To Dick and Jane's and Back Again

I live in an old cedar cabin perched atop a rock looking over an inlet off the North Pacific ocean. The living room window we call Channel One, and the glass paneled door on the wood stove is Channel Two. Both are lovely, but I ultimately prefer the more dynamic and expansive Channel One. We don’t actually have a T.V. On the walls of the cabin are marine charts— cartographic representations of what I can see out my window. Only, if you were to draw a box around the section of chart visible from the window, it’d be about the size of a post-it note on a three-and-a-half foot map. Every day as I go about my house business, sipping coffee, reading, writing, cooking, I end up staring at those charts a lot. They help me visualise the maze of mountainous islands and channels that make up Clayoquot Sound, the “backyard” of our little town at the end of the Esowista Peninsula: Tofino, British Columbia.

Tofino is at the tip of the Esowista Peninsula (bottom right)

Tofino is at the tip of the Esowista Peninsula (bottom right)

The thing about backyards is that during our busy lives, we seldom get out and use them. So after a summer of long workdays and evening chart-gazing, a rare weather window in late October provides the perfect opportunity to paddle out the back door, so to speak, and into the yard. And what a yard it is.

My paddling partner is a long-time friend, Kevin Hawker. He and I both migrated west around the same time, lured by oceans, mountains, and the promise of adventure. We learned to surf around the same time, and travelled extensively together around South America. Our shared experiences have taught me that the guy is annoyingly good at pretty much any physical activity he tries, and he’s probably one of the nicest dudes you’ll meet. In other words, a perfect adventure and life pal.

We depart the Esowista Peninsula in the early afternoon, about thirty six hours after deciding to green-light the trip. That morning, I invited Kev to try out a paddle-surfboard while I instructed a lesson in the small waves at South Chesterman beach. While my client had all his own fancy SUP-surf gear, a flat-brimmed hat, and very much talked-the-talk, Kevin out-surfed him handily, balancing well and using his paddle naturally. It was his second or third time ever on a standup paddleboard, and I knew we’d be fine for our circumnavigation of Vargas Island.

Pre-trip shot from the First Street dock looking out into perfect paddling conditions.

Pre-trip shot from the First Street dock looking out into perfect paddling conditions.

Our paddleboards this afternoon are 12-foot touring machines, and resemble flat-hull, flat-deck kayaks far more than they resemble surfboards. Casting off from First Street Dock— town has four cross-streets and they all have docks— the big boards easily float the weight of drybags we’ve strapped down. The added ballast increases momentum as we reach cruising speed, paddling in a rhythm of long, strong strokes across the harbour. There’s not a breath of wind, and despite the cool October air, the sun and paddle-strokes are both powerful and we’re sweating in minutes.

Our goal is to camp at a beach called Dick and Jane’s on the north shore of Vargas Island. Any semi-serious surfer in Tofino has heard tell of waves being found there, but in order to work, the spot requires a pretty good size swell to push through the Braybant and Russell Channels from the open ocean. Despite the small surf forecast, I’ve optimistically brought along my shortboard, and am dreaming of scoring some cheeky little rides on gasoline-free remote surf safari. We glide the glassy waters of the Maurus channel between Meares and Vargas Islands, beneath the imposing presence of Lone Cone and Catface mountains. I remind myself that this is a backcountry SUP and camp mission, and that if I don’t get to surf, that’s just fine! Surfers are crazy and have a tendency to lose perspective, always chasing waves in their heads. 

Soaking up the late afternoon sun partway to Dick and Jane's

Soaking up the late afternoon sun partway to Dick and Jane's

We reach Dick and Jane’s within a few hours, and are able to carry our boards and supplies above the high tide-line just in time to crack the growler of fresh Kelp Stout from the brewery and watch the autumn sun sink into the sea. With a fairly empty stomach and a body tired and happy, my pint takes quick and pleasant effect. I take a deep draught of the air coming off the ocean, all cool and salty and clean in my lungs. I look out towards Bartlett Island and her daughters. Their punchy silhouettes are rendered in that acute definition generated by the soft but direct backlight only created in those fleeting moments when the sun is just below the horizon. The air is cooling quickly, and it doesn’t take long for goosebumps to replace beads of sweat on my bare arms. Giving my shoulders the first shiver-shake of the evening, I finish getting out of my wetsuit and we get going on the fire.

Shortly after arriving. The mountainous ridge in the background is Flores Island.

Shortly after arriving. The mountainous ridge in the background is Flores Island.

There’s an abundance of driftwood logs for fuel. Some old cedar shakes have washed up on shore and will make for some nice kindling. A piece of discarded plywood becomes the perfect kitchen table. Before long, we’ve got pesto veggies and smoked sausage sizzling in the cast iron pan as the fire contributes its own pops and hisses to the evening music. The stars have just poked through the darkening fabric of the sky, enjoying their brief opportunity to shine without competition from the moon, which is rising somewhere behind the impenetrable wall of old-growth Sitka Spruce lining the beach. Already, the contours of their crowns are defined, the sky behind them radiating that ghostly, silvery quality preceding moonrise. And still perceivable is still the faintest glow of orange along the western horizon.

So there I am, centred in a land of in-between, of liminality. Framed by sun and moon, stars and sand, mountain and ocean. Enjoying the food, drink, warmth, and light of home, while on the edge of raw, symphonic nature, a place I feel is both mine and not. There I am, positioned at some midpoint on the line of coming of age, too. Realizing the depth and breadth of all my relations, and how I’m really just their sum. I think that’s all anyone is, the sum of their relations. It’s a powerful idea, and not scary in the slightest if one always maintains respect.

Around a table of friends at home, a growler can disappear quicker than you can finish making the toast, but thanks to Kevin’s strategically small pours, we’re still enjoying it after dinner. We talk of girls, of surfing, of plans, both long and short term. Of earning and saving and spending money. Of balance, in all senses. Pretty soon I get the inkling that it’s time to do a “cloud reveal” of a special treat I’d brought along.

During our road-trip through Peru and Chile, we hiked extensively in the Andes. Often, clouds would obscure a peak we knew to be there. We’d wait, keeping an eye out for the “cloud reveal” when the mist would dissipate enough to expose the summit. Quickly though, “cloud reveal” infiltrated the slang in our camper van. More often than in its original context, we used the term to describe any kind of secret surprise, such as covertly buying chocolate, then surprising the group with it when lost, frustrated and looking for a gas station in the sweltering heat of a crusty mining town in the north Atacama.

Anyways, I had some nice tobacco to cloud reveal to Kev. Neither of us really smoke much pot, but we do both enjoy the dry, fragrant essence of tobacco on the right occasion, and this was certainly an occasion. Afterwards, with my feel hot from the fire, belly full of food, and head buzzing a little from the tobacco, I walk out to touch the ocean. It is electric cold, and feels awesome. My face is warm and I turn to the moon, which by this point, hovers silently above the sitkas, casting gossamer shadows across the beach. It illuminates the grandstand of mountains to my right so brightly I can see the contours of their faces. Thirty minutes later as I teeter on the verge of sleep, snuggling in my sleeping bag, I picture the my surroundings in vivid detail. I feel very connected. This is the good stuff. It really is!

The next morning, we wriggle from the tent and get the fire going. Its heat forms a small oasis of dry warmth in the utter dampness of the coastal dawn. The sky is still grey, but the winds and seas are both calm as can be. I look at my shortboard, and realize it’s main contribution to the trip will likely just be cool photo opportunities. But, lack of swell means that it will be a great day to paddle the outer coast of Vargas, across Ahous Bay and through the shoals and islands of the La Croix Group. The return to Tofino will be about 15km, the last 3 of which will require some hard paddling up a strong tidal current by my calculations; if we had all day, we could wait for the current to slacken, but Kev’s got to work at 2pm and we’re young and full of piss and vinegar. We finish our pesto sausage omelettes, slurp the last of the yerba mate, and hit the water.

"Roughing it"

"Roughing it"

We encounter a little wave action as we round Vargas' northwestern corner and begin our southward return along the outer coast. My hopes of surfing briefly reignite, but as we continue, cove after cove, including the mighty Ahous Bay, are flat as pancakes. There will be no surfing here. A pod of porpoises is flying around the bay, their little dorsal fins and shiny backs flashing in the sunlight. The eastern horizon is lined with the jagged, alpine peaks of the Strathcona Park, the interior spine of Vancouver Island. In front of these stand tall the rounded, treed faces of Catface and Lone Cone, presiding over us. Then there’s the lowlands of Vargas Island. From our vantage point midway down Ahous bay, the island seems to be opening its arms to us, inviting us in for a big embrace. But we ignore the hug offered and continue south.  

Definitely not posing for this one. That's Catface in the background. 

Definitely not posing for this one. That's Catface in the background. 

We stop at Ahous’ southern terminus for a floating lunch break. As if to remind us to keep going, a sea lion, with it’s big honking forehead, surfaces. It is very large, and very close. We begin paddling. She follows. We paddle a little faster. They’re not dangerous, but her size alone is enough to make me uneasy. I’m not scared, but definitely very aware of her presence. We’re in her domain and she knows it.

Kev taking a short lunch break with the northernmost shoals of the La Croix group and the open Pacific in the background. Menu: pesto sausage on a bun. Notice a trend here? #pestopower. The open Pacific was glassy calm for our paddle around the outside. 

Kev taking a short lunch break with the northernmost shoals of the La Croix group and the open Pacific in the background. Menu: pesto sausage on a bun. Notice a trend here? #pestopower. The open Pacific was glassy calm for our paddle around the outside. 

The final leg of the journey, from the southwestern corner of Vargas back to Tofino Harbour, is where the burn begins. Massive amounts of water drain twice daily from the large inlets of Clayoquot Sound, bottlenecking in narrow channels between islands and peninsulas. Kevin and I savour the last easy paddling up an eddy along the south coast of Vargas. A few meters further offshore into the channel, we can see the ripples and boils of fast moving current flowing out to sea. Without hesitation, I nose into it and we’re off. We don’t stop paddling hard for 45 minutes. You can’t take breaks when paddling up a current or you lose all the distance you’ve just worked so hard to gain. I’d spent the summer on the water and was in great paddling shape, so it is no trouble. Kevin too had spent many months working planting trees and fighting fires, so has all strength required to muscle up the current and return safely home. It felt good to really let loose and paddle hard after such a relaxing trip.

The up-current grind doesn’t let up until I paddle into the eddy of the 1st street dock. Sweaty, happy, sun-kissed. Physically tired and mentally fired up as can be! Kev and I conclude the mission with a ceremonial and very official fist bump. It’s 20 minutes before 2pm, so it looks like he’ll make it to work on time.

That night, I let myself be absorbed into the chart on the wall that started this all. I look at the contours and crannies, the channels and bays. I think about the currents. I visualise the places on the chart I’ve been, and fantasize about the myriad I’ve yet to explore. It’s a wonderful feeling, getting out into the backyard.

Vargas Mission Route.jpg

 

 


 

Idle Days in the Atacama

On the fourth day, I switched to Blundstones and socks. It was the ever-present layer of moondust sand that covered my feet; it was the lubricious sweaty profile of my toes and feet on my filthy flip-flops; I could no longer tolerate it. And so after a shout and a shower I separated my blessed clean tootsies from the Atacama Desert using layers of leather, rubber and merino wool. I would later realize that my feet were just switching adjectives, dirty to stinky. The desert would win this round. I squinted up at the sun. It was blank and pitiless. But hey, at least boots and hiking socks looked great with my jean cut-offs: an acceptable look for a wayward van-dwelling twenty-something who has chosen to pause a short professional career and gas his small life-savings in order to surf, climb, and hike his way down to the bottom of South America, Patagonia.

So here I am idly waiting in northern Chile, padding back and forth on my feet, adjective to adjective. I’ve got two of my best pals, got the surfboard, the camping gear, and most importantly, the look. I’ve been sleeping in a pristinely beat up 1997 Toyota Hiace van for the last week. There’s only one issue. We don’t actually own the van, and at present, we cannot purchase it.

Back in Canada, I had this great Dodge Ram camper van, which took me all around the Pacific Northwest and down to Los Angeles and back. Purchased it quite easily I might add. I also had a fantastic job working for an advisory firm to indigenous groups and I lived on the Squamish First Nation reserve on Vancouver's North Shore. That chapter flew by, in the best of senses. Together, the job and the van taught me that the world is big, people are diverse, and time only speeds up with each passing year. So the choice to sell the rig, quit the job, and start volunteering with a startup social enterprise in Lima, Peru, was, though not without real and difficult compromises, very much the right decision. I left Canada in early 2016 and after 8 months of in-your-face cultural orientation in the 10 million-person Peruvian metropolis, my travel companions Kevin and Sam arrived.

