Havana where marina Hemingway is. An army jeep full of soldiers quickly appeared and  stopped in front of a house and all people walking up and down the street suddenly disappeared. The soldiers ran in the house and pulled out four middle aged men with handcuffs. Someone explained to us, the arrested were organizing something against the government, but one of the many „chivatos“ (traitors) who are all over the place betrayed them. We don’t know what happened to those men.

It is evident that a great change is needed for Cuba, if not a new Revolution, and fast. The country, like a small ship that has sailed a long way across storms and sharp rocks, is now sinking, but the captain is not letting an SOS signal keeping the passengers away from the life-rafts. And on the American ship, a humongous cruise boat near by, people are watching the spectacle and having a party.

 

A Cuban Man

A Cuban Man

 

 

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Dry Tortugas

 

 

 

The time has come to sail away. Leave Key West and start visiting other places.

First destination: Cuba with a short stop in Dry Tortugas.

 

July 19, 7:00 am, Friday, we leave our Key West anchorage and head west. From here to Dry Tortugas are about 70 miles. Light wind (about 10 knots) is pushing us from the east. We are not going very fast, 5 to 6 nautical miles per hour, but we are not in a hurry and after 3 jibes and 14 hours of uneventful sailing we enter a marine sanctuary comprising seven uninhabited undeveloped coral and sand islands: Dry Tortugas.

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Garden Key

Explorer Ponce de Leon originally named the area Las Tortugas (Turtles) in 1513 for the shores of the islands were (and still are) favorite nesting grounds for sea turtles. Soon after, as ships started cruising these waters, the place became known as Dry Tortugas to mariners indicating that there ins’t fresh water on the islands.

The Lighthouse on top of Fort Jefferson

The Lighthouse on top of Fort Jefferson

It is already dark when we drop anchor in the anchorage next to Garden Key, a small island entirely occupied by Fort Jefferson: an impressive 19th century fort. This must be the most dramatic anchorage just outside the massive abandoned monster of a building.

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Fort Jefferson

The steps leading up and down the 2 levels of the fort and the roof

The steps leading up and down the 2 levels of the fort and the roof

 

The story of Fort Jefferson is as pathetic as it is fascinating. The Americans begun its construction in 1846 and the idea was to build a military fort and thus control navigation in  the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty years later, as the fort was still unfinished, it became evident that the construction was a failure.

Maya, Ivo, and Vick looking out from Fort Jefferson

Maya, Ivo, and Vick looking out from Fort Jefferson

Too many things went wrong mainly because of the lack of drinking water: the water tanks collecting rainwater failed, the iron corrugated, the bricks crumbled, the sewage system didn’t work, the workers became sick having to drink mosquito larva infested semi-salty water. Nature defeated man.

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From the top looking down

Looking out a broken window

Looking out a broken window

 

Still, Fort Jefferson was put to use during the Civil War as a Union military prison for deserters. It housed the four men convicted of complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln including doctor Samuel Mudd. By 1880s, the American Army abandoned the project and in 1908 the area became a wildlife refuge; a National Monument in 1935; and a National Park and Sanctuary in 1992.

 

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Inside the abandoned fort

The next two days we explore the fort in and outside as well as the island kayaking from our boat to shore.

Viktor "pushing" Maya off the roof of the fort

Viktor „pushing“ Maya off the roof of the fort

The building is enormous, we didn’t expect this. We roam for hours through its dark humid corridors and chambers imagining life in those times. We go there in the morning and in the afternoon, when all the day tourists arriving from Key West packed  in a motor boat for a four-hour guided tour are gone.

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Running around Fort Jefferson

At this point, we hate those tourist crowds so much, we keep as far as possible, as if they were diseased cockroaches. I believe tourism has spoiled so many once remote natural wonders and historic sites transforming them into ridiculous crowded polluted money-making resorts and attractions.

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At least, they don’t play loud music and serve alcohol in Fort Jefferson, no disco clubs and casinos here. I hope they will never transform part of the fort into a hotel, but at this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do… For now, there is only the anchorage where boats can stay overnight and a small camping ground on the island with a few tent sites.

Getting to Fort Jefferson by kayak.

Getting to Fort Jefferson by kayak.

