Subscribe Today

Friday, 28 July 2017

Episode 9: West Coast USA Summer 2017

It’s been 6 weeks since touching down here in the Land of the Free.


First up was a thorough lesson in Civil Liberties courtesy of Homelands Security- they detained me for five hours with several rounds of interrogation over the details of my trip, my personal history, finances and past drug use.


My recent months within ‘interesting’ countries such as Colombia, Jamaica and Mexico must have flagged me up as a case worth investigating. And I probably look the sort with my small backpack and carefree smile.


Various cross-examination techniques were employed to destabilise/antagonise me into admitting something incriminating.  A drug test was repeatedly propositioned, seemingly to gauge my reaction - something I’ve since confirmed as a hollow threat and a dirty trick if you ask me.


Fortunately my visa was issued and I got through - many people have been denied entry to the US this year for admitting to less than I did - click to read more here.


@bambamfotos
Landing in the comforts of a developed society was a real culture shock after several months backpacking. And I totally lucked out -  being hosted in my first week by a friend’s brother who works in finance and was happy to share the luxuries of his lifestyle #hottub #pool #sunshine


For a time I was wide eyed with awe and appreciation over such things as a plate of food with minimal risk of poisoning...a temperate coolness in the air...sleeping under a downy duvet. I’ll work to keep an ongoing sense of gratitude and appreciation for these pleasures that can easily be taken for granted.


Being back in a Western society also felt significantly safer- I was able to relax in a way that I hadn’t been able to for some time. I’ve been living slowly in an effort to fully recover my energies...the lifestyle had become a bit of a battle recently - something I wrote about in Episode 7 which you can check out here.


As ever I’ve tried to distil my insights for your reading pleasure:


  1. It’s easy to get fat in America and I did
  2. Couchsurfing is AMAZING
  3. Social Spirits




1) It’s easy to get fat in America and I did


Can I say fat or is it politically incorrect nowadays? Well I gained weight and I suspect it wasn’t muscle mass - the only lifting occurring was my hand to my mouth.


As mentioned I’ve been taking it slow and enjoying more rest and less movement. Finding comfort in a homely setting has generally led to more indulgence…and if indulgent consumption is your mood then America is your Mecca!


From the best of global cuisine to the worst of fast food. O the milkshakes! The burgers! When you know you shouldn’t but you do anyway...for three weeks.


Worry not reader! I’m well on the way back to my lithe and supple self - it’s been yoga classes, long walks and low-carbs all week. Overall I think it’s good to allow and tolerate some slackening - provided you’re conscious and can find the discipline to call time and draw the line.


2) Couchsurfing is AMAZING


“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met”
-WB Yeats


Couchsurfing is a social platform (kinda like Facebook)...you create your profile and look up others’ profiles who live in the area you’re visiting. You make contact and hopefully hit it off and get to stay on their couch for free...hence ‘Couchsurfing’. You’ll be able to pay the goodwill forward when you’re back at home and able to host future visitors.


I spent a couple of very happy weeks between four new San Franciscan friends/hosts - learning about their lives and diving directly into their best recommendations of local culture. If you’ve got a trip then I thoroughly recommend getting your head around this tool. Ask me if you’d like to know more!


3) Social Spirits

I’ve divided my 6 weeks so far between 3 cities/states on the West Coast -San Francisco, California...Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

In each I've been surprised at how many homeless people can be found sleeping rough/camping out on the sidewalks - many seemingly blighted by poor mental health.


Statistics indicate around four times more homeless per capita in the US than the UK with 25% having serious mental or drug abuse problems.


Homelessness is the visible tip of an iceberg of injustices - exacerbated (state depending) by a lack of Social Welfare, such as the system we've had in the UK.


It’s an ongoing source of astonishment that we can live in the richest society in the world, spending vast sums on silliness, whilst the sick are neglected.


Of course many people and organisations are doing fantastic work to plug the gaps left by poor government. This spirit of positive change, independence and courage is aligned to the reputation of the West Coast…originally the Wild West for the bravest gold digging settlers, later the fertile hotbed of many counter-cultural movements.


Nowadays it’s a global hub of technological innovation, but also of social innovation...it’s no coincidence that these three West Coast states have been the first to legalise Cannabis...with the rest of the country and world set to follow suit. Let alone those working on the frontiers of justice around LGBT rights, immigrant rights, black rights...


