Monday, August 25, 2008

Arequipa - or How to get all the credit for someone else's good deeds


I have just changed my plans!
But even before we get into that, here's what I started writing in my diary this afternoon:

That's it. I'm leaving Arequipa. I'm confused and lost and kinda scared and what's worse, I'm al ready nostalgic. End-of-trip kind of blues. I got one week left. And I reached that point in my journey. Like, you land in a big city and you start traveling, further and farther away from your point of origin. In my case, more and more to the West, crossing the border over to Peru. But, today, I had reached the fatal climax, when you can no longer go West, for each extra mile will have to be traveled again in the opposite direction. Back to La Paz, back to that same airport that dropped me off 4 weeks ago.

At least, that's what I thought.
So, back to the PEOPLE OF THE WORLD!
People, I have changed my plans. I'm have faced the fatal climax point, and I decided to defy gravity and continue my impossible journey WEST-wards. To the next town, called Ica where there are the worl'd highest sand dunes. Sure, you may think it's nice for pictures. But hell no, backpackers arrived there in the early 1900 and figured out how awesome it would be to slide down these huge dunes with a buggyboard. That's right, a surfing board. And so now there are jeeps waiting for you down the dunes, ready to pick you up and drive you all the way back up, where, guess what, you can slide down again. ALL DAY. And I met this american couple who told me about going up to the dunes at night and looking at the stars while... eating a sandwich (How I met your mother reference, watch the tv-show...). OK, that's not all. Or kind of is, but I mean, I've been traveling with this couple we met in Cuzco, Veronika (argentina) and Friebie (germany). And they're awesome. But you know, after a while, people need air, and I felt like today was the day, that maybe they needed to be on their own again. Third wheel at what not. But, listen to this. Today, we went to the bus station together. I EVEN BOUGHT MY TICKET back to the border of Bolivia. And they bought theirs for Ica (well first Nazca, the city of those gigantic animal line drawings). But tonight, 36 minutes before my bus was leaving, they convinced me to stay, as we were having dinner at an all-vegetarian-place. I said fuck it and here I am, still in Arequipa.

Funny side story, as we were sitting in that restaurant, we met two elderly british women, whom we asked if the food was any good. After which they asked us if we were going to Bolivia. I thought they wanted some advice. But when I told them that I was returning there, she took out 40 Bolivianos (not the people, the money) out of her pocket and gave them to me, said "Could you distribute these to beggars when you're there?". She explained that she found those bills in her pocket long after she had crossed the border to Peru. And she figured she might as well do something good with it. I was really touched, and even surprised by her trust in me. So I decided to ask for her address in London and I'll send her a postcard with a funny little review of my new mission on earth (for the coming week). It reminds me of that book, You shall know our velocity, about two young guys who try to travel the world in less than a week and give this huge amount of money to people in need. Not because they were saints, but because one of them had received this money in a way that made him feel guilty, and he decided to do something good with it. As for me, I'm just a passer-by in someone else's good deed. Except I get all the credit :P

Yalla, that's all for now.
Tal has got his funk back, and a mission, and awesome travel companions.
What else can a free man want?

People of the world,
sweet dreams.

Tal Benisty

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Airplanes - or How I cried during Mr. & Mrs. Smith

This is the first thing I wrote in my diary, on the airplane.
I'm happy to say that by now, I realize my fears didn't come true, and I wanna thank Dimitri for having been the 'absolute hombre' he is.

There's something about traveling. Well there's a lot of things. One of hem, is airplane movies. I mean, 2 years ago, I cried watching Mr. and Mrs Smith on the flight back from Costa Rica. Today, I find myself asking the 'big questions' on love inspired by 'What happens in Vegas', the movie I just saw. Maybe it's the lack of sleep. The 'nowhereness' of the last 12 hours of transit geography. Maybe the whole thing is about 'stripping down'. Deconstructing the usual framework with(in) which you confront everything, all the way down to 'sunday-afternoon-type movie, and letting them hit you in places that never before lay bare under similar circumstances. I remember now, this kid on the bus in Belgium. he cried his lungs for the complete duration of the ride, for his 'mommy' wasn't there. I remember noticing how personal, how emotional, how drastically the little boy let things' hit him'. I think of Rosie, and her affirmed vulnerability. And I think, then, that traveling is maybe also about trusting your torso forward, exclaiming 'Hit me!' too whatever comes next. Whatever could come, may it hit hard. That's something we don't have the luxury to let happen in our daily lives. Who can afford to get so upset over daily situations? But that's exactly what we signed up for with a backpack on our shoulders. Therefor, the worst kind of trip is the kind with no extremes.

