Life, Bicycle, Seagulls and Ferries

Roll baby roll! I had the good fortune to meet Elif in San Cristobal, Chiapas – she rides and writes it raw – love this post from her blog!

spoke'n around

Life was very different when you cycle through it. The land rolled up and down, carved into green, yellow fields, and covered with tall trees. I had to stop and look and smell. There were so many shades of green, reminded me the tubes of oil paints. Was this Prussian Green or maybe Cobalt Teal, who knows? I was humbled and blessed to be able to notice all before it is too late. The road was calling, like a mother for a lost child. I have been suppressing my feelings for a long time. Finally it was unbearable for me to stay in the urban jungle. Finally I had the freedom to respond the call of the nature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the beginning I fought against myself, force the limits of my endurance. I fought against the nature and I was defeated, wounded and exhausted. It is a different way of experience…

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Sticky

Some places are stickier than others. Hitchhike across the country and come, eventually, to Nipigon, North Ontario. Do not stop or stop to consider that this is only the beginning of an epic province of suffering. From the Manitoba border it takes 7 hours of straight driving to make Thunder Bay. Without a car it’s 12 hours of straight gravel-kicking on the TransCanada shoulder, just outside of Nipigon.

Monster transports will stretch a new set of clown lips with every gust of diesel, lock hair into a single, dust-hewn horn: straight up then East for a particularly queer, roadsign effect. “Begrimed-homeless-unicorn goes rudely unrecognized in mirror of Husky restroom.” Respectable diners, drivers, passengers, openly gape when a grilled cheese with extra pickles and a glass of water is ordered – think about eating it in the bathroom, in the stall.

There can’t be glowing, 18 year-old bones beneath that skin.

The moon, She is full and blood fucking red, no exaggeration, spilling over a northern nursery which reproduces, cell by cell, just a metre from the TransCanada shoulder and becomes a trillion hectares deep in dwarves, black spruce quint-trillion-tuplets conjoining all the way to Lake Superior.  Drool before barking Greyhounds which are now expected exactly every 3 hours, the blurred contents of their bellies detested equally as envied. The moon, She refuses to raise her basket, to reveal her cheek, but gurgles, impaled on blackfangs of spruce. If there was a lake right here, on the TransCanada shoulder, the moon, She would be Little Red between Grandma’s jaws. Predation is beginning to leak into sleep-deprived ears from pages of the forest, riffling, less than a metre away.

There are grim creatures about, about whom nothing can be writ.

An elongated silhouette at the front of the line wades through the backwash of headlights to ask for a smoke or a light, it remains unclear and it takes both.  Up close, its head seems even longer and in a bright battery of 4×4’s going East, like everyone else is, stringy hair lifts and forehead is revealed. Cloven.

Has met the business-end of an axe and lived to stand at the side of the highway in the middle of the night.

Pretend not to notice such grave good fortune but wonder how to get ahead and how to get out of Nipigon with this brother as the front of the line’s Ambassador of Hope. People warned “Don’t get stuck in Wawa.”

If only…

It is possible to sleep standing up, and the sun rises, regardless. Begin to sweat out the diesel under a late-June sun and remark aloud to the becalmed TransCanada that it’s simply too early to tell how early it might be. Hope’s Ambassador has vanished and here, more than a metre from the gentle rustle of the green wood, is the coveted front of the line.

The native couple that held third place seems to have vanished too. They must have slid in and chatted up some truck driver dozing in a Husky booth. It doesn’t feel the same without the weighty desperation of those who come after.

Ambition wanes.

The Husky promises even less companionship in the daylight and no appetite anyway, so a voluntary walk-of-shame into the town of Nipigon seems the hair of the correct dog for a morning-after-a-night-outside-of-Nipigon. A treeless, clinical park in which to get horizontal is successfully fantasized   and a few minutes of REM beside the actual lake would go a long way but for the playback tear of gravel that jerks limbs like electrodes, tracers of disembodied Little Red floating beneath eyelids.

Another night in Nipigon is ill, ill advised. So rise, regardless, and back to the  TransCanada shoulder to kick gravel, to listen with pricked ears for some northern nursemaid to lope in, to lick away this encrusted, fly-paper skin of a place.

Lago Atitlán, arcoiris cultural

Fellow viajerx/bloggerx Gabriela and Camilo share their experiences travelling from Argentina to Mexico – practice your Espagnol and check out their impressions of Lake Atitlan…

Plan B Viajero

Lago Atitlán Lago Atitlán

Nos despertamos bien temprano y a eso de las 7 de la mañana nos tomamos el autobús popular (conocido como canastero o “chicken bus”) Viajar en este camión me hizo recordar mucho los transportes en Bolivia (sobre todo por el poco amor a la vida que mostraba el conductor a la hora de tomar una curva) El boleto nos salió algo de 3 dólares a cada unx y nos paseamos un buen rato antes de salir finalmente con rumbo a Panajachel. El viaje fue mmm…¿ cómo decirlo? AGITADO.