It’s been inspiring for me to spend time around people imbued with this attitude - that change is possible with hard work, unity and open minds. I’ll be doing my best to carry this forward in my own work as an artist/actor/activist.





Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Episode 8: Top Five Latin American Highlights

This Saturday marks six months on the road, six months away from home.
Six months of solitary questing my own little trail of discovery of the world and myself.


Last episode I spent some time expressing some difficulties I’ve faced and so now, ever in the pursuit of balance, here’s my top five highlights of Central America and Mexico.


  1. Ometepe Island, Nicaragua


This Hispanic wild-eyed dude gets my attention as I’m entering the dorm…

“Are you going to Ometepe?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Should I?"
“It’s amazing! You should definitely go..."
“Cool”
“You can take this back to my friend who’s working there at El Zopilote Hostel”
And with that he went back into the dorm and grabbed a dress from his bunk.
I remembered his friend - she’d slept in the bottom bunk of his bed. I accepted the mission and was on my way the next day.




Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes that rose out of Lake Nicaragua (one of the largest lakes in the Americas as you can see...even has its own sharks!)


Ferries depart throughout the day from the shoreside town of Rivas. For getting around on the island there’s a reliable yet slow bus system, taxis and the option to hire mopeds and bicycles...I even did a little hitchhiking.


El Zopilote Hostel was a great place to start - one of the major social hubs of the island - free yoga, healthy food, sustainability projects - all in an idyllic rainforest setting. I made some great friends there including a lady very happy to have her dress back!


New friends soon introduced me to the nearby ‘Chocolate Beach’ so named for its cocoa-coloured volcanic lakeside sands...and amazing Chocolate Factory- El Pital recently opened by a young Israeli raw food chef.


The factory come cafe/shop was also a hostel in the making with several hammocks slung up for rent at $5 per night. Here I passed a very happy week of chocolate flavoured relaxation…with mornings gazing out into the lake’s starkly flat horizon...and starlit nights of warm water wading in the shadow of moonlit volcanoes.



2) Mexico City, Mexico


In an odd sort of way I felt at home in the urban sprawl of this grand ol’ metropolis. Evidently you can take the boy out of the big city...but you can’t take the big city love out of the boy!


There’s an array of strikingly different and interesting neighbourhoods to discover...I enjoyed several days hopping on and off the metro system- generally exploring and enjoying the infinite selection of street food available on every other corner...late into the night.


Vegetarian? Gluten free? Lactose intolerant? Good luck with that Chica.



3) Lake Atitlán, Guatemala


If Ometepe Island is two volcanoes surrounded by a lake then inversely, Atitlán is a lake surrounded by volcanoes...and several Mayan villages too in which the culture is still prevalent and traditional colourful dress is worn.


All kinds of fun is to be had tuk tukking, walking or motor boating around..with amazing food and local crafts on offer...each village having embraced/endured the effects of tourism to varying degrees.


I made my home in San Marcos - a favourite haunt of hippies and spiritually minded students since the 60’s. As hoped I met some fascinating teachers and learnt some inspiring insights.  


I recommend La Paz Eco Hotel - I had the good fortune to make friends with the owner and his son who had seen it all over the years - hosting every kind of workshop from Chakra to Shiatsu.



4) Copan Ruinas, Honduras


A wind of ill fortune blew me to this small border town in Honduras.


I had originally planned to skip the country due to safety concerns….but a visa error on my passport saw me barred from passing through. The inconvenient days that followed were entirely offset by the joys of discovering this gem.


The town itself has grown beside the UN World Heritage ruin site....once one of the great centres of Mayan civilisation...it’s not as large as some other ruins to be found in Latin America, but claims to have the best preserved art.


The ruins were indeed fascinating...I recommend hiring a tour guide to get the best of them. At the entrance you’ll probably be collared by Luis here who’s selling horse riding tours.


Take him up on it! I spent a glorious afternoon touring up and around the fertile river valley’s coffee plantations. He’s full of interesting local information and as an expert rider gave me the confidence to take a few full-pace gallops - which felt transcendental.