That's what I'm most afraid of, traveling with Dim and Ammu. That every incident will be 'dealt' with. Like through a buffer, a condom so think that the original purpose of the whole endeavour gets lost behind layers and layers of everything-proof material. A new term must be coined here. Something like 'mirror-blocking' each other, by constantly reminding each other exactly who we are, who we were before we left, therefor taking away the one thing that strange faces in strange places offer: a chance to reinvent, above all, yourself. What bothers me, is that we will recreate the exact same microcosm of social norms that we sought to escape from in the first place. I'm gonna call it dancefloor-blocking each other. Like when you went to a discotheque for a first time, but couldn't muster the nerves to break some dancing moves in front of your friends. It's kind of a double or nothing thing. Your best friend will the kind of support you need to unleash yourself. But anyone short of your absolute hombre, will just be a staring face, a silent judgmental mirror. Then again, it's not the first time I hear myself think' if only the room was full of strangers', and fact is, I was there too and it rarely made a difference. So, it's just a matter of having a strong reality. No matter who's watching.

Tal Benisty

Friday, August 22, 2008

Isla del Sol - or How to loose your breath in 214 steps

(still in Arequipa, got my juggling act together, with the help of a crazy guy named Juan)

We arrived in Copacabana at night and checked in at a fairly decent random hostel. In transit, nobody cares about a hostel's atmosphere as long as the sheets are clean (it just occured to me that common-tv-rooms are to hostels what plaza's are to cities... hmm, my hostel in Arequipa doesn't have one. Probably the reason why I didn't want to stick around there and went walking the streets instead, in search of a cozy cafe). We left Copacabana the next morning for Isla del Sol, not before meeting 3 girls from ecuador at the ticket office. Also, the american girl at Corioico's hostal Esmeralda had recommended us to leave our big bags at the hostel before setting out to Isla del Sol. Definitely good advice if you get off the boat at the south side of the Isla. Oh wait, actually, she had given us that advice about Macchu Pichu. Anyway, as soon as we arrived, Dim and I set out to quickly climb the long and steep stairs in order to book a hostel before they'd all be full while Ammu waited on the grass at the pier.

When we finally reached the top of the island, out of breath, we went to find a nice lonely-planet recommended hostel. We found one overlooking the lake and the surrounding mountain tops (an awesome view). The clouds at the horizon beautifully faded into white mountain peaks. We then went down the hellish stairs again to catch Ammu. There, she started telling us she had met 2 peruvians guys who suggested to go to the north part of the island where the hostels where at sea-level. Normally, this would be valuable advice, but I think I almost strangled her on the spot. Did she have any idea how many stairs we had just climbed? The slightest idea? Besides, the idea was to walk down from the south all the way to the north of the island the next morning and come back on a boat from there to Copacabana. So no, we weren't gonna find a hostel on the north side instead. We left our bags at the pier's snack place (the owner was friendly and helpful, and put our bags together with his stock of snickers, so we knew it was safe :) and proceeded to motivate Ammu up the stairs of Isla del Sol. Looking back, it wasn't anything compared to Macchu Pichu. But we didn't know that yet.

Up there, we basically crashed on the beds, asked the friendly owner for extra blankets and started to nap a bit. Until Dim got restless and wanted to take pictures of the sunset. If he hadn't come back for this torche, I wouldn't have ended up joining him. But I'm glad I did. We walked up the island some more noticed all kinds of hostels and restaurants on the way (not to mention more snobby french girls) and set out to take beautiful pictures. A local family passed us by with their herd of llama's, sheep and donkeys. They especially use donkeys here to carry heavy jerrycans of water up the island. Dim was amused by how the different animals all just walked together in peace., like a big family. We then came back to the hostel but ammu was too tired to join us for dinner. So we dressed up warmer (it gets quite cold at night on Isla del Sol, surprise surprise) and went back to the crowded restaurant we had noticed earlier. Also, the owner's little daughter came to talk to us, showing us her english (they get it at school pretty early on) and we even ended up playing those song-accompanied-synchronized-hand-clapping passtimes. Dunno the name of that, but it's amazing that it appears in all cultures, in all languages.

