short stories

Stray Dogs of Mexico

Stray Dogs of Mexico

I sat on that street corner, sipping my beer, staring emptily into space. A strange feeling overcame me. I had felt it for some time but it was then that I knew for sure that a war was being waged on my soul. I knew the light wasn’t shining as it once had, my mouth didn’t dispense my truth like before, my feet didn’t touch the ground like they once did. Something was wrong inside of me. I had wandered into some murky realm where I could feel myself disappearing in a darkness. My candle was fading and I stared into the eyes of people passing me in the street and wondered if my struggle was unique or ubiquitous. How many were watching the flames of their being slowly fade out?  How many out there were losing themselves day by day? And ultimately what was a man or woman to do about it? 

At one point in my life it seemed so easy. When the fire burns bright, it feels like there is no force in this universe strong enough to quell your inner flame. Your eyes burst with light and your heart thunders. Your spirit ignites the world around you. Your pen pours out poetry with ease. But life can sometimes take you down some bewildering paths. You unknowingly start to lose yourself and suddenly you’re left facing a stranger in the mirror, speaking words that are not your own, sitting nowhere, being nowhere. Reflecting back on the past, I knew I had saved my soul before, but could I do it again? I didn’t even know where to begin this time. For once there were no direction signs – no intuition, no guiding stars, and even my deepest passions were now uninteresting to me. I was now thirty years old and didn’t have any other desire other than to get drunk and drift around a foreign country. The idea of being an author had slipped from my mind after my books had sold so few copies. The notion of starting a career or family was just as alien as ever. And even the act of travelling itself had lost much of its magic. My world was a grey place so I just sat on that street corner, sedating myself with alcohol, watching people walk by and wondering where there would ever be peace on earth for those who dreamed a little too much.

Finally I pay my bill using my bad Spanish and then get up to carry on wandering the city streets. They were the streets of Mexico City – one of the biggest cities in the world – and I drift across a busy square and into a church where I see an old lady kneel before the altar. Her hands are tightly grasped in prayer as she stares up with pleading eyes. I can’t help but wonder what she is asking, but in the end I stopped, knowing her pain was private like it was for all. I walk out back into the square and see a queue of men waiting to be cleansed with some smoking plant as it’s rubbed over them. They close their eyes and look deep in thought as the smoke shrouds them in the midday sun. I then see a ranting alcoholic staggering through an intimidated crowd. Elsewhere I see other weary souls like myself sitting on street corners and staring into space. No matter where you looked, the burden of the human condition was evident. Truly it was a hard fight for us all, and at times it became clear just how sprawled out on the canvas we all were. 

I continue walking along and see posters of missing women on walls. I see a scruffy stray dog come around a corner and stop in front of me. Its eyes stare into my eyes and there seems to be an unspoken recognition between us – a momentary feeling of union before he carries on along the way. I do the same and then see a man with a missing arm and leg sitting on the sidewalk. He holds a cup out for change and I throw some coins in. I guess it can always be worse, I say to myself. Although can it? A man can lose his mind – he can lose his arms and his legs – but once his soul is gone then what is left for him on this earth but a barren existence of emptiness.

Suddenly I felt a tiredness that was beyond anything I had experienced before. At that moment a part of me wanted to rest – and to rest in the permanent way. The toil of this soul-searching fight had worn me down over the years, and it was clear that for every victory you made, life was always there waiting to break you down once again. But another part of me was ready to respond to the war being waged on my soul. I would grab whatever I had left, stab my flag into the ground, and be ready to turn those dwindling flames into a great fire once more. As always, I was a walking contradiction. Some kind of mistake.

For now I decide a temporary rest at the hotel will suffice. I get some food and head back. Being a little older now, I tried to avoid hostels; I needed a good night’s sleep and was past having sex in a dormitory room. Of course, this meant it was harder to meet other travellers. On this occasion, it was surprisingly easy. I enter my room and open the door onto the balcony. It was a shared balcony with the other two rooms beside me. I walk out, put my arms on the bannister, and hear a voice to the right of me.

“What up bro!?” I turn my head and see a topless guy sitting there drinking a large bottle of beer. He was skinny with long blonde hair, shades, and a big grin plastered across his face. Before even asking, I could see he was drunk in the middle of the afternoon. His energy was good, however, so I walked over and engaged him in conversation. 

“It’s not going amazing, to be honest,” I tell him. “How about you?”

“Dude, tell me about it,” he says. “I had a wild night last night; it’s a miracle I even made it home. I left my phone here so I was wandering the streets until six in the morning trying to find the hotel. At one point I honestly thought about sleeping on the street. Then things got worse as the police shook me down for drugs. After that I fell down a ditch somewhere.” He then proceeded to show me the cuts on his elbows and legs. In turn, I showed him the grazes on my face from a recent drunken accident. At least he knew how his wounds were caused; mine were still unknown to me after a week. “Anyway,” he continues. “All that shit happened but here I am drunk once again at three in the afternoon. Ahaha, viva la vida bro!” He then took another large swig of his beer before his face returned to that big grin.

