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things I get asked – part three: my favorite places

topten

I suppose this should have been the first post – as it is the question I get asked the most – but it was important that we established that I’m a cool guy. with cool things.

let’s get to it.

my Top 10 Favorite Places in the world. ever.

[all photos are mine unless noted.]

West-Coast-Ireland

[not my photo.]

1. the West Coast of Ireland – I’d say this even if I didn’t come from an Irish family. there’s magic here, there are ghosts that stumble and men who slur and ladies who twinkle. there’s crap weather and worse food, but… my god, when you spend the day walking across the green near The Cliffs, and then spend the evening trying to play catch-up with the craic in one of Doolin’s tiny pubs, you’ll see why this grabs my top spot. and – just in case those who I’ve appointed are either dead, or too drunk to function – scatter my ashes here, please.

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2. France. I love everything about this country – the wine, the food, the music, the people, even a hint at where The Ark resides [!] … all of it. is there an arrogance? yes. absolutely. they have one of the world’s best countries, a fierce attitude to people who tell them what to do, and a way of life that ensures enjoyment amongst adversity. in my most secret of places, I’ll admit to wanting to find an older wife there… who smokes… with an asymmetrical haircut… and lots of eyeliner… who disagrees with everything that I say.

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3. New Orleans. up until this spring, I didn’t really like New Orleans. truth. the three times I was there before were spent drunk on Bourbon Street, staying within the few blocks of the French Quarter. but this time around, I got to see the real side, meet the real folks, eat the real gumbo, feel the real voodoo, learn about the real attitude,  [think Southern lax with the above French joie de vivre… but, you know, alcoholic] – and when I left, it felt like home. and I still think back on those short few months I called it that. if I had my druthers, I’d spend Feb-May here every year.

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4. Indonesia. what a place! I got nothing but love for this country. some of Asia’s best food, nicest people [seriously], most diverse topography, easiest language for English speakers to pick up… I love all of it. even Jarkarta, the giant shithole that it is. kopi and clove cigarettes, satay and beer. and one of the best meals I’ve ever had – mie ayam – from this guy.

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5. Valparaiso, Chile. when I signed on to do the BBC series, I had one demand. [okay, not demand, it was the BBC and I was homeless], but I had one request: we film one show in Valparaiso. this place has become my South American home-away-from… well, your spare room, but with good reasons. wine [obviously], famous snacks, gorgeous views, a thriving art scene, cheap, fantastic fish, great music and, c’mon, Chileans. best folks on the continent. [and I say this after almost being locked-up... and being caught in a pretty serious riot.]

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[not my photo]

6. Bagan, Myanmar. if that photo above doesn’t tell you why this is one of the most magical spots in the world, then nothing I can say will. but trust me.

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7a. Sicily – I knew it was going to be nice, but I had no idea how nice. are the people nuts? yes. but in the best of ways. the wine and the food and the chocolate speak to that – it’s Italy, sure… but Italy turned up to 11. one of my most beloved towns was found by accident, an eerie Easter spent in the town photographed above, some of the best bike riding and a people whose kindness, generosity were only matched by…

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7b. Greece. I didn’t expect much from Greece – as silly as that might seem. sure, a few nice sunsets on Santorini, taking in the jaw-dropping sites of Meteora [above] … but that’s about it. I didn’t expect to fall in love with Athens, to cycle around a part I still can’t remember the name of, to find the most magical of monasteries [no photos allowed], to meet the absolute kindest of folks. go for the sites, but be prepared to be embraced. a wonderful country, an even more wonderful people.

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8. the South of England – I called this area ‘home‘ for the better part of three years. it’s the England of our minds – the rolling hills, country pubs, place of legends. every person who spends more than 3 days in London gets a very stern email from me re: visit the real UK – and this is it. country folks, good cider, better golf, the best snack, gorgeous towns.

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9. Bend, Oregon – I once wrote that this was the best town in the US, and I still stand by that… small place, amazing beer, serious food, great skiing, great hiking, great venues – and the mountain keeps the dreary Oregon rain away. only drawback: the price. but hey.

