Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kat: giant squids, painted schoolbuses and the quest for Microwave.

One of my models of modern travelers was Kinga Freespirit, a Polish hitch-hiker that for 5 years travelled the whole world. During the first half of 2006, I had followed his African adventure on his website There I learnt that Kinga had met another three girls, two of the hardcore hitch-hikers, and the other travelling with a truck. I am talking about Kati, Rebeka and Aknes (the French girl with the truck). In his stories about the trip through Mauritania and Burkina Faso, Kinga had presented them as such lovely beings, that I wanted to meet this girls in real life. I had met Kinga in Poland in 2005, in the beginning of this trip, t I wouldn’t see her again. She would unexpectedely die from malaria in Ghana in June of 2006. Now, also unexpectedely, Kati, one of the girls, had found my website and we were in touch. Aknes and her were in Thailand! Since the three of us had met Kinga, we decided that we had to meet.

To be faithful to true events, the arrival of Kati was also anxiously awaited by the Cyclowns, as a sort of Santa Claus. The reason was that Kati wass bringing a load of circus costumes from New York, ols stafff that he wanted to dispose off. And what better than presenting it to a circus? Raffi even stopped playing the violin to peep what was inside the magic bag that Kat had dropped in the clobbledstone pavement of Tha Pae Gate. In the bag, everybody found something interesting, as in a scavenger hunt. There were tuxedo tail jackets, clown shoes, velvet pants embroidered with butterflies, all sorts of staff. And even a pair of pois that I had specially requested her from NY, the ones that change colours. Now I must learn to spin them… And there was also Aknes, the girl that hd traveled Africa with her truck. Not a VW van or mini bus, but a real size Mercedes truck. In the back, she carried a large inflatable castle that she had stolen from a McDonalds in Europe.She thought it would make its job better in Africa than in Europe, where kids are overspoiled and already have more toys than they could play with. And we were proud of her. Suddenly, the girls became aware that they had met each other exactly a year before, in a music festival in Mali. That night I was grateful for having met Kati and Aknes in real life.

The first matter for conversation was naturally Kinga, her sensibility, the love he professed for all the being she met on her way, her tolerance. Kat told the story of Kinga to Manu Chao, whom she knows to some extaint, after a concert, in the lobby of a luxurious hotel. Moved by the story, Manu Chao spilled some of his red wine over the carpet, as though offering it to Pachamama, and said: “For Kinga!”. Kat has always been living on the road. Having started to talk about Kinga, now I only wanted to listen to her stories. (Btw you can check them out yourself at

On the road since 15 years ago, Kat can afford to include in her biografy some charming facts, as having toured the US with the Grateful Dead and met Ken Kesey, and having owned her own school bus, painted according to the canons of psicodelic art, which he bought for $500, painted to fit her taste, and sold it on the E-bay for $10.000. The buyer had been the wife of the president of Coca Cola, with whom they are now friends. Kat speaks perfect Spanish, which she learnt in South America (She claims Banios, Ecuador as her second home). She has hitch-hiked in more countries than she remembers, and has a specific taste for exotic destinations that suits her nicely.

Some people would understandably rate Thailand as an exotic destination, but for Kat and me was the closest to the West we had seen in a while, full of tourists, and far too easy to travel to provoke any phantasy. We spent the whole time talking about Mauritania, Ecuador and Afghanistan. For the road’s sake, however, we decided to leave Chiang Mai with any destination. I had already been in Chiang Mai for months and needed to go back to my element. We were soon on the road, sharing the road, which is not something that happens often. It’s easy to ahev a travel aompanion, but having the sameperpective of the road is all together another thing. Then Kat told me about giant squids. It seems that there is a rare species of squids whose existence was until recent rgarded as a myth. They can be as big as a house and live more than a hundred years. These squids can travel for decades in the depth of the ocean without crossing paths with another specimen of the opposite sex. Being so rare, when this happens, evolution forces them to notice each other…

We were less than motivated by the map of Thailand, but we randomly started traveling westwards, to the Burmese border. We then spotted a village on the map with a more than curious name. It was called “Microwave”. We started to discuss hypothesis of why a town could be named after a kitchen appliance…. And decided to go there and check it out. On the way we were given a ride and hosted by an Israelian Buddhist monk who had been living in Thailand for years. We stayed overnight in comfortable bungalows. On the following morning, when we said goodbye, Yudi (so his name) was explaining a disciple that the breakfast table was not only a table, but it was the whole cosmos. Yudi seemed to us a very talkative monk, too talkative to embody the spirit of Buddhist wisdom…but a really great guy! We finally reached Microwave, which owned its name to a nearby telecommunication tower. As the local Mong people wereless than inviting and didn’t even acknowledge our presence we left for the main road and eventually arrived to Pai, where Lonely Planet backpackers outnumber locals in the streets. A little depressing…

In Pai we understood the irony of having met in Thailand. What a shame! –said Kat And she was right. With all its pleasures and facilities, it was really a boring place for two lovers of adventure. We could only wish to be tele-transported to Yemen, Ethiopia or at least Marrocco. But we were in Thailand and we tried to accept it. Lying on the hammack, Kat laughed at the book she was reading, a compilation in which young female authors narrated how they had bought medicines without prescriptions in India, and expected their stories to be thrillers… “I prefer to meet people that don’t travel that people who believe they travel” –said Kat, and I had to agree.

For the mountains and the rivers of Georgia…. (another way to say hello)

Photos: The Canvas Cafe, our headquarters in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the Vespa of our landlady.