From my rented house in Lima, we put a deposit (sight unseen) on the Chilean-registered, former airport-transport van. Its owners were a Canadian couple who were forced, regrettably, to cut short their overland journey from Patagonia to Toronto due to a medical emergency. Only reaching Arequipa, Peru, they fled the continent in a whirlwind, leaving in their wake a hastily written power-of-attorney note authorizing a Chilean named Emilio— who they’d not met in person— to drive the van back across the Chilean border where the van could be stored then sold with relative ease. Or so thought all parties involved.

Two months later on October 15, after having travelled sans-van most of the Peruvian coast and interior, three wearied gringos spilled off a 22 hour bus-ride and stumbled their way through the gates of a military-owned campground, where the van was stored and Emilio was caretaker, outside the dusty Chilean border town of Arica. A guitar, a skateboard, surfboards, camping gear hung from us like the loads of pack mules. Emilio, a short-ish, round-faced, but handsome guy in his mid thirties, greeted us under a single bulb. He lead us around the corner of the darkened garage we’d seen in email-attachment photos.

The van. It was so close. We’d talked about it daily while in Peru. Suddenly it was Christmas morning and we were kids bounding downstairs into the still-dark living room. Emilio flicked on the fluorescent tubes. Our bags all dropped to the sand. We made various utterances ranging from “ohhhhhh baby” to  “god dammit she’s actually real!” And real she was. Beneath the cold, hard hum of the tube lights she looked especially ugly, as did we, roadworn and bleary-eyed. The mottled discolouration of the cracking paint job; the exquisite shade of tastefully faded red. The metal below the tail light looked like the furrowed skin between the eyebrows of an old man who’s spent a life squinting at sea, like the crinkled wrapping paper of our Christmas morning. It was perfect. Emilio threw the keys into the ignition and she stared up perfectly, idling happily. I wished we could take it for a test drive right then and there, but that would be foolish, wouldn’t it?

I asked Emilio if there was anywhere nearby we could buy food and beer. Emilio said absolutely, and that we could follow him there in his car. Wait, did I understand his Spanish correctly? He clarified that yes he meant we should drive; there were no cops out and that we should give ‘er a whirl! Gingerly, I backed out of the garage. I feathered the clutch and listened to the engine engage for the first time. She breathed a little heat into the cockpit. She was as anxious as we were. We bumped up over the lip of the paved shoulder and edged onto the open road. We moved through the gears, listening to her sing. We were flying through the open Atacama, first time behind the wheel in South America, without any of the proper paperwork; baptism by fire.

Kevin yelled over the wind-roar of the open window and the cool desert night, “it’s like being sixteen again and getting your license for the first time.” He was right. I wasn’t a 25 year old any more. My age has been malleable since I arrived in South America nearly a year ago. At first I was a toddler just learning to speak. Each week seemed to bring a new experience, a new success, a new roadblock. Many of us share that memory of the first months behind the wheel of your parents’ car. How an errand as mundane as running to the corner store brought butterflies and a grin. When we returned from that first drive, we opened a bottle of wine, poured a libation over the nose of the van, and then just sat there staring at her under the lights, sipping and not really saying much. It was real.

Without hesitation, we cast off into the ocean of bureaucracy that is the vehicle-acquisition process for foreigners in Chile. We’d done our research and knew exactly what course to chart. For the first few days, the winds were steady and the seas were calm. I obtained my temporary Chilean citizenship that allows me to sign legal documents here; the next day we renewed the van’s government mandated technical and emissions certifications. We kept commenting on our good luck. But on the third day, the wind died and we found ourselves in the doldrums, where we have been now nearly two weeks.  

In their haste to get back to Canada, the previous owners authorized Emilio to drive the van across the border to Chile, but had forgotten to mention anything about actually selling it once he got here. The clerk at the notary explained this to us blank-faced. I didn’t process what she said at first as I was distracted by her purple lipstick and very tasteful oval-shaped cleavage hole in her blouse. I curtly thanked her. We turned from the counter and walked crestfallen through the crowded notary waiting room. Emilio, normally a very genteel and calm guy, exclaimed,“Idiota!” It was the most animated I had seen him. He was talking about the van’s current and forgetful owner, but I know at least a little of his anger was directed at himself, for not having spotted the gaping omission, which was now blatant as a hole ripped in the centre of the page.

That was the third day. We had been expecting to leave for Bolivia on the fourth. It has now been ten days and we are still here, camped in Emilio’s carport. He’s been remarkably patient throughout the whole ordeal. The owner, using a Spanish-speaking lawyer back in Canada, wrote a new letter, an emailed copy of which we tried to use at the notary. Lipstick and cleavage again denied us, so as we wait for the original documents to arrive by mail, I continue switching from dirty to stinky feet.

The time here in our desert campground has had a dream-like quality to it. While we are very much trapped here and itching to hit the road, I will always remember fondly the idle days outside Arica. On the first day Emilio gave us an electric kettle because we don’t have a stove. On the second day Kevin made me try powdered milk, a trick he picked up while living in his station wagon on Australia’s Victorian coast. It’s not bad. On the fourth day we gave up ramen and oatmeal with the discovery that we could barbecue nightly using wood found along the beach, where we also surf. We drive into town without the proper paperwork for supplies. We consume a lot of delicious and unbelievably inexpensive Chilean wine in the evenings.  On the fifth day we finished building the wooden interior of the camper using borrowed power tools, and on the eighth, its laboriously hand-sewn sectional mattress was completed. On the ninth day, after we were barred from buying the van the second time, we got raucously day-drunk off bad tasting Chilean beer, and had a long and philosophical game of “would you rather” that served as a platform for comparing and contrasting everything from the emotive capacities of different forms of art, to the nature of time and memory, but also included propositions like “your sweat is cheese wiz” or “you have lego hands.”

We’ve made fast friends with Emilio and his nephews. We have more or less become fixtures of the campground, holding our own key to the gate, watching other groups come and go, making pleasant conversation with them. A late-middle aged German couple passed through for a few nights. Their names were Klaus and Gertrude (obviously) and they have been traveling South America by motorcycle for the past year on a 1988 BMW (obviously) dual sport that was gifted to Klaus by his friend who passed away suddenly ten years back. I can’t imagine his friend could be any more proudand perhaps a little jealous looking down and seeing where that bike has gone. When we asked, assuming the answer was yes, if they were retired, Gertrude replied, almost wistfully, “oh God, no.” Exhaling smoke from her fourth after-dinner cigarette, she continued, “you can’t do this when you’re old, it’s already a little much for my back.”

Klaus marked up the Patagonian sections of our maps as the sausage links sizzled and popped beside roasting bulbs of garlic on the grill over the fire. The internet is a wealth of knowledge to fuel one’s travels, but it lacks the tangibility, the hutspa, of having a thick-necked, twinkle-eyed german drawing lines on a very blank section of coastline on your map and saying “oh yes, zees ees where you can see zee pingueens; your map doesn’t show eet, but zer ees a road here.” Right on Klaus, right on.

Assuming that the documents from Canada arrive in the mail before Friday, and assuming that Purple Lips will approve the sale at last, then our time in this dreamy, dusty microcosm is coming to a close. We may be living in a garage, but it is comfortable. We may be unemployed, but we are gaining things we’ll keep with us for years and years and years. I’ll miss Lucas, the big-dumb-lovable golden retriever who chases the shadows of pigeons and I’ll miss the tinkling of the Latin Soft Rock radio station that drifts across the grounds at all hours of the day and night. I’ll miss that teenage feeling of getting your wheels for the fist time. I’ll even miss the question I ask myself each morning after I throw on my jean cut-offs, “today would I prefer stinky feet or dirty feet?”

 

Note (November 18):

The papers did arrive that Thursday, but the next day were again denied because they were not made in Chile. The Bolivian border was as far east as we ever made it, and we would eventually drive the van, without actually owning it, over 2000 km south from Arica to the capital Santiago, where the Ministry of External Relations could approve foreign documents and render them legal for use here. And so, on day 28 we finally walked out of a Santiago notary public holding the signed and stamped “compraventa” or “buy-sell” paperwork. Buying a vehicle in Latin America and then road-tripping to the end of the continent, it’s no walk in the park. But with patience, ambition, humility, luck, and the right company, I’ve been surprised at what we’ve been able to achieve.

 

On Mancora and Microcosm

Máncora… I don’t even know where to begin. After rolling northwards some 1160 km and 19 hours on the Panamericana Norte from Lima, we stagger out of the coach bus into a reed-and-bamboo terminal. It’s not quite 7am. As if rushing to fill a vaccuum void, the bus air, all polyester-velour-and-body-heat, exhales us into the warm tropical morning. Blinking hard and still awakening, I take a deep pull on my water bottle and see brilliant blue cracks of sky through the thatch terminal roof. In south and central Peru, the subtropical desert coast has been blanketed in a textureless, paltry grey fog for the past 8 months. Peruvians call this the panza de burro, or the “belly of the donkey.” Yes, we’d found plenty of quality surf down there, but the water had been cold and we’d been living in a more-or-less greyscale photo.

Last night, while we slept, we rounded South America’s westernmost point, passing from beneath the donkey, and out of the influence of the cold, southern Humboldt ocean current that causes the depressing 8-month weather pattern. We’ve now strapped our boards to the roof of a moto-taxi and are puttering our way along the main street towards our hostel. We pass a sunbleached Coca-Cola sign that reads in English:

MÁNCORA

SUMMER

FOREVER

Peru’s North coast is sunny year-round, and though it’s within the same map lines as the rest of the country, we’ve entered a distinctly separate space. The UV-drenched coast is peppered with small fishing towns, most of which remain fairly quiet to this day. Except for Máncora. Oh, Máncora, “Peru’s worst kept secret.”

Máncora too was once a tranquil little fishing hamlet. Today it’s inhabitants pull as many fish from the sea as they ever did, but the place is anything but quiet. Now having made it most of the way through its identity crisis, Máncora’s 9000 souls seem to accepted and embraced the town’s new duality, though some more reluctantly than others; I caught a man wearing a shirt reading, Máncora’ no se vende, Mancora se defiende.

I can see why he doesn’t want his town for sale. The main beach strip is lined two-storey tiki bars. They perch so close to the water at high tide the waves lap around their foundations and customers can't get in or out without wet feet. Not that anyone's wearing shoes here anyways. Jet-setters from Lima are sipping cheap drinks next to the bronzed local surfer-bros trying their heavily accented pick-up lines on two sunburned 19-year old Irish girls. The local year-round uniform is boardshorts and flip flops, apparel that hang in every doorway and shopfront surrounded in hammocks, fedoras, and fakes sunglasses. Moto-taxies, actual motorcycles, ATV’s and the occasional dune buggy dominate the sandy streets. There are strangely few cars here.

I rise early on our second day to catch a perfect, windless sunrise surf. On my way I pass three sun-blanched and dreadlocked gringos “wooks” as we affectionately call them still ferociously conscious on the seawall, bottles in hand, charging around the elbow of their bender. But, I can sense that their multi-substanced bliss is becoming a foggy stupor. They would last impressively long. It wasn’t until the early afternoon that I found them passed out in the sand, families stepping over their toxic bodies, surrounded in newly-arrived sunbathers. One had his half-shaven, half-dreaded head downslope of his feet, neck angled sharply, mouth open. Finding himself.

Sixty years ago, during one of his Latin-American stints, Hemingway visited Máncora for its famed sport-fishing. The town has since changed profoundly, but perhaps the hard-drinking, womanizing writer might not mind the developments. The shenanigans would at least provide a buffet of inspiration for his cynicism. Plus, the fish are still out there despite the havoc that climate change is wreaking on our oceans. This March, a 1500 pound Marlin was caught right off Cabo Blanco, a few kilometers south of town, and the commercial fisheries are still thriving. Though Hemingway penned The Old Man and the Sea from a desk in Bermuda, and set the story in Cuba, it’s reasonably speculated that he drew considerable inspiration from his trophy Marlin days here.

Our four days in Máncora pass by dreamily, comfortably. We spend much of our time on the waves, reading on the beach or at our hostel, visiting the market or the bakery. We lunch on bananas and bread and cheap beer. It’s the kind of place that is totally fun to visit, but would be very difficult, for me at least, to call home for any extended period of time. If it wasn’t for the surf, I don’t know how I would fare here. It’s surreal to surf in the hyper-productive, bathtub-warm waters. One day, there were swarms of tiny, un-stinging jellyfish forming dense clouds in the water. It was like paddling through bubble-tea. I picked them up and threw them at Kevin. On another day, at dawn when scores of fish fed along the reef that formed the wave, I remember standing up on a wave and surfing over a school of fish. I could see them fleeing left, right, and straight ahead in the clear water beneath my surfboard as I stood, stood on my feet, above them. It was incredible

We form fleeting community: the Chileans, Ecuadorians and Germans from our hostel; our Canadian friends staying up the beach; the owner of the barbecue we frequent for dinner; the surfer-bros we see so often out on the break during our multiple daily surfs. This type of community that forms and disbands is a known hallmark of hostel-type travel. It has it’s pros and cons, and I will not pass judgement on its authenticity. I have never backpacked until now, and my first observation is that it is an interesting experiment in human connection. First, put a bunch of people who don’t know each other in a novel locale they’ve never been. Then, remove the responsibilities of their lives at home, add a dash of party incentive and see how they behave.