The only permanent residents here are various seabirds, billions and billions of hermit crabs with fancy shells, and a sea crocodile who comes out of the ocean before sunset to slumber on the hot sands of the deserted beach.

Sea birds resting on our boat

Sea birds resting on our boat

Mira with a hermit crab

Mira with a hermit crab

A sea crocodile on the beach at sunset

A sea crocodile on the beach at sunset

close up of the crock running back in the water

close up of the crock running back in the water

 

On the third day, we lift anchor (no motor on) and we sail very carefully among coral reefs for about two hours to the next  island, Loggerhead Key, where a tall lighthouse stays erected amidst a patch of palm trees surrounded by sandy beaches. Here, we spend a day and a night. And something incredible happens, it must be karma… You won’t believe it!

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse

 

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Boat Punk Mash-Up

The following is a collage of recorded conversations and personal written reflections, and an attempt to reveal (maybe this is not the right word) who, what, why, when, and how of the relatively recent Boat Punk phenomenon. These are the stories and thoughts of Rebecca, Cherri, Ryan, Tyler, Tony, and Stacie: the Boat Punks in Key West, mashed up in one piece. I collected their written and oral accounts and took the liberty and huge responsibility to slice the individual stories and collage them in a way to create a collective piece that would pertain to the entire gang, a piece all can relate to. Even though I have been very careful, individual passages have been taken out of context to produce a somewhat universal but nevertheless altered meaning. 

–Mira

BOAT PUNK MASH UP

by Rebecca, Cherri, Ryan, Stacie, Tony, and Tyler

 

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Met up with friends Sunday and hatched those rafting plans I mentioned with a couple close friends over drinks that very night. Yesterday we visited some places and found beginning flotation and building supplies, and today I found a place next to a boat ramp where we can build and launch the framework for free!

You can call me a boat punk and I can tell you what I’m thinking right now.  

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As I write this, I’m sitting in the cockpit of my private yacht, my own personal ship, floating in a sea of turquoise, beneath a sky of stars. 

The process of transferring our hopes and dreams, our whispered fantasies, from the realm of the imagined and intangible to the concrete and lickable world of truth is one of the most fascinating processes available to the human experience, in my perception. The amount of roadblocks, obstacles and governors we place between our dreams and our realities is another concept I have been masticating for months. From what I can see, from my frontal lobe experience, it is possible to achieve your dreams. I just did it.

I have an oven to bake bread in; I have a cooler to keep beer cold, a liquor shelf, and a toilet. I have a bed (10 of them in fact). I have the table I’m sitting at with a computer plugged in and hot coffee at my side.  I have a fishing pole and a small BBQ that I can use at the same time while listening to my favorite music.  I have a library and a bike shop, and a backyard fenced in by over a million miles of coast line where my neighbors are interesting and the crime rate is almost nonexistent.  I have a wall to hang art and another to hang my hat.  And all this for the arguable sum of nothing.

I realized I didn’t want to live like normal people when I was a little kid.

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I had so many questions. I went to Sunday School. I had to read the bible, but I didn’t understand. I wanted to ask questions. How did this happen? How did that happen? They couldn’t answer my questions! Like the Noah’s Ark thing, that was a huge deal. They were teaching me Lord of the Rings type of stuff and I wanted to know like how the fuck this magic shit happen? They couldn’t answer me! They couldn’t answer me! And even when I was 6 years old I could still put two and two together. You got two animals of each on the arch. Forty days and forty nights, all you gonna have left at the end is lions and tigers. And also there is like you know one hundred thousand different kinds of ants and they live communally… That just doesn’t work! It’s fake, it’s thought to kids, it’s fucking…you know…and don’t bring up dinosaurs. So I got kicked out of Sunday school for not asking the right questions. And my parents were very, very upset.

There is an unrest forming, a casually brewing system of frustration, present amongst many of the finest people I have the joy of being connected to in my life. It is a storm of confusion, of anger and resentment, for the prevailing public standard in America. For the way many people raise their children, for the fog that exists in the minds and the eyes of the tourists we see bumbling through the streets on a daily basis, for the midwesterners drowning in our seas because, at the age of forty, they have never swam in the ocean, for the boy scouts who come to our schooner’s to learn of the sea who’s hands are lilly soft, for the mothers in the parks who warn their children of the inherent dangers of the sand beneath their child’s feet at the playground, frantically dressing them with fresh, thick socks, a filter for the evils of dirt and potential pain, for the war veterans we take into our homes to avoid their slow death on the sidewalks of our finest cities and the dreamy teenagers who volunteer on our properties, lacking the taught skills or motivation to wield a hammer or drive a plow, entrenched in their personal sagas, lost in a dreamland of television, nutritionally defunct meals, apathy, fear and misplaced ideals. 

