My best friend Don

During my time touring the US, I found a job in a hostel near Miami. I am not going to lie, that was one of the worst jobs ever. But I stayed anyway, for the people. Being an employee in a hostel is a wonderful social experience. Yes, it’s tough because you have to say goodbye a lot. But you get to meet so many cool people, and you have the special power to be the one who regroups everyone because you are the person everyone knows. I hung out with all kinds of people there. My new best friend from Sweden with cool tattoo sleeves and a shaved head. The dude with an eagle on his chest and a record. The Florida guy who was taking a vacation from the Zombies. The Swiss dude with the long hair, smoky voice and Harley Davidson. That young American couple who went food shopping for me and put little notes all over my stuff. That sweet German guy who used to cook me pasta. But the one I want to talk about here is the particularly odd one.  The unlikely friendship.

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Street art in Miami

There was this older dude. He was kind of living at the hostel, kind of living in his van. He was using our showers and eating at our tables. Always shitty food, always by himself. That looked lonely.

So I started to ask if I could sit at his table, a little, in the evenings. And when he got comfortable enough, he started talking. He was a sweet man. But OH MY, the things he had to say.

He talked about aliens. Area whatever, instruments of some kind that allowed him to see and recognize things we couldn’t see or recognize. I was amazed, and kind of fascinated. I mean, it sounded completely insane but at the same time it was such a caricature.  You know, of these Americans we make fun of on TV.  With the tin foil hat and whatnot. He told me about famous psychics that he knew. How he was some sort of channeling master. How one of his girlfriend got pregnant (and then un-pregnant) by an alien. How he participated in the dismantlement of a prostitution gang with his shaman friend from Louisiana. Sometimes I listened, fascinated by that level of craziness, sometimes I was uncomfortable and shot desperate glances at the eagle dude so he would come and save me. But all in all, I loved my talks with Don. He was sweet and alive in his ideas. I could tell he really appreciated our time and the company, and that made me glad. And you know what ? When I had to leave, who drove me to the airport ? Was it the cool motorcycle guy ? The eagle man who was hitting on me the whole time ? No. It was good old Don. I didn’t ask for anything. He just got up in the morning and offered to drive me.  That was the sweetest thing. He deserves to have his story told. The odd ones are always the best ones.

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Mystical Angkor and tuk-tuk driver love

First article published on a travel website ! Check it out here !

I don’t remember how I ended up in Siem Reap in the first place. It wasn’t in the plan and I don’t remember it ever being on THE LIST. But here I was, in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the temples, drinking it all in. Cambodia really took me by surprise. I didn’t quite expect the mystical of it all, the adventure feeling of the jungle, the quiet splendor of lost temples from forgotten times. Nor did I expect the simple kindness of the people, the dignified politeness, the sincere sparkles.

Now, it’s already been established that I am not a touristy person, and that a thousand people in my face is closer to my vision of hell than anything else. So it won’t come as a surprise that Angkor Watt was not my favorite part of the trip.

IMG_20150716_173050What I really loved and appreciated, what really spoke to my soul at Angkor was the quiet ruin of it all. The silence of the jungle gaining on what humans had once conquered. The mystic of the trees growing on top of walls and monkeys sleeping where monks once lived. I didn’t feel any of that at Angkor Watt. Thousands of tourists with loud clothes and selfie sticks prevented any kind of feelings beside annoyance. And the temple in itself was one of the more “clean” and well preserved one. No trees there, no jungle wining back its turf. It was old stones and I didn’t see anything special in it. But temples like Ta prohm really took my breath away. Torturous trees growing through walls, on top of roofs, destroying it all oh so quietly and slowly. Nature takes its time but will always conquered what was hers. And then there were places with more trees than walls, completely conquered by the jungle, very remote, my favorites. You just get a special feeling. Being somewhere unique. I liked all of the smaller, less impressive temples, where sometimes I was by myself. You just hear the ruffle of the leaves and the creatures moving out of sight. You hear your footsteps in the sounds of the jungle. You climb inside the temple, or the walls, through the windows and you feel quite alone in the world, discovering something all by yourself, with nothing but your tiny backpack and water, your military pants sticking to your skin, sweat dripping down your back, the air hot and moist around you. Delicious adventure and quiet contemplation. I remember sitting in the middle of what used to be a room, completely broken down by the trees, with absolutely no one around and thinking : how can I stop ? How can I choose to go home and stay there. And not see all of this. Not explore more.

Now, the second thing I think about when  remembering Siem Riep is my tuk tuk driver. The only way to get around the temples was to hire one. He would drop you at the entrance, you would walk around, do your thing, and he would meet you at the exit, ready to take you to the next temple.