While a good half of the people I encounter on a given day are there for a good time and not a long time, the other half are locals with a range of feelings about how their town is today. For some of the younger folks, they have only ever known their town as the surf-party destination, while others have seen their town usurped by outsiders. The restaurant owners and hoteliers have embraced the change and capitalized on the resort economy, while crusty fisherman adorn faded “Máncora is not for sale” t-shirts. In the collective interaction between the local and tourist population there exists ample quantities of both genuine hustle and genuine kindness, and discerning between the two can be difficult.

We’re moving into some quieter towns now. As the dudes and I pack away our boards and wetsuits on our last day, I think about this dichotomy I’ve drawn. I come to realize that perhaps kindness and hustle don’t even have to be mutually exclusive. Can local surfer bros resent us for crowding their wave, but still genuinely enjoy our shooting the shit with us out there? Can fisherman earnestly wish me a buen dia when I’m the very reason his town is for sale? I think so, but It’s all very complicated. I wonder if the wooks passed out on the beach find Máncora to be this complicated of a place? Better open myself one last beer.

Cumpleanos en Independencia

As with many cities in both the global north and south, the snarling metropolis of Lima, Peru, has many different sides. Between the gleaming modernity of Miraflores and San Isidro and the destitute unserviced shanty towns that spill up the desert hills in Comas and Carabayllo, there exists a jaw-dropping disparity in material wealth. While real estate prices in the prosperous neighborhoods are similar to those in any northern city, in the sandy foothills, people don’t buy land, they simply move onto it. Population growth in these pueblo jovenes (“young towns”) exploded throughout the 80’s and 90’s, when swaths of the country’s rural campesino population effectively became domestic refugees. They fled not only persecution by a Maoist terrorist movement known as the Shining Path, but also extrajudicial slaughters (failed attempts to quash the revolution) carried out by the corrupt national government at the time.

Today, while Lima’s peripheral neighborhoods are becoming a little safer and more prosperous, most foreigners and tourists stick to the richer parts of the city. Even more monied limenos don’t go to the peripheral neighborhoods often… they have no reason to. But they will be the first to admit that the wealthy, safer, and gringo-navigable districts are bubbles, havens. Havens that don’t accurately represent the majority “real Peru.” I live in one of these havens. So naturally, I’m finding it a little surreal to be sitting on a chair at the edge of a party at 3am, in Independencia, one of Lima’s poorer and rougher barrios, a little liquored up and lucidly typing away these notes on my phone.

The story begins earlier this week, when Brain, a bright 17 year-old participant in the social program I work for, handed me an envelope with my name on it. Well, it said “Collins,” (pronounced coyeens), which is a popular brand of Tea in south america, and has become the way I am known to most of my Peruvian friends here. In the envelope was a handwritten invitation to Brian’s 18th birthday. I gave him a weak-ass maybe, “si, quizas puedo venir pero no se…” and immediately felt like a limp dick party pooper as he walked away. But, tut-tut-head-shake, I knew it was not safe to be in this part of town at night. I work here during the days, and even then there are robberies and shenanigans on the streets.

However, flash forward a few days, and I was on the bus north from my safe gringo-navigable hipster-haven of Barranco, ready to meet my co-worker Natalia and her fiance Marx, who was born and raised in Lima Norte. Marx (yes, like the philosopher), is also a Marine in the Peruvian Navy and enjoys competing in CrossFit during his time off work. Probably a decent dude to travel around with if I’m going to be up in these hoods after dark.

"Get ready for a cultural experience," Natalia said to me as we made our way off the main artery, Avenida Tupac Amaru. (Your favourite West Coast rapper is named after the last ruler of the Incas who stood up for his people and was martyred by the Spanish). The three of us waded through the dark yellow light of aging streetlights, over cracked concrete. We passed abandoned cars dressed in dust, resting on their rims, flat tires spilling onto the broken pavement. We side-stepped garbage and dogshit, to which Marx jokingly referred to as “landmines.” I guess as a marine, he’s got the license to use such terminology. On the sidewalks, beneath the flickering bodega lights, groups of guys eyed us unreservedly over their beers. Streets up here are not really marked, but Marx and Natalia seemed to know the address on the card.

Now at this point I was still expecting some sort of house party, so when Marx pointed at a shabby looking Chicken restaurant with a few people in it, I was a little confused. But then my gaze floated up to the second floor, where I could see coloured party lights on the ceiling. Raggaeton pulsed from open windows. So they’d rented a party room. “A little more formal than I expected,” I muttered to Natalia, before climbing up the stairs. At the top we were greeted by Brian and his father, both wearing suits. “Okay, a lot more formal than I expected,” I added, somewhat breathlessly. I removed my faded trucker hat only to realize that my year-strong mop of curly light brown hair was probably an even less formal option. Not like blending in was really feasible here anyways.

The room was done up wedding-style, with coloured fabric wrapped around the columns and draped along the tresses of the ceiling. Chairs, neatly dressed in alternating white and baby-blue skirts, lined three walls. An altar-like glass table at the front of the room held plates of food and a cake. On the wall behind it, the words “Feliz Cumpleanos Brain” formed a semi-circle above an inflatable electric guitar. At the time, I remember thinking how it all seemed a little PG, but it was organized by his parents after all. The next few hours would prove how wrong I was. I thought we’d arrived fashionably late, around 11. At the time, there were probably only 20 people in a room that was set up to hold about 100. Poor Bryan, I thought, it’s already late and none of his friends really came. The only people here seem to be his family and maybe a couple of best friends. Again, how naive, Colin.

The party had formally started around midnight, which seemed insane to me considering that it was a family event with grandparents aunts and uncles in attendance. And when I say “formally started” I mean Bryan walked down the centre of the room flanked by his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents, while the the room, now full of at least 100 friends and family members, clapped. The hall was a mix of girls in heels and party dresses, guys in suits, guys in stereotypical cholo uniform of plaid shirts with the top button done up and skinny jeans, girls in skirts and sneakers, and about everything in between. Over the next 180 minutes, they would become, for me, the characters of a bildungsroman set in peripheral Lima; the cast in play about coming-of-age in Independencia. But, over the three hours traffic that crossed the stage, it become decreasingly clear whether this was a play about Brian's coming of age, or mine. And it would become decreasingly clear whether I was an audience member, or an actor. 

---

It’s now 3 am and I’m sitting low, legs outstretched onto the dancefloor at the edge of one of the most bumpin’ parties I’ve ever been to. The heat from warm dancing bodies and the smell of cigarette smoke are in the air. I’m eyeballs deep in what I think might actually be “real Peru,” in the heart of lower-middle class Lima, and I’m typing boozey stream-of-consciousness style notes into my phone. I’m trying to capture the energy of the room, trying to capture the feeling of having so many of my assumptions, small and large, turned upside-down. Trying to capture a night that is simultaneously one of the most real and surreal experiences since arriving in this country. So please, dear reader, I invite you to dive into my iPhone’s notes application, where perhaps I’ve captured a little of the hot magic in the room right now.

11:05pm Bryan's party. Damn dude. Quiet when arrived, sketchy hood. Awkward family party vibe. Lots of awkward waiting. Lots of receiving “what on earth is that funny white guy doing here” glances.

12:05 Not a drop of alcohol and it is already after midnight. Pretty PG. Suits, party dresses, plaid cholos.

12:15 am Structured part- speeches, formal dances, Brain and his mom, while everyone watched, how cute! Then Brian and his grandma, then sister, then friend… wtf is this, he’s taking a 20 second dance with every damn girl in the room, while they whisper happy birthday and stuff in his ear!

12: 45 am Wait but what’s this, now a borderline stripper is coming into the room. And giving Brian a borderline lapdance!!! With everyone in the room watching, including his freaky grandparents and parents! And they’re all laughing like “hahah our skinny awkward teenage son is becoming a man now” We just went from 0-60 in seconds flat, from PG to “what even is this”...

1:02 am Okay now the almost-stripper has a co-worker, a male party dancer dressed up like a clown, big goofy shoes and all! He is dancing maybe even more sexily than she is, and he’s going around to all the older ladies sitting on the edge of the room making them stand up and join the dance floor with him! Oh god the almost-stripper is coming over to me and taking my hand! Shaaaa I’m on the dance floor in front of everyone. I need a beer but there’s no goddamn beer at this party! Girl beside me saying this is what they call “crazy hour”. Christ. I can’t hear shit in here the music is so loud.

1:10 am There are some sketchy looking old guys milling around by the door with beers. I think they just walked in off the street cuz I think this is a dry party. Oh man I hope they’re not up to no good. Don’t want things to get sketch.

1:12 am Shit one of the sketchy old beer guys is walking over to me. Please don’t give me trouble. Oh, what’s this, he’s giving me two beers. Hmm, not gonna say no. I must look like I need one or something.

1:15 am Okay so these beer guys are actually just Brian’s drunken uncles who finally tapped into the beer supply. Now the beer is being passed around the room. There’s a lot of it. Jesus they had to wait until quarter after one to start drinking? Guess they wanted to wait till the formal part was over.

1:20 am Now Brian is up at the front with his parents and grandparents raising plastic goblets of bubbly. Everyone including me also has a bubbly in hand. His dad is saying some words about this being Brian’s first legal drink. Everyone is cheersing and saying “Salud”. So rad.

1:19 am Yup the grandmas beside me are drinking beer and dancing. It’s the middle of the freaking night! What’s your grandma doing right now??

1:25 am Lotta nice legs here. Okay everyone’s dancing now.

1:35 am More dancing... Man these 18 year olds can really dance... It's a whole realm of physical, artistic, human expression that I have never really been able to access, it seems kinda transcendent. Even watching it is kinda taking me. Or maybe it’s the beer.

1:36 am Remembering I didn’t eat dinner or drink any water this evening. Whatever, balls to the wall man!!

1:45 am There’s this rad androgynous looking homie here. Tall, skinny, half shaved head, baggy sweater, scarf, headband, who is cruuuuushing it despite the machismo culture here and somewhat machismo nature of the party (Brian dancing with all the women, the almost-stripper, the lapdance). Yeah man this peer acceptance of someone different is rad. Androgynous homie dancing with all the guys AND girls, kinda like the life of the party. Viiiiiiiibes.

1:53 am Seeing the high school lovers doing their thing… like being social and fun but seeing that they really just wanna escape the party together. I love that feeling of newness, of raw kinda innocence in a relationship. Maybe I’m just imposing what I think they’re feeling onto them.

2:01 am Remember the drunken uncles who brought in the beer a little while ago? They must have started earlier because they’re already asleep on chairs, arms all folded, in the back of the room.

2:10 am Some of the plaid 17 year old cholos bring a case of beer and put it front of the sleeping drunken uncles, then nudge them. The uncles wake up and see the beer, then both take one and start dancing again. This is too good man ahahaha.

2:15 am This is so awesome. I’m getting a little tuned. Surfing is gonna be a struggle tomorrow but I must. Then I must hang out, snuggle and take care of Giuliana. I hope so anyways.

2:17 am Man I kinda have to take a number. Let’s walk to the washroom.

2:18 am WOooooooOOOoooaaahhhh absolutely not. I don’t want to be that hero taking a dump at the party anyways. This washroom is a disaster. Not even a toilet seat. I’m glad I have my blundstones on.

2:30 am Now I’m chilling with Rosa age 22 and her husband Christian. He is a marine too. Works hard AF. Like Marx. They’ve both killed at least 10 people. That’s weird to think about eh? Natalia and Marx are here too and we’re all vibing. Am I a 5th wheel? Nah broooo I'm not even gonna let myself think like that. Sucking back beer hard with Christian Natalia. They just keep bringing them to us. And I thought this was a dry party haaahhhhhh. Just like the dancing, this went from 0-60 so fast. Christian is opening bottles with his teeth when rosa isn’t looking.

2:41 am Now I found out she is looking and almost admirably at him doing that. So badass. The realnesss here is insane. Quality of life and dance and party. What more could you really want? What is life really about?