I could tell straight away he was another classic wandering madman, scratched and scarred on both the inside and out. He was the sort of person I had met many times throughout my travels – the sort that I always seemed destined to stumble across no matter where I went in the world. At that moment I was happy to meet him, and we continued to talk about our trips and whatever the hell it was we were doing here. It turned out he was a forty-three-year-old Canadian who was recently out of work. He decided to deal with this by flying to Mexico and drifting around the country while drunk. Although there were thirteen years between us, I recognised the stage he was at in his life. An affinity was felt and it wasn’t long before I was joining him on the large bottles of beer as we discussed life on that balcony until the sun began to sink beneath the surrounding buildings. 

“This is my midlife crisis trip,” he tells me. “Out of work, no woman, I got nothing really going on back home. And with the pandemic, it’s been a rough ride living alone the last two years. The only thing that seems right is to come to Mexico and live like a rockstar for a while off of my savings. I guess it’s not a bad way to spend a midlife crisis.”

“I hear you man,” I said. “But to me, it’s all a crisis.”

“What is?” he asks.

“Life. I mean, here you are: trapped in a slowly-decaying body of flesh and bone, stuck on a rock floating around a big ball of fire for no apparent reason. On top of this, you have around eighty or so years here, and during that time you have to deal with things like money and love and sex and purpose and politics. Yeah, there’s no beginning, middle or end to me. It’s all a crisis. To be human in this world is to be in a crisis.” He looked at me with a smile, nodding his head in agreement and toasting his beer. Our beers clinked and our connection was strengthened on the realisation we were both stray souls wandering the tempestuous wilderness of human existence.

“You know, I’ve had a good life,” he then tells me in a pensive moment of realisation. “I’ve experienced enough of this merry-go-round. You say we have eighty years here, but screw living that long. I think if I checked out in the next ten years that would be enough for me.”

“You really feel that way, or it’s the beer talking?”

“Straight up bro. At this stage in life, I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve travelled around, slept with a lot of women, had a lot of great parties and adventures. I’ve been in love and worked in what I’m passionate about. I’m happy with what I’ve done and don’t want to get much older than what I am now. Life has been a wild ride, but I’m not sure if I can handle another thirty or forty years of it.” 

I could hear in his voice that he was being genuine. It might have sounded an extreme statement to some – even a suicidal one –  but I understood completely where he was coming from. It was something that was recently on my mind after turning thirty – that I didn’t want to experience the second half of life in old age. Besides a spiritual crisis, I guess I was also having a bit of an age crisis after departing my twenties. Of course, I was still relatively young, but not as young as I would have liked to have been. Inside there was a part of me that resented getting older, and looking at him I could see my future too – still wandering the outside spaces, drinking ever more heavily and going further over the edge of destitution and insanity. To keep on living this way past forty, well I figured that’s when a person really was a stray for life. Most had packed away their backpacks and began to settle down in some suburb of safety and sanity. For me that life was a death sentence already. And the idea of losing my youth – losing my strength and looks and curiosity – horrified me. I already saw the lines forming on my face, the grey hairs sprinkled into my beard, the bitterness in my personality that wasn’t there before. In my head this trip was one last celebration of youth before the downhill truly started.

We carried on drinking and then went out to hit the bars of Mexico City. We spoke bad Spanish to Mexican women, drank with other travellers, danced like idiots, and got lost in a hazy blur of intoxication. The bender had started and we spent the next week or so travelling together until we made it down to the pacific coast, specifically to a little town called Puerto Escondido. The nights of revelry continued there until he eventually headed off on a night bus to another part of Mexico. I bid him farewell and watched him drift out of my life to continue his midlife crisis somewhere else. “Catch you on the flip side,” he said, stumbling onto the bus with a small backpack full of beers.

I was back to my natural state of being alone, and I spent days at the beach soaking in the sunlight and watching the sunset on the ocean. It was a town I felt at home with, and it seemed I wasn’t the only one. Puerto was famous for being a ‘digital nomad’ hotspot. The place was filled with westerners escaping their homelands while they worked on their laptops and sat at the beach and tattooed their skin and prided themselves on escaping the rat race. I knew of these people already, but since the pandemic had made many jobs able to be done remotely from a laptop, it seemed they were now everywhere. Web designers. Graphic designers. Code writers. Even therapists. There they sat on their laptops working four or five hours a day before hitting the beach and sipping beers in the sun.

I thought about what I could do to join them in their little world of escapism from the system. After thirty years, I still truly saw no job or career I had an interest in. The only time I had felt purpose was when I was writing creatively, and by creatively I meant stories or poems – not news articles or anything people actually paid for. And even that passion was now fading. Like everything though, the grass was always greener on the other side, and while the idea of being a digital nomad was a romantic one, the reality of it was a little different. It came with its own struggles and own sadness. An American guy told me about this in a cafe by the beach one day. 