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10. Berlin, Germany – if I were 10 years younger, I’d be writing this from Berlin – it’d kill me now. no other place makes me want to pull out my camera, my pen + paper, more. brash, cheap, industrial, open, beautiful, drunk … even the sex club people are nice. all of the things that make for an inspirational town.

and there you go – my top 10 favorite places in all of the world.

runners up: Havana, Belgium, Bolivia, Sarajevo, Seattle, Syria and West Texas.

places that I haven’t been, but if I had, would probably make this list: Norway, British Colombia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Romania/Bulgaria, and Montana.

[end]

you’ll sleep here tonight

while this site is reserved for things I humbly produce, when a vignette so well put together as this one I recently did with award-winning director J.R. Heffelfinger is produced, I couldn’t help but share it.

this – one of the more heartbreaking stories from the road I’ve ever encountered.

Vienna’s FM4

a few weeks back – while in Vienna – I was asked by FM4 [most popular radio station in Central Europe, I’ll have you know] host [and pal] Riem Higazi if I’d like to come on their show and talk about the happenings I had going on.

never one to shy away from my favorite subject, I popped into her ‘My Reality’ program and talked all things travel, Oklahoma, naked knifefights on this most-recent bike trip and getting an enema in Ecuador.

good times.

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it’s all free now, over there.

[cross-posted from the other site]

I was going to wait until I could change a few things on my big ole travel site – AQueenAndCountry – namely the home page with the loooooong introduction video and stuff like that, but I don’t have the money for it.

nevertheless, I leave for Amsterdam tomorrow and wanted to get this out there.

it’s free.

the vids, the photos, the stories, the podcasts – it’s all free.

once upon a time, I had envisioned a way to charge $5 a month for all of this – thus funding my adventures and showing you a bit of the world. but that’s not exactly fair, nor right, and I ended up feeling like an asshole for it. I thought back to being a poor kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma and my parents barely having enough to feed us. so why should another in that same position miss out on my Life of Riley? he shouldn’t. and I’m sorry I ever tried to make money from my blessings.

it should be said that a large handful of people saw past that and helped kickstart this little thing – and for that I thank them…

but it’s all free now.

watch, steal, laugh, think, ignore, enjoy – all of it.

there’ll be much more after this Europe on a Bike Adventure I’m heading off on soon, but for now… well… tuck in.

 

the indestructible wine glass.


I wasn’t going to talk a lot about it.

the entire idea was to get away from talking about it.

to get back to books, to substance. photos are fucked, as are their masters – thank god we don’t have an Instagram for writing yet. here’s a few lines, but they don’t snap… maybe I’ll try the Norman Mailer button – ahhhhh. yes. now I’m sounding good. so the writing is all that’s left these days. I got tired of the instantaneous prose – the NatGeo thing wore me out – go here, write this, get up, go there – the beautiful spontaneity went out with Kerouac and Co. and ohmygod, even his name is on the Hollywood Billboard again.

so yes, I like writing books. that’s what I’ve decided.

there was some money in my pocket a few months ago and I bought a bike and a tent and an indestructible wine glass. with the money left over, I bought a one-way ticket to Europe – where I write you from now.

I wasn’t going to talk about this – simply do it and save you the hassle of liking whatever I manage to mutter in 140 characters, but I woke up this morning and it was cold and rainy in Berlin and my throat was sore and I walked around looking for something warm of Alonso’s to wear because I don’t have any warm clothes and I got real, real scared because I chose to bike around Europe for a long time and it’s cold and rainy and I don’t have any warm clothes.

add to that, I don’t know how to bike – I mean, ride, sure. but I don’t know how to change a flat.

nor do I have the money for proper campgrounds every night, which means I’m going to have to stealth camp – out late, up early. in fact, I spent all of my money on this bike and tent and indestructible wine glass. if I was guessing, I’d say I have about $700 in my bank account. if it weren’t for a childhood friend basically inventing a position for me at his warehouse, I’d have nothing but $700 for the next 8-9 months. there’s a magazine I really like that I just started writing for, but that money’s going to the adventure after this and…

oh wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

here’s how this all came about:

while on the NatGeo gig, I was driving and began to worry that everything after this was gonna be a drag, ’cause there I was getting paid and shit from National Geographic. that’s it, son – the tops. you can’t get bigger than that. well done and stuff, but where to after this? what in the world could I do to impress my nephew after that? what was cooler than being a National-Geographic-Fucking-Traveler?

