Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On the Road Again, Playing Music with my Friends


A small woman with a cart full of oranges squeezed every last bit of juice out of the sweet oranges into a glass for Mike and I before we made our short urban trek back to the Loki. As we walked down the busy thoroughfare with the tourist market on our right and the road on our left, I saw a toaster-shaped bus in the distance. The sun slightly blinded me as I recognized the seven plastic chairs, that represented each person in our maiden voyage, on the top rack of the Gypsy Train.

"Mike, Mike...Gypsy Train...Gypsy Train." I screamed as we sprinted towards the Nissan bus.

We ran in front of the bus and I hugged Aleana and Alex and spoke in confused fragments. They had suprised us. Last I had heard, they were driving 1000 km around Ecuador so that the mechanic could check and see how our new engine was running. From the last message I had recieved from them I thought they were five hundred kilometers through the thousand mile journey and in Puerto Lopez.

It had been nearly a month since Mike, Matthias, and I had left A&A in Quito. They bribed the border guards for an extended visa to stay with the bus as it continued to be fixed, and I left for Peru because I couldn't afford the bribe.

Two days after the train arrived in Mancora, Marta returned, sneaking behind people as she crept into the Loki where she found us drinking beer at the bar. She was one day early.

The following day Alex, Alaena, Marta, and I walked down the beach to watch the sunset. There was nothing like a Mancoran sunset; you just had to watch out for all the knife people that lurked the beach in search of vulnerable travelers. The Loki warns all their guests about them. We walked down the beach suspecting every possible knife person, but boldly continued to the perfect spot on a few rocks and watched the sun dissapear.

"You know." I said. "This sunset is great and all, but the thing that is really great is that I am with all of you." We laughed.

I held Marta as Alex held Aleana and we all stood on the rocks and watched the sun until the last speck of light was gone.

"Bye, sun." Aleana said.

"See you tomorrow." Marta screamed as we all waved.

"Thank you." Alex said.

"We will miss you."

As we walked back we discussed the name of the sun. We came to the conclusion his name was Gilbert Finklestein and he was a Jew from Long Island, until Marta said his name was Lorenzo and was Spanish. We figured that made the most sense since we were in South America.

Two days later, monkeyless, with seven, we triumphantly left the Loki with our bus out of Mancora and down the coast. We drove down dirt roads that followed the desert Peruvian coast passing through Cabo Blanco, the small fishing village that inspired Hemingway to write Old Man and the Sea. We were in search for our first campsite. South of Cabo Blanco, the sea is scarred with oil rigs in every direction while the arid hills are criss-crossed with oil pipelines and drills. Marta said that the oil rigs dotting the sea reminded her of the American Navy sitting off the coast of Normandy on D-Day in the way that they specked out across the seacape as far as you could see, some not even being a few a kilometers from each other. The ocean was vibrantly blue and the sand purely white.

We found an old brick house in ruins that sat directly on the beach. In front were great dunes of white sand where we set our tents. Behind us was a desert wasteland full of scars from the black gold rapings of recent years that it suffered under it's sand and desert shrubs. The oil companies own all the land on this northern coast, putting drills in its earth, constructing rigs on its crystalline coast. Seeing all this earthen manipulation in vast quantities makes it hard for me to believe that the human race hasn't already set in motion the process of our own destruction. The Gulf of Mexico BP disaster is a perfect example of the destruction that just one oil rig could create and in front of me, then, atop the greenish blue waters, there were hundreds.

The idea of a green world, is for me, an impossible idea at this point, thinking that turning off a light in your house or driving a Prius is going to contribute anything when we are still destroying our world in a grand way. The only hope we have is that the people who are profitting from destroying our planet take some responsibility for the problems that they have created and make some serious changes.

This entire trip, between the heaps of plastic on the coast and now the revelation of big oil, has been an eye-opening experience in terms of the mass destruction occuring on our planet. I think we are all fucked, so in the words of Jim Morrison, "We better get our kicks before this whole shit-house goes up in flames."

Oh yeah, and two days later, we saw a penguin.

Photos by Marta Anglada

Test Drive

By Alaena

After close to a month of waiting, Alex and I finally sat on a mended bus in the mechanic's shop ready to leave the next day. As we ate our thirty-cent empanadas and drank free lemonade, we watched the mechanic's seven year old daughter tug violently at the ears of a small manicured poodle and cackle maniacally.

On the way back from purchasing cookies and yoghurt for dessert, we were intercepted by Ivan Posso and his family. Ivan is the brave mechanic that took on the remodeling of our strained engine. "I'd like to invite you to dinner, do you like chifa?" he called from his car window. Finding it hard to say no to a free meal and being avid fans of chifa, we accepted.

The hearty meal was followed by a grand tour of Santa Domingo including the park, shopping centre and not much else. Ivan then insisted, despite our protests that we come to his house to have a hot shower. As we waited in the living room his wife motioned me through to the bathroom. Ivan then smiled at Alex with an encouraging "sigue no mas".