“I know it sounds great being a digital nomad – and it is for a while – but in the long term I’m not sure how much someone can do it. It’s a lonely existence. At least for me I’ve never really found anywhere that feels like home. I guess it’s because it’s hard to form a community when everyone eventually moves on. And on top of this, you’re constantly surrounded by travellers who are going out and doing cool things, while you have to stay at home and work.” It was something I had thought about before while reflecting on that lifestyle, and it seemed those who had escaped the rat race had their own problems to deal with. There was no magical way to ‘live the good life’ forever, despite what the travel bloggers would have you believe. No matter what you did or where you went, you were destined to struggle in some form or some way. It was the only way – the human way.

Still, I kept thinking about it; about my options in life now my main passions were beginning to lose their spark. Where was there really to go in this life for someone like me? Would I ever return to the time when I felt truly alive? What chance was there? The war on my soul continued to rage as I struggled to see the clearing ahead to somewhere that made sense to me. I was so sure all I wanted to do was to travel the world and write, but now those things had lost their thrill, I saw no glory in anything else. Nothing appealed to me at that moment in time – only the next beer, the next woman, the next night of revelry and intoxication. I thought I was bad, but I continued to meet people that were wandering further out in the soul-searching wilderness than I was.

In a town in the mountains, I met a fellow English guy who was ‘escaping his problems back home’. I eventually discerned this was trouble with gangs and the law. Never had I seen someone so wounded, on both the inside and outside. He was only twenty-two but already had scars all over his body from various stab wounds. He couldn’t even use his left hand after he had been slashed on the wrist during a drug deal. His wounds weren’t just from home; even here he had managed to sprain his ankle here during an escape from a fight. He had also been banned from various hostels and bars after just two weeks in the town. I eventually realised this was down to his addiction to Xanax – an addiction that saw him taking five tablets at once and turning himself into a zombie. The last I saw of him, he was being taken into the back of a police van after having a bust-up with restaurant staff for not paying his bill. It was his first time travelling and I knew he wasn’t going to last long in this way of life, or any way of life for that matter.

Elsewhere I stumbled into an American guy I had met four years previously in Spain. While he was there in Spain, he was constantly chasing women. He stressed and depressed himself over finding a long-term partner, and it seemed four years on that nothing had changed. His desperation to find a woman screamed out of him, and naturally this led them to reject his advances. I even found out he had come to Mexico to meet a girl he had met the previous summer in the states. That relation had broken down after just two days of being here, and so on he went, another stray soul in search of some shelter from the storm.

Although I knew most men found a spiritual home for themselves in the company of a spouse, to me that had rarely seemed the case. There was something inside of me that needed more than a partner, and that was more clear to me than ever having just left my girlfriend just before this trip. We had been dating for a year, even living together, and it was the first time in my life I had been seeing someone regularly for a long period of time. But again, whereas many men only sought to find a nice woman and settle down, I was ready to abandon mine at the sudden booking of a flight to some faraway country. Like careers and everything else, a wife and children were other things beyond me. I needed my soul to be set on fire by something. And while they could give me joy, they just couldn’t give me that spark that was so essential for my spiritual survival.

Still, I had my romances when travelling. Most were one-night stands, but when I got to a place called Oaxaca City, I started seeing a woman continuously. She was a Mexican woman from another part of the country. We hit it off straight away and she invited me to stay with her in her apartment. She lived alone with her dog – a stray dog she had taken in and given a home to. I had to look at the dog and once again see a connection in its eyes, a feeling of union of being taken in by a woman while wandering the streets. It was nice there and I stayed with her for a week or so. We went to bars and restaurants; we went to watch Mexican wrestling; we spent lazy mornings in bed making love. For a moment I almost began to feel like I belonged there. I thought about getting a job teaching English or really having a go at trying to be an online content writer. There we’d live together – my new life in Mexico – but again there was something missing, and one day I decided to book my bus out of there. The horizon called me again and on I went to board that bus to somewhere else. To a place that helped return the fire to my soul. To a place that would fill my heart with thunder again.

The wandering went on and two weeks later I was on a Caribbean island, back to sitting on a beach and staring out at the sunset. My heart was heavy and I thought of all the people I had met along the road. I thought of the path that had led me to here and the path that awaited me ahead. The strange sadness was still there inside, and my eyes were still searching the skies for some kind of salvation. It was then that the stray dogs of the island came out onto the beach, playing around in the sand. I watched them leap about before they suddenly stopped and sat beside me. I stroked one and looked at the sunset and let a smile make its way on my face. Suddenly I felt at peace with where I was; I felt the fire inside begin to flame, and for some truth to make its way into my heart again. Yes to wander, to not belong, to constantly be in a phase of soul-searching – it wasn’t such a bad way to be. And if you kept your eyes open, so many of us were this way. Perhaps secretly we all were. In a way, what else was it to exist than to be another stray on a soul-searching quest, wandering the wilderness in search of some fire. Another stray dog in search of survival. Another stray dog in search of home.

short stories

~ Living on an Edge ~

adult-alcohol-bar-274192

~ Living on an Edge ~

His eyes were bloodshot and demonic. His remaining hair fluffed off into wild little quiffs. Almost half of his front teeth were missing, and sporadic drops of saliva shot out his mouth when he spoke. I was in New Zealand and the thought hit me whether I was actually staring at an orc of some sort. I mean presumably the Lord of the Rings movies used costumes and make-up, but this creature in front of me wasn’t too far from looking like he was spawned in the dark pits of middle earth itself. To be fair, after hearing how he and his son frequently smoked crystal meth together, it was no surprise that he looked like he did. It was understandable. What wasn’t understandable was how this man was in charge of the entire floor of a wine factory. I had been working here for over two months and every day I had to listen to this snarling beast shout and spit orders at a bunch of backpackers who were simply too tired with him to listen. Still, it was my final day and I let his words fly far away over my head. His reign of bullshit was over. His superiority complex would have to be suffered by whatever backpacker was going to stumble through the door next. For me it was time to hit the road again. I toiled away until the end of the day, took one last look at the orc and then strolled out the door onward to the next adventure feeling like Bilbo Baggins himself.