2:45 am Realizing it would be so stupid to not learn how to dance while I am here and resolving to take a salsa course. Realizing that I have basically just been watching this party happen on the dance floor making up characters for everyone in my head. Maybe I have no real right to fully participate in it. This is their space. The feeling that I should have been participating in it. The realization that I am probably closer to the drunken uncles than the young folks sexily and youthfully throwing down on on the dance floor. Realizing that I’m just typing this story out on my phone in a lucid stream of consciousness style while chair dancing in a party I couldn't less belong to. Realizing that I’m gonna publish this shit on Tread Slowly! Co-worker Natalia wants to go dance more with her fiance.

2:50 am Wishing I could dance with my new hot cool smart alternative chica here. This would been a sickkkkk date, especially for a gringo to offer to a Peruvian girl. I look up from my phone and they are still all crushing it. I wonder what they think of me. Sitting here in my army jacket nodding away to the sick music. I realize I am looking around at the party typing and not even looking at my phone. Muscle memory is a crazy thing.

2:55 am The older aunt throwing it down on the floor with the male party clown. The older uncle dancing up a storm uncreepily with the younger girls.  Man in the clubs at university all people knew how to do was grind and make out. I haven’t even seen a single make-out all night here. But some-how the dancing is more sexy here, even though people aren’t even touching each other.

2:59 Man dance is this thing I have been missing out on my whole life, and it is an old part of human nature. Dance is very much a thing in Latin America. These kids learn to dance in school. Right fucking on.

3:04 am There’s this chunky but put-together guy in the bow tie who has been crushing it at dancing all night. He makes all the girls look awesome. And himself look awesome. I bet he is an awesome guy. I wanna be able to dance like him.

3:05 am Man this is a sexy party with so much great dancing unfortunately most of the sexiness is like 18-20 probably. Why does sexiness have to come into play? Why am I focusing on the concept of sexy in this crazy situation when there are so many other interesting concepts to focus on. But interestingly, like I said, I haven’t even seen a dance floor make out all night. And there are parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents, all throwing down too. DANCING - AN EXPRESSION OF HUMANITY!!!  

3:06 am Brian is now dancing with the girl he told me likes. She is the girl in the green dress. Probs popular and smart and a lot of guys probably like her. Gaddamn I just said “probs.”  I saw another young guy trying to put the moves on her earlier tonight. But most girls here get pregnant really early and face just about every barrier imaginable when pursuing a career.

3: 13 am All through the night Brian's dad just working so hard bringing everyone drinks and making sure and everything is managed and everyone is happy. But now I catch him dancing like a fucking boss just working it with his wife. Shoulders are rolling feet are stepping hips are moving it’s salsa time. Enjoy the fruits of your labour you awesome dad you!

3:15 am Even though I was invited I feel this isn't my party to crash. This is someone else's space... I am not participating but I guess I probably could if I really want to. But my dancing and realnesss are lacking and I’m just sitting here in awe of it all. In awe of the fact this happens every month with every new 18th birthday. This type of collectivism and closeness probably happens all over the world I think. Poorness? Yeah they’re poor for sure. This lifestyle though seems to offer a different kinda richness. But who am I to be able to say. The more time I have spent away the more I realize the limitations in my own perspective, even though I actually know more and more.

So to the person whose world is so tiny that they know everything, about what’s right and wrong, about what is and isn’t, about what should and shouldn’t be, think again.

3:22 Okay Colin buddy boy your phone is about to die! Put that shit away and go join the dance floor. You know you’re super welcome to. Stop saying this isn’t your party, this isn’t your place. The birthday boy freaking invited you. And your favourite shameless Marc Anthony song just came on. It’s time to stop being an audience member. It’s time to go join the cast on stage.

3:23 - POWER OFF -

Naked Net Fishing

It’s Saturday night around 10:30 pm and I’m sitting in the back of a small sedan rocketing south on the Panamericana Del Sur, the cool air of the night fluttering on my face. Summer is now waning in the southern hemisphere, and the nights are not the sultry, sweaty affairs they were when I first arrived. At my feet is my backpack, holding my sleeping bag, a towel, and a few beers. In the trunk are two hand-crafted nets, empty plastic bottles, uncracked glowsticks, and an empty dogfood bag. Tonight, we are going fishing.

Twisting my neck and running my arm across the top length of the back seat, I peer out the rear window. Lima’s warm glow paints the night sky a deep orange-grey, fading upwards to a deeper blue-black, punctuated by a few persistent stars at the top of the dusty auto glass. The sprawl splashes up the cerros the rocky, sandy hills that wedge in the city’s periphery marked by streetlight pointilism and nothing more; the residents of the shanty towns in the hills surrounding the city are often too poor to afford electricity that isn’t municipally funded. Unwinding my body I retrain my gaze frontwards. Ahead lies only the darkening night and a damp, chilly beach, the site of our night’s work.

---

As we ready our net, the sand cold between my toes, I turn to my friend Malte, who I met surfing when I first arrived. I tell him that what we’re about to do is fucking crazy, and ask him if this is an actual method of fishing or if they had just made it up. He laughs. “Just don’t get caught in the net yourself.” I take a sip of my beer to calm my nerves. Malte is a 30 year old German who has been living with a Peruvian family since late last year. The oldest son of the family, Juan, fishes for a living, He has now enlisted the help of Malte, who accompanies him multiple nights a week. Six-foot-something, blonde, and standing a full head over most Peruvians, Malte is probably the only person I’ve met who stands out more starkly than I do. At times I think he’s a damn robot. I’ve never seen the dude’s feathers ruffled. Never does he seem scared or uncomfortable, too hot or too cold. Oh also, he’s a doctor, but he isn’t quite sure he wants to practice medicine. Not right now, at least. Anyways, some nights he and Juan catch enough fish to make them both plenty of cash at the market the next morning; other nights they return empty handed. But it’s always good work. Physical work. Work during which you routinely put your body to the mercy of the ocean.

As I prepare to put entrust my own wiry frame into the hands of Pacific, the net lies on the beach, clean, untangled, and ready. Twenty-five meters long and two meters wide, it consists of three separate meshes of increasingly small weaves. Juan wove the nets himself. He cracks a glowstick, puts it into a plastic water bottle, and fastens it to the far end of the net. “Estamos listos,” he said, “We are ready.” He, Malte, myself, and the two others making up our fishing party pick up the net. I shiver. Brush sand off my gooseflesh. We’re all in our boxers. Juan is ass-naked. “Vamos,” he says calmly, and we proceed walk towards the water.

The waves are strong tonight, and the water is cold. But I’m not scared. Well, I’m not that scared. Because, after all, I'm comfortable in the waves from my countless hours surfing, and I’m a confident swimmer. But that’s during the day, and that’s with my wetsuit. I swallow but my throat is dry despite the lingering aftertaste of the Pilsen Callao, which didn’t really do much to calm my nerves anyways.

Malte leads the charge, taking the front end of the net along with the dogfood bag, now full of rocks and bound with a rope to serve as a sinker. Obviously he’s in front because he’s a damn bionic man who’s not scared of anything. I’m second in line, because despite the Peruvians’ clear knowledge and experience fishing, none of them are really that confident when it comes to swimming. Strange. I begin to wonder if they’re just using us crazy gringos as tools to help them complete the night’s oceanic errand. But as soon as the first wave strikes me, nearly knocking me over and sending frigid spray over my shoulders, these thoughts are washed away and adrenaline takes over. The net is heavy, and the drag only increases once the majority of its length is in the water. I readjust my section on my shoulder and tug with all my might, forcing forward in the ghostly half-light. We work with the waves, making small advances as the water retreats from the beach in the backwash; then, digging our feet into the sand, we watch the next wave form above us like a rearing horse. Then we brace and hold like hell. The weight of thousands of kilograms of cold water descends upon us. Further and further out we advance in the cyclic dance of the waves, until we can no longer touch the bottom during the swells.

The deep slow thunder of the breakers roars all around me. I feel it in the ears, in the chest, along the heart. The power and potential terrifies me, but counter-intuitively, it's soothing too. Like the serenity one might feel while free-falling. Then, without warning, a liquid freight train obliterates me. Caught wholly off-guard, I feel my section of net wrenched from my hands. I'm thrown about as a small dog would wring a ragdoll in its jaw. I’m engulfed, puny, helpless. I thrash and realize my feet are in the net. As I run out of air, I feel tightness in my chest, ironically, like a balloon filling to its bursting point. But then somehow I regain tranquility. I let the cold water move me. Everything is quiet and slow, like one of those movies. Breaking the surface and the silence, I gasp as the swell recedes back out into the sea and I free my feet from the net. It's surprising how long a breath can last when it needs to. Or perhaps it’s surprising how long a short time feels when the possibility of drowning looms in the black water. The moon is shimmering on the glassy patches of water between the seafoam. I look up and see the stars, crisp and clear beyond the light pollution of the city.

At this point Malte calls out saying that he is letting go of the rocks (how the hell he has been carrying these the whole time as well as the front of the net is beyond me, seriously). We body-surf the waves back to shore and I truly process the epic-ness of this moment. As we walk back onto the beach, my soul is pumping, my skin is tingling, my core is warm despite the chilly sea breeze. I realize I’m grinning in silence. I let out a “whoooooop” and laugh heartily much to the Peruvian’s delight. Malte gives me a high five and explains to me that a rip current running counterdirectional beneath the waves will now suck the net further out, while we tend to a rope attached to the net, which we’d previously fixed to the shore. Sure enough, the glowstick in the plastic bottle bobs increasingly further out, disappearing and reappearing between the breakers.

After about half an hour, we begin to pull in the first net. It’s heavy. Just as when we were bringing the net out, we must cooperate with the cyclical movement of the water. The anticipation of the catch is palpable. Would the net be empty despite our efforts? No way man, I was hopeful. Sure enough, as the net crested the sand ridge, there were about 10 wriggling fish in there, deeply ensnared, and suffocating in their final moments. I marvelled at the lethal nature of the net. It was certainly a death trap. I let myself feel the slightest bit of guilt as I looked into their beady little eyes. But then I shook my head. This was simply the process by which fish fulfill the greater purpose of becoming ceviche. And I love ceviche.

We repeat the netting process about 5 times between 11pm and 3am with varying degrees of success. After a while I realize that no one else was wearing their cold wet boxers; taking Juan’s lead they’d just followed suit in their birthday suits. I also come to realize that my own boxers— wet and full of sand— aren’t doing much good at all. In fact they are actually making me cold. I remove them. So here I am with a bunch of strangers more or less, ass naked on a dark beach dragging a fishing net across the sand. It’s probably the most manly I’ve ever done.

Like most worthwhile things, manly and otherwise, it’s not easy. But it sure is fun. Not passive, immediately-pleasurable fun, but rather challenge-and-reward fun. Some call this “type two fun.” Each return to the icy waves requires a strengthening of resolve, and elicits a surge of nervous adrenaline. But each return back to the beach brings that same tingling of the flesh, the same warmth of the core and of the spirit. Each reclamation of the net from the sea brings the excitement of seeing wriggling fish on the moonlit sand. This is good work. Ancient work. I begin to realize why Malte doesn’t want to return to Germany and practice medicine just yet.

At three in the morning we decide to get a little shut-eye and retreat to our sleeping bags on the sand. My body is exhausted after the rope-pulling and wave ducking, not to mention the three hours of pick-up soccer I played with the guys beforehand, during which I had my ass handed to me on a platter, obviously. I experience the deepest sleep I’ve had since arriving in Peru, despite being atop cold sand and shrouded in the coastal fog… I wake to a playful whistle, mildly surprised that it is already beginning to become light out. I am informed that we’re going to do a couple more nets as the pale sun rises over the mountains in the east. I’m so warm and so cozy and so deeply sleepy. But the other guys are already stripping down and getting the net ready. “Up and at ‘em,” I exclaim. Neither Juan nor Malte know what this means, but they understand my cheerful tone and they start singing in spanish as we jog straight into the icy water. Ninety seconds before I had been fast asleep. The pre-dawn ocean proves to be more effective than any coffee I’ve had.

---

Nine in the morning on Sunday, not quite twelve hours since the adventure began. We’re back at the house. The fish are cleaned, the limes juiced, the onions and aji peppers diced, sweet potatoes boiled. It is time to enjoy the fruits of our labour. We combine the ingredients into the biggest and freshest damn ceviche I have ever seen. My mouth is watering. Juan brings over a few cold ones. Bread and wine? No thanks, I’ll take some raw fish and beer.