I thought and I thought and pondered and then realized that there was – within my reach – only one thing that could beat that:

a treasure hunter.

oh, you laugh, but in the past few months, I’ve been buried in books, on forums [youngest guy talkin’ coils by 20 years], in touch with people who know people, re-watching Indiana Jones and – don’t laugh – Sahara, planning-planning-planning. you should see my Amazon cart. it’s so cool.

so yes – I decided to become a treasure hunter… when I turn 40. seemed like an appropriate age to take life seriously. which meant I had to get the remaining big trips underway – no matter the weather, the funds, the horrible planning [see: flat tire], all of that. but if you wait until everything is perfect for an adventure, then it simply becomes a vacation. I’m no good at vacations – they have an end date. not to take away from yours – god knows I’d love a beach with a bar and a card that worked for buying drinks without that horrible BoA email letting you know funds are low. gosh, that sounds fun. but I’m no good at it. my inability with money is almost as strong as my aversion towards it. but it ain’t me.

so, yes. treasure hunting and the last few remaining big trips. Europe. I missed Europe. I ached for Europe. once you peel back the touristy side and then the annoying side, there lies a side to it that opens the door for anyone to dream anything – something about the architecture and all the booze and fucking. it’s dreamy and sad and sings sad, sad songs that make you just want to walk in an orange and red leafed park with someone you’re about to break up with. chain smoke. be-boop-bop, yeah. whatever you want to feel can be made to look cool and ohhhhhhh, babe – it’s right here. especially in Berlin where the secrets are only kept from those not here. did you hear who _____ to ________? it’ll be passed from ear-to-ear, but not emailed. no sir, you be right here for this scandal or you get none of it. I like that. I miss that. even childish gossip gets made over in dark grownup eyeshadow and is cooooooooooool. I like that.

so yeah, I missed Europe and I wanted to go real slow and be able to take in the castles and cheese and chateau’s and try out that fancy titanium indestructible wine glass that I might have mentioned. it’ll take a while – but I got a lot of while. the debates and Chic-Fil-A sandwiches and people getting shot all the time and finding water on Mars but no one cares because ohmygod some  living Cabbage Patch hillbillychild got some TV show and said something mildly dumb and hang on while we put a fake taco into a Dorito and serve that shit up with a now-illegal large soda size and…

fuck.

that’s an exasperated fuck, not an angry fuck. just like an uuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhh with a side of how the fuck did we get here?

I digress. sorry.

it comes down to this: I like writing books now and seeing things and taking a photo [most likely with the Hefe setting on Instagram, thank you] and being able to share all that with the few folks who might enjoy a little peek. blogging sounds gross and I’m not a big fan. I want to write something and then send it to Sunny and then have her send it back all nice and pretty and then get drunk on some cheap prosecco and rewrite it and send it to her in the hopes she won’t disown me and then, two years later – ta da! a real live book. that some people laugh because of. or imagine because of. or feel really bad for everyone I date because of.

but it’s a contribution – one that is worked hard on. one maybe you’ll like and laugh and imagine and feel bad for.

god, where am I going with this?! DAMN YOU, BLOGGING.

ahem.

I bought a bike and am now in Europe and don’t have any money so it’s going to be interesting and an adventure and I hope you’re doing okay and autumn is really, really pretty where you’re at and you’re not about the dump the person you’re walking through it with.

see you later.

I’m gonna go see some stuff.

the plan

didn’t know if you heard, read, were deafened by my shouting it from the rooftops here in Brooklyn…
National Geographic called.
called me.
on the phone.

and – as stated – there’s some stuff I can’t talk about.
but there’s also a few things I can.

I’m headed coast-to-coast soon.
in America.
from D.C. down South then alllllll the way to Los Angeles.
6 whole weeks.

but it’s not just a trip, it’s got a theme.
the theme is good.
as in ‘The Good Traveler’.
want to see something cool?
here’s the link to the page that has the name of the giant and then the name of your pal Queen as well.

they made me a banner.
THEY MADE ME A BANNER.
there’s nothing on there yet and I might get in trouble for sharing it but I’m sorry.
someone at NatGeo [I’d like to think we’re on a nickname-friendly basis] asked someone else to make a banner with my name on it.
and they did.
and they spelled my name correctly.
National Geographic spelled my name correctly.

allow me one moment to mentally print that off and hang it on my non-existent fridge.