The job itself had been a much-needed bank top-up. It had been over six months since I arrived in New Zealand from Chile almost completely broke. I had recklessly blown all my savings travelling around South America and had consequently limped into a country on the other side of the world from home with a bank account in as worse state as the orc’s teeth. What followed was a tempestuous time of bumming around, hitch-hiking, sleeping in airports, bad diet habits, and questioning my life decisions while scraping by off random agricultural jobs. It wasn’t all bad, though. Sure, I had been subjecting myself to a life of struggle and financial stress, but every day I awoke with wide eyes ready to face the world before me – and being in one of the most beautiful countries out there, well, that helped too naturally. Of course, I would always lie to my parents whenever I contacted them – telling them I was fine and had no problems with money. I suspected that if they knew I was living the way I was it would leave them in a state of panic and worry. Maybe I should have also been more concerned about living so precariously on the edge, but often in this life that’s exactly where the excitement and adventure was at. It was true that there was desperation and depravity out on that edge, but sometimes there was a little majesty and magic too. Sometimes the edge was a beautiful place. Sometimes the edge was exactly what you needed.

I continued loitering on that precipice as I hitch-hiked down the South Island, stopping in a town for a week to party, before eventually heading to a job I had heard about off my Chilean friend. It was somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, among the fjords, and allegedly you could make good money sticking some plants in the ground. I had the plan to save up some more money to continue travelling in Asia after I was done bumming around in this country. Working consistently in one place with no distractions (mainly drink and women) would suitably ensure that this was possible.

It was on the third day of that job, somewhere in the morning, that I decided to quit. I quickly concluded that I was never going to last the duration. The work itself was quite literally backbreaking and it turned out that I was the only backpacker working there. On top of this, the hostel I was staying at was a sort of abandoned shack without electricity, close amenities, a warm shower or even another traveller. The idea of staying there for three months made me shudder and I decided to get out of there as fast as I could. I grabbed my backpack, hit the open road once again and hitch-hiked all the way back to Queenstown – the place I had stopped at to party for a week on the way down here.

Now, aside from its spectacular scenery, New Zealand is a more or less a boring country to live. I mean, the sort of place that is best to retire, walk dogs, or work in a wine factory and become a meth addict. But Queenstown itself was the exception. Hailed as the adrenaline capital of the world, the town is a little wonderland of bars, restaurants, hostels, tour agencies and overcrowded houses that sit tightly packed together between the surrounding mountains and Lake Wakatipu – an enormous mass of sparkling blue glacial water that stretches out into the neighbouring valleys. When people weren’t skiing, bungee-jumping, skydiving, or riding speed boats, they could be found drinking in the array of bars that were stuffed into the small town centre that was no bigger than a couple of football fields. At night one could find any nationality of backpacker twisted in one of those establishments. It was the sort of place that was as far away from home as possible for most people – the sort of place where they were there ‘for a good time, not for a long time’ – and consequently this led to the chaos, debauchery and sexually-promiscuous behaviour that was rife at any given evening in any given bar. In all honesty it was probably the worst place in the world to save money and avoid the distractions of drink and women, but my will had been broken after just a couple of days of tough work out in the sticks and I needed some sort of drink. The town was notoriously hard to find a place to stay, but luckily for me I knew a girl from my previous job in the wine factory who could get me a bed in a house a little out the centre that overlooked the lake and mountains. By New Zealand standards, I had hit the backpacker jackpot.

I arrived at that house and saw a Kiwi guy dragging a bed out the front door and attaching it to the roof rack of his car. I stood and watched him curiously. “Don’t mind me,” he said. “I’ll be outta your way in a sec.” He and his friend proceeded to lift the bed onto the car, throw some straps over it, tighten it up, then get in and drive off down the road. It was an interesting sight to arrive to, and also an illegal one I quickly discovered. The Kiwi had decided to steal the bed after being kicked out of the house by the landlady. And he wasn’t the only one. The landlady was in the process of kicking most tenants out after so many had failed to pay their rent, or moved in secretly to sleep on couches, or threw wild parties and damaged the house – as was clearly evident by the gaping holes in the walls of the hallway. Over twenty people had been living in this seven-bedroom house, and now over half of them would be kicked out to be replaced with a new set of backpackers, including my good, respectable self.