The next day we walked towards the north. There weren't many people on the path, which was really nice. Less nice where the checkpoints where you had to pay every time for the preservation of this or that part of the island. The different districts don't really cooperate right now, so everyone taxes the tourists separately. The walk took about 3-4 hours along scenic landscapes. It really did feel like an Aegan island, greek or so. We bought cheap bananas on the way (don't ask the price of the tempting tempting snickers) and decided to skip the unimpressive looking ruins (for which we did pay taxes) and went down to the north pier for some lunch. That's where we bumped in the cute ecuador chicks again + an american called Jeff and all went for lunch. We had actually seen Jeff before on the boat to Isla del Sol. he was eating a sweet sweet snickers. Funny enough, he told us at lunch how he had seen us eyeing his snickers. "I would have given you some if you had asked, but you didn't, so I just ate it all myself", Jeff the teacher told us. he was a tall and strangely funny guy. We ended up going to Cuzco together. On the boat, we hit it off with the 3 girls, one of which seemed to quite like me. I was very funny on the boat, peaking into the girl's diary and using the back pages manual to read my own hand palm, which I did out loud and joked about. We arrived just in time to have a quick lunch, say goodbue to the trio and set out to Cuzco.

Tal Benisty

Coroico - or How Dim supposedly saved my life

Again, right now I'm in Arequipa, Peru, but I'm slowly catching up on my diary.
So this bit is about Coroico, the warm little town we fled to after cold cold Uyuni.

Home. Sweet, swimming pool + hammocks + buffet + hot showers +"view over the universe" (Lonely Planet) + sauna. So here we are, in paradisiac Coroico. And the sun just came out. This feels familiar. Reminds me of Coban, Guatemala. The kind of place that makes you feel like you've been 'in transit' for all the previous time. And sure, everything you want, you get, and it's courtly put on your tab. A nice 'welcome back to reality' for when you check out from this oasis. The kind of place that's made to revive one's sexual drive. Maybe it's no wonder that the place is overtaken by french couples in their late twenties.

There isn't much to do in Coroico, but they'll still try. The Lonely Planet recommended two remote places worth a hike. A trio of waterfalls on one side, and a river for swimming on the other. So Dim and I set out to hike to the waterfalls. It sounded cool, we packed our simming suits and left the hostel, together with a german couple we met that morning at breakfast. Actually, another 2 french girls joined us too, as we met in the street (on our way to first buy something for lunch at the waterfalls). The hike was cool, you basically walk on the side of the mountain/hills while enjoying a magnificent view of the valley. less cool were the waterfalls themselves.

Erase all your mental images of waterfalls for a second. Now, make an indent into the mountain, nothing fancy, just tiny enough to let some water flow. Then, add tubes. A lot of tubes, going all the way to the villages for water distribution. Then, add a fence or two around the trickling water. Ok, you're almost there. Add a bit of trash here and there. Make the people tired from having walked 3 hours towards a palce where their swimming suit is of no use. Tadaaaa, welcome to Coroico's Lonely Planet recommended attractions. That's how I came to conclude that it probably goes like this:

First, a small village is nicely located. Then, some outsiders, or ex-travellers decide to open up a hostel there. After a while, the village gets mentioned in the Lonely Planet. So far so good, really. But then, the village gets it up his head to start offering 'attractions'. Can't open a tourist adventure agency if you got nowhere to take them to. So you come up with cool sounding names like 'El Vagante' for what is basically a crappy river, hire some tourists to pose on a picture of them smiling in the water. Set the price at tripple the cost of going back and fourth there. And voila, you get backpackers walking 3 hours to a waste-of-my-time piece of falling water.

Oh well. Most of the time, we just spent it sleeping, eating, swimming, sauna-ing or reading. I even got my lips back (they got messed up in Uyuni from the cold, I had the mouth of a cro-magnon). We splurged for a room with a view, and basically did nothing for 3 days. Dim and I finetuned our "this man saved my life in Uyuni" story, recalling our car accident. Dimitri is one social animal. All I had to do was let him hit the swimming pool downstairs, wait some minutes on the balcony and then come down. By then, Dim had started a conversation with everyone at the pool. I just had to come down, say Hi, and add "This man saved my life!". The rest of the conversation went by itself.