anyway.

it’s all about good stuff, namely: people doing good stuff.
food and music and adventure, sure.
but I’m headed off to find the good folks.

do you know any?

people and places like The Big O Foundation, The Tiziano Project, Caine’s Arcade, etc.
there’s no wrong suggestions – it could be an org, it could be one person.

but it’s all going to come from public suggestions.

so if you got someone good in/around that area you see above, then tell me.
I’ll go pay ’em a visit.

let’s start there…

because this trip starts next Monday.

oh man.

the call.

we need to talk is never a good thing to hear.

someone’s breaking up with you.
someone’s offended by something you said or did.
someone’s watch has gone missing.
etc.

this was from National Geographic – this email. I could only assume it was about me splashing the big ‘as seen on National Geographic’ logo everywhere since my first article, and assumed this was the one conversation I’d have before being contacted by their legal department.

as I emailed back, I wanted to tell them look, sorry, but how often does a wannabe travel writer end up in The House With The Golden Border? and how could they blame me? if your band opens up for The Killers, then you engrave ‘as seen on tour with The Killers’ on every t-shirt and album printed, right?

a lot was said in that phone call, none of which alluded to me milking their logo.
and a lot of it I can’t talk about.

but when the phone call was over, I sat on that balcony in Buenos Aires wondering if it had actually been them, or an ex-girlfriend who knew exactly how to crush my very soul.

it took a few months to understand what was going on.
and it took a lot of contracts and phone calls and shared documents to make me believe it was actually happening.

but it was.
and it is.

and – in one week, I take a train to D.C. where I’ll spend a few days being pre-briefed in the Golden Offices.
and then – a few days later, I’ll be getting in a car they paid for.
going coast-to-coast with a video camera, a microphone, a regular camera and a pen.

because in 10 days, I go from being one of National Geographic’s siphon-ers…
to being one of their Travelers.

more soon.
as soon as I’m done throwing up.

pickles. and jams.

different people come into your life at special times – for special reasons.

sometimes for love.

sometimes for support.

sometimes for inspiration.

and sometimes to keep you from being stranded at the airport en route to Rio.

 

the two girls and I laughed at the fact that – despite us not really doing the touristy stuff here in Buenos Aires – we kept running into each other. and you need to know that this is a big ole place. but 3 times in 4 days was enough and we finally all decided to sit down for a beer and get to know one another.

where ya from. where ya been. what’d ya like. where’s next?

then:

isn’t Buenos Aires nice?

my god, it’s gorgeous. I don’t even want to go to Rio now. I just want to stay here until I fly back to the States.

yeah, we know. we were just in Rio, though, and it’s gorgeous there. so you’ll love it. and after everything they make you go through to get the visa, you’d better!

ugh. another long line at the border? do they charge us as much as they did in Bolivia?

you don’t have your’s yet?

nah. will just get it at the airport.

[they both looked at each other with a worried look, and then to me with a worried look. I always get nervous when people who know nothing about my well being worry about my well being.]

you’re not going to Rio.

why not? I laughed. thinking this might be Americans being Americans and making everything extreme.

because it takes weeks to get a visa. you have to get a certain type of photo, print out your bank statements, show a scan or copy of your last check from your employer, have a hotel booked and then pay $160.

I had none of those things.

and this is when my well being began to worry about my own well being. ’cause, see – my flight back to the States. the big ole expensive one that set me back I-don’t-even-want-to-tell-you-how-much… was from Rio.

but I remained calm. mostly because they were both good-looking and I wanted to appear tough.

guess I’ll just have to buy another cheap flight from here to Rio the same day and just get on my flight then.

the good-looking girls went back to being the worried girls.

they won’t let you on the plane here without a visa for there.

I suddenly stopped caring about being tough.

there isn’t money in my account for another I-don’t-want-to-tell-you-how-much flight. I spent that already on the first one.

I had a flight booked from here to Rio on Saturday.

and then from Rio to LAX a few days later.

there wasn’t going to be a visa.

and there wasn’t going to be a flight.

now, thank the man upstairs it was Sunday and nothing could be done. this gave me a chance to very calmly, very strategically and very methodically, get very, very drunk.