After settling in, I decided it was time to go out there and look for some sort of job that would support my temporary existence in this chaotic town. As always, my CV was a mediocre read which wasn’t going to help me out too much. Most jobs in Queenstown were in hospitality or tour agency work – both of which I had zero experience in. With this in mind, I headed straight to a labour agency that was located on the outskirts of town. As soon as I walked in, they took one look at me and saw what type of person I was: another drifting backpacker with no discernible skills or trade or talent looking for a quick fix. It turned out I was in the perfect place. A new DIY store was opening soon just outside of town and they needed a bunch of helper monkeys to assist the store’s staff with setting up the interior. They gave me my work helmet and high-vis vest; I was to get started the very next day.

Settling into the job was an easy affair and I soon made friends. The labour agency picked up and shipped off a group of people to the worksite every day. There must have been over fifteen people crammed into that minibus every morning, most of which were hungover, asleep or still drunk. When we got to work, we were given an inspiring team briefing before everyone dispersed and went and found ways to keep themselves busy with some simple task that would normally end up taking an entire day. The team itself consisted entirely of backpackers, all of which bar one were male. Speaking to them all, it was clear that most of them were like me: young guys scraping by and travelling around in whatever way they could. Naturally this had led them to this temporary no-skills-required job. I thought I had been living like a bum in New Zealand, but after a week it was clear that I was an amateur at fringe-living compared to this team of delinquent drifters. Among the team included: a Mexican eighteen-year-old who had overstayed his visa and was working illegally; an English guy who was running away from debt collectors back home; an Irish guy who was penniless and sleeping in the town park; a Dutch guy living in the back of his van; another English guy who arrived drunk and smelling of booze every morning; and a couple of guys who spent most of their time using the work materials to build items of furniture for their house they were renting. To single out the English guy as an alcoholic was a little unfair, I quickly realised. Most people not only in this job, but also in this town, were living lives that left their livers, minds and bank accounts in damaged states. The allure was simply too great. Every night the town’s bright neon lights shimmered below beside the lake – the enticing glow of a bunch of people partying and enjoying the temporary buzz of being young, free and far away from the suffocating world of normality back home.

Naturally it wasn’t long before I was lured into that lifestyle myself. Most weekends quickly became a blur of hedonistic partying. Sometimes there was some hiking or camping, but that usually involved large amounts of alcohol too. Not only did I have the influence of all the guys working at the labour agency, but I also had about twenty people residing at the house I was living in. Having a mixture of English, Irish and German housemates was never going to be a sober affair, and coming home from work every day there was usually at least a couple of people knocking back the drinks and preparing to make an assault on the town centre. There was simply no escape. Chaotic weekends soon turned into chaotic weekdays. Summer was here and I could do nothing but prepare to strap myself in for the ride. The drinks had been served; the madness had begun.

Now in this life, a man or woman lives on their edge more than you think. So many people out there in those towns and cities are limping by in ways you can’t see on the surface. Mothers. Fathers. Teachers. Lawyers. Bus drivers. What a person needed to survive in this world was food, water, shelter and normally a drink or something to take the edge off existence. If you had those things, then you could sort of get by in some rudimentary way. Well, like many people in this town, I was getting those things and not much else after a while. Eventually I was making it to work just three or four days a week. This was usually enough to afford rent and cheap groceries, and then concentrate on the main expense of enjoying the summer festivities of this chaotic town. The whole thing quickly began to feel like I was in some sort of amusement park where I would do just enough to afford the entrance fee and ride out the rollercoaster of life. The thought hit me: wasn’t that what life was anyway? Finding a way to get by and survive while trying to find time to actually enjoy the ride? Still, often I thought I had taken it too far. I was on the other side of the world from home and I had a tooth problem I couldn’t afford to address, my remaining clothes were now tattered and frayed, my passport was considerably damaged, and the lack of sleep I was getting left my mind in a constant state of delirium. Some days I awoke and stared into morning mirrors of realisation and saw the sanity slowly fading from my eyes. At this point it had also become clear that my plan to do some travels in Asia was down the drain, and instead I was just concentrating on surviving the summer here and making it back home when my visa finally expired. My two-year trip was coming to an end and I wanted to go out in style. The neighbourhoods of normality beckoned back home and I was going to exploit this brief chance of living young, wild and free in a beautiful place.

And so onwards the descent into madness continued. House parties. Work parties. Festivals. Christmas. New year. My birthday. More house parties. Camping trips. Climbing mountains. Sleep deprivation. Sleeping with strangers. Sleeping with friends. Not sleeping at all.