When we both emerged back into the living room and what had already become a rather bizarre evening, we sat down to join them in their nightly wathcing of a typical novela and ate the lolipops we were handed.

"Vamos?" Asked Ivan out of the blue. After asking us whether we drink and sing to which we replied a cautious yes and an adament no respectively, Ivan drove us to a Karaoke bar. We sat down opposite the two other customers and listened to Ivan passionately sing two South American ballads. A few beers and a cuba libre later, we were back on Bus laughing about our surreal experience.

The next day started with an exasperating morning ferrying back and forth between different bulidings and people and standing in line to sort out our paperwork for Bus. By 1pm we were finally able to tentatively start our 1000 km test drive. No more than 10 km down the road the engine started to heat up and leak radiator fluid. With sinking hearts we called Ivan and he sent someone on his way. Luckily for what was left of our sanity, it was a minor fault and Bus was ready once more within half an hour.

We aimed to do a 1000km loop down the coast and back up to Santa Domingo as fast as possible so as to be able to join our fellow gypsies in Mancora, Peru at the earliest opportunity.

Our first night was spent on a farm outside Quevedo, approximately 100 km South of Santa Domingo. The wonderfully hospitable hosts and safely locked gates made up for the seven vicious dogs and large cockroaches lurcking between Bus and the bathroom. We were shown their expansive fields of palm trees on one side, and bright sunflowers on the other.

Returning from dinner in Quevedo we were stopped by two policemen on a mission for bribes. It must be pointed out that this was our first negative encounter with the police thus far. At other checks they have been a little baffeled and very friendly. They had various complaints.

"This is a Californian liscense. It doesn't work in Ecuador."
"You need a permit"
"Why do you have so much stuff for only two people?"
Eventually, I managed to convince them that the black and white handwritten document that serves as an International Driver's Liscence is in fact valid in Ecuador. It is impossible to know what the real law actually is as every official we ask gives us a new version. All we can do is talk authoritatively as though we know what we are doing and hope that they assume we know more than them.

The next day we were sent on our way with sunflowers and advice to trust no one, to the coast. We spent one night on one of our previous camping spots on the beach near Puerto Cayo where we fevourishly cleaned the inside of Bus out to make sure the rodents that ate our food were no longer there. The next stop was Puerto Lopez, that fateful place where Bus first broke down. Here we finished the tiresome task of cleaning Bus and everything in it and sampled the best milkshakes in the whole of Ecuador.

We spent one more night at a gas station and after waiting 'un ratito' at the mechanics we were assured that the motor was running perfectly and were finally able to leave for Peru.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


By Alex

I remember when we first met…

It was a cool dark evening, the waves broke in what seemed perfect harmony. She approached us from behind, her black coat shimmered as she greeted us with her unique smile.

We were on the way to a beach bonfire, it was rumoured that there was live music and for Montañita standards it was to be a tranquil gathering.

She followed us over the sand and watched us dance and mingle while she laid in the sand watching over us like an Egyptian princess.

When the night ended we splashed through the rising tide. We then passed out in hammocks, the sand, on the bus and in tents. When we awoke she was still in camp lying peacefully on the gravel.

Over time we learned the small intricacies of her diet; she hates raw chicken, only will eat table food if you put it to her lips, she dislikes dry food but enjoys warm cuerro. Most of all she loves tuna.

When it was time for us to part ways we said our goodbyes and boarded The Gypsy Train heading north. Being no good at letting go she chased us through the streets and up the hill. The bus was a hum with argument, to invite her aboard or not?

Matthias was most adamant on accepting her into the Gypsy lifestyle. ¨If we do not take her I think I will die, this is the only time I have disagreed with the Gypsy Train. We need this dog¨ he proclaimed.

So the next day we drove back to Montañita and found her in the street. She quickly jumped on board and we were off. Within the first 5 minutes she puked. We let her off, she walked in a circle, peed and jumped back onboard. It was the only time she ever made a mess on the bus.

Over the next few months, Matthias and Monkey grew close. They fought off Great Danes, ran down beaches, ate anti-parasite medication and antibiotics together, climbed through gorges, explored jungles and kept each other warm on cold mountain nights. They quickly became best friends.

Everyone who jumped on the bus fell in love with Monkey, even Tom found it in his heart to love ¨that dog¨.

She never ventured far and would come running to the sound of our diesel engine cranking to life. At times she would run off to visit other dogs or gringos but would quickly lose interest and come bounding back.

Over the last month she became a staple guest at the Grinn House Hostel. She had her own bed, she was given undivided attention and she quickly became known, even to the street people, as a member of the Mariscal community.

It seems that the friendly demeanour and popularity lead to her loss of membership with The Gypsy Train.

Alaena and I were sitting in the TV room of the Grinn when Edwin, our friend and evening hostel caretaker, came into the room. I need you guys downstairs he said in a serious tone.

When we got there two gringos were outside the gate talking to Monkey as if she was an infant in annoyingly high-pitch voices calling her Laila.