Chaning and Rocio, who had been touring Laos with a local circus for a month, finally made it to the Canvas Café in Chiang Mai, where we were all staying. The meeting between Chaning and Raffi, who hadn’t seen each other for months, was that of two absolutely mad souls. They began by tosting in the way that they had learnt in Georgia, where packs of men in bars would rise their vodkas and exclaim: “For the mountains of Georgia –which are the mightest, a choir of drunkmen would assure in the background- for the rivers of Georgia….for the women of Georgia… predictibly end up tosting for the street dog of Georgia. Chaning and Rocio, who were in the pavement, stood up and started to chase each other and kick each other’s asses, a scene that had a good rating among the market vendors that at the time were packing their staff. At one point Raffi grabbed a stick from the ground and used it as a walking stick, pretending to be an old babushka. When Channing reached him, he pretended to be breking her bones. This was our heroes’s way to say “hi! How are you?” While all this goes on, Raffi’s violin lies still on the ground, sorrounded by a loonies, strangers or known, cheap whiskey bottles and cans of beer, constellations only seen from lands reachable handstanding and dressed in rags.

On the following morning, no wonders, the same people that were playing as kids on the streets were talking seriously about the possibility of playing Jazz for the king of Thailand, himself a pofessional saxophonist. The letter requestiong an audience should be written in a special formal language that nobody knew and following certain rules. Naturally, the project was dooomed to sink for its own weight. In any case, the King of Thailand seems to me more of a tyrant than a cool guy to hang around with, since he allows to punish with death those criticizing him.

Some days before the arrival of Rocio and Chaning there had been a party at Canvas Café, and that had been the ocassion of my first performance with the circus. No, I was not juggling. In a way I was juggling with words, to create worlds. Somehow I had to make poetry fit in the circus frame. I read a prose titled “Circus in the dark”, which had been written under an unproper dosage of malaria medication and can be found by scrolling down a couple of entries in this blog. During the day, some of the people we would meet during the performances would come to hang around for a while, some of them also circus artists. Philips, just to name one, was a German guy devoted to making a 1 euro coin roll over a parasol being spanned. Way or another, we soon moved to Jerry’s house. Jerry was an American philantropist who worked with Burmese refugees and had a house big enough to host an army. Instead, he hosted the circus, so the tribe could sleep comfortably….

Chatting over the pavement in Chiang Mai with the Cyclown Circus.

Photos: Raffi, the violinist, and his instrument, more used to constelate with whiskey bottles over the pavement than with partitures.

For several weeks I woke up with Johnnie’s bass and Raffi’s violin as a soft cushion softening the comeback of reality. On the afternoon my time would be divided in two tasks. Firstly, early afternoon, work on “Vagabonding th Axis of Evil” my coming booklet of travel stories. After 6pm, when tourists are already in the cafes, I would hit the streets to sell some of my old books (Harmony of Chaos), as to be finnance the day’s food and accomodation. Invariably, at night, we ended up on Tha Pae Gate with the Cyclowns, chatting with co-dreamers and curious alike, down in the pavement, often barefoot. Beer bottles would ooz out of plastic bags as flowers in spring. It was spring all night long.

No attempt to reconstruct one of such conversations could ever be succesful, but here it goes a random patchwork of images that one night I happened to put down in a notebook.. Somebody had abandoned a cello in Istanbul, because she wasn’t god enough at playing it. The abandonment of musical instruments is something terrible for Rachel. Music is a matter of comitment. When Rachel met Raffi he was barely able to hold the violin and had none of the skills he has now. Raffi says that there is a difference between the Chinese farmers that spend their lives in the ricefields, and them, who travel around the world with a violin over the shoulder trying to understand mankind. Truth is beauty, beauty is truth. Still, the people who will be touched by the unpredictable end of the chain we unleash each time we make somebody question reality, will always be strangers to us. We have always been there, from Diogenes on. A warehouse art space has been inaugurated in Minneapolis, and its mentor want Spanish to be the only language spoken within. Raffi says he is too lazy for yoga, mainly due to the fact that he wants to play music 8 hours a day. We were betting to which of the ladyboys would be picked up first. Maybe when I am 40 –said Raffi- I may want to settle down and have a house I can call my own. No way –answered Johnnie, who was 44- when you will be 40 you will want to continue to tramp around this world like me! Raffi recalls that when they cross a country by bike he feels like stopping at each stupid village they bump into and play music. When they enter a cantina or bar to offer their show it is Johnnie, the tidy mature man with the bass, who walks in alone first to make the deal. A tidy man with contrabass scandalizes less the bar owners than Raffi and Channing who rather look like two punkies with their instruments, and would be kicked away inmediatly.


Photo: borrowed from the Cyclowns' website. The circus in full action. Behind, the police afraid of happiness without barcodes.

“Joining a circus is something that everyone should do, at least once in a life time” – my old friend Matias had said when I confessed my plans of joining the Cyclown Circus. Chiang Mai was the place where I would begin that transition, from travelling alone to becoming part of a caravan of exiles. In my mind, the first obstacle on the way was that poetry seemd to me something to implicit and elaborated to include in a circus show. Words are spells. They evoke, but never have the same weight of a juggling number. They require more concentration than relaxation, and so on.
Presenting poetry to the same audience was going to require some adjustment to the kind of staff I was writing at the moment.

But I had only arrived to Chiang Mai. With the backpack still on I was looking for the circus on the streets. It is actually just too easy to find them. When you see a pack of people fighting to see something, that’s them. Chiang Mai was, to my eyes, the most touristy place I had found on my way until then (I hadn’t reached Bangkok yet). With the time, though, I think we even started to like Chiang Mai. For street artists like us, it was actually a good place to earn fast money, plus the steady stream of travellers makes for a good spot to meet people. The mmeting with the rest of the circus took place in Tha Pae gate, where very evening at 8 pm the Cyclowns were doing their show. I had last seen them in October 2005 in Turkey. There it was Johnnie, the Bass player from Minneapolis, Shanty throwing and catching a constellation of ping pong balls with his mouth (!), Raffi, violin player, and Jannine, who was at the time working on some magic tricks. They were staying in the Canvas Café, where the landlady was a painter who was happy to offer them the place for free, for a while. “But now that while is kind of over, that’s always the problem with us, the while is soon over”. – explains Johnnie as he hits the thick strings of his bass. In order not to complicate the situation further, I decided to be a paying guest in the Canvas Café. We would stay there longer than planned, and the are near Tha Pae Gate would become and arena to parade our picturesque marginality, an arena where to meet other travellers attracted by the mutant tall bikes, by Johnnie’s bass and Raffi’s punkie violin…


Photo 1: That's the less than orientating sign I saw when I first stepped into Thailand. I didn't have a mpa and only knew I wanted to go to Chiang Mai. Photo 2: camping in my driver's house.