I seriously had nowhere to go. and no means to do it with. the last time I was this worried about actually making it out was Ethiopia a few years back.

do I go the Brazilian Embassy and wax [ahem] poetic about my own stupidity and see if they could expedite one?

could I beg them to let me on the flight and just live in the airport for 4 days?

or…

do I go to the airlines and see how much it would be to change my Rio-Panama-LAX flight to Buenos Aires-Panama-LAX?

I chose the latter. because I love it here, it would be less hassle and fuck Brazil. they should post stuff like this all over travel websites. [note: they post this stuff all over travel websites].

so, to the airline office I went.

‘how much to change the flight?’ I asked in the nicest voice my hangover would allow.

‘we don’t fly from Buenos Aires to LAX.’

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. this is Buenos Aires! everything is perfect and beautiful and delicious! nothing ever goes wrong!

‘how much for a flight to Panama? and then I can just get my connecting flight there?’

‘you won’t be allowed on the plane if you miss your first flight.’

had I eaten any snacks the night before amidst my wine bender, this is where I would have pooped myself a little.

‘then what do I do?’

‘well, to fly from here to LAX will be $950’.

I was about $500 short of that.

a grey beard. broke. I stunk. toothpaste stains on my shorts. alone. homeless. 35…

and I’m about to have to call Mom and Dad for a flight home.

and just a week or so before, I was talking someone through his transitioning phase, telling him that ‘when it gets rough, that’s when you really have the adventure! that’s when you really get to know yourself!’

I had no interest in an adventure, nor in getting to know myself.

‘is there anything you would suggest?’- pleading.

‘well… there is one thing you can do. take a boat to Uruguay, then you could fly from there to Panama, Panama to Los Angeles. it would cost you $240.’

I handed her my card, praying there was enough. last time I checked, it was around $250.

turns out I had $224. but that’s why we have overdraft protection.

so there you go. I have to find a boat to a new country, pray they don’t have the same tastes in visa requirements as their neighbor to the north… and make my $262 in cash last for 9 more days.

and $10 of that goes to buying each of the girls a bottle of wine.

’cause lemme tell ya… finding this all out at the airport the day of would have been a kick in the pants.

a

p.s. both the timing and irony of my 2nd article for National Geographic making their home page being all about me – the seasoned traveler – sharing some tips from my wise learned mind is amazing.

p.p.s. sadly, having ended up in this situation many a time, I know a select few of you will do what you always do and ask if I need money. I do not. there are some cheques on the way to my account from a few clients – a few clients who ironically chose this month to be the time when they were late with their payments. and, well, tomorrow or the next day, the new travel project launches, which you can help support. so send nothing, except potty-mouth letters to Rio… stupid Rio.

 

crystals.

[hit play before reading. it works better that way.]

[ryan adams – ‘la cienega just smiled’]

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I stood there, on that terrace, for one final cigarette.

it was a quiet one, and maybe that’s what seemed strange, as it was this spot that had loudly set the stage for the past 5 night’s worth of a million.

see, sometimes you stumble upon a magical place. and sometimes you find magical people. but rarely do the two ever show up at the same time. but sometimes they do. and when they do, and when the podium is set upon a hundred used wine bottles from the vineyards you can see just past the fishing boats from where we would sit night-after-night, opening one-after-another, it becomes something more than just ‘a few people who met while traveling’.

if I’m being honest, my heart hurt a little bit this afternoon when I was taken to the bus station by the hostel owner. I’m glad his wife wasn’t there to hug me by or I might have fought back a tear. or maybe I wouldn’t have fought it back at all.

but there was something about this place.

there were a lot of us, but there were 4 of us. the ones that would stay up the latest, finish the most wine, tell the naughtiest jokes. maybe we ran some people off, and that’s okay. at times the 4 of us were more than 4. we had our different sides that would come out at different times. and with that much carmenere, with that much sauvignon blanc, it wasn’t always clear who we were talking to.

but that’s not what mattered. what mattered was that at any given time, those 4 – or 8 – possibly even 12 – people got on.

and got on well.

my cigarette halfway finished, tar and melancholy combined for a heart heavy to say goodbye to our ritual. a nightly debauchery of our perverse quartet.