San Pedro De Castas

“Pare! pare! pare!” shouts the the teenager in front of our rickety micro bus. Lit up by the headlights in front of a dark and foggy abyss, the sweat on his skin glistens despite the cool night air. He’s motioning vigoursly for the driver to “stop! stop! stop!” It’s 9pm and we’re clinging to the edge of a crumbling mountain road high in the central Andes, trying to pass by another bus heading the opposite direction. Etched into the near vertical hillside, the “road” is barely a lane and a half wide. Small white crosses cling to the bends. Why had I not noticed these on the way up? The teen is staring at the front left tire, which is mere inches from dropping off the edge. The other bus crawls forward on the inside of the turn, gassing and braking, its diesel engine barking loudly. The people inside rock forward in unison with the abrupt gas-brake pedal mashing of their driver. With barely a hand’s width between my window and theirs, there’s less space between us than if we were sitting at a cafe table together. The smell of nerves and diesel fumes. Wiping away the condensation on my window, I make eye contact with a girl in the other bus; shadows move across her palpably tense expression. But I don’t feel bad for her. She’s on the inside of the road. In my bus, I hear a guy a few seats behind me puke. Christ.

The pass is finally complete. A few people on my bus are marking the sign of the cross on their foreheads, shoulders and chest, muttering catholic things. The teenage “cliffside negotiator” leaps back in through the door with the energy of someone who’s just landed an awesome stunt on a skateboard or something like that. Huge grin on his face, he talks loudly to a few of his friends on the bus. “We were this close!” he exclaims in Spanish, holding up his index finger and thumb for everyone to see. Real reassuring. As we begin rolling down the road’s steep incline back home towards Lima, he continues, “if we went over the edge, we wouldn’t stop falling until Sunday!” It’s Friday night.

I’d spent the last two days with a friend exploring the Marcahuasi plateau and the nearest town, San Pedro de Castas, population 500. The cluster of homes clings to the mountain side nearly 4000 metres above sea level, and way off the trodden gringo trail to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Though it’s only four hours away from Lima by a series of rickety kombis, it felt worlds apart, culturally and geographically.

Three hours of this. Much more harrowing descending at night, way faster than comfortable.

Three hours of this. Much more harrowing descending at night, way faster than comfortable.

48 hours earlier on the way up, I’d gawked and snapped photos with shameless enthusiasm. Unlike the misty late night descent, we made the trip up the mountain in the early morning, and we didn’t have to worry about brakes failing. Our bus that morning was run by the town of San Pedro, so it was full of locals; for them this was simply the weekly commute, so naturally, they weren’t so giddily reactive to the views as I was. A woman with two younger children laughed at me and offered me her seat next to the window, telling me I could get better photos if I put my camera outside the dusty windows. Grateful, I swapped seats with her and for the rest of the voyage I chatted with her to the best of my limited ability. She told me her name was Elena and that her family lived in San Pedro. She divided her time between her hometown, high in a remote lush alpine valley, and Lima, the arid metropolis in the rainshadow of the Andes.

The line halfway up the mountain is the road...

The line halfway up the mountain is the road...

We continued climbing higher, higher. The valleys were a verdant paradise compared to the sunbleached desert coast where I have been living and working. Long grasses, flowering shrubs, leafy trees, plump succulents all clung to the walls of the high alpine meadows. Subtle ridges and pathways marked the hillsides, gently massaged into the landscape over millenia (yes, millenia) of livestock grazing, of permaculture. The area had been farmed like this for the last 3000 years more or less, Elena told me. At the end of the bus ride, she gave me her phone number and an invitation to come visit her and her family at their home later that afternoon.

High alpine valley, 7am

High alpine valley, 7am

According to the Christian tradition, San Pedro, or Saint Peter, controls heaven's pearly gates. I don't know the actual intention of the town's colonial name, but the steep and lofty cliffs, the soft inland murmur of the alpine steams, the quiet of the sky, all seemed to radiate with an unearthly type of peace.  Additionally, there have been more than a few deaths in recent years as a result of carelessness near the precipices. After exploring the town and checking into our very rustic hotel, the clouds crawled up the mountain faces from the valley, socking in the entire valley, the town engulfed in an eerie mist. It wasn’t that textureless fog we’re used to seeing. It was like smoke, with puffs and swirls, floating quicky past doorways, rolling over the backs of the donkeys patiently waiting at their tethers in yards and on street corners. A rooster crowed somewhere. I was standing on the edge of a cliff with my friend Carolina, all white, all around us. It felt surreal, like floating in purgatory.
 

Nothing to do, nothing to make, nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to worry about.

Nothing to do, nothing to make, nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to worry about.

People of the town came and went along the narrow cobbled streets, between ancient houses. The cool air smelled of flowers and manure and tobacco. A group of 10 women and men sat together on some steps, smoking and chewing coca leaves. Andean people call chewing coca, “chacchar,” and the act is loaded with cultural meaning, not to mention notably high concentrations of calcium, phosphorus, vitamins, proteins, and other goodness making up this natural super-supplement. Coca has been an Andean staple for thousands of years; the narcotic alkaloid used to make cocaine was only extracted from the leaf, by a white scientist in Germany, in 1898.

The friends on the steps were laughing, joking, counting flowers into bouquets in preparation for the upcoming Easter celebrations. Enjoying the ancient comforts of companionship. They were farmers, mostly. The brightly coloured skirts, long braided hair, and tall hats were characteristic garb of the Andean people. I said to Carolina, “It’s like a national geographic magazine… they probably don’t know and don’t care about this week’s terrorist attacks in Belgium, about the terrifying rise of Trump’s right wing populism. ” But then I caught myself… what the hell was I talking about. I sounded like an elitist asshole. They were not exotic, and they were probably not living in removed ignorant bliss. I was the damn exotic one. I was ignorant, and still am, but at least I’m learning how little I know.

San Pedro de Castas, before the mist creeps in

San Pedro de Castas, before the mist creeps in

We couldn’t get a hold of Elena by phone, so we just started asking around town where her family lived. People up there spoke slower. People even paused before answering. In Lima, conversations are a rapidfire slur, with responses beginning before the question is finished. In the mountains, perhaps a result of the strong indigenous culture and lineage, it was very different. Yes there was catholisim, yes, people spoke spanish, but the hot and heavy “latin” influence of the coast didn’t seem to permeate the thin air.

Somehow Elena knew to come find us on the street, appearing with her sister, and greeting us with the typical Peruvian single kiss-on the cheek. This is not a an actual kiss but rather a touching of cheeks accompanied by a kiss sound. Something I’d grown used to in Lima. While Elena looked relatively urban in her tights and synthetic jacket she lived in the city after all her sister sported the typical Andean garb I described earlier. Her skin was weathered under her tall brimmed hat. Aside from their eyes, it was hard to tell they were even sisters. Unlike Elena, she planted a big fat proper kiss right on my damn cheek with her lips, then smiled at me, with both her hands on my shoulders. Bienvenido a San Pedro de Castas. She explained, as we walked to their house, that in Lima she felt like a caged bird, and that she much preferred the material simplicity and emotional depth of the high temperate alpine Sierra.

Descending into their yard, Elena’s family members were seated along an ancient stone bench and on small wooden stools. The two girls who came with Elena on the bus were playing with a dog, wearing little wool coats. It was about 8 degrees maybe. For the next hours, all we did was talk. Talk and talk. Sitting outside on that old stone wall, I watched the mist twist and roll, occasionally revealing the immense panoramic views these new friends enjoyed daily. We couldn’t see the valley floor kilometeres below us, but the peaks revealed themselves fleetingly. The summits were an additional kilometer higher than the town, Elena’s brother informed me, pouring me a second glass of Chichuasi. The comforting tonic was perfect the mountain weather: pisco (a Peruvian brandy), eucalyptus, garlic, sugar cane extract, and cloves, sealed and aged for 9 months. Good for your body and spirit. We talked of Canada. We talked of Peru.  The Chichasi warmed my core. Darkness fell and we moved into their 200-year old kitchen.

We talked of the social challenges of the town, of the increasing impact of tourism, and of the changes in weather as a result of climate change. Elena’s sister served us muña tea and bread. Both were warm and sweet. I zoned out, Spanish bandwidth long since exhausted, observing the stone walls, the dirt floor, thinking of all the members of their family who had sat in here, of all the conversations that had been had over the last two centuries. Of the temptations of the city, of the false promises of the sprawl, on the bottom rung of an economic ladder leading nowhere… Carolina nudges me, bringing me back, “Colin, they’re asking you about the terrorist attacks in Belgium this week.” Right, so blissfully ignorant. I told them what I knew about the attacks, informed by a half-ass skim of a few new articles earlier that week, but I knew that I was the one receiving the lesson here, not them.

Eventually our fatigue got the best of us. The next day we were getting up at 5am and taking horses up to the Marcahuasi plateau, our ultimate destination. But if Elena’s family home was part of the journey to get there, then the overused old journey-as-destination cliche couldn’t have been more true. At the hotel, we switched off the single bulb on the ceiling and crawled under the heavy alpaca wool covers. While the daytime temperatures consistently reach the high teens year round, the temperatures drop to the low single digits at night. However, no buildings, Elena’s family’s house, the hotel, use any heat sources. I had one of the best sleeps of my life, exhausted from the high altitude, the weight of the cover pressing comfortingly on my legs, on my chest, like being embraced from all directions...

Strange magnetism, eerie mists, thin air; Marcahuasi has a power like nothing I've experienced.

Strange magnetism, eerie mists, thin air; Marcahuasi has a power like nothing I've experienced.

As the intensity of the mountain road lessens, I feel the breeze from the dark night outside the bus window become warmer as we spill out onto the valley floor. People around me are sleeping now, but my mind is wide awake, ruminating on the events of the last few days. The Marcuahuasi plateau was stunning, of course, an astoundingly remote and spiritual place at the end of the earth, but I can’t keep my thoughts from returning to the yard of my new friends’ home. In my hands I turn over the smooth goat’s horn that I’d picked up in their garden, which Elena’s brother cleaned and polished for me, laughing with joy at the transformation from garbage to gift. I resolve that our encounter will not be a one time affair. It’s too sincere and genuine of an interaction to never see them again. I wake Carolina and we begin hatching plans for the next visit.

Tame Impala vs. Peru: Palpable Surreality

Since arriving in Lima, life has been a relentless, exciting and exhausting cascade of disorientation. Now that I’ve been here for two months, I’m becoming used to the fact that unfamiliar is the new normal. So, naturally, when late one summer afternoon in Barranco I see from a distance the psychedelic cover art of Tame Impala’s new album, “Currents,” I’m caught a little off guard. I’ve been listening to the album multiple times a week for the past several months, but for me, this Australian neo-psych pop music is something entirely distinct from my Peruvian experience, existing only in my headphones. Moving closer, I try not to jump to conclusions until I can make out the text, but my heart is starting to race… oh my god yes, “TAME IMPALA LET IT HAPPEN PERU // 16 MARZO // PARQUE DE LA EXPOSICIÓN LIMA” and moreover, beneath  in smaller type read, “CON ALVVAYS (INVITADO ESPECIAL)”.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I laugh, shaking my head, a huge grin on my face, fully falling into the ecstatic wave swelling within me. This is absurd and incredible. This is the most improbable and awesome concert that the universe has ever presented to me. For those who don’t know about my love affair with Alvvays, they’re the Toronto based jangle pop band that I’d performed with at the Wolf Island Music festival, with whose music and lead singer I’d fallen shamelessly in love with over the past 16 months, who I’d gleefully seen perform in Kingston, Toronto, and out in British Columbia, is now playing a show with another all time favourite band of mine, in LIMA PERU of all places in the goddamn world. What the freaking hell!? I seriously hope I’m not over-drawing from my well of good luck here because I wanna save some for when I’m older. I do a spontaneous little dance on the polished concrete of the dusty Barranco street corner.

Two weeks pass and I’m rocking back and forth under the flourescent lights of the metropolitano bus on my way to the show, the warm air of the night fluttering on my face through the open windows. A few quickly consumed beers are fuelling my excitement and a couple more are clinking in a plastic bag to be shared with a friend I am meeting, along with my Alvvays t-shirt for her to wear. She’s a huge fan of the Cranberries, and so naturally when I played for her a little  of the melody-driven Canadian band, she couldn’t fight the gravity of the the earnest, angsty, and oh-so-lovable voice of Molly Rankin. Finally at my stop. Carolina is waiting for me for me there patiently, looking lovely as ever. I greet her with a kiss on the cheek and we make our way to take a drink at the “Circuito Magico del Agua” or the “Magic Water Circuit.” Somehow when translated the name of the fountains doesn’t sound quite so magical. Some things are just a little more romantic in Spanish, I think.