Los llamados "chicken bus" o canasteros Los llamados “chicken bus” o canasteros

El conductor era un kamikaze, la carretera estaba en medio de una zona montañosa y en cada curva sentíamos que íbamos a chocar. Por suerte, y luego de tres horas, llegamos al pequeño pueblo de Panajachel.

Llegando al Lago Llegando al Lago

El paisaje desde Panajachel (gracias Issis por la foto) El paisaje desde Panajachel (gracias Issis por la foto)

El lago está situado a…

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pachimama

Verses for Morning al Lago

with love from tantrictraveller

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A Cross and across the shores of Atitlan, Grackle flies….and Swallow.

Split tails weave, alight,

needle-sharp, on this submerged limb, that rock.

Beaks catch, tug tight dun strands

from the loose, unspooling night.

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Out of the lapping darkness,

statues of the brown Saints emerge: Pedro, Marcos

Juan, Antonio…

their gouged feet bleeding paint

into the lake. image

Tzununa’s form stays hid, her hands too busy with morning spells

to pause, palms outward

beckoning devotion.

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Prayers to Her begin before waking.

Half-dreaming, her devotees bend uncovered heads to the earthen floor,

call up the flame from Her vein.

A bean rolls from palm into mortar,

waters cupped in craters gleam and quiver at the sun’s crow

they boil at the uluating red below.

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Busy at her own hearth, Tzununa listens

and from Her vulcan pan – sulphuric wisps of yellow rise,

She swallows, Her throat surprised into gold,

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fingers close on veined turquoise, smooth petals of carnelian,

clavicles are weighted once more with jade –

Hah-day!  image  She breathes.

Floating above this unimaginable wealth.

Her face watches itself

in Atitlan,

discretes into mist, then into nothing, in the white sky.

A Dia-dem of vultures dangles,

indiscernible to the white eye.image

the amazing grace

My second-last day in Slovenia was the clincher. It had taken a full eleven days to feel the even-slow of near liberation, when it’s like flying, or at least like swinging on a really high tire-swing in a vast, elliptical twirl. I guess some people get it while skiing, probably surfing too, if they get to stand up for more than five seconds. And most everyone thinks they get it when the sex is perfect. Stop.  Guys think that more than girls –  girls know sex isn’t perfect so often –  that when it is, it’s way beyond what guys think perfect is. Anyway, i got it on day 11   image in Slovenia.

   You might understand better what it’s like if i point out that it’s not same feeling at all as a really good day at home. When you’ve published it and cashed it and called your Mom and Dad and the spaghetti sauce you simmer down to impress Fun Eyes is shadily seasoned in cilantro and ginger with a secret habanero before you can drink too much wine and muck it all up so Fun Eyes likes it and has seconds plus turns out to be much crazier on the couch than you ever suspected and together you have a superfluous experience and then you have seconds before you can drink too much wine and muck it all up, well that could be, as archangel Lou might say “just a perfect day” but no day 11 in Slovenia. Although, day 11 was conceived on 

                          day 10 image 

I‘m feeling almost too awake when I hunker down into the socialist shag seats of the slow train from Ljubljana to Maribor.  Since first reading the place name in an “I FEELsLOVEnia” leaflet months ago, i’ve been magnetized by a masculine-timbred word on a map near a green line that means the Austrian border. Today, it’s within reach of this grey, Sunday afternoon and i feel strange.  I am a stranger, after all, compelled to unfamiliar places, sure, but no more special than any other passenger looking through a window on a slow train, being looked back at, waiting for it to happen, whatever it is.   Antsy, i remember a flask of Canadian medicine in my bag and haul ass to a trackside bar then back to the graffiti-sheathed train with a couple mini- bottles of ginger ale and an empty takeout coffee cup. There’s a generic instruction branded on it and i try not to let my new paper cup annoy me. Re-examining an aversion to coffee, i re-consider it to be one of the more pathetic first-world fixations of recent years. Step right up folks, and get right off on some Miraculous Caffeine – we all fancy the stuff –  but, ladies and gents, don’t profess hot, brown water to be something it isn’t. Leave the masturbatory, starry-eyed proclamations for wine, for chocolate…

 image    for rye and ginger.

   The slow train, quite empty, finally comes unstuck from it’s idle. It gasps and picks up and its passengers, possible leftovers from Saturday night in Metalkova, carry on. I maximize my mini- bottles : pouring, sipping, spilling the perfect Canadian cocktail. I never shake a sense of separation from the temporal pace of Ljubljana, its passing city limits, the steep, riverine countryside. My window is full, then empty of post-modern apartment buildings, then factories, then squat and cozy houses, all full then empty of people having Sunday lunch, halls full of empty dogs, watching them. I  manage to get sugary drunk and stony sober again before arriving, finally, in Maribor. Nothing like a travelling day-boil. Waiting for me, up in the Stajerska,  the northeastern corridor of Slovenia, Maribor has already generated mixed reviews from the people i’ve asked. Most mention Pohorje, the well-known ski resort adjacent to it.  Several food-ier types speak only of its legendary pumpkin seed oil, aka Engine Oil, so dark green it’s almost red-black in colour, as ubiquitous in the Styrian region as the arugula and radicchio it lubricates at every meal.  At home, i consume raw green pumpkin seeds daily – on everything from apples to fish to pasta-  so i guess the Engine Oil sounds fine to me.