Eventually the job at the DIY store was finished and we were all left searching and fighting for whatever form of work the agency could give us. This included traffic wardening, furniture removal, construction, and, on some weeks, nothing at all. Consequently, my bank account began to slowly sink down and down towards the depths of true poverty. I was slowly falling off that edge into the abyss of being homeless, penniless and possession-less on the other side of the world from home. Naturally I felt better knowing that I wasn’t alone in such a fate. By now I had become good friends with the English alcoholic James from work. Many nights we spent together getting twisted in town or down beside the lake. Hearing the stories from his life, it was clear that he had set up camp and made ‘the edge’ his home. The last years of his life back home had consisted of travelling around the U.K with a cheffing agency, staying in hotels and drinking heavily every night. After a couple of years, he had finally saved up enough money to travel. He flew one-way to Bangkok and drove around South-East Asia for eight months on a motorbike before arriving here skint in Queenstown where he was now scraping by week by week, paycheck to paycheck, living in a hostel dorm with nothing but a few items of clothing to his name. While we drank together, he often told me his travelling stories of evading the Russian Mafia in Thailand while committing carnage with his friend. As he did, I looked into his eyes and saw that sinister spark of madness. Like the orc back in the wine factory, he was another man loitering precariously on the precipice of total destruction, all the while still managing to be an integrated, working member of society. Meeting all these random characters in New Zealand, I came to realise that in a way there was a little bit of this insanity inside all of us. I could see it in the orc’s eyes. I could see it in James’ eyes. And now, facing those morning mirrors of realisation, I could gradually begin to see it in my own eyes: the anarchy of the human mind that must be suppressed so we could all fit into society and get money to survive in some elementary and socially-acceptable way.

As time went by, mine and James’ influence on each other slowly and surely caused us both to descend deeper into those pits of madness. On one temporary job, we both took turns controlling the traffic flow into the town centre during a busy festival period. One of us would stand on the road and aggregate the traffic in and out of the city centre, while the other went next door to the bar to drink red wine and chat with our friends who were working there. Under the influence, we decided to blog and post our exploits online and quickly became famous in town as ‘the traffic terminators’. Many cars drove past waving and offering us free drinks and food. Some people posed and took pictures with us. Journalists even came and interviewed us for the local newspaper. With our newfound fame, we felt like the kings of Queenstown – two drifting backpackers, somehow the momentary heroes of this famous town. Of course, we always tried to keep the town oblivious to the fact we were really just messing around and taking it in turns to go next door to the bar to drink and talk crap with our friends.

It wasn’t until we worked one job that I realised we had perhaps gone a little too far down the rabbit hole. Through the agency we had been tasked to help set up and take down the stage for a gig somewhere about half an hour outside of town. The deal was that if we set up the stage and took it down after, we could each get a free ticket to the show. Like responsible employees, we set to the task in the early morning and helped finish off setting up the stage. Then, like irresponsible employees, we went back to town where we spent the afternoon in the sun by the lake joining in a house DJ party. What followed was a day of drinking, dancing, swimming in the lake, a free concert, and then swiftly being dismissed from the job of taking the stage down the second the supervisors saw the state of us after the gig.

It was safe to say that the owners of the agency hated us after that fiasco and consequently assigned us the worst jobs they could, or nothing at all. Either it was a day of no work or a day of doing menial tasks alone at some millionaire’s house in the middle of nowhere for the minimum wage. By this point any hope of travelling in Asia was over and I was hoping that a week stopover in Bali would suffice. I now had just a few hundred dollars of money left in my account. The entropy of the universe had worked its force and slowly ground me down. I was now a man holding on – living life to the fullest you could before death and destruction claimed you totally. Still, I kept clinging on as I was nearing the flight, picking up the scraps of employment, counting the pennies, living off packs of instant noodles – napping on my lunch breaks to catch up on some sleep. In the meanwhile, the house had become a circus of insanity. We had created a rota in which you had to sign in when you started drinking and then sign out when you stopped. Prizes and punishments were consequently assigned depending on everyone’s performance. This soon created a competitive nature amongst everyone, and our house quickly became some sort of perpetual party. Beer bottles would lay sprawled out across the living room as those walls once again adorned gaping holes. It was a literal madhouse in moments and often I went and stood alone on the balcony staring out at that beautiful lake view, appreciating that my life was truly more absurd and thrilling than ever before.

Eventually the day had come when it was time to escape Queenstown with whatever remnants of sanity, money and possessions I had left. I took one last look in that mirror and realised I had done it. I had lasted out the summer – five months of utter chaos on the other side of the world. Good friends had come and gone; the original group of the house was now being broken apart; the time in this paradise now over. I said goodbye to all the friends I had made there and headed alone as always to the airport. I was flying to Bali with basically nothing but a few tattered items of clothing, a damaged liver, a warped mind, a faded passport and money that most likely was not going to be enough to get me completely home to the U.K. Still, I felt more alive than ever and as the plane took off, I looked out the window at Queenstown to soak in the last glimpse of the town below and reflect on one of the best times of my life. It was then that I caught my reflection in the windowpane. Staring deep into my tired eyes, I could see a specific stare now seared deep into my soul. It was the look of my English friend James. It was the look of my drunken housemates. It was the look of the orc in the wine factory. It was the look of every crazed soul who was living their life precariously close to the edge of sanity and society, trying to live their life to the fullest they could without completely destroying themselves. Thinking about all those wild souls, I smiled to myself and then stared down at my shoes – beaten and battered and bruised – little bits of material hanging off the outer section. Right then I realised that the edge was a place I had gotten to know all too well whilst out on my travels. It was a place of chaos and anarchy – a place of madness and magic. It was a place I was going to be for a long time yet as I carried on stumbling and staggering recklessly through life.