Tal Benisty

Monday, August 18, 2008

Uyuni - or How I got my nose broken

In good old backpacker fashion, I'm getting behind on both my blog and my diary. Not to mention my laundry... So anyway, right now I'm in Cuzco, Peru, my belly full of a barbecue we organised with the coolest travellers and I'm gonna reserve tomorrow for catching up with my diary and stuff and then move on to Arequipa. BUT, I'm not giving up on writing a blog entry for each town I visit. So, ladies and gentlemen, without too much further adue; UYUNI. (written back then in warm Coroico).

...6 layers of clothes later (2 socks, 2 jeans, 2 longsleeved t-shirts, 3 sweaters, gloves and hat) (ok, maybe more than 6 layers), we stepped into the jeep with 3 other guys; Mark the american, Steve the Irish and Jasper the Dutch. They're a cool bunch, though only Mark opened up quickly. Steve is also getting there, but Dutchie is still quite reserved. It's hard to describe the trip, for it was mostly amazing landscapes after amazing landscape. (google Salar de Uyuni) I was still ill the first day, so I didn't do so much socializing with our 3 new friends. I'm not sure exactly when I started feeling better, but surely it started when I swallowed pill after pill. The first stop was on the train-cemetary, which wasn't bad, but felt touristy in the sense that what we really were here to see, was some salt flats. Also, we bumped into a bunch of the Dutchies from Delft (RSP) which I deftly avoided. The 2nd stop was even worse, just some tourist souvenir shops, I stayed in the car. We also immediately understood that the several jeeps just followed each other so we ended up just nodding to the recurrent french chick (not the nicest) and an indian chick (much nicer) we had met before at Uyuni, she's cool. We started joking about 'stalking each other' quite early on. Next stop was the Salar de Uyuni (oh no, first the salt museum, also boring) where we took all the classic warped perspective pictures. I think we spent the rest of the day driving through more outer-world landscapes. Two notable episodes: one, I tried to pee outside the jeep and couldn't do it while everyone watched. Quite a funny sight. The second story, is when our driver and the cook (actually husband&wife, how cool!) stopped ta the Chilean border where their son was stationed in a military base guarding the border. I managed to pee behind a wall there. Then, back in the car, the married couple seemed to have a slight marital argument (from the facial expressions, it seemed to me that the mother was being sad and motherly about their son, while the father was being stoical and manly). It was really endearing, and nice, to, for a moment, step outside the tourist paradigm and participate (specate) into real life of Bolivia. That first night, my head was about to explode again. More pills. Go to sleep. Oh wait, that night, we also went outside to look at the stars, which was amazing! Amazing... The sky lit. so full of stars, so tightly packed, like a paint-by-numbers mozaique. Intense. With the stellar fog (nebulae?) and all, I felt connected to the rest of the galaxy, instead of just looking at bright lights on the sky's wallpaper.


The 2nd day, we headed to the laguna's. Although the first cool part was when the jeep had to cross train rails which were on top of a berm. So we had to all go out and watch the jeep attack the obstacle like it was built for. Then first laguna, 7 flamenco's. 2nd laguna, more flamenco's. Third laguna, probably more flamenco's and some llama's. The llama's were cool. I felt the irresistible urge to chase them like you chased pigeons as a kid. Then a mirador with cool rock formations where we took another set of cool pictures. Then to the famous rock tree, and across the Chilean border where a red laguna awaited. Massive, in a C-Shape. With many llama's and again, you guessed it, flamenco's. Arrived at the sleeping place quite early, socializing with the other groups, after a dinner with provided children-musical entertainment ("Una collaboracion para material scolar, por favor"). Then they turned on a stove around which we all gathered. That's it. my speakers are playing, Steve just got Rum and Coke, and I'm off to sleep. The say it gets very cold. When people in Uyuni tell you of a place that's even colder, you know nature's gonna fuck you up.