It’s all very interesting.

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When I was in high school I said I wanted to be an ex-patriot as I grow up. I got suspended for three days.

When I was in high school I was an outcast. My neighbors were my only friends. They were much older than me and they were Punks. They were the only friends I had. They would take me to Punk shows. It was the only time I felt cool, it was the only time I felt accepted. I was fortunate enough to have this outlet because I didn’t fit in the school at all. So I started going to Punk shows. And I realized: Punk music caries a message. I got the message. 

It’s so strange…even some of my earliest memories were listening to music. I remember sitting in the driveway, someone working on their car, listening to music. And I was listening to the lyrics of the music realizing that they are saying something. And just like that, the whole discovery. Wow! Tripped me out, dude. This one memory I’m saying, the song was I can see for miles and miles by The Who, an old classic rock. Then I kind of looked out and I was sort of like, Wait, I could see for miles and miles too! It was like a weird revelation.

In my personal realm, I am on the reaping end of a dream I have been sowing for months. Post the „completion“ of a nearly eight month long, filth infested restoration of the boat on which I now rest, write and create art, I’m reflecting on a process that reminded me of the values I intend to place upon my own life and instilled in me a brand of astonishment that is reserved for the people who have a vision and possess the fortitude, both mentally and physically, to apply the strength, dedication and patience necessary to reap fruition in a tangible sense.

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I got a skateboard as a kid. That was really sort of cutting edge back then. Now every kid has a skateboard but back then not a lot of people had a skateboard. And, you know, getting into skateboarding writing graffiti, hanging out with punk kids and stuff, I started getting into Punk Rock. And I started listening to this old Sex Pistols type of Punk Rock and stuff. It was cool ‘cause you could say SEX pistols without getting in trouble. I was about 9 or 10.

Then there was this alternative college radio station It was on the Fridays nights and it would go till like 4 in the morning and it was called the bottom 40. They would play mostly Punk music and shit like hat. I remember staying up listening to songs and I would record some things. I always wanted shit that was fast, I needed something Punk but fast and they played this Bad Brain song and that fucking changed my life, it was fast as fuck, the fastest music I ever heard, dude. That was my influence right there.

At that point I kind of knew what anarchy was just being a skater, there were anarchy signs on everything. And when you research the bands and learn where they come from really influences you.

Ryan

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I suppose though I’m unsure whether I fit into the [Boat Punk] piece, as I’m at most a fringe-boat punker–there because of the situation. Many would never consider me ‘punk’. I never wore the right studded pants or collected the right audio cassettes. For me punk meant screwing the normal assumptions, roles, and attitudes pushed upon us by society. It meant doing something different and working, in whatever small way, for a world that could be something different. The people I think of as punk are radically different from what most might visually and aesthetically think of as punk. While part of me was on Rocksteady because of Tyler, another part was there because I believed in a boat that offered inspiration and a website (www.boatpunk.com) that offered collaboration.

Punk is no more an expression of freedom as claiming a national or spiritual identity.  It’s common to point out all the black cloths and tattoos and the shinny things in the face.  It may be true that we all look the same, which is a two way street that, in my mind, is just a wash at best. Probably like cowboys, businessmen and gangsta’s, the dress and hangout spots filter out people with strongly opposing characteristic values.  I’v never been to prison but I don’t imagine on the first day you walk around introducing yourself to every single person you see and discuss the potential benefits of acquaintanceship. If I had a swastika on my face I think I would try to get to that side of the room as quickly as I could.  On one hand a marked punk can walk into any city in the world, find the other punks and be in good hands, on the other hand I’ve been cornered by some jock who has me totally confused with some other black shirt tattooed kid that threw a bottle at him the night before. Or upon walking into a store for the first time in my life only to have some manager escort me out reminding me that just last week I had been banished for life.  And I know there are people out there who have paid heavily for my own shenanigans. Like I said the looks part is a wash.  Below and within that, however, exists camaraderie in a community that is strong and free.  Though widely varying philosophies and practices surface, networking and moral support persevere in creating a bond of unity where d.i.y. (do-it-yourself) becomes d.i.t. (do-it-together).   