Thailand must be one fo the easiest places in the world for hitch-hiking. I was delayed for a while in the Laos side of the border. Although I initially thought there was something wrong, it followed that the officer on duty simply didn’t know how to proceed with a foreign passport. After a few phone calls an officer of higher rank showed up, and I got my exit stamp.

On the Thai side, the road improved to Western standards. A narrowed but paved road, with a central yellow line was ahead of me. As usual, or worse than usual, I didn’t have a clue of where I was, or where Chiang Mai was. When I asked the first driver I see for directions for Chiang Mai he nodded in sorprise. “That’s more than 500 km away”. But what why??? He simply insisted that I had to go there by bus. It was just out of his frame of mind that I wanted to hitch-hike there. When I got to the first fork on the road, I chose the one that seemed to go in direction north. All I knew was that Chiang Mai was in that direction. As Gaboto, I was navigating by the sun…

Things became clearer when the woman who worked in the petrol station of the first town I reached happened to speak English. She showed a road map of Thailand and even teached me how to ask for a ride in Thai! Now I knew where I was going. Also, I started to notice that Thailand wasby far the most developed country I had been to since I left Europe. Seven-elevens’s in every corner, Tesco supermarket bags blowing with the wind, pavement almost everywhere, people speaking English…

I started to get very smooth rides in the back of pick ups. A Toyota Pick Up is the average car in this country, by the way. The last driver of the day was a tourist policeman from Bangkok. He allowed me to camp in his garden, and we spent the whole night drinking whiskey wih him and his family!!!



Two weeks passed before Chaning and Rocio from the Cyclown Circus showed up in Luang Prabang, Laos. It followed that soon after having crossed the Chinese-Laos border they had met a local circus that traveled in a truck. This local circus consisted of 25 artists, all of which were crammed in in truck, which also carried all the equipment, stages, instruments, etc. In every location they would stop, the circus would proudly annonunce the performance of two “falangs”, as foreigners are known. As this was a very particular opportunity for them, we agreed that we would meet up again in Chiang Mai, where by the way the rest of the Cyclown Circus had already been working for a month. They would tour Laos with the circus on board of a hino truck and then come down.

January 2007. My God…two calendars are gone and I am still traveling. I left Lao for Thailand through an unusual border crossing, where until a few months ago tourists were not allowed to show up. Route 4 had more traffic than expected, and I was soon in Sayanbuli. The truck that had given me a lift crossed the Mekong river on board of a ferry decorated with communist flags. We are after all, in Lao Democratic Republic!

In Sayanbuli I tried to find free accomodation at a monastery. The young monks and novices said there was no problem to sleeo there, but then their English teacher came to ruin my plans. The man went by the book, and was afraid that the police would come to check or something like that. He was the “Foreigners should go to a hotel” type of person. Enough to demonstrate how ineffective religious institutions can be confronted with reality. As the novices were more than happy to test their English with me, their tutor had to let me stay for a while. The orange-clad razor shaved boys came up with some English books that seemed extremely complicated for their level, and I was supposed to read the sentences. Besides the meaning, they were really interested in learning phonetics, since unlike their pairs in Luang Prabang they rarely have the chance to listen to native speakers. Some of the sentences of the book seemed alltogether inadecuate for future monks, for example “The beautiful girl is wanted by a youngman” Take it easy little Buddha, avoiding attachments was your choice, not mine….


On the way to Pak Lay, the last big town before the Thai border, elephants march on the roadside with their carers. Elephants are still used in th forest industry for carrying loads. In Pak Lay, by the Mekong river, a few old French colonial buildings stand with faded splendor. Unlike Luang Prabang, there are no tourists here to witness them. In the Bureau de Finance (all official signs are in French) the folks play voleybal. I wish that people would play voleyball in all the bureau de finance of the world… One of the men asks me if I speak German. “I lived three years in DDR” –he comments proudly. Next to the Mekong river, not really far from a communist red flag, a man from Lao is speaking to me in German about the DDR. Evidently, the universe is about to collapse and I am witnessing the first twists of the last metamorphosis. At a restaurant wher I have had lunch, the old landlady waves to me: “Merci monsieur!” I am still surprised at how universal history has allowed communism and French language to sneak into a tucked away realm of jungle and elephants. The one thing missing was a 1935 Citroen Avant Traction speeding through the dusty main street…

Pak Lay was also the place where I got rid of my boots. They were felling appart. I had bought them in Egypt for 30 dollars, they had crossed Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tibet, and Laos…only to join the unnoble trash cycle. I stayed overnight in a guesthouse with the only porpouse of doing my laundry. I had heard that Thai border officials had been known to turn away foreigners entering on foot who looked like broken, and I certainly did. In spite of my efforts to look tidy I was covered by a cloud of dust as soon as a hit the road the following morning. After five minutes I had got a ride in a tractor, and a truck coming the opposite direction turned me into a sepia image that resembled a 1920s portrait. When I reached the border, I seemed straight out of the bushes…

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Watching tropical landscape roll by from the back of a pick up. A pleasure for a hitch-hiker worldwide.

Folks in Pak Lay play an old game inherited from the French, called "petanque". And they are really serious about it. The picture is taken in the back garden of the Bureau of Finnances. Not much accountancy to do around here it seems.

The mist and the road on the early morning.

A road builder smiles when photographed with his work on the back. The bridge may have been borned in the board of an engineer, but it's still the road builders' work.

Tradition and change.

Peasents process and pack corn by the roadside.

Curious type of oil pump widespread in Lao countryside.