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     One hotelier (urbane host to a leg of my recently concluded press junket) tells me, unblinking, that the people in the region of Maribor are “not very nice”. When I ask for clarification, she can’t  translate her statement’s context despite her unaccented English. I wonder if ” not very nice” refers, somehow, to Maribor’s relative prosperity, to its cultural history within the Austro-Hungarian Empire or to an ex-boyfriend who lives there. I suspect that the strain of E.U. competition is trickling down through the regional pockets of this young, old country. Perhaps in Slovenia, the battle for tourist euros is as closely drawn between its own districts as between those districts and their breathing-distance neighbours in Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia…

      Over the last week’s whirlwind tour, the passion of the farmers, vintners and chefs i have met has been patently obvious – the stamp of distinct terroirs and artisanal traditions is clearly distinguishing Slovenia from its neighbours. Still, i have been oft-reminded, by oenologists, tourism reps, sommeliers and my guide, that Venice, Vienna and Budapest are just across that river, beyond that strait of blue Adriatic or over that Alp. Each region is tasked with artfully promoting its idiosyncrasy as delicacy, keenly aware that regional appellations, products of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO’S) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI’S) are emerging as the new currency of tourism and of future trade agreements with the world. Look what they’ve done for Burgundy, for Roquefort, for Proscuitto di Parma. So, after a dreamy week of professionally free-sampling offerings from the most charactered regions of this country a mark has been made upon my palate and on my traveller’s mind. It is on day 7, in the castle overlooking Ljubljana’s old city, the Alps chiseling into the Adriatic glow discernible at the horizon, that it becomes official:

I freakingFEELsLOVEnia.image

      But now official research has concluded and i’m exploring on my own ticket, so Maribor is the question – i hope the hotelier’s answer isn’t tipping me off to something no one else will admit. Then, three consecutive days in Ljubljana provide three more opinions: a saxophonist on the street, a jewelry designer in her boutique and the definitive gorgeous young Slovenian at a rooftop wine tasting (this face is an Art Nouveau flourish amidst a gallery of slavic bone structure). All three testify that the people in the northeast are “the nicest” in the country. Art Nouveau admits to possible prejudice, being from there. The  no-nonsense jewellery designer says she goes often and i should obviously go too and find out “why” for myself. The horn-player, a sparkling Serb, interrupts his bread-and-butter performance outside of the post office when I tip my hat to him, and invites me for tea.

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    A few days earlier, striding heatedly through the square by St. Nicholas Cathedral, the same Sparkling Serb stops on a dime beside my cafe table, simply to commend me on my choice of hat. Today he is graced with a white fedora in a similar vein. When he hears my travel plans, Maribor is confirmed as a favourite destination. He knows everyone inside the cafe perametres and most outside of it, orders more hot water again and forgets, again, to drop in his tea bag, so busy pouring out stories of loss and gain ( he used to be an engineer with a wife he adored). Courteously, he offers to call his Kazakh girlfriend and to drive up to Maribor, all of us together. We compare our respective devices, i show him some photos of food and frescoes and we take some more photos of ourselves in our hats. I meet a few of his passing comrades in art and commerce, including a tall, scholarly-looking writer who eagerly unscrolls the current, European edition of Playboy from beneath his arm. Everyone in the cafe cranes toward it. He contributed the “Watches” section.  It seems everyone in Ljubljana is up to something.

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     Our reunion has already been so satisfactory that i evade the Sparkling Serb’s kind offer to escort me to Maribor, but i will still grin madly on the inside whenever i revisit, in my mind, his full-on, faultless companionship and his tea-fuelled hymn to Goodness – blown over to me as a parting gift, from  bent knee, in a busy lane of passers by. He draws a breath, deeply. The sax pierces the chill air with an arrow of intention, it’s gilded voice so warm that i feel my hangover melting and beginning to leak out of my eyes. When i pull down the brim of my hat to shield my forehead from the song’s full effect, Uros – the Sparkling Serb’s chain-smoking, trumpet-playing friend – is nudging me. “Listen carefully” he scolds, “this is your song.”  “Why?” l am asking the universe, amazed. The universe will tell me on day 11.

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Maribor. I read the station sign with a deep satisfaction. I know now that i simply like the sound of it.  Maribor. Give it a try. Out loud with long, round euro-vowels.  The slow train wheezes its final breath and empties its contents out into the air of our Sunday destination. I drop my bag on the platform and unfold a map of this city for the first time – where do i find the World’s Oldest Vine? I want to take a picture and

           image tell my Dad about it.