Day 3

I actually almost liked the third day the most, for the reason most people disliked it: the last day was almost entirely about just driving through the every-changing landscapes of Bolivia. You could read, sleep or look out the window, the wow-view was always eerily waiting outside your window-side. I liked it because we didn't stop every 20 minutes for a fotoshoot ("Sacar fotos, diez minutos" says our guide every time). It felt more purposeful to drive through an amazing country with a destination in mind. Rather than our guide stopping the car (again), anouncing the photo set's name ("laguna something something"), and get back in, next. Don't get me wrong, we saw some amazing things and I'm grateful for each stop but the vibe was different, kind of like that coke ad of 4 young people just half asleep on a train ride, perhaps back from a concert, and life is good.

Ok, but the other thing that really made that 3rd day was the hot springs. Did you notice the word HOT in there? (No you didn't, cuz you're sitting at home in a warm cozy sofa!) Today might be the first time that the word HOT made it's appearance in my diary. And I'm not talking about the kind of hot that the hostel clerk promised you about the showers. No I'm talking jacuzzi-hot baby! I took some guts to undress. You see, it was sunrise, Uyuni-cold and we had been woken up at 5 am to see the smoky geysers. But once inside the water (and we were among the first), OH-MY-GOD. SO good. So divine. We were excited like little kids. At some point Dim and I just wrestled for fun. Then we played freesbee a bit. And then we just contendly stared at the growing number of bikini-clad travellers making their first steps into a pool of such orgamic warmth that their facial expression left no doubt. A time like that, I wishes I was a Natural. It was a situation that begged to be fulfilled in fantasy-like fashion. And what's more, the scenery was just... if anything, this was a pure Sigur Ros moment. Sun rising over a meadow of grass and little offsprings of the water, melting the morning ice as they spread through the landscape of flamenco's and llama's. I must ask the other 3 guys for their most beautiful pictures of that one morning. Bolivia, it nothing else, is simply the most outerworldly place I've set foot on, or dipped my toes in.

That last thing which marked the third day is how my nose got to be so painful. We were crossing through the gravel roads near Uyuni at high speed. The road was flat and elevated a good meter or two above the surrounding land. I ws reading the Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy when out of the corner of my eye, I notice another grey tourist jeep, clearly about to overtake us. I wasn't worried until that jeep clipped us wit it's tail, banging against our front side, jamming us off the elevated road, and we just dived off the to the right. Me sitting at the rear left end, I'm rocketed againt the roof, only to land back and smash my face against ammu's rock-hard knee. My glasses flew around, the cartlilage in my nose punched-massaged and my upper teeth felt it too. All credit must go to Simon, our hero-driver who got us though all this alive. And for deciding after a look around (checking if everyone was fine), to catch up with the mother fucker in the other jeep, yelling "Vamos vamos" before shifting and pushing the pedal to the metal. The other jeep had stopped ahead. Some of us claimed that it had only stopped because it had tourists inside it too. Personally, I'm not speculating about the morals of the other driver. It was an accident, he apologized, nobody got hurt and we all got a piece of adventure. Funnily, that same day, Ammu and I had discussed the concept of 'adventure' that we all travelers are after. The conclusion was that although 'out-of-context-ness' was clearly a central element, it needed als an element of danger or 'dramatic obstacle' to be called an adventure. And there we had it. Our life-threatening puzzle-piece to complete our 3 day adventure through one of the most remote place on earth. And tonight, clean-showered and buffet-fed in tropical Coroico, we splurged into pure out-out-contextness, overlooking the safe universe.

Tal Benisty

Saturday, August 9, 2008

La Paz - or How I dreamt of Micha

I've been busy and cold and sick and all over the place.
So forgive this late entry. My plan is to write a blog entry out of every city I visit.
But in the meanwhile, I'm in Coroico, paradisiac Coroico.
So, let me go back in time, and copy some excerts from my diary,
which I have been able to keep up to date.