Rural workers wait to be called for their shifts atop an old  Hino truck.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

THE ROAD TO LAOS... in pictures

Photo 1: That night we put our tent in the unfinished motorway..... Photo 2: hitch-hiking with Channing and Rocio, from the Cyclown Circus. Photo 3: my tent among local Lao trucks waiting for their merchandises to arrive from China. Photo 4: The Chinese businessman that drove me to Luang Prabang and his Mitsubishi. Photo 5: one of the eight bricks of local currency I received in exchange for 50 euros.... Photo 6: Maria Paz and Maureen, something like the granddaughter of Allende, and Jesus from Luang Prabang, as more than one subtitled me....

Thursday, April 12, 2007


 Lao is so quiet that John Steinbeck once penned “People in Cambodia see the rice grow, in Lao they hear it grow”. And it makes sense. No town in Lao is big enough to minimize the sorroundin nature, the rice fields, the banana plantations, the jungle… Luang Prabang is one of the touristic spots of the country. In spite of the quantity of tourists, and the artificial character of the town, with Western style cafes, bistro bars, etc, the town is undeniably charming, with its French maisons of the time when the country was French IndoChina, and its temples of a more glorious and independent past. In adititon to the colonial houses, the French left –God bless them- baguettes! For less than a dollar is possible to have a chicken baguette on the sunny streets of Luang Prabang.

 I have very ltttle to say about the real Lao. I spent most of my 25 days in the country I Luang Prabang, working on my book project, and selling my old book to finnance my staying. I soon fitted into a comfortable routine, spending the mornings selling my book in the cafes along the Mekong River, and the rest of the afternoon writing (the evenings, of course, drinking). Earnings from the books typically added up to 20 dollars a day, while the accomodation was only four….

The most interesting aspect of selling books is the people you meet. One day I ended up having a beer with Maureen, the granddaughter of ex-Chilean preseident Allende, the one that was overthrown by Pinochet. He was travelling with another two Chilean friends, and the funny thing was that Pinochet had died only a few weeks before! His grand-grand father had been the founder of the Communist Party of Chile, confirming the lineage. On another ocassion I met Kath, one of the organizers of Bummit, a charity event that involves a hundred people hitch-hiking from the UK to different points in Eastern Europe, raising money for orphanages.

Some days before Christmas I met Harver, a French resident of San Fransisco, who insisted that we should all wear Santa Claus suits for Christmas night and then get drunk on the streets. According to him this was a way to demonstrate against the commercialization of Xmas, and is supposed to be a major event in alternative San Fransisco. He didn’t quite get the reception he expected, but I respect all crazy endeavours! I also found interesting his idea that Americans are over-achvers in everything from war to festivals. They cannot make a party, they have to do Burning Man. If the bike already exists, they have to build “tall bikes”.

Among the rest of the people I met I would like to mention some friendly folks from the Isle of Man, and also a Libanese who lived in Australia, and who gave me my first lessons on Arabic writing. I had learnt how to say Salam Aleikum in Norway, and I learnt how to write it in Lao… I may master this languagew in another 300 years. I also met Stephane, her Freckled Majesty of Sydney, but that’s another story. I will only say that she had a car, if you can use that word for a 1983 Subaru. And the car had a name, which was Jeff. Stephanie had a amorous ralationship with her car, and was sad because it was comprehensively starting to fall apart.

Most importantly, there was a more meaningful meeting. I am talking about the Poi tribe that I met in the streets of Luang Prabang. Pois are ropes which have a ball knotted to each of their ends, and which you can spin a million of different angles and directions. Another way of playing with movement. I happened to think that Pois are, in a microcosmic level, something similar to hitch hiking, another way of diving into movement. There is no way to relate in a tidy prose all the things that crossed my mind those days. Fortunately, a combination of marihuana and an accidental overdoes of malaria medication gave me a free trip that inspired me to put it down in a more coherent way. Good luck with reading it. (see next post “Circus in the dark”)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Circus in the Dark (Barfuss)

Caravan suite in D minor for drunken poet, broken violinist, base and fire.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, th e one who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a common place thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles…” Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

I love Laos, it‘s magic, like us –Maddi told Ronan as they both spanned fire by the Mekong River. Don’t tell me that you guys also believe that the freaky marvelous accident of happiness takes place in the outskirts… We do, and moreover we believe that it’s possible to juggle and to spin fire at the same time. That would be total freedom – said Ronan. I met this family short time ago. In the beginning, Maddi used to play with the street kids. You have to allow the balls to become an extension of your hands. I understand the point in movement you are talking about.

Barefoot, once you get used to walk barefoot it’s beautiful. The pavement is also the Earth on which Michi, the German rasta girl, steps, and the Earth she belongs to. Barfuss…each word of the German language is sweet, but the accent can turn then quite monotonous. When I had seen the family in the street I was sure I would run into them again. The same with all the circus. This is like a convention of fire artists! Pois can be made with 110 grams of rice or with tennis balls. I cannot allow myself to eat out in restaurants every day. Barfuss…the true traveling band. Are you from Lubeck, Michi? No, from more to the North, from Schleswig Holtein. That’s where they speak Plat-Deutsch, one of those dead languages that some nerdy always tries to resuscitate. I was once in one of the islands south of Funnen, and somebody said: there’s a boat sailing out to Germany tomorrow. Is anybody up for it? While she let the ball guide her, she smiled and said to me: it’s all I do in life tanzen und spielen!. Her eyes, of an infinite clarity. I can play the “contact ball” with my feet – I rather stupidly told her. Ronan was saying that only when we will have complete awareness of our balance and movement possibilities we will stop being tamed by the pressures of the material world. And Ronnan, was a smart guy.

Everything rolls down the Mekong river, specially the oranges that have just fallen from Maddi’s backpack.. It was warmer in Chiang Mai, wasn’t it? Some of them are going to the Rainbow. What do you do? I am a verse smuggler. I sell books and words to pay for the beer and the food. In a way I juggle with words to create worlds.