Community is: everybody takes care of each other. And it’s really important. It’s kind of like here, you know. If you guys need anything you call us, or we hail you guys. Like if we need a dinghy ride. Everybody working together to create a community.

I lived in the Slabs for 14 months and I made moccasins. I made a little community camp, and did little acoustic night and all this shit. And that’s what I did.

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I was dating a girl at a time and she lived in LA and she took me to Slab City. We just stayed for like a weekend. But I felt in love with the place. And I didn’t go back till 6 years later. I was touring with a Punk band and all this stuff, so…but in the back of my mind I knew the band wasn’t gonna last forever and I knew I didn’t want to work, pay rent: I didn’t want to do all that stuff, you know what I mean, it just didn’t feel right to me. So after the band broke off I went to Slab City. And Slab City is a giant community in the very essence of the word. In the Slabs there’s gardens, and there’s libraries, music and arts and everything, and you don’t get this anywhere else. There is for sure a dark side to it. The thing about the Slabs is, you either want to live there or you have to.  Because, you know, some people have no place else where to go. Whether they have a warrant or they are running from the law or whatever. So it’s like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. All these crazy people. I’ve seen giant mansions made out of trash. I mean, nicer than any Hilton that you can stay in. Some of these people have been there for 40 years. Oh my god, I met so many cool people there: Builder Bill, New York Mike… I want to go back, I miss it right now…

And then I got this idea to buy a sailboat and I did that. I got the idea because of this documentary called Hold Fast. It was this punk guy and two girls, they bought this boat and filmed their experience. Kind of crappy filming but super awesome. Full inspiration. And I was in the Slabs. I was gonna stay there but I decided I still had some adventure left in me. So I watched this documentary and it just filled me with zeal. And I was just like Fuck this. I got out of the desert and I got me a sailboat. From the desert to the ocean.

I tried living on land and I hated it; it’s very expensive. So I ended up buying my own boat which was the most exciting day of my life. I know she doesn’t look much to anybody else but me but I think she is beautiful. So that’s how I ended up down here. It’s been quite the adventure for sure. A learning experience. I was really scared at first. Now I am completely comfortable.

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I always wanted a home for myself. But I am a traveler. A house, you always have to go back to. So, I figured a boat will be perfect. I am almost turning 40 and finally have a home of my own. A home I can travel with anywhere in the world. I really like the freedom of it, travelling, and self-sufficiency. Plus, it is free to travel using the elements. And that is amazing for me. Humans have been doing this for centuries and we lost it.

I believe it is important to live a life intimately connected to the rhythms of the natural world–one who’s daily processes are affected by earthbound realities like wind, rain and tide. The loss of connection to the natural world is destroying our humanity.

I like being immersed in science and facing the challenge of adapting to it by way of education and experiment.  I like being reminded that being human is nothing in comparison to nature as a whole and that an interest in self preservation is nothing more than that.  I like living almost off grid and only very near an overly structured society.  I like seeing the fruits of my labor very directly providing a sustainable freedom of travel.  I like the gleam of wanderlust in the eye’s of the dreamers.    

I think the most important thing we can continue to do is act on our wildest dreams. To stay true to ourselves and our intentions. To laugh loudly and create blindly. It is a fucked up global situation. We’ve made some pretty big mistakes, as a species, and I wouldn’t be surprised if momma Earth decides any moment now she’d like to wipe the slate clean and start again. I’m easily convinced of this potentiality every time I saunter down Duval Street and watch a fraternity boy in American flag print swimming trunks chuck a full can of beer across the street at noon on the 3rd of July, drunkenly screaming „YOLO!!“ and then pointing a series of gyrating pelvic thrusts in the direction of the guy he just creamed, who is now crying. Or many of the more subtle examples of mistreatment that you can see every day if you chose to seek them out. What, exactly, defines our culture’s definition of „crazy?“ 

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The other day, I got these worms, I call them burn worms. I thought they’d be great bait. Got them under the rocks. Giant worms! And I grabbed them and they burned the shit on my hands. So I looked them up online and they are called bearded fire worms. Here you go, there is the name!