The water flies and falls, swells, and spurts, accompanied by coloured lights, mist, and lasers. Yes lasers. It’s a perfectly psychadelic visual pregame for the upcoming show. Now I’ve previously written about how Lima is an incedibly “human” place… people are passionate; people express their feelings outwardly. So here at the fountains, as Caro and I walk through the manicured gardens sipping our now not-so-cold beers, people aren’t just looking at the fountains, people are going in them, even at night, with all the lights and stuff. Strange. Awesome. What I don’t realize at the time is this “Peruvian desire to be a participant not an observe” will really manifest with full force once the concert starts later in the evening

Though the raw and unregulated nature of society bombards me daily, I still can’t hide my surprise when on the way to the gate we pass through a gauntlet of people hawking copywrite-infringing Tame Impala goods: t-shirts, muscle shirts, pins, posters, all sporting pixelated images likely “Command-S-ed” from the concert’s facebook page. Dirt cheap too. I obviously bought a poster for 3 soles, a buck and change Canadian.

Inside it’s a different world from the Lima I’ve come to know. The concert is obviously not cheap; contrasting sharply with the dark skinned and visibly poor peddlers and bottle collectors outside, the demographic inside the gates is comprised of the city’s trendiest and most monied hipsters. I may as well be at the Fox Cabaret in East Van  or somewhere along Ossington in Toronto's West End. I feel a strong aversion, but I can’t ignore the reality that— as a hip looking white dude am the epitome of the very demographic I'm reacting to. The price of my concert ticket could support the family of the guy I bought the poster from for a few weeks at least. I try to wash away my discomfort in the cold suds of a Miller Genuine Draft. They aren’t even selling Peruvian beer in here. Wouldn't be global enough I guess. Anyways, I’m not one of those hypercritical depressed developmental studies types, and I’m still stoked as hell; the energy of the crowd is rising steadily.

By the time Tame Impala comes onstage I’m in a an amazing headspace, and one that I can’t say I’ve actually experienced before. Alvvays had obviously knocked it out of the park. I think juxtaposition of this music with this environment was as dreamlike for them as it was for me. It was their first time playing in Peru. It warmed me to see my musical heroes cracking smiles onstage, looking at each other in surprise above a crowd trying with all their might to passionately sing and dance along despite the language barrier. But music doesn’t know language barriers, that’s the cool thing. Unlike probably everyone else in the whole crowd, it was my 5th time seeing them, and I knew nearly all the words to nearly all their songs. Molly Rankin’s disquieted crooning got me through the cold fall months during the breakup of my university relationship in Toronto; Their triumphant pop hooks were among the first songs to which I drove my camper van into the Vancouver island sunset the day I bought it. Their beachy guitar tones got me and my pal Kevin stoked in the mornings during our California surf trip. It’s hard to describe the palpable surreality I felt when Molly was serenading me with her songs, which to me are some of the most familiar in the world, here in this profoundly unfamiliar latin american city.

Between sets, Caro and I sit down on the tarmac. It’s quieter down there, darker, our own private space on a forest floor, a respite from the smoke and loud spanish bro-banter of the canopy. Only thing was that the tree trunks were sweaty and hairy and were prone to jumping and kicking occasionally in excitement. For a few seconds, a shaft of light pierces through to shine on Caro’s face, bathing her cinnamon coloured skin in a warm green. Beautiful, half smiling, tranquil. Then it’s dark again.

I imagine it must be strange for her, invited out to this show with a naive and smiley gringo, who she’s known for little more than a few weeks. Tomorrow, we’re going to see Alvvays play again, a side-show in Barranco with two South American indie bands, one of which she’s friends with. Her idea. She has become a companion and teacher to me. Calm, kind, reflective, and an amazing conversationalist, she’s like a breath of fresh air among the jostling, dusty, noisey, and sweaty daily life here in Lima. Like sitting in the leg-forest beneath the crowed, my time with her is a respite from the chaos of life here; it is not found by leaving or running away, but rather by quieting ourselves and adopting new orientation within the same environment. Our lives are profoundly different, and in the short time I’ve known her she’s already taught me many things. She speaks softly and often in metaphors. I know I’ll continue realizing things I’ve learned from her long after we part ways.

We stand up when the energy of the crowd tells us too. Tame Impala comes on stage and delivers one of the best damn concerts I’ve ever been to. While Alvvays was endearing, comfortable, and familiar, Tame Impala is epic and majestic, a swirling and textured sonic jacuzzi, seamlessly weaving catchy pop melodies together with strange synth modulations, time changes, and disorienting visual displays. It’s sexy and hypnotic. It’s powerful and pulsing. For 90 blissful minutes I forget entirely about Raggaeton music. We’re caught in a bouncing mob of teenagers screaming in thick accents and broken English,  “Let eet happuhhhhn, let eet happuuuuuuuuhn!!!” I don’t even care that for most of the show I have the sweaty hands of some Peruvian dude on my shoulder as he jumps and pushes forward, screams and sings loudly. Even though he doesn’t know many of the words, let alone what they mean, that doesn’t stop him from trying with all his might to be a part of the concert. He and his friends, like the fountain swimmers, are anything but passive observers. Life’s too short to merely watch. I look at Caro and we laugh, then we lose ourselves in the music again.

Photo borrowed from one of the event photographers that night^^

Southbound and Letting Go

Monday morning en route to the office. I stand with one hand reluctantly clutching the greasy yellow overhead handbar, trying to rock back and forth with the bus, trying to think, “you’re a chill surfer guy now, just be chill.” Nope that’s bullshit. The sweat and heat of four peruvian men against me penetrate my goddamn soul. I try to zone out and sink deeper into the decidedly un-peruvian ambient indie folk music in my earbuds. It doesn't work. The bus jerks to a halt and I stumble, my leaden gringo foot landing hard on the sandaled flesh of the man in front of me. He glares. For Pete's sake. So what’s with this sad picture of monday morning self-indulged self-pity? I’m living the millennially fetishized global dream while my friends shiver it out in Canada right? It comes down to the available bandwidth any foreigner has for opening themselves to a new culture, and the fact I’d far overdrawn during the weekend. The situation may not have been helped by two full days of sun and surf separated only by a little clubbing and 3 hours of sleep in a hammock. But perhaps one could consider all that to be just “part of accepting the culture.” Anyways, the story goes like this.

Peruvian dudes’ gravitation to white women is strong. Stronger even than even the inexplicable interest Peruvian girls sometimes express in gringo chumps like me. Since arriving in this hemisphere, my attractive, female Canadian co-workers seem to have an endless stream of guys pursuing their “friendship.” Big surprise. Many of these guys surf, naturally, and I’m looking for surf buddies, naturally. Now I’m a man too, so I know how these guys work; I know that they aren’t merely walking phalluses looking for the next warm place to lay their heads. I know, however, that that’s definitely often at least part of the reality, so when I’m invited to this new friend Augosto’s beach house for the weekend along with the Canadian chicas, of course I’m a little wary. But I’d met Augosto and the guys a few times; their kindness and interest in this smiley, naive, and novice Canadian surfer seemed genuine enough, and the promise of good waves and better adventure was too alluring for me to pass up.

Saturday morning I find myself sardined 4 abreast in the back of a small black hatchback ripping south on the Panamericana del Sur towards a beach I didn’t yet know the name of, with some guys I’d known for less than a week, and of course their main attraction, the Canadian chicas. The modernity of Lima rapidly gives way to the southern slums, the sand dunes growing almost as fast as the welfare of the people falls. In the shadow of a behemoth, sun-bleached Pepsi billboard, garbage clutters the shoulders of the highway, sharing the real estate with women and men hocking beach paraphernalia to the southbound monied limeños. The inflatable tubes, umbrellas, chairs scream neon pink, green, startling the senses, out of place amongst the pale beige-grey of the dunes and even paler blue-grey of the sky. Children in the yards of their adobe homes play under the legs of their family’s livestock while the wealth of the city hurdles past them at 100km/h.

After a few hours we veer right, leaving behind the relative familiarity of a 4 lane highway in favour of a potholed gravel road making its way through a spill of humble single story brick buildings. It’s anything but a fancy beach community enjoying the money of foreign tourists;  this is Playa Azul, a place where regular folk come to enjoy the summer. I waste no time renting sleek single fin longboard, unable to resist the gravity of the Pacific. On the water, I get a much needed breath of familiarity. The hours fly by as I dance up and down the board on a deliciously clean, chest-high left point break in the rotating company of Augosto and the other Peruvian dudes. I learn that the strength of their love for the chicas is rivaled only by their love for surfing. I still can’t understand much of their rapid, slurred Spanish slang, but after lots of nodding, laughing at the appropriate times, making the motions of a breaking wave with my hands, and catching a few good waves in front of them, we solidify enough of a bond on the water. And I come to learn that they want to hook me up with a Peruana chica that night. Not sure how I feel about that. We surf through the yellow orange glow of the Pacific sunset until light fades.

By the time we reach the the “beach house” it is about 9:00pm. There are already a bunch of people here, Augusto’s cousin and friends. A pang of nerves flows through me. It's literally and figuratively a world apart from the cool, damp air, campfires and verdant coastal rain forests that characterized my post-surf experiences in the Pacific Northwest. The fear is a subtle electric current in my gut that I acknowledge, then use to fuel my awkward shoulder-dancing to the raggaeton pulsing from behind the dusty wooden door. I decide that this will be the last time I look at my phone for the night. I let go of my ego, of my self-consciousness. It’s time to embrace my surroundings despite the discomfort. It’s time to draw on every last megabyte of cross-culutral bandwidth. I raise my eyebrows and flash a nervous smirk at Augosto and I dance on in.

The place a suitably grimey Peruvian surf shack: wet sand in every corner, furnished sparsely with only the necessary party inventory. A fridge, a white plastic table and deck chairs, 5 bedrooms, 2 waist high speakers. The floor and walls, like everything else in this country, are all ceramic tile everything. And it’s all perfect. I'm staring up at the bamboo roof when a dark featured girl in very short black jean cut-offs, a black crop top and fake eyelashes breezes against me looking over her shoulder as she walks away. I turn around to Augosto, who is smiling. He hands me a Pisco drink and two condoms. “My friend,” he says through his thick accent, “ella te gustas, y ahora está listo.” “She likes you and now you are ready.” Christ. He is probably right about her liking me. He can’t be more wrong about me being ready. I take a drink. It’s stiff. “Well,” I think to myself, “guess I’ll need this”.

The night that ensued was probably less crazy than I’ve suggested it might be. I obviously didn’t want to lose control in a situation like this, or do anything (or anyone) that I’d regret, which I'm happy to report I didn’t. But I also didn't want to be confined by self-built walls. If the night was a wave that I surfed, I managed to stay in the nice, steep, smooth "pocket," just ahead of the whitewash. But as with surfing, remaining in that sweet spot is no passive process, demanding a seemingly self-contradictory combination of contrived focus and unthinking free flow. Thus an ocean of emotional energy is required to find clarity through the incense and cigarette smoke, hear truth through the pulsing raggaeton, understand the unspoken dialogue of body language, taste sweetness in an unsolicited dancefloor makeout, all in effort to sculpt a positive experience from a profoundly unfamiliar medium. 

So how do you win friends and achieve social success without language and cultural understanding? Resource scarcity demands creativity; when your words are limited you need to be improvise. And I’ll tell you, as a guy who enjoys a great command of my native language, this is very humbling and is nearly as demanding as it is rewarding. Yes, it would have been comfortable to gravitate to the wall of the absurd beachside nightclub we ended up at, or to have indulged in speaking mostly English with my few Canadian friends. But I wanted to receive all that this new place, these new people, this new culture had to offer, and so I invested my entirety in the moment. And when you put everything you’ve got into an experience, that’s when it fully reciprocates. That’s when you can truly receive all that a moment has to offer.
 

Even if it means borrowing emotional and physical energy from your Monday.


Surf and Adaptation

"Welcome to Lima, bro, it's the L.A. of America del Sur," a new friend says to me in a thick accent as we walk through the heat of the night towards Parque Barranco. The warm breeze carriers the smell of flowers, street meat, exhaust, and the omnipresent "boom, cha-boom-cha, boom, cha-boom-cha" reggaeton backbeat. On the green 700mL bottles of Pilsen Callao we carry, droplets of condensation glisten under the streetlights. Looking up through the palms that line the park, I can see the moon and the faintest stars through the haze that sits above the South American metropolis, home to 10 million people.

"So it's like L.A., huh," I half ask, half remark. I am not expecting an answer and I don't receive one. He's right though. This city has a sweaty and writhing cultural mojo like no place I've ever lived. It dances up on you sexily and unsolicited and shouts words in your ear you don’t understand. People argue openly and loudly on asphalt the under the midday sun almost as readily as they grope and make out by moonlight looking over the ocean from the polished concrete of the cliffside malecon. Horns are leaned on for 3 seconds at minimum, and road markings are symbolic, not functional. There is no such thing as a line, and words cascade out of people's faces faster than their mouths can shape them. And I have never eaten better food in my life. Simply put, Lima, Peru is the most damn human place I have ever lived; it is the most invigorating and exhausting environment imaginable.