(interludium for fire)

The spinning balls glow in the dark. Carnival of fireflies defies the integrity of night. Maddi says they should have an alternate rhythm. Maybe the balls are actually a spell, and like the meanings in a poem, they unlock worlds that exist only for the eyes that detect the frequency. Juggling. Poetry. Hitch hiking. Synergy. Same same. Its like the one word poems, whose letters can cypher the history of a kingdom or a love. Beer Lao. Sabaidi. Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be allright. It was allright that we finally didn’t sleep the seven of us in the same room. Ronan knows Michelle, the girl from Galway, thanks to whom an Afghan hat designed to fit the defenders of Allah (Akbar –reply musicians) unexpectedly passed to accommodate beauty.

The weed – and an overdose of malaria medication- prompted into the night the colorful symbols of Reiki. That crossroad had already been foreseen by a homeless shaman from Buenos Aires. We cannot expect the words to become more than empty nets. Otherwise, Michelle would have revealed me more than her thoughts. It’s a pretty dirty kind of trade. Since they heard the one word poem, some kings have dwelled penniless and barefoot. Juggling. Poetry. Hitch hiking. Synergy. It is imperative to have always on tap an excuse to make the village children smile. What about spending Christmas eating free bananas? Another free thing that was given away in a corner were hugs, and the people who received it became lit with new energies. Some couples protested with orgasms and through the wall you could hear voices in Hebrew asking for the exact location of the Rainbow. Four years before, in Argentina, a bunch of people had also started to hit the road by thumb. They celebrated movement and the furtive production of the distance that, paradoxically, brought them together. Viky had been the first one to wrap it in words, and the first one to talk about messing up the soul and launching assaults to the park’s carousel. There were so many ways to emigrate…! In other latitude, some loonies had decided to build double deck bikes in order to reach the upper leaves of the trees. They pedaled with the circus on their bikes. Simultaneously, they pedaled against the oil wars. Nobody opened cans of Coke anymore. The societies they visited were deconstructed by slapping pedestrians in their face, addressing them with the tender label of… “stupido”. Tribes, communes and squats, had all set free their bulldozers bound for Babylon. Each time the jewelery maker twisted a world out from the alpaca thread, a bullet would pierce the chest of the Minotaur who preyed on Beauty. Latin America had finally starting marching towards herself. It was the topic of conversation even in the arctic pubs of Tromso, where people had never seen a man of the color of the night. I was there the only one who had grown up gazing other stars. Of course, among the ciclonauts there was also Rocio, who loved to say “Voy caminando por el aire” but had forgotten the word “carozo”. In Nicosia, the circus had squatted a large house inhabited by a rasta who coexisted with his trash. They had to clean consciously before getting in. When he met Channing, Bo, the Chinese fellow from Kunming had quited his job in Siemens. He didn’t want to sell X ray equipment for the rest of his life. La vita e gioco. Life is fire… pyros…fire…fuego…

(interludium for fire)

Months had passed since a magic drop in the Himalayas had made our eyes tremble. We had been the rain and also the mountain to avoid the divergence of the Ego and the world. Reality yelled behind a watermark of purple and orange hexagons. There is a little confusion, don’t you think? –asked the Captain. It wasn’t clear whether the shapes who danced rock and roll in a corner of the Shiva Café belong to Tibetan farmers or not. With our breath synchronized we all become interwoven in a vibration that ended up in the OM. We all suspected that Dionisia, the Greek girl, was the sorcerer behind the scratches in the Veil of Maya. Lucas had an explanation: some mushrooms free photons that codify information about the universe. Lucas as a gentlemen in every sense of the word, but we all wondered how he hadn’t been evicted from the gene pool way before. In the Mayan calendar it would have been the day of the self existent red moon, but instead, it was barely a Friday. The satori couldn’t last forever: what looked like a cat soon became a cushion again,. That was unacceptable, so to cheer myself up I remembered the people of Venado Tuerto, who dance murga over the corpses of the empires, and I also remembered Cecilia, who when the mercury smashes the glass wanders the sleepy streets of Corrientes on stilts. Dear memory also rescued the day in which The Count and I awoke a 1938 Ford pick up that was rusting away in an abandoned farm in the middle of the Pampas. That had been our way to receive the millennium, I mean, crashing the brake less Ford against a truck in the first crossroad. But better to let some kaleidoscopes in the dark.

Michi brought me back into reality. Is it true that Christiania has been shut down? I don’t really know, it’s closer to your home. Michi was a believer, that’s to say, a believer in the farms of unicorns, which are not compatible with the European Parliament. All creative spaces seemed to be packing up. In an attempt to delay destiny, some travelers had set off to cross Mauritania in white camels. There they found timeless tea rituals punctuating dirty unpaved roads. They knew beforehand that the best things in life were not things, but they were free. Kinga had told them the secret, before directing her steps to heaven. Pinochet had left for the same place, but a collision was impossible. Somebody asked me when would I go home. I answered that somebody always made the top spin, and that I admired snails. I walked down the Mekong to crush on my bed. The event took place in Luan Prabang, Laos, at the end of last December. Each word that portrays it is one second younger than the previous one. Besides this unfaithful mirror, I know that the balls keep spinning in the dark. Juggling. Poetry. Hitch hiking. Synergy. And every other invisible circus.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Photo 1: Channing, from the Cyclowns, with Bo, our friend from Kunming. 2. Channing and Rocio doing their show at "Speak Easy Bar". 3. View of Kunming.

Kunming is another Chinese city that has evolved into a sort of annonymous modernity, featuring tile-and-glass towers, MaDonalds, Starbucks and some traditional neighborhoods which are being gradually demoolished to give way to the tidyness of pregress.. In comparison with foggy Chengdu, the weather in Kunming was radiant, justifying its title of Spring City.

I was expected by Bo, my Hospitality Club ( local contact. Bo is 24 years old, and has recently graduated from the Medical College. Felling right in step with China’s fast pace, he is already working for the Medical Solutions’ department of Siemens China. In other words, he sells X-ray equipment. My surprise came when he confessed he went to work every morning with scorn. Even if he has a salary well over the average Chinese, he feels unsatisfied to be working for a big corporation instead of helping people in more esential levels. In those days he was medditating the possibility of quiting the entire thing. He is the first Chinese fellow I meet that questions the worthyness of the rat race.