I love critters, I love nature, I love checking all that shit out. I think it’s really important that everybody knows about how everything lives and its little spot in the environment, and how little it takes to destroy it…But people are ignoring that. I try not to get depressed about it…

Still, a lot of kids are getting around now, caring about the environment and all that stuff. I think that it’s really good for the kids to know ‘cus if they all band together can get pretty cool. When I was a kid I felt I could do more about it, but there is not much you can do as a single person, you can just do your part… As I get older I’m getting a little more bitter and angrier about it. I think animals are more important than people. But I think it’s up to people to protect them.

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Personally, I am reacting to my own disgust by concentrating on building a life for myself that I believe in, the type of life that, if more people chose, would generate a better world. I have only been back on the water for a week–a week that has rekindled truths I am, personally, consistently guilty of forgetting about. It has been a wild week–consistent high winds with numerous passing gales possessive of headwinds over 30 knots, some gusting upwards of fifty. She has not been a particularly gentle teacher, aside from when I float in her relatively still waters during a warm tropical rain, an hour of respite between the winds. These are the lessons the sea taught me this week:

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(the end)

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The Wreckers

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The Wreckers by Rush

 

The breakers roar
On an unseen shore
In the teeth of a hurricane
Oh, we struggle in vain
A hellish night
A ghostly light
Appears through the driving rain
Salvation in a human chain
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All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
‘Cause sometimes the target is you
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Driven to ground
With a helpful sound
Drowned by the cheer from the shore
Oh, we wonder what for
The people swarm
Through the darkening storm
Gather everything they can score
‘Til their backs won’t bear any more
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All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
‘Cause sometimes the target is you
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Key West’s Geology

Lying in shallow tropical seas, a long and disordered chain of islands, the Florida Keys, stretches between the southernmost point of Florida’s mainland and Dry Tortugas. Alongside, submerged in turquoise waters and hidden from view, run the corral reefs: a 200 miles (320 kilometres) of underwater wilderness just a few feet bellow the surface. Beyond the reefs, a busy ocean highway flows, a major shipping route: The Gulf Stream.

How many absent-minded ships carried by winds and powerful currents have diverted from their route in the uncertainness of night to slit their bellies open upon the shallow  underwaters? Countless.

For them- disaster.

For local wreckers- booty.

A Short History of Key Wet’s Wreckers

It’s been going on for centuries, since ships started sailing in these waters: a wreck per week. For centuries, rootless islanders have been awaiting  unaware vessels to run aground, sometimes luring them towards the shallows with deceiving lights.

When an elephant falls, a hundred hyenas rush to the carcass,devour it, fight for a chunk.

The wreckers would anchor behind mangrove islands at night and patrol the dangerous waters during the day looking for stranded vessels to pillage. The first wrecking captain to reach a crushed ship would became the wreck master. He would employ as many wreckers as he needed to help salvage the ship, and direct the whole operation.

The salvaged cargo and the ship, if it could be saved, were taken to Key West where they were appraised or auctioned. The wrecking vessels and crews that participated in the operations would then be awarded a share of the salvage value. Half of the salvage award went to the owners of the wrecking vessels, divided among the boats on a tonnage basis. The other half went to the wrecker crews, proportional to the number of crewmen on each vessel.

Thus, by the mid 19 century wrecking, regulated, became one of the main industries in the region, along with piracy, drug trafficking, smuggling, and other shady activities.

Recent Wrecking Events

Tyler calls on the VHF and tells us of a recent wreck. A sailboat has ran aground and has been abandoned. What exactly has happened and why is a mystery. So are the identity and the whereabouts of the boat’s owner. We decide to go check it out.

The wreck is near Stock Island, a few miles away from our anchorage, and we get there sailing aboard Fata Morgana in a couple of hours. With us are Tyler and Tony. We get to the site in the afternoon and drop anchor away from the shallows using our dinghy to get to the wrecked vessel.

The crippled boat is leaning on its starboard side, the tip of its mast pointing towards the sunset. Its insides are a dark mess half full of water and green liquids. It must have been a slow painful death. There is a yellow note from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement explaining: Vessel aground. No sails. Abandoned. No apparent value. Open to elements. We, Tyler, Tony, Ivo and Mira, thereupon name ourselves The Elements, pumped up with adrenalin, and proceed to scavenging the wreck, working with screwdrivers and hummers, taking anything that looks useful.

