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....