Bo is a Christian by choice. Acccoring to himself, what beckoned hijmmore of Christianity were Jesus’s words: “I am the way, the light and the life”. He adds, as he gets emotional (and Bo always speaks with a big smile) “Not even Mao has ever said something like that. This guy –Jesus- is either mad or he knows what he says”

My original plan was to stay for a few days. Destiny had, however, other plans. (The first plans of destiny were that I would catch an Influenza-Avirus and stay five days coughing and shivering). By e-mail I had got to know that Rocio and Chaning, two of the Cyclown Circus were bypassing Kunming in their way to Laos, where the rest of the Circus was. Before internet could anticipate us, chaos made us run into each other in a party held by expat students in Kunming. A crowd of Westerners study Chinese language in Kunming, some of them even paid to go there by their companies in Europe or the US.

Pablo –the Argentinean guy with whom I had cross Tibet- and I had entered the flat in a centric neighborhood of Kunming slightly afraid that the party wouldn’t be more than a small gathering of students talking about their difficulty to learn Chinese. We had even feared our two bottles of Tequila would turned to be an excess. After crossing the doorstep, however, we learnt that the bathtube was full of ice and bottles of any drinkable kind. The Gospel of San Pablo Olive, verse 34: “Tomorrow the police will have to drag me out of here”. Bo ended up sleping in the sofa, somewhat drunk. As I tried to steel some kisses from a Boston girl, Pablo was negotiating his way to the simpathy of one of the Italian girls. I guess there was an edipic conexion with Boston. My parents had lived there in 1960. I can remember myself as a child coming across old white framed photographs showing Bunker Hill, or a park inhabited by sociable squirrels. But none of these affairs were the highlight of the night. The encounter with Rocio and Channing, from the Cyclown Circus, instead, was.

We had met for the last time a year bedore in Capadoccia, Turkey. There, we had agreed to met again in Mersin, Southern Turkey, but we had missed each other, since they were cycling and I was hitch-hiking. Instead, we had run into each other in a party in Kunming… For a year, the Circus and I had traveled different roads leading to the same meeting point. The had spent the winter of 2005 in Cyprus, afterwrds they have pedaled their way to Georgia onto Russia, from where they had taking the Transiberian Railway to Mongolia and China. On the other hand, I had crossed Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan on the way to India, and afterwards had traveled north to Tibet, from where I had reached Kunming at the same time as them!

But who are the Cyclown Circus? It’s a group of musicians, jugglers, clowns, violinists, whateverists that travel the world on double deck bikes they build themselves. The bikes consist of frames wielded vertically, with an extra set of pedals in the upper frame. They perform their shows of Jazz and circus in streets of cities and villages, bars and orphanages, beaches and parties. In order to make money they sell their CDs, but when in villages they often trade their entertainment for food and lodging. A real caravan.

Besides the artistic dimension, they also feature a light enviromental activism that matches them really well. One of the bikes has indeed a sign that reads: “Cycling against the oil wars” Another thing I love about them is the fact that they convey the idea of an absolutely alternative lifestyle to the people they meet across the globe. For many, it is a wake-up call. Matter of fact, Bo was soon going to leave his job at Siemens.

On the afternoons we would gather to drink mate in Silvia and Eva’s place, our Italian friends. At other times we would go to Green Lake Park, where Rocio and Channing would make their show, They needed some money to catch up with the rest of the group that was already in Laos. Some people would put money into the hat, while a few would even put food! When foreign tourists would approached, I would offer them my book “Harmony of Chaos” that I have recently started to sell again after a long break.

It could be said that the magic for me started in Kunming, a city that had only been a point in the itinerary but now was starting to show its real consequences. It was a split second and it was obvious to me that I should join the circus! It seemed to me a much richer opportunity that continuing to hitch-hike alone around the world. It wasn’t an easy decision, somehow part of me was stoic and commited to follow my original plan of a solo trip. In the end, the prospect of travelling the world with a family of artists, a furtive caravan, beckoned me more.

At Silvia’s house I spent a whole afternoon with fever, drinking lemon tea and looking at the album of Channing, the poliglote and accordeonist from Texas. The book related the journey through Turkey, Cyprus, Georgia, Rusia, Mongolia, and China. The pictures were glued in the pages of an old accountability book he had found in the streets of Turkey, and the stamps of the commercial transactions revealed the fact it dated from 1957. With a colorful script, Channing had retitled it: “Yeni Circus Kitabi” (in Turkish, the Book of the New Circus) After turning the last page, I was convinced that it was a life style I was interested in experimenting.

Joining the circus would mean abbandoning Hitch-hiking for a while and taking up the bycicle, which I still have to build. I will maybe start to travel paralely by thumb. Rocio gave me an axis for the bike, the very first piece. While in Kunming I had learnt to ride the “tall bikes” and was now sure that I wanted my own. Of course there is still a question: What I am going to do in the circus? That was all together another question, sincce I am no musician and less clown. Poetry will have to find yet another reincarnation to match the circumstances. I have managed to convert poetry and literature into something that can pay for my trips, by selling my books. Now I will have to find a way to make poetry explicit and entertaining enough to share the stage with something as vivid as the tunes oozing out of Channing’s Weltmeister accordeon….

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Pablo eventually took his train to Shanghai. He was transported in the front luggage carrier of Channing’s tall bike. Suddenly afterwards I realized that it was the first time that I had had a travel companion for more than a month in this trip. Channing, Rocio, and I, started together our trip to Laos. As they were on their bikes and I was hitch-hiking, we agreed on intermediate points where to meet. At last, I was on the road with the circus!