5) Mazunte Beach, Mexico


If you’re looking for that paradise beach experience then here it is. Sun, sand, sea and free spirits. Just don’t drink the water or forget your mosquito repellent.


One of many beach settlements along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Mazunte had such a chill feel...unblemished by commercial tourism with a handful of basic cabanas and restaurants and such.     


The perfect getaway if that’s what you’re after!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Episode 7: Confessions of an inexperienced traveller

These past two months (since landing from Jamaica) I’ve travelled up through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and into Mexico.

I suppose this is where I share my list of must-sees and wax lyrical on the wander-lust magic I’ve experienced.

The uncomfortable-to-admit truth is that my time in these countries has been more hard work than fun...more endurance than inspiration. I feel like I’ve failed...been a ‘bad’ traveller somehow....to not LOVE such places teeming with exotic culture and beauty.  

I’ve identified the following key reasons:
  1. Urban Overload
  2. Language Barrier
  3. Travellers Fatigue

Herein I’d like to explore how they arose and what I could have done differently. With three months of backpacking the West Coast USA ahead, hopefully I can apply any lessons learned!

Screenshot 2017-06-14 at 10.34.27 AM.png
Here’s a breakdown of my route - (* = top 3 must sees)
San Jose, Costa Rica (3 nights)
Granada, Nicaragua (5 nights)
*Ometepe Island, Nicaragua (10 nights) *Volcanic Island Magic
Leon, Nicaragua (3 nights)
Tegulcigalpa, Honduras (3 nights)
Coban Ruinas, Honduras (2 nights)
Antigua, Guatemala (1 night)
*Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (7 nights) *Hippy Lake Spirits
San Cristobal, Mexico (4 nights)
Oaxaca City, Mexico (4 nights)
Mesunte/Puerto Escondido, Mexico (8 nights)
*Mexico City (5 nights) *Megawondercity

1) Urban Setting Overload

The route I’ve taken is described by some as the ‘Gringo Trail’ a narrow path of locations well worn by Westerners...complete with lots of budget accommodation, prepared tours and transport links.  

It was easy with my jellyfish style of travel (see here for further explanation) to be swept along with the flow of fellow Gringos between one Colonial Hispanic town and the next.

I came to spend roughly half my time in such settings and (forgive me for being a philistine) if you’ve seen two Colonial Hispanic towns - you’ve seen em’ all! There’s the picturesque square...there’s the fifteen or so churches...there’s the hostel brimming over with drunken backpackers.  

Mexico City was a massive exception to this...being a fascinating Megawondertropolis that defies ennui with its vast size, vibrancy and cultural blend. As a Londoner born and raised - coming to such a place with its 24 hour buzz felt somehow like coming home.

2) Language Barrier

You might be thinking that I should have defied tedium by going off-trail...maybe hopped on a chicken bus into unknown rural climes. Well yes - perhaps I should have, but I’m fairly green to all this and crucially I have a very basic grasp of Spanish.

The language barrier has definitely limited the richness of my experience. It’s another reason why I’m still missing Jamaica - it was the last country in which I could communicate with locals freely. What a joy to be able to chat with the bus driver- learning about his city as he drove his route through Downtown Kingston!

I managed to self-teach Spanish to a decent basic level, but if I could turn back the clock I would have done an intensive week at the beginning of my trip...at the time it seemed expensive, but I now realise how it would have paid dividends as an investment.


3) Travellers Fatigue

Turns out this here life on the road is tough. Indeed the word Travelling roots from the Old French ‘Travailler’ meaning ‘To work strenuously/toil’. “There is a big difference between simply being a tourist and being a true world traveller.” -Michael Kasum

With the ongoing discipline of living on a tight budget, ever on the move with a bare minimum of possessions, little privacy, sometimes afraid, sometimes lonely, sometimes lost, sometimes sick, often hot and sticky, always braving the unknown.

Nevertheless I’m happy to have faced these difficulties and discomforts from which have sprung great insights, growth and strength.

I keep trying to explain this to my Nan who becomes crestfallen whenever I confess I’m not feeling great. I try to reassure her that life on the road simply reflects life back home...you have your ups and downs just the same. The defining dualities that haunt our strange existence!