With that thought in mind, I ordered a red wine and toasted to the next adventure.

 

 

short stories

~ A Christmas Abroad ~

~ A Christmas Abroad ~

“It was December 25th, Christmas Day, and I was sat alone on a sofa in the hostel reception sipping a caipirinha cocktail. I was in sunny Brazil, Rio De Janeiro, out travelling the world with a beach right out on my front doorstep – yet I couldn’t help but feel slightly depressed. For the first time on this trip I was homesick. Christmas was the time to be with family and friends back home – not getting drunk half way around the world by yourself. That was fun of course normally, but in this instance it felt a little out of place. It wasn’t my first Christmas abroad, but it was my first one not shared with a large group of people in a home of some sort. It was a strange feeling – a feeling which lead to me drinking more and more sugary, high-strength cocktails.

While wallowing in my own tipsy self-pity, my roommate came over and asked to join me for a drink. He was an eccentric, middle-aged, bald Greek guy who been travelling most of his adult life. He had stories from just about every country and continent and still maintained that child-like excitement about the world around him. He sat down and shared some drinks and travel stories. I told him of my first trip to Ghana and he told me of his life of perpetual gypsy travel. It turned out this was his eighth Christmas abroad in a strange country far from home. He told me about them all as we sipped our drinks down in an orderly manner. After chattering away like excitable children, we decided to go down to beach to catch some Christmas day sun – the world-famous Copacabana beach was right on our doorstep after all.

We reached the beach and slumped ourselves down in the sand. We ordered a few beers off a vendor walking past and carried on drinking in the midday heat. I sat there staring out into the Atlantic ocean, sipping that cold beer, chatting away with my new friend. While there in the heat of the sun, I gradually began to think about my own future, and whether I would be spending the next Christmas at home or somewhere else in the world on a beach with a stranger. Was I heading down the same path as him? Was I sailing further away into the unknown? Was I becoming a perpetual traveller? As I pondered these questions a man came over across the sand trying to sell us sunglasses. Now drunk, I bought a pair and invited him to sit and drink a beer with us. We got chatting and I soon found out that he too was a foreigner travelling in Brazil. As we drank, he spoke about his life, his journey and his aspirations for the future.

It was strange; in those moments as I sat there and listened to those two nomadic strangers, I suddenly felt the homesickness begin to subside. Listening to excited people who were travelling alone in a foreign country made me feel like I was back home, wrapped up warm around the glowing lights of a Christmas tree. It made me feel like an excited kid again. It was then that I realised these were the kind of people in life I shared the greatest affinity with. Not the settlers or static souls, but the wanderers – the aliens – the nomads and outcasts. The people who didn’t try fit into a society that didn’t fit them. And the more I travelled, the more of them I met. They were the ones with the wild eyes that – if you looked deeply enough – beheld the scorching sunsets, the jagged mountains, the wide oceans and gypsy madness. They were the ones who laughed in the face of soulless monotony and declared war on the normal – the ones who took life by the scruff of the neck without compromise and hunted the horizon until the very end.”

thoughts

~ Into The Wild ~

~ Into The Wild ~

“The choice between a conventional life and an unconventional life was one we all faced at some point. The period of your life where this happened was mostly in the post-education years. The first part of your life, you don’t have any real agency over – you simply follow the law and go to an institutional education facility for the best part of two decades. But when that was finished you suddenly were given an opportunity to walk whatever path you wanted to. Although there are many vehicles, there are essentially only two roads: A) You start a career and follow a linear and safe path of mortgage, kids and retirement, or B) you go down the rabbit hole and try something different. For me, the only desire I had was to travel and so, two months after my graduation, I caught a one-way flight to South America to begin my journey into wonderland. Over the next few years I continued walking down that path. The way took me to peaks of mountains, to seedy hotel rooms, to erupting volcanoes, to almost dying stranded with a friend in the woods of winter.

While it was thrilling and invigorating, I would be lying if I said at sometimes I wasn’t anxious or worried. Often I reflected on everyone else back home busying away, building their nests and bank accounts while I basically had nothing but a backpack and a worn-out passport. At my lowest point I was on the other side of the world with $50 to my name, sleeping in an airport lounge with no plane to catch. Suddenly I began to question myself; suddenly the homeless people on the sidewalks became society’s warning about where I could end up should I drift too far from the road of normality. Where was I going? What was I doing? Was it all really worth it? Yes, I won’t lie. I won’t lie and say sometimes I wasn’t apprehensive, or concerned, or that I didn’t think about turning around back onto the safe path, but it only took the thought of me slowly dying inside in a life I hated over many years to pick up that backpack and continue walking wide-eyed into the wilderness of the unknown.”

into the wild

(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

thoughts

~ Contrast Settings ~

~ Contrast Settings ~

“When the colour of your life begins to dim – seek adventure. For though the world can often appear bleak in the adult way of work and survival, the open road provides moments where the greyness fades and you return to the infant-like state of seeing. Suddenly, among new sights and new smells and new possibilities, everything is again magical and mysterious. Suddenly you face the world like a wide-eyed child in an amusement park of flashing lights. Suddenly the mist of monotony clears like early morning fog, and life shines bright in brilliant colour once more.”