We get a bunch of valuable stuff, we have to do two dinghy rides to bring them to Fata.

The boat is stripped of most of its valuables before the night falls and we are going back to our anchorage in Key West to split the goodies.

Approaching the wreck

Approaching the wreck

Boarding the wreck Ivo and Tony

Boarding the wreck
Ivo and Tony

Inside the Wreck Tyler and Ivo

Inside the Wreck
Tyler and Ivo

Green diesel water inside the wreck

Green diesel water inside the wreck

Notice

Notice

 

Grabbing stuff Tyler

Grabbing stuff
Tyler

Inside Mira

Inside the wreck
Mira

Ivo finds the American Flag

Ivo finds the American Flag

Smoke break  Tony and Tyler

Smoke break
Tony and Tyler

Bathroom break Ivo

Bathroom break
Ivo

Tony's new anchor chain

Tony’s new anchor chain

 

Back at Fata Morgana Tyler and Tony

Back at Fata Morgana
Tyler and Tony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClbE019cLNI

 

 

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Peter the Sailmaker

On one of our first time sailing aboard Fata Morgana, the headsail gets a bit torn on the edge where the sun cover is while furling it. This means we have two options: buying a new jib or repairing the old. Both options involve spending money which is the last thing we want to do.

We research in the Internet and it turns out that a new jib for our boat costs about $ 3,000 and a used one could be somewhere between $500 and  $1,000. There is a sailmaker in Stock Island, and we bike there to see if he has any adequate used sails and get a quote for a new jib or for repairs. His name is Peter and it looks like he is the only sailmaker in Key West because everyone recommends him.

Peter inspects the jib and tells us the thread on the suncover is burned and needs to be restitched, which is normal, and that the canvass is still good. He can repair it for about $250. Sounds better than buying a new or a used sail.

Peter

Peter

We tell Peter that we are “on a budget” and that we could work and help him if this will bring the price down. Turns out, he has an old wooden sign to be repaired and he hires us to do the job, Ivo will do the woodwork and I will do the artwork. He will repair our sail and we will repair his sign, no money involved. Barter. How cool is this!

Barter is a system of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money… Barter usually replaces money as the method of exchange in times of monetary crisis, such as when the currency may be either unstable (e.g., hyperinflation or deflationary spiral) or simply unavailable for conducting commerce. [From Wikipedia]

I think barter is a better micro economic system of exchange as it creates relationships and is a lot more satisfying and ultimately creates a sense of community where people interact with one another helping each other using their particular skills on friendly basis. Plus, it is a better option for people low on cash or who don’t want to deal with cash, like us. From now on, we will try to do this as much as possible.

Mira and Peter working on a sail in Peter's loft

Mira and Peter working on a sail in Peter’s loft

The next week we spend at Peter’s loft listening to some good old blues songs, helping to remove the old stitches from the suncover and fixing the sign while he sits behind his sawing machine and works on our jib. We like Peter who is all about adventure and sailing, a bit of an anarchist like ourselves. In the past, he and his late wife have organized and participated in regattas and races to Cuba many times.

Ivo repairs Peter's wooden sign

Ivo repairs Peter’s wooden sign

Thus, we not only had our jib fixed without spending money, but we also learned a lot about fixing sails. Also, we made a new good friend who is also a good sailor and who enjoyed snorkelling and sailing with us on Fata Morgana, teaching us valuable tricks about tacking with a catamaran, for example. I suspect, we will go out sailing and snorkelling some more while we are still in Key West, Florida, plus, we will probably make a dodger for our boat with Peter’s help, we’ll see about this.

The sign is ready

The sign is ready

Thank you Peter!

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Ninety Percent Chance of Showers

We are now anchored north of Fleming Key Florida, a 5 minute dinghy ride away from Key West downtown. There are hundreds of boats anchored out here. It’s free and you can stay indefinitely. We are still doing repairs on the boat, still waiting for parts we have ordered, so we will be here for a few weeks. We have to fix the starboard engine, we need a longer chain for the anchor, and we have to deal with the headsail: either buy a new jib or have the old one re-stitched.

