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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!