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(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

thoughts

~ The Art Of Go ~

~ The Art of Go ~

Go. Beyond those desks; beyond those suburbs. Go with a heavy heart and a light backpack. Go to the lands beyond your horizons, beyond your doubts, beyond your cosy little comfort zones. The most extraordinary things will not come knocking on your door; the greatest treasures are not discovered by those dwelling in their caves. This world is a living dream waiting to be explored. Every day it creates heroes, moves mountains and changes people forever. So go and explore. Don’t let the others drag you down. Go beyond them and their fences of fear; go into the lands which you have not yet trampled; go to the places where the lightning strikes as the eyes blaze bright like burning stars.

Just get up now and for god sake Go.”

the art of go

(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

thoughts

~ In Case Of Emergency ~

~ In Case of Emergency ~

“It was a backpack; it was just a backpack. But sometimes I felt like it was the best friend I had. It was one thing that had stayed with me on my solitary journey through the wilderness. It was the thing which embodied the freedom my soul desired: to be able to throw a few clothes in and hit the open road of discovery. In the times when I stayed and worked in one place, I kept that backpack within sight at all times. Just seeing that lump of worn and weathered material slumped in the corner after another day of menial work reminded me that it was all worth it; it reminded me that I still had a way to return home to the wild lands of adventure and exploration in which I belonged. I saw it as my ‘break in case of emergency’ tool. No matter how much the bosses choked me, no matter how much the monotony suffocated me – and no matter how much society scolded me – with that backpack there I knew I still had a fighting chance to taste the air of life and freedom once more.”

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(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

thoughts

~ Stepping Off The Conveyor Belt ~

~ Stepping off the Conveyor Belt ~

“Whenever I started a new trip, I always delighted in grabbing my backpack from the airport conveyor belt. It was a standard act everyone went through when you flew to a new place, but I felt like it symbolised so much about what it was to travel. All throughout our lives we are continually placed on conveyor belts; from the mechanical process of education, to the roundabout of the 9-5, to the circular nature of riding back and forth down the same highway everyday – perpetually we rotate around and around in a repetitive and predictable fashion. To travel to a new place with no plans was to finally step off from the carousel of routine; whether for a week or a year, it was a journey away from the robotic process of normal life which required you to do the same things every day. Whenever I looked around at the people collecting their bags, I rarely saw the defeated faces that were found in those Monday morning traffic jams. Instead I saw hyper kids and hyper adults; I saw burning eyes and wide smiles; I saw the wild faces of those who knew a great adventure awaited them. And the more I collected that backpack, the more it became clear to me that we all loved to collect those bags. The reason we love it is because we know a new journey awaits us. The reason we love it is because we know the world is rich with possibility. The reason we love it is because – if only for a short and bittersweet period – we know that we are finally free.”

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thoughts

~ A Life Worth Dying For ~

~ A Life Worth Dying For ~

“If that heart of yours aches for some adventure, then don’t allow yourself to sink into a sofa of submission; don’t allow yourself to get too settled in a life of constant comfort and routine. Out there beyond those curtains waits a magical wonderland of amazing sights and adventure. The mighty mountains. The lonely forests. The ripples dancing upon the water’s surface. The sandy shores where those fiery sunsets sear themselves into your soul. The ocean breeze gently kissing your skin. Yes, it is true that there is also danger, but don’t forget that other insidious dangers also lurk in the suburbs of safety in which so many spend their entire life. To chase security and comfort all your life will slowly suffocate your soul and take the fire from your belly. Life kills us all in the end, so don’t forget to do some living while you still have the chance. Don’t forget to pursue your passion and curiosity. Don’t forget to live a life worth dying for.”

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thoughts

~ The Lightest You’d Ever Been ~

~ The Lightest You’d Ever Been ~

““Isn’t that backpack heavy?” they’d ask. “Doesn’t it weigh you down?”

There was always something about that question which caught my attention. It was an ironic question in my mind because for me – whenever I had that backpack on – the exact opposite was the case. When I put it on and pulled the straps tight, it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Suddenly I was a bird with wings – able to up and leave to far-off lands. Because if you want to know the truth, a backpack with some crappy clothes in won’t weigh you down at all. The real things in life that hold you down aren’t usually found in a bag; they are the things we unquestionably accept as part of a normal lifestyle. Contracts weighed you down, debts weighed you down, credit-card payments weighed you down. Sometimes it was a gym membership, a cable subscription – a goddamn football season ticket. Often it wasn’t even physical, but the things that existed only inside your head. Fear weighed you down, ignorance weighed you down, the opinions of your work colleagues weighed you down. Usually you didn’t even notice, but all of these things subversively crept into your life, clipped your wings and left you cemented in one spot. That’s why whenever someone asked if my backpack was heavy, I couldn’t help but smile inside at the irony. I smiled because I knew being able to happily walk out of door with just a bag to your name wasn’t a heavy task at all. Whenever you did that you were agile; whenever you did that you were free. Whenever you put that backpack on and headed out to face the world, suddenly you were the lightest you’d ever been.”

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