Every day here in Key West is beautiful: either a beautiful sunny day or a beautiful rainy day. There are tons of things to do when it is sunny: sailing, fishing, snorkeling, hanging out with friends, bicycling or walking around town. When it is rainy, there are things to do as well, things you can’t do when it is sunny.

Here is what you can do when it rains (and if you can think of other things-to-do-in-the-rain, please let us know in the comment box bellow):

  1. Give the boat a nice scrub, especially if she has spent the past two months in a filthy boatyard;
  2. Collect rainwater to fill your freshwater tanks;
  3. Ride a bike and get soaked, but feel happy;
  4. Take a shower.

Freshwater shower is a luxury for people of our lifestyle and so an opportunity like this (a free and abundant downpour) needs to be grabbed and enjoyed.

Ivo and Vick taking a rain shower.

Ivo and Vick taking a rain shower.

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Maya collecting rain water.

Maya collecting rain water.

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The Solar Ark

„The overriding goal is to get away from the notion of ‘waste’ – everything natural is food for somebody or something, and therefore a resource.“

– ARVO

Close your eyes and imagine a place:

A mountain desert. Harsh climate. Desolate landscape.

But that is not the place you had to imagine, I’m sorry. Go back, and close your eyes again, and imagine a different place:

In the mountain desert, amidst the desolate landscape, surrounded by beautiful highlands, imagine an oasis. But don’t imagine the typical boring clishe, the one with the small lake in the middle and two palm trees, please. The one I am asking you to envision is much much more complicated and will take a lot more effort and ingenuity from the part of your imagination. But I’ll help you, don’t panic. Here are some of the most important items you need to place in your mental picture of the oasis: 

(You can now open your eyes in order to continue reading and see the visual aids)

 First, imagine HOMES built with a deplorably low budget using natural or recycled materials (such as rock, flagstone, recycled brick, tile, glass and lumber, straw bale, pallets, earth block [adobe], and pumice), powered by sun and wind. Imagine wind turbines and solar panels sending little packages of canned sunlight and wind puffs which come out of the wall outlets of these homes to power ultra-efficient appliances: a light-bulb, a washing machine, a well pump, a ‘solar fridge’. The sun bill of these households never goes up one cent, imagine…

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  Next, imagine a complex of integrated GREENHOUSES where lemons ripen without any supplemental heat while outside temperatures can dip to -25 degrees and where, surrounded by plants and rocks, you can take a greenhouse shower, rain water heated by the sun cascading down from a log.

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Imagine a BEAUTIFUL BACKYARD which we will now call Flushing Meadows as it is irrigated by Greywater from the showers and toilets (after a proper sceptic treatment, of course).

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Imagine a truly sustainable to perfection  ORGANIC FARM where frogs eat the nasty insects, ladybugs dine on pests, earthworms take care of the waste material turning it into prime soil, bees provide honey, wax, propolis and pollen while pollinating the orchard, and when they die, god bless their innocent little souls, become a source of protein for the chickens. And the chickens eat everything and everybody. Cannot blame the chickens, because they make eggs and are tasty, but also, they poop. And that’s good too. In this particular oasis, chicken poop makes biogas for heating and prime liquid fertilizer, which is used to grow duckweed algae as a protein-rich feed, for who?- For the chickens themselves!

Arvo with Carlos

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And finally, imagine, in the middle of it all, A SMILING GERMAN GUY NAMED ARVO who looks dramatically like Klaus Kinski, holding a female raven named Carlos.

Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski

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Congratulations! You have now successfully imagined The Solar Ark . And if you like this vision, let me tell you, it is real! And you, if you just imagine it possible, can become a part of it. All you need to do is to get to New Mexico where this oasis exists for more than a decade now. Or, you can simply think about all of this, maybe consider it possible to change your ways a little?

Thanks to Baba Ghanoush, we met Sherri and Nathaniel who told us about all this and who are heading to New Mexico in June to become part of The Solar Arc Project, to live there, to learn, and to help Arvo build and maintain his oasis.

Note:

I took the liberty of getting information and pictures from The Solar Ark’s website which you can visit right here for more information and details on accommodation for visitors and students, the educational program and topics covered, cost, and possibility for work-exchange (you don’t have to pay anything to learn and stay there as long as you work!)