With hindsight I would have planned to stop after a few months and drop anchor somewhere. Recuperate my energies whilst doing some volunteer work in one spot for at least a few weeks.

As it was I drove myself on and on...and after around 4 months, at pretty much the exact midway point of this trip, I hit a wall. From then on (for the past month) I’ve generally felt like I’ve been battling.

Battling for energy and enthusiasm to explore, battling to be positive and social...battling to stay curious and open to the lessons of these places and people. Though now I’m pleased to report (I hope) that the battle is over!

Image result for glorious california

It’s taken me a long time to get my head around writing this post...it's felt uneasy to address and admit to more negatives than positives. (I'll write about my Latin America highlights in another post I promise!)

But having finally articulated what I’ve been facing, I now feel as though I’m able to move into a new chapter - and regain my passion for this lifestyle.

Today I’ll begin the hunt for a volunteering/living opportunity somewhere here in California with the help of the excellent service: workaway.info

The website allows for the advertising of various Hosting positions where volunteering travellers like myself can apply. 25 hours of work a week is usually the deal for free bed and board.

I’m confident that laying down roots for a few weeks will recharge my batteries (and budget) for this final exciting stretch of my journey...USA USA USA USA!!!!!

Wish me luck and thanks for reading!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Episode 6: On finding my Super Objective

Meet Constantin Stanislavski - he’s widely recognised as the Godfather of modern acting craft.

Central to his theory is an understanding of human beings as creatures of desire…with the truth of our existence defined by what we want or need most at any given moment.

Stanislavsky-Quote.jpg

Consider how you’ve spent every second of your day until now...you woke up and needed the toilet...next you needed to eat…maybe next you wanted to get ready to leave home...and so on and so forth until just now when you wanted to read something online...thanks for stopping by!  

To play the truth of a character, Stanislavski asks the actor to intimately understand the string of wants/needs being pursued in each moment of the character’s time within the story. As a need is met, one progresses to the next and so on.
Stanislavski extends this idea in suggesting that a character’s string of wants/needs arch towards achieving a singular, defining, specific long-term target...a ‘Super Objective’.

Take Shakespeare’s Macbeth. When we meet him at the beginning of the play as a noble warrior his Super Objective could be “I want to serve the King in war and bring glory to my house”.

After hearing the Weird Sister’s prophecy his mind is poisoned with murderous ambition…
”I want to be King” and then on successfully ascending- for the rest of the action of the play:
“I want retain my throne and ensure that my children will be Kings”.


Is there a singular Super-Objective that you can define for yourself at this stage in your life?

Many of those in the rat-race hold most store by their professional ambitions “I want to make enough money to retire early”. Others are family orientated “I want to be the best parent I can be and give my child the best start in life”. Sadly whilst travelling I’ve witnessed many living a hand to mouth existence “I want to survive”.

In Episode O of this blog (click here for the link) I wrote about how my current focus is to gain an understanding of how best to proceed in my career as an actor. Essentially, my current Super Objective is to define my Super Objective!

With over four months on the road I’m pleased to report the following perspectives and insights that have arisen from conversations with fellow travellers. Thanks to each and every one of them!

This concept (from Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why) rang all kinds of bells with me.


When I decided to be an actor you could say that I was working from the ‘Outside In’. I wanted to be an actor because it seemed to offer the promise of a fun and exciting life.

After years of dedication and training I became an actor and it is indeed fun and exciting, but to have hedonism/personal success as my core vision/ambition has come to feel hollow.

So what should my ‘Why’ be? Hopefully something that gives me a sense of purpose, deeper meaning and happiness...they seem like worthwhile ingredients to a life well lived.


Again I’m very grateful to recent conversations with fellow (spiritually-minded) travellers for helping me distill the following insight, best summed up in this quote:

“Not money, or success, or position or travel or love makes happiness - service is the secret.”
-Kathleen Norris

And so going forward I ask myself how may I best be of service? How can I...with my skillset, with my means, with my knowledge and experience, energy and passions best serve the world?

Tune in next month folks. Four more months on the road to gain an idea or two...


Monday, 24 April 2017

Episode 5: On Backpacking Jamaica in 2017

So I decided to spend five weeks in Jamaica. Why Jamaica?