The first of these meeting points was a town just 20 km south of Kunming. We couldn’t be ambitious, since we had hit the road at 4 pm. Meeting up there was not a problem, I arrived first, leaned over my backpack by the roadside, and waited for Channing’s bike to stand from the rest of the traffic. Together we looked for a place to camp, and were happy enough to do it in the new motorway which still being built. It was funny to set up the tent in the middle of the pavement! On the following day we made a fruitless attempt to get a ride for the whole pack, which counts not only us three but the 2 giant bikes loaded with accordions, clavs, etc It was impossible, so we split. As usually happens with the circus, separations are parenthesis that opens indefinitely, and the circus was going to have its own adventure before meeting up with me again.


Without difficulties I reached Jinghong, not really far from the Lao border, in a region called Xishuanbanna, famous for the density and diversity of the ethnic minorities that inhabit its hills. These groups have more in common with Lao and Thai people that with the rest of China. I spent five days in town, selling “Harmony of Chaos” (my old book) to other travellers in the Mei Mei Café, owned by a Belgian ex-pat. In that venue Ihad the chance to speak with a group of Norwegian anthropologists who told me that the central government had sent coreograophers to make the native’s dances more stylish and therefor more marketable for tourism. Trekking with an official company in Southern China? Now you know what you are up to!I didn’t dare to go look for these hill tribes. As the readers may have already noticed, there has been a change of priorities since I entered South East Asia. I am exploring only those things that come across my eyes. All my efforts have deviated towards the completion of my next book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil” whose street version should be readay in a couple of months. I will continue to work in an extended version of it to be presented to some publishers in the UK and Spain, but that will take another year. The sooner I get the book done, the sooner I will join the Bike Circus in body and soul. Until now, I am travelling with them, but I haven’t done any move towards articulating with their show.

I crossed the Chinese-Lao border at Mengla. The ride consisted mainly of Chinese trucks “:Dongfeng”, those blue square moving structures that bump around the whole country. Even if the road was at moments really bad you could see the new motorway being built at the side of our road full of ditches. Outside the Chinese customs I changed my remaining yuans for kips, the currency of Laos. On handing out the equivalent of 50 euros the woman started to take out bricks of money from a large plastic bag. I received, in total, 633,000 kip, and considering tthat the largest denomination consisted of 5000 notes, I received enough notes as to full my front backpack to a point the zippers needed to be forced in order to close it. I felt as if I had just robbed a bank! I got my Chinese exit stamp and walked towards Lao, a new country in this trip.


I camped for two days next to the road, sheltered by a group of trucks that were posted there for the week waiting some merchandises from China. I was hoping to see Chaning’s bike appear on the horizon at any moment, since this time we had arranged that we would simply meet after the border. I wouls cross the border and sit in some visible spot on the right hand side to wait for the circus. However, three days passed and the circus didn’t show up. As a border is a really boring place to be waiting, I decided to head on to Luang Prabang. I soon got a ride in a Mitsubishi Pajero 4WD of a Chinese businessman going all the way to Vientianne, the capital. We stopped overnight in Udumxoi, and in the following morning we were entering the sleepy town of Luang Prabang. In the meanwhile, nevertheless, I had the chance to get a picture of the countryside that this time I didn’t intend to explore. Most of the houses along the road were straw huts built on stilts to separate them from the ground which gets really floaded in the rain season. Its inhabitants can be seen most of the day chatting around fires next to their dwellings, smoking, and drinking a rice wine known as lao-lao. Only in larger towns houses are made of wood or bricks....

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Photo 1: Chinese workers by the roadside. Photo 2: The VW Touareg we stopped, our black unicorn...

Initially only taxis seemed to be using that road. Eventually, a Cherry QQ, a miniature car of local design, stopped for us and took us to a place called Yingjing, through forested hills that ended up in terraced valleys. Farmers with conic hats worked hard in the ricefields. Mist seemed to be a 24 hours resident of those hills, and we could never afford to see further than 100 meters ahead. When night fell, after having tried in vain to spark the hospitality of a couple of hamlets, we decided to camp just next to the road. We set off to explore the area a little bit to find a suitable terrain for our camping ground, and we found that somebody had already set some sort of tent made with stitched potatoe bags. Inside this unusual tent, a perfectly clean bed awaited its mysteryous inhabitant. There was even a packet of peanuts under the pillow. And that was as far as we dared to investigate. We smoked a cigarette in the dark, trying to guess who on Earth could live there. We finally went to sleep. In the middle of the night, a man, and a woman carrying a crying baby entered the odd tent. Still wondering.

On the second day hitch-hiking results improved a lot. We stopped a Mitsubishi Pajero whose driver invited us for lunch and drop us off in a place called Hanyuan. There, fingers crossed, we looked at the card of the saint that Pablo had met in the mountains of Yaan, and in 10 minutes a VW Touareg 4WD was still next to us. That was not a car, but an unicorn! In that bolid we reached Shimian, where Pablo, who had less days left in his visa, took a bus to Kunming. As far as I was concerned, I was still cleaning the sin of having taken a plane from Lhasa to Chengdu, so I continued my pilgrimage on foot, postrating every three steps, and asking forgiveness to the God of Roadsides...

Being alone, the hitch hiking became really smooth, and soon I was overtaking the Kunming bound bus Pablo was in. In spite of this optimistic prospect, I did not rejected the free train ride that I was offered by the police in a town where I arrived by night. People there could really understand I was tryingto hitch-hike! So the free train payed by the cops landed me in Kunming, on the morning of the third day.


On the pics: Pablo and Johnson, the falso policeman. The "real" (and pretty) policewoman at Ya'an. And me with the fake old bridge in the background.

Coming from Western Tibet the arrival to Lhasa had been to a certain extent a real shock. We were catching up with civilization! After five days in Lhasa, we didn’t have other choice but to board a plane to Chengdu, even if our original idea was to hitch hike to Kunming. My Chinese visa was about to expire and the PSB office at Lhasa was refusing to grant me an extension. After hitching for 20 months from Europe, I should say it was a heavy joke..