Though my Spanish is improving daily, without the power of language I am forced to let go of the ego and constant desire for understanding and control. I must listen and feel in different way: non-verbal; situational awareness; tone of voice. I’ve gotta be chill as a fucking zen monk. Yeah I’m a pretty easy going guy, but I must acknowledge the reality that I'd be in a much less comfortable state if it weren't for surfing.

I'd long dreamed of a time I could walk from my house and surf. It was a dream that was born on the cold, rainforested beaches of British Columbia, and raised along the coastlines Oregon and California. The day I moved into my rental house in the bohemian borough of Barranco, I wasted no time getting a board in my hands. The dream was about to materialize. It was surreal. I can only imagine how I must have looked to the bodega owners, food truck vendors, and construction workers: a pale and bumbling gringo bolting by them on the sidewalk of Calle Pierola, suppressing a grin, blinking away sweat, and making a b-line for the ocean.

Surfing has become my church and my respite from the heat, noise, and forced intimacy of the city. The vast expanse of the Pacific opens in front of me. I pull my neoprene collar and let the cool water fill my wetsuit. Think of my office in northern Lima and my commute, during which I'm a sweaty sardine against 3 people at any given time. The deep slow thunder of the surf rumbles, replacing my land-based soundtrack of car alarms, horns, and unmuffled engines. The salty air breeze is fresh and cool, carrying with it no smells of exhaust or garbage.

Arms pumping after paddling as fast as I can through the break, I float among the swells. It's quiet out there as I move up and down with the the horizon disappearing and reappearing between troughs. It’s like I’m on the chest of some giant being, rising and falling with its breaths. I feel it, listen to it, move with it, receive it, and I know I must do the same with its terrestrial brother, the disorienting Latin American metropolis I have left on shore. This is my source and outlet for physical and mental energy. This is dialysis for my spirit.

It's the encouragement I receive on the water that pushes me to dive into the city and swim when I return to land. It's the patience and humility I learn while being pummelled by the surf that allow me to roll with the stream of ear-cuffs and ass-slaps that make up my personal and professional life here. It's the laughing and gesturing and broken spanish conversations with other surfers that remind me words are only a part of language. And it’s the feeling of dropping in on a clean line that reminds me that you everything will come together no matter how rough the human sea seems to be.

Perched on our boards, feet moving with the ocean to stabilize ourselves, the other surfers and I crane our necks at the top of each roller, scanning the horizon. Several hundred meters out, we eye a large set lumbering in, liquid elephants charging shoreward after a long voyage that started many hours ago, hundreds of kilometers offshore. The tops of the swells froth white, begging to break. "Va, va, va, izquierda, izquierda!" one surfer shouts, needlessly instructing his peers to move left in anticipation of where the pocket will be. But we're already there. Arms on fire, I am paddling as if my life depended on it. A 5 meter lateral difference means the difference between a dropping in on a smooth, steep line and getting pummelled by an immense rolling white avalanche. A curving wall of green glassy water rises behind me. I check my shoulder and, seeing no one, know this wave belongs to me and only me. Lying on my chest, I first feel my feet rise as a steep liquid hill forms under my body. This one is fucking big.

I pop to my feet. Everything and everyone else beyond me and the wave ceases to exist.

 

 

 

This dog. It kills me.

So this old pal of mine from my hometown, Spencer, bought an unreal camper van back in the late fall. I hadn't talked to the guy in a few years, probably, but I got glimpses of what he was up to now and then through Instagram. You know what I mean. The internet is somethin' else. I sent him a message telling him I was stoked off his van and I wanted one myself.

Spencer's freedom machine back in Ontario (@spencelliott)

Spencer's freedom machine back in Ontario (@spencelliott)

Flash forward a few months and I'm living on the left coast and ripping around in a big old van of my own. How 'bout it. So now it's July and Spencer ends up taking his rig across the country to come hang out in this part of the world for a while, and we decide we'd better have a little rendezvous. I wanted to see his van in the fle... in the... steel and rubber. He was heading out to join another old hometown pal who'd become a pro skier and was coaching wealthy kids up at Camp of Champions on the Horstman glacier. I'd never been to Whistler in the summer, and despite the the facts that first, I hadn't seen these folks in years and second, I was not particularly close with them back home anyways, I gassed up and headed north with this great dog I'd been dog-sitting for, Ollie.

Now I've never had a damn dog in my life, and I'll tell you right now, after spending a couple weeks with this dog, I've become believer baby. I like cats and all, but they're not dogs, if you want to know the truth. You know? Same as how tea is great, but it's just not coffee.  Anyways, Ollie and I had a great time cruising together up to Whistler, listening to some butt-rock station way too loud, and stoked to meet up with some old hometown pals and get to know them a bit better.

You've gotta reach out to people. It's so worth it. You just have to give people the damn chance to be nice to you. A friend told me the best advice her mom ever gave to her was, "follow people around until they're nice to you."  Its seems crazy, but when you think about it, it's true. Now I'm not saying that is what I did driving my way up to Whistler. I was more than welcome to join, but only because I reached out. Simple things can be the hardest to do, though, and I know that as well as the next guy.

Crü at the mouth of Fitzsimmons creek with bro-island in the background

Crü at the mouth of Fitzsimmons creek with bro-island in the background

The next couple days passed by too quickly— in that blink-your-eyes-and-it's-gone fashion with which everyone is familiar. And they were filled with more of those simple and difficult and rewarding things, like jumping into the (ice-fucking-cold) Fitzsimmons creek that feeds Green Lake. There were lots of easy and fun things too. You've gotta have those. 

There was frisbee golf and there was bike riding and skateboarding on the hottest day of year. There was our loyal dog running strong beside us with so much vigour. She really was a damn champion. There were Palm Bays that were warm and sweet and there was sticky weed that was a damp from falling in the water during the previous day's river-float. There was Euchre on the deck at night and there were citronella candles and the smelled grassy and floral. There was an outdoor concert from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and there was soft grass that we lay on listening and drinking beer. There were ski bums in jean cut-offs sitting beside businessmen in polos. There were babies sat next to geriatrics in wheelchairs. There were mountains that surrounded us as the orchestra played and the music floated upwards and away. There were many things. 



Paddle Out, Paddle In

You know those times when you want things to happen a certain way and they don't but you end up having a good time anyways? You've gotta really relish those times. They don't happen all that often and they only do when both you and the universe let them happen. And people have a bad habit of disagreeing with the universe all the damn time. Zen shit, right. But it's true.  Anyways, I was having one of those good times anyways. I floated on a borrowed surf board about 500m off Sombrio Beach, looking back towards our camp spot on the beach.

I rested my chin on the old board, line of vision nearly flush with the water. Not a damn swell, let alone any break to interrupt my view. No surfing tonight. That board, along with the wetsuit I was wearing, belonged to the boyfriend of this girl I'd come out to visit, this girl who I'd developed this little crush on, naturally. I've been developing these little crushes all over the place these days. They're friendly crushes and all. You know what I mean. It's this hot summer weather, it makes you go a little girl crazy. It really does. I looked back at camp and paddled further out.

I'd stuffed a few beers into the wetsuit and was having a time out there. I was way further out into the Juan De Fuca Straight than was probably safe and I was free and I was loving it. I was admiring the groves of Bull Kelp, with their perfectly spherical heads bobbing, beckoning. Just a little further. A little further. The sun and a cloud bank were having this race towards the horizon and naturally we were all cheering for the sun. Every now and then it would pull ahead and paint the the whole coast in that warm gold everyone loves. Come on sun. Come on. 

I was just about to paddle in when this seal popped out of the water not even 10 feet from me and gave me a hell of a start. Christ! I fell backwards into the water spilling my beer and realized that I was a little more oiled up than I thought. The board spurted away from me in the fall, shoreward. I swam towards it, realizing how damn far off the coast I actually was. The water was really cold. This is how people disappear. Anyways, I got to the board, gave my head a shake and climbed back on only to realize that old seal was still just floating, watching me like some comic show. Humans, pieces of work, we are. I could see her beady little eyes and I could see her ear holes. She wasn't scared of me one bit and I was in her world and she silently told me it was time for me to head back to the one I thought to be mine.

So I paddled in, and in, and in. When there aren't waves, you've gotta do the pushing. But at the end of the day, it's not work, and I sure as hell wasn't complaining. The sun was now winning that race against the clouds by leaps and bounds, charging towards the horizon. The coast was all yellow and I was all yellow. There were some delicious tacos I needed to eat on the beach, a cool girl whose company enjoyed, and another good pal I'd just made, a friend of hers from high school. I was almost on shore. Sometimes there just isn't any surf. Sometimes, interesting girls just have boyfriends. But most times, it's you who decides whether these are good things or not. And that night, these things were true and these things were good. I picked up the board and stepped on the the rocky beach. 






Vanscendence

This is Part 2 of a longer story. For Part 1, click here.

So I'd passed out in my van around 2:30 or so on that old tidal flat. Morning came pretty damn early I can tell you.

Looking east, 5:15 am. Tide was still pretty close to the van. Roll over and snooze some more. 

Looking east, 5:15 am. Tide was still pretty close to the van. Roll over and snooze some more. 

 I awoke to a dog jumping up into the back of the van as the gates were still open. The thing nearly jumped on the bed with me. Now I know how that Heron must have felt! I think my reaction was a little more zen than his, though it might have just been the prervious night's whisky. The sun was barely over the horizon and I figured it couldn’t have been 7 am yet. It wasn't. The tidal flat turned out to be a pretty popular spot for locals to come walk their pooches. The owner was this really nice guy named Bob— he’d lived on the island for about 15 years, and was thrilled about the fact I’d parked my van on the flat and slept there. He kept going on about how it was such a beautiful spot to wake up! I couldn’t have agreed with him more. If I hadn’t been so tired, I would have walked the shore with him, but I’d only gone to bed a few hours prior, so I snoozed in the low angle sunlight for another hour or two.

Sleepy time in Cascadia

Sleepy time in Cascadia

I finally got up and made some coffee and breakfast over a small fire while I waited for Chloe to get to the beach on her bike. She was biking in from the farm she’s been working at in Duncan on Vancouver Island and had left at 5 that morning. By the time she got to my beach, she’d already biked about 30 km of gnarly, hilly roads on two separate islands, taken a ferry, and gone swimming in an island lake! All I’d done is talk to a few locals, lounge in the morning sun, read my book, and play my mandolin.

There was a little fire beneath the logs I used to prop up the old pot, promise.

There was a little fire beneath the logs I used to prop up the old pot, promise.

We continued lounging a bit in the morning sun and caught up— I hadn’t seen her since we went to Tofino a few weeks prior. She’s such an interesting girl living her life in a very interesting way. I’m going to do a piece on her soon. 

Nearly got stuck in that mushy tidal flat. Three quarters of a ton of old metal and rubber ain't the most nimble.

Nearly got stuck in that mushy tidal flat. Three quarters of a ton of old metal and rubber ain't the most nimble.

Anyways, we loaded her bike into the van and drove into Ganges, the small island’s main town. It had a hell of a farmers market, and a hell of a lot of hippies. I even saw the ones I’d met on the ferry. There was some sort of hippy convention happening on the Salt Spring. I’m down with hippy-ness, but not that down with the “bummy” nature some hippies adopt. It’s their choice and all and I respect that, but all I’m saying is that I’d never want to do that myself. Even though I’d just slept in my van on a tidal flat.
 

Stopped for a little sesh at the Ganges Skatepark. Decent little surfy section with a boob on the right hand of the spine that was pretty fun!

Stopped for a little sesh at the Ganges Skatepark. Decent little surfy section with a boob on the right hand of the spine that was pretty fun!

We met a pretty interesting guy who hand knit these super funky merino wool hats. Again total hippy business— he even made them in the shape of those “conductor” hats that train engineers wear in old movies. They were pretty pricey, but with the amount of time it took him to make them, he would have been making less than ten bucks an hour. The things some people choose to do with their lives. He was passionate though, and was a real salesman, flirting with the older ladies and putting his hats on their heads, telling them how good they looked. He was right- they were actually pretty handsome hats. I’m no hippy though, and I didn’t want to spend the money. 

I didn’t want to hijack the entire bike trip Chloe had in mind— even though she was pretty grateful for the van and all after legging it up all those huge hills— plus biking is just a different pace from auto touring, so we hopped on our bikes and tried to find this beach called Beddis. 

Jealous as all get out of her gears here... 

Jealous as all get out of her gears here... 