Arrived in La Paz at 6am, and the first thing that hit me about the place was the cold. I remember how my first reaction to Bangkok was to grin like a happy imbecile. But here, before a thought could fire in your brain, cold has already reached places in your bone structure you don't even have a name for. After some short breaths, I did get to realize how the surrounding landscape looked like the moon. It was dawn. I shared a microbus to the city with a french couple of my age, and some locals. Actually, I had met the girl on the plane, but quickly dismissed the thought of being social when I discovered she was French. People are often confused at my attitude towards the french. In fact, I avoid the French most, followed by the Israelis, and then the Dutch. Although French-speaking Belgians micht be the uncontested winners. The reason is that, for one, I didn't fork a 1000 euros over to travel halfway around the globe to end up travel-humping with the people I sought to travel AWAY from in the first place. I'll take a Dane, an Aussie or a Scottsman over a Frenchman any day. Also, French people tend to cluster like hamsters. And third, they make for the worst eavesdropping ever. In fact, as an inventor, I feel it is my duty to invent a kind of earplugs that can filter out a specific language of choice. Perhaps tranform french into portugese. I'm sure there's a market. So, as soon as I understood that the French girl was a) French and b) with a boyfriend (2 consecutive OW-moments), I decided to turn around and dive into a long awaited sleep. Which is when I noticed an incredible flaw in Man's Morphology.

So horrible that it instantly disqualifies any claims of Intelligent Design. As I tried to rest my head on my left hand (with my elbow resting on the elbow-rest), I realized that our forearms drastically fall short (litterally). Try as I may, my head simply would not reach the pillow, without risking (who am I kidding: inevitbaly causing) a torticoli. At least, not with all of my neck's spinal bones. Although I did end up falling asleep a few times, I spent every walking minute in despair, for clearly sleep could never come with my pillow so far away. And yet I surprisingly slept. It's the kind of miracle you wish you could explain better, but you simply can't recall. So, a few hours later, a breathtaking cold (and landscape) and a local microbus Tuffi 212 later, we were dropped at Plaza San Francisco. That was saturday morning. Walking towards Hostal El Solario, we walked past a cafe that seemed irresistable. They checked-in somewhere else (a steep slope away) and we set out to find that appetizing cafe again (which we did, but not without some orientational confusion). 24 hours later, this is exactly where I'm sitting, over my third cup of Coca-thee. The first time, we quickly concluded that coca-thee had the taste of dead leaf. Dead, autmn leaf. But the bread was good and the butter nicely salted. Although, funnilym, the bread basket at the buffet seemed to only have baguette-corners to offer. We wondered what they did with the whole middle part of the baguette, but it turned out they simply made the breads as small as to only provide for 2 corners. Kind of like those 2-person horse costumes, only with both persons wearing the ass-part. I can't recall much of the ramining day. Went up to my room, said goodbye to the french couple and met a friendly polish girl that didn't look much polish to me. We chatted a bit before I gratefully climbed into bed with all five layers of clothes.

Sleep was very weird, to say the least.
I woke up numerous times, like a cinematic break between movie sessions. So, each dream cycle, I'd wake up, enjoy the memories of my dream and gave some directorial guidelines for the next dream. Never have I been so happy with my dreaming. In fact, I think I had a threesome (the names of the happy guilty shall remain undisclosed). I mostly dreamed of things straightly related to the very recent events. It seemed that my brain was so overwhelmed by the present stimuli, that it had to dream about each of the present details in order to cope with the recent reality. however, my most euphoric dream involved Micha (my amazing buddy from Valencia) appearing at my hostel in Bolivia. I cannot describe how happy that made me. Of all people on earth, nobody could offer the kind of confort Micha did. In his present, everything would be a-ok. Micha, the easy-going cowboy-like funny careless amigo in need, would make the invasive cold bearable, if not completely dissapear by a magic I wouldn't bother to enquire about. Man was I happy to seem him. I don't remember much else. At some point, around 5pm, I woke up, had some thee with Polish girl and went out to eat something at Hanasich, an arab-israeli restaurant. When I wanted to pay, I realized I had left the money at the hostel. That's nothing. The first time I had left the hostel, I came back to find my passport lying on my bed. That was the first time I met Polish girl. I can't imagine what a fuck-up Bolivia would have been with my passport gone. I have my hands full already with the altitude sickness. This is why, this morning, I set out to the same cafe and drank 3 cups of coca-thee. My theory still stands. Everything gets edible with enough sugar. And now, I don't feel like ever leaving this cafe, nicely warm. I'll go check my e-mail and see where Dim and Ammu are. Then, I'll go find something warm to wear, and book a luxurious bus ride to Uyuni, a place even colder than here. If you're wondering why among travellers geared with arctic coats, insulated gloves and woolen hats, I'm wearing Red All-Stars and 5 layers of normal clothes... well it's because I simply could not accept that I was travelling to a place colder than Belgium. So now I'm facing the cold facts.