Eventually we landed in Chengdu, a mega city of 11 million bodies which lets you know that any provincial capital in China has more high rises than Paris and London together. Modernity is clearly something else other than glass panels, but the Chinese seem happy to crowd their country with future ruins. China seems to be embracing everything that the West gradually starts to abandon.

Since in Chengdu bureaucracies were too complex, I decided to extend my visa in Ya’an, some 100 km south from Chengdu. We had been told by our HC hosts in Chengdu that Ya’an definetly didn’t deserve a visit, that the town was forgettable. In other words, the town was not mention in any Lonely Planet. And that was like a letter of recommendation for us. The first thing to surprise us was the pretty police woman in the PSB, the department in charge of extending my visa. For a couple of seconds Pablo and I envisioned alterntive futures, in which we wrote letters to our families explaining the odd event of settling in Ya’an.­ The little police girl there was not only cute but also helpful She and her collegues had my visa extension ready in one our. At the end of the task, they wanted to have a picture taken with us and even invited us cofee in their office!

The city, as forecasted, didnt have anything spectacular, besides the vague pride of having been the cradle of the tea culture in China. Yaan’s second abstract claim to fame was being the place where the first giant pandas were found. The city has some relax pace of life that pleases us. Archaich looking new bridges crossed the river which name we never asked. The people, with only looking at us, make some exclamation. Wow! Ah! As if they had seen an animal absent in any catalogue. It was clear the city didnt draw many visitors. Yet, Yaan was going to stay in our memory for ever. Not due to their markets selling catfish or sea turtles in buckets. Not for the kindness of its citizens. We will always remember Yaan for its false policeman.

He wanted us to call him Johnson. Being his real name closer to a tongue twister, that was merciful on his behalf. He approached us with the excuse of showing us a good place where to eat duck. (since Tibet the indulgent and luxurious combination of taking a shower and eating a duck had come to simbolize all things unreachable) Finding an English speaking friend in such a forgotten city was already something notorious, so we gave it a go. From the beginning he had been unable to explain what his job consisted of. While we ate the duck he had made to us some vague not to say stupid questions of the kind of :do you like the city? or how do you like the people of the city?. He tried to convince us that it was a survey for his studies.

After dinner Johnson guided us to a dance hall where people danced in the most ridicolous way imanigable. It looked like a 1950s disco. Men grabbed women with tango manners but described waltz orbits on the dancefloor. There we noticed for the first time that our young new friend (he was some 21 years old) would come up more often than not swith a strange behaviour. In that case he introduced us to the disco owner, made him come to our table, and then pretended to translate his words (but actually put his own message through). So Johnson said that the owner was asking us if we wanted any girls, fior which we inmediatly undesrtoos that he was trying to sell us a couple of prostitutes. We said a big and noisy “No!” only to see how Johnson called the resident singer and had her coming to our table. Pablo and I crossed sights. “He is crazy!” And we were only starting to browse the extraordinary repertory of absurd ideas Johnson could come up with. After a few second he suggested that we should climb the stage and sing a song together with the disco owner. Yeah, he was not playing with the full deck. When we eventually left the place we were invited to visit again. Pablo and I imagined the hipothetical act of dressing up in smoking suits and white shirts and going for a waltz­.. thus commending ourselves to destiny.

Once in the street Johnson invited us some tofu that smelled like my socks after Tibet. Piece by piece we had to throw it to the ground, with our hands in the back, much to the happiness of an impromptu assortment of street cats and dogs that followed our way. Johnson had already invited us to stay with his familiy for a couple of days. The most logical thing would have been to leave that city, but the stay with Johnson promised a decent dosage of absurd.

In Johnson’s house we were treated as part of the family. Everynight Johnson and someone who was supossed to be his elder brother. By that time we stilled believed his words- would invite us to eat out at a local restaurant. The local way was to ask for a hot pot full of mushrooms, egs, fish, pork, vegetables, and everything cookable pinned in the end of a stick.. The essence of Chinese cuisine is to turning usual ingredients into unidentifiable shapes. Here comes a plate with something resembling rice. But it’s egg. Oh! These ought to be sausages. Never mind, it is rice. Everything is cooked, cut and presented in an absolutely different way. Those were really filling meals that we really apreciated since Tibetan frugalty was still fresh in our memories. Pablo celebrated local hospitality “This guys put cigarettes in your mouth!”. One night our stomachs were full to the extent that the idea of a single grain of rice being offered to us became abominable. Then, Johnson reminded us that later on we were expected in his third brother’s house to eat calf. Johnson would always refer to his relatives with an ordinal number. My third brother. Ny second uncle. The second sister of my fourth uncle. Pablo admited that in such conditions we couldn’t eat calf even by IV.

While I vainly scanned the city in search of a road map, Johnson guided Pablo to a sacred mountain. There he met a saint that gave him his own card! Pablo later related how Johnson would at every step tell him: “Pablo! This man is inviting you to lunch at his house! Then he would tell the man: “this foreigner wants to eat at your place!” We realized he repeated this strategy on and on. For what porpouse we will never know. We can just think he was as compulsive lier. The last afternoon Johnson showed us around town, always screaming to us if we would stop for an extra second. He seemed to specially target Pablo. If he would stop to tie his shoes, Johnson would shout “Oh!, Barburi (that was the closest he could pronounce Pablo) What are you doing! Come on!¡”

On the last night the “great confession” took place. We were in local fast food shop, a sort of Chinese KFC. We had spoted two other foreigners (the firswt we saw in Ya’an) ordering their chicken burgers. They turned out to be a Nepalese tea businessman and his son. They had come to China to buy machinery. We were talking over the burgers about the political events in Nepal when Johnson stood up and said, with a ceremonious voice that could only spark laughter .
“Now I can tell you the truth about my job. I am a policeman and my jobe is to make sure that the tourists have a good time in Yaan. Sorry for lying to you!”
Against all his expectations we continued talking to the Nepalese guys, who realy had interesting staff to say. In any case we were sure that the policeman story was just an excuse to hang around with us. The whole episode was redeemed by the faces of the Nepalese when Johnson made his confession. Worthy of a portrait.