the first – a man conflicted in his own transitions, transitioning through his own conflicts – wanting to take as much as he could out of his unique position, but at the same time fighting the tranquility of where he found. then there were the two – a ying and yang with loud Adelaide accents. one spent too much time on her empanadas when she should have been prepping the dinner, over-thinking snacks when it was the stock she should have been starting. the other had a new life, a new destination and a new plan each new day – this idea and that dream, this possibility and that reality. I bought her a box of gum, ’cause I was sad to her leave. she didn’t say ‘thanks’  until the morning she left, but it was worth the wait. and then, there was me – the person who hadn’t personalized with too many persons on this trip – enjoying, for the most part, the solitude. but from the minute everyone sat down that first evening, I suddenly wondered if I’d been missing things like this these past 5 months.

but I thought back on my past adventures and realized I hadn’t missed out on anything, as this doesn’t happen often.

great things in great places with great people don’t often meet – not often at all.

different groups bring different things, but our nightly intoxicated bipolar show made sure all ends were covered.

my cigarette was almost done, and the more I thought about it, the harder it was to pull myself away from it all.

that empty stained terrace. overlooking the colorful city we saw so little of. my hair that still smelled of barbecue ash.

I was really sad to leave.

and maybe the town had a lot to do with it, a mix of a Berkley student – full of color and mentality – with an uncle from Havana. that’s probably what made the man and wife decide that this place – this spot – this street – was where they would build something beautiful. his favorite movie was Field of Dreams, so that should explain what needs explaining. she, an immediate mother to any who walked through her doors – standing there waiting for each traveler to get out of the cab or bus, kissing us each every morning, every night and making the biggest deal out of the wine glasses we gave her as a thank you gift on that last night.

and I mean – a big deal.

she shouted when she opened the boxes, hugging her husband as if they topped her Christmas list. taking out one at a time with the slowest of movements, pouring us all a wine and then holding it up, looking through it smiling.

the four of us – standing close to one another – could all see her smiling, because we could see her through the glass she held.

they were only a few packs of cheap wine glasses, but you would have thought they were full of crystals.

taking one last drag of that view, on that terrace, I teared up and I couldn’t figure out why.

it might have been the fact that I was coming down from a 5-day bender.

it might have been the view.

it might have been the gum.

it might have been a lot of things.

and I didn’t figure it out until I put my cigarette out and went to the kitchen to wash my hands.

there was a handmade wine rack where yesterday, there wasn’t. the owner must have gotten up early and made his wife a special rack for her special prizes.

and I sure wished everyone could have seen it before they left.

but in that wine rack was where in there it all made sense – what it was that had given me a lot, but also had taken away quite a bit from me as well.

the reason I was blue had nothing to do with the wine – it was those new wine glasses, as they too had two sides.

see, what we saw in them the night before was a lady smiling.

but what she witnessed through her glass were four people standing close – four people who needed one another at the same time. in the same place.

in their place.

her shout had nothing to do with the gift, it had to do with what they had achieved with the terrace.

one look at our deranged-yet-inseparable group was what made her hug her husband tightly.

they did it.

they had made a place with something special – that called out to special people.

they had built it and we had come. to play our deviant game of nocturnal vocal baseball – all-stars the night before became retired ghosts the next morning.

that’s when it finally all made sense – why I left with a heavy heart.

it was those new wine glasses.

and through them – as opposed to what was inside them – lay the magic.

because as it turns out, from the way she held that glass, and from what she saw in it, there actually were crystals.

four, eight, or twelve of them, to be exact.

 

yellow.

as many of you know, I grew up poor in Oklahoma. Dad was a pastor and so meager was his salary, that he actually took a second job – working out in the oil fields, so that the 4 of us [Alex hadn’t come along yet] could eat. this was something that stuck with me throughout the years – seeing him come home in his shirt and tie, kissing Mom, shooting a few hoops with me, grounding Ashley for whatever it was she had done that day that deserved a grounding, and then changing into his stained overalls and heading back out.

a few years later, when I got the illegal scholarship to attend a prestigious Christian school, our friends, The Richardson’s, brought over a box of nice used clothes for me to wear – since my jeans with patches and G.I.Joe t-shirts wouldn’t exactly suffice at a preparatory institution like the one I was headed to. so there I was, in a borrowed outfit, in a school where everyone else seemed rich.

long story short – we were poor.