Tal Benisty

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nothing good happens after 2am

It's 2.11am on a sunday night and I wonder why I keep mentioning the time.
Something to get me started maybe.
There's an episode of How I met your mother where Ted tells us how 'nothing good happens after 2am'. My mate Youri, on the other hand, used to refer mystically to the magic hours. Those occur somewhere after 4am. Deep enough into the night, and your thoughts will flow like quicksilver. Rives, my all time favourite slam poet, also has a thing for 4am. As for myself, I've always been of the opinion that there is not a more awesome time to depart on a trip than sometime before dawn. There's a joy to closing the door behind you, silently, while the city sleeps. Escapism, if you will. So where was I.

2.11am, don't worry, I'm not gone yet. Four more days for that.
I came here because I couldn't sleep. Which, in my experience, means either of two things. I'm hungry, or, I got something on my mind. Easy fix; sit down and write. Actually, I was gonna write to someone I met in Spain this year, and we hadn't talked since. Come online on msn messenger after ages, and I get this message: Hallienopil wants to add you to her msn list. I figured it might be someone I met in Spain, even though the name rang no bell. But that's the cool part, I thought. Past 2am, and random internet encounters are more exciting than scary. I barely had the time to jot down my friend's email adress (which I only had on my msn list) that Hallie already chats me up: "Hey whats up babe, U got a webcam? finally someone adds me, I am soo fuckin horny today for some reason lol".

Okay I'll be honest with you. Reading that message, my first thought was "Well well, lucky me". Yes I know, what kind of internet rookie am I? But see, 7 years after my first hotmail adress, you think to yourself "No Nigerian prince on the run is gonna fool me anymore". So, surely, this is just a 17 year old msn junkie chick (maybe emo) from Missouri. A fellow insomniac. Just random enough to be fun. Except, 3 messages down the road, she tells me "Well since its the law that u gotta be 18 (nudity involved), u have to sign up with a credit card for age verification! BUT.. Once you are inside, just clikc on "Webcams" let me know what name you use to sign in with so I know it is you babe! fill out the bottom of the page then fill out the next page as well and u can see me live!"

And what do I do at 2am? I click on the link. Not my proudest moment. For laughs, I answered that I didn't have a credit card, just a big stash of money underneath my mattrass. And I think to myself "Just another scam... it was just another internet fucking spam crap" I'm dissapointed. Discovering internet, you go through a cycle. First you're curious, then your enthousiastic, then you get jaded, and then one sunday night, you return with the same enthousiasm. Thinking 'surely they don't bother with the crap anymore?'. And I decide to check my hotmail account, for old time's sake. Then, my old MSN Space, where, another message is waiting for me:
So, looks like it's time for me to start using this account. I can resist it no longer! I wandered into your profile and well, I liked what I saw.. :p So.. ya :) my name is Marina Hill. I think me and you should probably be friends, because you seem pretty fun, and possibly cute! (it's so hard to tell in this digital world :) anyways, i'd go on forever, but I'd like to get an answer from you.. You should check out my other profile on this other site, I'm always on over there: (my username is feistytease). Then maybe we could chat sometime! you know what they say.. looks catches the eyes, but personality captures the heart.. haha.. talk to you soon, Marina Hill

And what do I do at 2am? I click on the link.
Surely, Spam doesn't hit twice within 15 minutes?
In fact, I thought the second message would be a nice counter-action to that Hallie thing.
And then I check that Marina's profile, and it's empty. Rereading the message, I realise my name doesn't appear in it. Nor anything particularly personal. In fact, it's the kind of message that could be sent to 1056 people and they'd all take it personally.
If like me, they're naive idiots.

And I think, it's time to pack my bags.
Not every random encounter is like this.
Backpackers around the world meet with exactly such random introductions.
And we still take chances.
And everyone gets the benefit of the doubt.
Of being genuinely good.
On my ever growing list of reasons for travelling,
tonight, it's this:
"To remember that the social conventions I live in are not the only ones possible".
To backpack once a year, is to reset my internal bearrings.
Something to remain enthousiastic about strangers.
Even when they're called Hallie and appear to be...well...

Tal Benisty

ps: In the serie's episode, the main character Ted loses both his girlfriend and the chick that's secretly his dreamgirl. Compared to that, I can't really complain :)