I was on my fixie, which since coming to the west coast, has really taught me that different gears can be highly useful. You can’t just live your life in one gear all the time, otherwise you’ll find yourself halfway up a long mountain road, the top nowhere in sight, wishing you could just gear down a little and make things easier for yourself. When you’re stuck in too difficult a gear, you can’t even take the time to admire the damn scenery. But, it’s still better than being in the right gear heading in the wrong direction. What happens then is you finally stop and find yourself somewhere you really don’t want to be, wondering how the hell you got there. Anyways, I just hopped off the bike and checked out an awesome old airstream camper parked with a view over the Trincomali Channel and Galiano Island. Sailboats moved all keeled over in focused serenity, their bright spinnakers vibrant against the deep blue straight far below. They were pretty damn cheerful. I’ll get on one of those sailboats this summer. I’ll write about it too! 

Is this what urbanites call trailer trash?

Is this what urbanites call trailer trash?

By the time we’d found and returned from old Beddis, Chloe and I were pretty spent. We were both starting to get colds too, and our previous short nights hadn’t helped. We decided to find a spot on the sunset side of the island and just lounge there for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We ended up at the end of Arbutus road at the very northern tip of the island.

Hey princess

Hey princess

The shoreline was made up of all these striking, angled slabs of rock, and there wasn’t a chance I’d take my old van down there. It was late afternoon by then, and the rocks we lay on were just radiating heat as the water lapped at our feet. We snoozed, letting the sun flush our faces, warm our cores and massage our tired limbs. When I woke up, I finished Catcher In The Rye- evidently it’s been influencing my writing. I’m lucky that I’ll never be as cynnical as old Holden. I suppose it’s hard to be cynical when you’re basking in the late afternoon sun on the shore of a cozy island tucked away in the Southern Gulf with a great new friend. Blessed, more like it. 

Blanket power

Blanket power

After the sun dips behind the mountains is my favourite part of the sunset. The light isn’t blinding you off the water, and the colours all start to appear. Everything just kind of slows down. It’s like being able to find the right gear. You’re invited into that moment, and encouraged to quiet all the other noise. These are the times that old Holden Caulfield needs- the times when all the “fuck you’s” written all over school walls, and museum signs and gravestones stop shouting at you. The times when all the phonies don’t bother you. The times when you can transcend all the shit that you hate, make peace with it all. And you’ve gotta savour those moments, if not live for them. You really do. 

IMG_20150530_213226867_HDR.jpg

We built a little fire and cooked up some rice, sauteed some onions and beans, and tossed some salsa in there for good measure. We toasted corn tortillas over the coals, then put it all together with some cheese, cilantro, lime, and pepper. Glamorous camping. Glamping. The moon began to peek over the trees, full as can be. The fuller the moon, the later it rises. Moonstruck, the whole shore was bathed in that ghostly, almost otherworldly light. It was so bright you could make shadow puppets on the ground. When the moon is like that, it’s surreal, almost like being on another planet. It’s because you’re seeing the world that you know, your normal, but it’s not quite normal. It’s the same, but it’s not. Things that are like  normal, but just a little different always freak us out. We don’t know how to make sense of it. The problem is we almost always react negatively. Humans have a bad habit of doing that. Anyways I sure as hell wasn’t reacting negatively to the moonlight, even if someone might call it creepy. It was stunning. The temperature had dropped. I breathed in the cool ocean air and turned back to the fire. 

How to piss off a Great Blue Heron

This is one of the many things I learned during a few days spent on Salt Spring Island, one of the handful of Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Don't have too many photos of the good bits of this story since most of it happened after dark. You're gonna wish you could see a photo of the hippies but I didn't take one. 

So anyways, the trip was a relatively spontaneous one. The day before I left, I was planning to head south into the North Cascades in Washington state- but I called my friend Chloe up to see what she was up to for the weekend, and she told me she had this bike trip planned to Salt Spring. She and her sister Ava had been traveling around for the past year, and had just purchased a car, which they were planning to live out of, more or less. Unfortunately, its head gasket blew the second week after they bought it, leaving them short on dough and long on broken plans. They’re not the types to get down on that type of thing, though, and Chloe had recently bought a great touring bike— panniers and all— that she was keen to try. 

So I loaded my bike into my van and got in the cue for the South Gulf milk run ferry that services Galiano, Mayne and Saltspring Islands. I made it onto that old ferry by the skin of my damn teeth. Adults make reservations, apparently.  It also costs an extra 18 bucks to be an adult, apparently, and I'm too cheap to afford adulthood. Anyways, I'm not complaining here- I was having a great old time. It's a spectacular part of the province and I was discretely enjoying some sudsy refreshers from my enamel chalice, chatting up people on the ferry, and soaking in the beautiful summer evening. I spent the majority of the crossing on the deck taking in the sunset over the mountains and sewing up a little denim cover for a throw pillow that’ll go in my van. I also people-watched some pretty gnarly hippies that I’d chatted with in the ferry cue. About 20 of them had spilled out of an mid-80’s Westy, a baby blue chevy camper, and an old Volvo wagon— the kind with the runged head rests.

They sure were having a party, singing “this might be the last of our days” together, strumming on a banjo, and not giving a care about anything in the world. They may have been the only people on the damn ferry for all they knew. It was something inspiring. They were pretty nice and offered me some of their joint and all. 

I finished stitching together the throw pillow cover right before we hit Saltspring, and found my way to a boat launch on the north arm of the island where I was going to camp for the night. On the way I stopped at this restaurant to see if I could get some food— I had gotten pretty hungry— because all I had in my van at that point was some rice, some popcorn kernels, some trail mix, a sweet potato, and some instant coffee. The restaurant’s kitchen had closed, but there was this drunken couple probably in their mid thirties on the patio who really wanted to chat with me. I doubt they were from the island. “I’ve been in love with Tim for 6 years, and he’s loved me for half as long,” she said over tinny din of the Bruno Mars catching grenades for us from her iPhone on the table. I didn’t know how to interpret that, and I was hungry as hell. “Whatdaya think,” she continued, “Should we get married?” Tim, with his back to me, still hadn’t turned around. I was getting a little annoyed, but mostly because I was hungry. “Well,” I started, but then she interrupted me, blurtign out, “You’re cute, I love your van, does it have a bed in it?” Well, then Tim turned around, I’ll tell ya, pretty unimpressed. He had one of those barbed wire tattoos wrapped around his arm. OK nice, Tim. “Yeah you should get married,” I chirped, “nice chatting with ya!” I almost stuck around just to get a rise out of old Tim. But I was hungry and it was late. All of the sudden I felt like I was about 12 years old. Marriage eh. Jesus. I'm not mature enough, it would seem. 

Anyways, the boat launch was this steep concrete ramp— about 30 degrees I’d reckon— off the shore road, down onto a gravelly tidal flat. It was about midnight and the tide was on its way up, so I was careful not to park too far out on the flat. I knew the water wasn’t going to get too deep at high tide because it was a tidal flat, but salt water can’t be too good for a van even if it’s only lapping at the tires. I poured myself a good few fingers of whisky into my mug and happily teetered around the shallows in the moonlight, singing to myself. It was so quiet out there; strangely I didn't feel alone at all. 

The moon was pretty much full, but not bright enough to reveal a sleeping heron that I nearly walked right into. We damn near scared each other to death, that heron and I. It awoke when I was about 3 feet from it, beating its wings violently and making these raunchy squawking sounds. My heart was pounding in my ears, which is really something since I don't hear that well. I’d spilled just about all my damn whisky, and I was having a hard time not falling over because I was treading barefoot on all these crusty barnacle-type shells that covered the rocks. I’d only known herons to be these zen-like, slow-stalking, sensei of-the-shallows type creatures. This encounter was anything but zen. No one likes being woken up by a stranger in the middle of the night, I suppose.


It was a beautiful starry night, and I nearly pulled the mattress onto the roof of the van, but I decided against it. I hit the sack after playing little mandolin up there, lying on my back in the dew and getting my fix of the sky, of those old hanging lights. They've entertained us humans since we had the ability to wonder about our own existence. How many young dudes (and dudettes) have looked up there and thought about the same things as me? That's the thing, you think all these thoughts you have are so unique to you, but they're really not. Most of your thoughts are ancient thoughts, whether you're excited to be on your first solo adventure, whether you're scared someone's gonna sneak up and get you in the dark, whether you're lonely, waiting for your lover to turn up in your life. No matter how difficult the thought, and no matter how alone it makes you feel, someone else is thinking it too, right at that damn second. Someone was thinking it yesterday, someone was thinking it a thousand years ago, and someone's gonna be thinking it when you're dead in the ground. I think there's comfort to be taken in the collective experience of living. We're in it together, we really are, even though we don't like to admit it to ourselves. 

I packed it in, but left the tailgate open to get some good salty seaside air flowing as I slept. Middle of the night, I woke up and there was water lapping around the rear tires of the van. Boy that tide rose high. There wasn’t much I could do at that point, and I figured the water couldn’t come much higher based on high-water lines of shells and seaweed I’d seen on the beach earlier. If my van ended up getting stuck there, at least Chloe was coming to meet me on that tidal flat in a few hours. I thought about what she'd think to find me there, stuck in the mud. I rolled over and went back to sleep. 


Skateboarding and Campfires

You know those nights when you're so damn restless you just don't know what to do with yourself?  When you just don't feel like hanging out with anyone, but you sure as hell don't wanna stay home nothin doin? Anyways, I was having one of those nights. I decided to take a little trip to Horseshoe Bay to session the skate bowl there then having a little post-skate cookout by the ocean.

Horseshoe Bay is a bedroom community for weathly professionals who work in Vancouver, more or less. Pretty much every home on the North Shore with any kind of character has been bulldozed, but Horseshoe Bay still has shreds of its more grounded beginnings. It was crawling with tourists. I was a damn tourist. Why are we all so worried about being tourists all the time? We're so bent on traveling places, naturally, but everyone just wants to fit in whenever they're traveling somewhere, seem like they're not traveling. 

I stopped for some supplies at a little grocer called the Bay Market. Classic little independent joint that's been around forever. Absolutely nothing fancy about it, almost shabby. But every other shop in the town was just awkwardly attempting for a quaint vibe but only end up seeming phony. Bay Market seemed to radiate nonchalantness. And I liked it

This guy named Deng, from Korea, owned the store- one of the chillest grocers I have ever met. We chatted about staying young, and he started to go on about this motorcycle out parked out front. It was an early 70's Suzuki Savage and it was his, naturally. "I have no practical reasons for owning it- it's terrible on gas, and I spend about as much time working on it as I do riding it, but I love the old thing." Right on Deng. Right on. 

So I bought some weenies and beans from Deng and got outta there. Not that I didn't want to chat with Deng- he had some good things to say- I just wanted to get skateboarding. Anyways,  it was one of the most wide-open bowls I've ever skated, which is perfect if you're just looking for a mellow cruise with lots of options for clean, endless cruising lines, which is exactly what I was looking for. Exactly. 

I wanted to to catch the sunset and get a fire lit up before the light fell because I forgot my headlamp. I packed up and headed to my cookout spot. Not much to say about the skateboarding. It was skateboarding and it was fun. 

After taking a minute to organize in the parking lot, I hit a short trail that brought me to a semi-clearing, way up high above the ocean and slightly inland. The low-slung sun threw shafts of golden light through the trees, making everything feel all fairy-tale like, as it always does. I bushwacked through deep groves of god-knows-what-type-of-prickly shrubs, over boulders, around little cliffs, and under fallen logs, making my way down to a craggy rocky outcrop, slowly realizing how damn difficult to navigate my way back out after dark without a light. Didn't matter. I was excited as hell. 

I felt like a child, with a big grin on my face as I scrambled all over the rocks trying to select the best possible site for my cookout, which had over the past twenty minutes of bushwacking gained so much importance to me that I may as well have been closing a multi-million dollar trade deal, or something like that. The sun had just dipped behind the mountains painting the sky all golden and the wind had dropped. I was so excited that I nearly knocked my mandolin into the damn ocean while getting the fire going. Jesus I really was excited and was moving too fast! 


After snapping a few pictures, I stretched out on my blanket and just lay there for a while, letting the heat of the fire slowly massage my happy jitters into a deep, warm calm. I breathed slowly, fully, and cracked a beer into my enamel mug as I observed the jagged peaks of the far shore in the fading light. I watched a tanker pass on its way from my small reality into the ether of global market. I watched a luxury yacht make its way back to the shelter of the West Vancouver Yacht Club. I watched an eagle float unhurriedly back to its nest. I watched a large beetle cautiously approach the unfamiliar warmth and light of my fire, the flames' reflections dancing along the lines of her smooth, dark shell. I knew I was going to have a hell of a time finding my way back to the van in the dark. I knew the van might not start right away, might soon require some maintenance- or hell, it might break down entirely sooner or later. Just like careers do. Just like relationships do. Just as all things do. But this was all okay. I turned my gaze back to the fire.