and when you’re poor in Oklahoma, you dream of a world outside. there was this trip to Europe that the school offered and I remember the look in my parents eyes at the dinner table when they told me that $2000 was $1900 more than our family had. they could tell how bad I wanted to go – my grandpa met my grandmother while they were both working at the circus, so gypsy is in all of our blood – but I simply couldn’t – we didn’t have any money. simple as that.

we also grew up without a television, which meant I never got to see National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Lawrence of Arabia or any other films of that time that at least gave the novice dreamer some context.

what I did have, though, were parents who took me to the library every Saturday morning. what started out as Hardy Boys novels [my parents will still comment to this day how quickly I would go through them – reading one in the few hours we were there, then taking 5 more [the limit] back home for that week] turned into Robinson Crusoe, Jacques Cousteau, and anything having to do with pirates or buccaneers.

and then… one day, I picked up a periodical with a yellow border – National Geographic.

from that moment on, I was ruined. the very first thing I remember seeing were the floating markets of Thailand, then the pyramids. The Eiffel Tower and black people in Africa with things in their ears, lips and noses. at that very instant, longing to travel became an obsession, which soon led to collecting maps – something I still suffer from. you should see my diaries, a running commentary of an idealistic lotus eater – spending hours upon hours drawing points of interest and then figuring out ways to get there. could I go overland from Russia to Alaska? what sailing route could be done to hit the South Pacific Islands of my adolescent daydreams – stopping off in, of course, Easter Island? even now, as I reference a map for this post, I made a mental note to the specifics of getting a boat through the Panama Canal.

all of that and all of this from that magazine with the yellow border.

now -flash forward 20+ years and I’m rooftop in Sucre, Bolivia. I had just visited an amazing monastery and was about to post a photo from the top of it when I get a notification on my email. one of those ‘pingback’ notifications you get when someone links to your blog:

I sat there, before clicking the link it came from and lit a cigarette. I did this because there had been a rumor – a rumor– that someone, some organization had picked up my story, video and photos of being the first person up on Machu Picchu for 2012. I lit a cigarette because otherwise, I wouldn’t have known what to do with my hands.

that someone was the magazine with the yellow border.

on top of the page was the name National Geographic.

and below that was my name.

I cannot describe what that felt like, I really can’t.

I read and re-read the story I had written like it was the first time… and it was.

the last time I did it was when it was on this weathered computer, with nothing above my name and title but a few options for font and spacing. but this time, well… you already know what had changed.

it was thrown up online and never in my life have I welled up with so much love and appreciation for my friends and family. the comments, the shares, the reposts and retweets. the private notes sent, the silly little thumbs-up that usually seem so trivial, upped my day with each tiny hit. my Mother emailed back to say that ‘she and Dad were so proud, they were going to have a steak dinner that night to celebrate!’ [which – knowing what you do now, is huge]. different people prefaced the link with different things about my adventures – and, again, I sat there stunned.

that night, I hid quietly in the pub corner and tried to take it all in – a punk kid who barely finished high school, snuck his way into a career in radio, bummed his way around the world for a few years, lied his way into China and then spent 6 months in SE Asia, India and Nepal paying dearly for the arrogance he accrued in Shanghai. someone who splits his adult life between travel and Facebook. a kid who comes from an amazing family, has good teeth and a circle of friends who have lifted him up time-after-time in his sojourns…

basically – the least-deserving candidate to have been published in the traveler writer’s dream, but for some strange reason, I was chosen as that guy.

you know, since I can remember, I’ve struggled with religion – a large part of it having to have been forced upon me, another begin the judgement of others that follows it, the final being how unbelievably fucking dull so many that claim to worship are… but I’ll tell you one thing – you simply cannot have a life as blessed as mine, with constant gifts like the one I write about now, without knowing someone up there has an eye on you.

it could be The Man Himself.

it could be Pierre.

my grandfather.

Kaz.

it could be anyone.

whomever it is, though, I thank them. with as much gratitude as I thank those who have fed me, clothed me, bought my photos and read my little book – people like yourself.

the magazine with the yellow border didn’t tell me how amazing I am. the magazine with the yellow border told me how amazing I’ve been treated by those around me.

and if you’re one of those people… thank you.

I owe you many more stories like this in exchange for your kindness and generosity.

and – brothers and sisters – with my recent yellow boost, you can be damn sure there’s going to be a lot more.

and very, very soon.

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