My tu tuk driver was AWESOME. He was so cute and adorable, so happy to pick me up every morning at my hostel. The tuk tuk drivers all had hammocks in their tuk tuk and they would all takes naps while their client were inside the temples. My one big dread was to find him sleeping and having to wake him up … But it never happened. He was always ready right when I came out, driving up to me and waving “Mary, Mary !”. I loved him for it, I didn’t have my glasses and I would have been lost otherwise. He told me that he liked that I took so much time for each temple, people usually went in and out. And on the last day when all the temples were visited, we sat for a while and he told me about his life and his family and his two jobs. He was really sweet, my favorite person there.

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Texas and the complexity of the hospitable South

I had a very strong opinion of Texas before going there. It wasn’t even on the plan but somehow I got talked into it. And I can honestly say that I loved Austin. Houston not so much. What I really want to talk about is my special evening with my new Texan friends. In the end, they were kind of everything I was told a Texan was supposed to be. Both good and bad.

I was drinking a beer with my new friend on the back porch when her husband came home. And he looked at me and said “you are drinking my beer ? On my back porch ? Chatting with my wife ?”. A pause, and then, with a big smile and a tap on my back “ah, you are FAMILY now ! if you ever need anything you can always call us”. And that’s all it took. From then on I was their best friend. They took me with them on the birthday diner, and I slept in their daughter’s bedroom, and somehow I ended up going out partying with them and their friends. And that night says it all. I arrived there and everybody was insanely friendly “you come from EUROPE, woow, what are you DOING here of all places ? You want a drink ? Let me get you a beer”. And asked cute questions and were interested in what I had to say. Drove me around, paid for my drinks, were just so completely and perfectly lovely. And this is the south. The south, in what I experienced of it, is full of kind hearted people, ready to drop everything and help you out. Opening their homes, cooking heavy food for you, telling stories. It’s about belonging to a community and the simple stuff in life.

But south is ALSO the rest of that evening. “So, I heard you didn’t have a real good opinion of Texas before coming ? How come ?”. Well you know. Back where I come from we always think Texas is the worst state. You know with guns and … “Guns ? Yeah, guns are important. I mean I have 4 of them upstairs. You got to be able to defend yourself”. Mm, ok. And then it was a lot about all those immigrants coming in to steal their jobs, even though they come to collect the food stamps in Cadillacs (“every one of them I swear !”). I was asked if I had a boyfriend, and then, with a suspicion frown, if I had a girlfriend. Then they talked about the confederate flag and even between themselves they were not quite clear on whether or not it’s ok to have it in your garage.

I guess what I am trying to say is, I really loved my experiences in Texas, and in the South in general. I found people absolutely lovely, so ready to help me out, so open and lay back. But that evening made me wonder if I was able to experience all those things because I was a cute, white, young female. And I just wondered for a second if my black, Mexican or gay friends would have as much good luck here as I did. And that made me sad.

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Street art in Austin, Texas

Surfing in Mexico, winning the battle

I always thought surfing was cool. It’s all about the ocean, and that definitely speaks to my soul. It is about braving the waves, spending time at the beach, getting salty hair and sandy toes. I love, at least in parts, the philosophy of surfing, the lay back attitude, the chilled out spirit. I spent a whole year in Australia, THE country for surfing, and yet I didn’t get the chance of trying. I spent a lot of time in California and still nothing.

But when I made it to Mexico, the water was so blue, so warm, so delicious. I was told it was the best place for learning since the waves were smaller and still you could surf on them. My new best friend was up for it and one day, we got down to the beach and just rented two boards.

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I think you could right away guess what our level of success was going to be by watching me helping my friend carry her board to the water because it was too heavy for her. That first surfing for me was basically an hour of getting beaten down by the ocean. Hanging on to my board for dear life, and just a general unwillingness to give up. A lot of surfer dudes type were coming up to me and asking “you all right ? I surf, you want me to give you some pointers ?”. And I would just generally reject everybody saying “I’m fine, I’m fiiiine”. And I would get back on that board and wait for the next wave and paddle paddle paddle, and fall down, and underwater, and get hit by the board in the ribs or the legs, and spit salty water, and pant, and moan. And still, I would get back up on the board and paddle away. After an hour I managed to KIND OF get up on the board for some seconds, and I’m pretty sure that counts.

Exhausted, my friend and I gave back the boards, sat up on those swings at the beach bar and started ordering a steady flow of Coronas.  Victory tasted de-li-cious.

The next day people were asking me with a shocked expression “what HAPPENED to you ?!”. I had bruises and cuts over 70% of my body. I didn’t care. That’s battle scares. Mexico was only the beginning of what I imagine will be a long and brilliant life of surfing.

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