1) I adore Jamaican culture and hoped to experience it fully
2) I wanted to see if it’s possible to safely explore on a budget

There’s little information out there for backpackers so here's my two cents on how to get the best from your time on this amazing island.






Sorry if you found Rick upsetting, I confess he’s something of a hero - driving past Hedonism II was a special moment. Love him though I do; he’s emblematic of the 'Resort Tourism' that thrives here.


Hedonism II (as infamous as the name suggests) is one of numerous 'All-inclusives' - luxury hotel complexes that have carved up the coastline beach-by-beach...where men like Rick enjoy the rippin' and the tearin'...and women too - Google ’Rent-a-Rasta’ for further info ;)


Other touristic hot-spots Ocho Rios and Montego Bay dock on the daily with some of the world’s largest cruise ships...offloading thousands of half-day visitors - fanny-packed and sun-lotion-smeared with dollars to burn.


These (largely American) tourists ride the 'Jamaican Resort Theme Park'... Bob Marley souvenirs, Jerk Chicken and Red Stripes served by minimum-wage workers; well trained to smile wide and reassure that ‘Jamaica no problem, mon’...a popular phrase reserved for tourists.


But Jamaica does have serious problems- in fact the saying has a particular irony amongst natives who feel that life is only problems for them.


Estimates put 20% of the population below the poverty line, with stagnant economic growth and expensive imported food/fuel ensuring a hand-to-mouth existence for many...compounded by high youth unemployment (30%) which fuels gang violence, most notoriously in and around Kingston.




And so Jamaica can be seen as two countries to explore- the artificial, Americanised bubbles of Resort Jamaica...and the rest of the country- Real Jamaica.

Understanding this duality is central to making the most of your time on the island.


For instance, the national currency is the Jamaican Dollar, but in Resort Jamaica US$ are mostly spent by tourists...often paying inflated sums.


And so the worst thing about backpacking Resort Jamaica (aside from the added expense and inauthenticity) is how every other Jamaican (man) is on the hustle.

As a backpacker, I’m ever on the lookout to make new friends, but being seen as a cash cow to be milked limits my chances.

Therefore I advise you to minimise your time in Resort Jamaica.


If you go, check out these great budget hostels with beds for $15-20 per night:
Ochie Rios Reggae Hostel
Montego Bay Togetherness
Negril Judy House



If not Resort Jamaica then WHERE?


#1 PORT ANTONIO


Hands down the best place in Jamaica. Amazing food, paradise beaches and friendly locals. I reccomend Porty Hostel run by Stefano, a lovely Italian guy who set up shop here a couple of years ago. If you have two weeks in Jamaica enjoy a week here along the east coast.


#2 BLUE MOUNTAINS


I only spent a day in this sacred mountain range, touring a coffee plantation. Next time I'll trek the peak via the famous guesthouse Whitfield Hall. A little expensive, but totally worth it from what I hear.


#3 KINGSTON


Stay with Syl Gordon at his Dancehall Hostel, where international dance students come to learn and party with Jamaica’s most talented. Take a private lesson and then join the entourage to hit up Kingston’s livest sound systems - 7 nights a week. You will see some things.  

Resultado de imagen para dancehall kingston

Other important advice:


# You will never be as cool as a Jamaican...but at least you can try....learn the thumb-click handshake...at all times be ready to declare ‘Respect’ ‘Bless up’ ‘One love’ or ‘Wagawan’ ...and never, ever be in a rush.


# Never charter a private taxi...master the local ‘Route Taxi’ transportation ASAP. It’s a fraction of the price and a great service. Tourists can pay $40 for a journey that costs $1 for those in the know.   


# Use mosquito repellent; nothing chilled about a Jamaican mosquito -they’re big, fast and hungry!


# Use sunscreen - the sun is serious here - I’ve seen some terrible lobster-red burns!


# Cannabis is decriminalised, ubiquitous and dirt cheap. If you partake it's 150JD ($1) for a few joints’ worth or 500JD for a decent bag of 5 grams or so. So I'm told.


# Try Spice Bun an’ Cheese and Aunt Bessie’s Wheat crackers, but try not to get addicted like me :)



Thanks for reading - hope it helps and you have a great time if you visit. For more advice on accessing the Real Jamaica check out this excellent (aptly named) website...realjamaica.org