After hours of discussion, skyping, swapping of photos and endless calls it was determined that Monkey or Laila, indeed belonged to a man named Dan.

He lost her when he was away from Montiñita. He came back to his pizza shop and his dog Laila was missing. Over the last 3 months he has been hoping to find her. Fate so had it that his friends were just walking by the Grinn and saw her playing in the courtyard.

Dan will be in Quito on Thursday to confirm Monkey is indeed Laila. Until then we will be walking her, giving her cuerro and tuna while saying our goodbyes.

Monkey is an amazing dog and we will miss her immensely on the Gypsy Train. I can only hope that she lives out her life, smiling, eating out of tourist hands and running down the beach in search of the next party.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Children of the Loki


As I sat on the edge of the sandy cliff in front of the red and white horizontally striped lighthouse overlooking the town of Mancora and the Pacific, with a head full of booze and San Pedro, maliciously chatting with some anti-Semitic Irishmen after my first night of work, I looked down at the white goliath fortress as it dwarfed the rest of the buildings in town with planted palm trees, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and a three story bleach-white guest house with over one-hundred and fifty beds. I thought about how I got to that cliff and where I was, long and hard; I thought about the white fortress and the natural hallucinogen I had just taken as the clouds melted into one another.

The white fortress was called the Loki Hostal to backpackers and the western devil to the locals. With the bus being broken, Mike, Matthias and I decided to volunteer at the Loki, so we could receive a free bed and meal while we waited for the train to get fixed. This proved exhausting.

When we arrived for our training, Matt, the bar manager, who previously offered a job to Matthias, rescinded his offer coldly by saying that he had found someone else due to Matthias´ lack of enthusiasm during our initial interview. Matthias was left alone.

There were only four hours a night that there was no music blaring, from three to seven, between the loud bumping wee-hour thuds of Nelly´s "Hot in Here" to the smooth DJ infused jams of a Loki breakfast. The afternoon, like a day during MTV spring break, was filled with superficial pectorals and loud testosterone infected woos coming from the cattle during one of the daily activities that were forced upon the guests by the aggressively greedy management staff.

There were four Loki Hostals in the Loki Hostal system. The Mancora Loki or the Western devil had existed for only three years and had monopolized the guest house industry in Mancora, filling its one hundred and fifty beds to eighty percent on any given night, while the other, usually locally owned, hostals/posadas were nearly vacant.

On our first day, we attended an all staff meeting. About fifteen employees sat around in plastic yellow chairs in the back of the exaggeratedly large concrete floored dining area, while the bald-headed Scottish bar manager, Matt, seethed about the rules and the problems they were having with the "free" employees breaking the rules, for one hour and a half.

“Do not go on the beach after dark. Tell everyone not to go to the beach or the bars on the beach. As far as we are concerned, those bars on the beach do not exist. It is very dangerous. I have lived here for four months and have heard of many people being beaten, getting their legs broken and faces maimed.“ He said with an aggressive, sing-song Scottish flare as he instilled his western fear into the new recruits, unconsciously hoping that the fear would spread to the rest of the guests causing them never to leave the few fenced-in square acres of Loki. Mike, Matthias,and I had been drunk on the beach every single night the week before without incident.

He continued to tell us that we needed to up sell, cheese on fries, and doubles instead of singles. It reminded me of my days working at Chili´s, something I was desperately trying to escape, but there I was listening to this skinny, bald man ranting about up-selling. He returned to the sing song oratory.

“The discount is for you, not your friends. You are working for your discount. Don´t give it to your friends. You work for it, fuck em.” He said to us as if we were on his side.

Then the owner rallied forth and told us if we were caught stealing that he would “sack” us. Jesus, who would want to get sacked from a job that was paying you no money but acted like they did while they treated you like cattle. But that is what we were to them, cattle.

For me, it was like being taken straight out of a South American adventure and instantly being transported back to Panama City´s Club La Vela during college Spring Break, name brand board shorts, big ole titties, weak frozen drinks, guys named Brian with cool sunglasses whose favorite movies are Tranformers and Scarface, and girls who are too self-absorbed to even enter into a conversation that is not totally about their dull lives. None of the people here have even asked me any questions about myself; they are too busy recollecting their mindless stories from the pointless night before. I travel to steer away from people like these, but somehow those motherfuckers have found me and infiltrated my environment, just like they did in high school and college.

These travelers, if you can even call them that, do the same thing every day, drink and play stupid games with other western people just like they would at home. There is no discovery; everyone already knows that is possible to get blacked-out drunk every night.

It is hypocritical for me to criticize excessive alcohol abuse, and even to criticize these people for staying here. After all, I am a Loki resident. I see myself a bit different, a citizen of the Americas , a constant traveler. Maybe Loki is what I am, and I am having a self-realization that, I too, am a self-absorbed puppet, no different than any other people.

But I can tell you, I count the days to my release date from the Loki Pen, when I can be free on the G-Train again, but until then, I am Loki.

Photo by Marta Anglada