This is something Ivo and me would totally do and we would be perfect, as we come from Bulgaria where everyone had orchards, and chickens, and outside toilets, and wells, and little wood shops. Maybe one day we will do this, when we get tired of sailing the world…

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The Story of The Lance

George Orwell’s book 1984. That’s why I started telling you about Lance.

Tell me again.

He had some mental disability. I forget what his actual diagnosis was. He was homeless. But he never broke the law, always polite, mannered, and respectable. Very well kept and clean. Amazing exception for a homeless person with mental disability, I think.

Where did he sleep?

I don’t know where he slept at night. But all he did every day was walk up and down Duval Street in downtown Key West. He used to hand little flyers printed in a printing place to everyone passing by: The Lance Rules written on them. And bumper stickers. Would stick them on people’s cars. The Lance Rules. He loved attention.

One day, he found a big piece of cardboard, probably from a fridge box, about 12 x 4.5 feet, and he wrote on it with black paint and huge very elaborate letters: THE LANCE. Like an artwork. And he would drag the cardboard behind him, like an enormous banner, holding it at one corner, up and down Duval, the full length on the street, from beach to beach, all day for weeks, honest to God. THE LANCE. Until the cardboard got worn down on the opposite corner from too much dragging on the sidewalk.

How did he look?

This don’t matter. The hobbit in The Hobbit book was never described. It doesn’t pertain to the story. What matters is the story, not how he looked.

(pause)

He was a young guy, about eighteen- twenty years old. Slightly chubby. He looked normal, is how he looked. Like everyone. You wouldn’t know he was mental. Like Rainman, remember the film? Normal.

(pause)

He always carried a black Mead notebook. Every day he would write a wish-list of things he wanted that particular day. Things he needed right then. His list would start fairly realistic and the extravagance of his wishes would increase as the list grew. At the end you could read: I wish for a helicopter.

The first wish would be something like a cheeseburger from McDonalds, but with all sorts of stuff in it: mushrooms, onions, bacon, and ham. Something that doesn’t sound unrealistic, but is not on the menu. But that’s what he truly wanted to eat. If he really needed a watch because he didn’t have one and he wanted to know what time it was, he would ask someone sitting in a coffee shop, What is a real good watch? And they’d tell him, a TAG watch. A TAG is a good quality watch and it is expensive, no way he could get one. But he would write in his wish-list:

1.      I wish for a hamburger from McDonalds with mushrooms, onions, bacon, and ham;

2.      I wish for a TAG watch.

3.      I wish…

About 80% of the things he would wish for would realize in a mysterious way, honest to God. Like that TAG watch. One day he just showed up with a TAG watch. Someone bought it for him or gave it to him; he didn’t steal it for sure. I think people just liked him.

Once, he wrote in his notebook: I wish for Harley Davidson boots with bright orange laces (which they don’t make). And he got them for free, only with bright red laces instead. One of these guys in the shop just gave them to him. And they cost probably like three hundred dollars!

(He never showed up with a helicopter, though. If he did, I would buy myself one of those black Mead notebooks and start writing my own wish-lists…)

How many wishes?

A full page. You know these black Mead notebooks? It was always the same notebook, and the list was always a page long, every day, so as many whishes as there are lines on a page. Thirty two, I believe.

Thirty two whishes per day…

Yes… One page full of whishes… I got some of his Mead notebooks full of whishes. I kept them. Somewhere in a box in my boat.

Really? Can I see them?

Sure, I have to dig them up…

That’d be cool… What about the book?

One day he showed up with the book, 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know where he got it from, could be from the library. He would walk up and down Duval Street, the full length, from beach to beach, holding it two inches from his face, not looking where he was going at all or who was coming in front of him (people had to avoid him), reading out loud from the book. So loud he was actually shouting. Everyone could hear him. He did this every day for two months, honest to God! When he got to the end of the story he would start reading it all over again. Walking and screaming all day so that people would listen. I don’t know how many times he read it like that. Every day, all day, for two months. He probably red it like ten times at least.

(pause)

I think that’s how the book was meant to be read… Shouted out loud in public for months in a row by someone considered outside the social (and mental) norm… Perfect

The book should be mandatory reading in high school.

It’s like a slap in the face.

A wake up call.

 

 

A conversation with my friend Richard Michael Jaworski in Key West. 

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