Light my fire

Caratunk, Maine

Location No.: 10 as part of The Appalachian Trail

Time spent there: 08/09/16

This day a year ago, I was so close to crossing the border into Canada and finishing my thru hike. Emotions ran high for myself, for my fellow thru hikers and everyone’s feet were burning to get to the finish line.

On this particular day, the Appalachian Trail traversed the Kennebec River and the riverbank town of Caratunk in Maine. This is a great day for thru hikers, since this town features a fun jaunt across the river, a brewery, a hiker hamburger challenge, ice-cream and an opportunity to pick up resupply boxes.

I got a box from my friend, Dave. It had hiker’s food, enough Starbucks instant coffee packets to fuel every thru hiker on the Trail, and two sporks.

Two Light My Fire sporks, a green one and a black one. I had never felt more alive than at that time, hiking that Trail. I was ablaze, sort of a walking bonfire. I had experienced fire before, the type that reduces everything into ashes and leaves you covered in soot. My landscape had felt permanently desolate, until I saw the sparks. They led me to an incipient decision to go for a long walk on the Appalachian Trail, where I found the heat, oxygen and fuel necessary to light a strong, crackling fire.

After a fire has been ignited, it goes into what firefighters call the “growth” stage. I hope that’s where I’m at now. The flames are still going, some hot coals are settling in and I can feel the warmth.

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The two sporks today, or what is left of them as they roam around South America
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Thru hiker, Leprechaun, who lost to the might burger.
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Thru hiker, Chud, paddling us across the Kennebec River

Are you refugees?

Paso Jeínemeni, border crossing point

Location No.: 51

Time spent there: 10 minutes on 01/31/17

This was the second time I had walked across the border between two countries. Last year I hiked into Canada from the USA while thru hiking the Appalachian Trail and the IAT . This time I was border hopping between Argentina and Chile while exploring Patagonia.

Thomas and I arrived at the chilean border crossing checkpoint after walking 5 miles from the argentine town of Los Antiguos. A friendly officer takes our passports.

“So you are from the United States of America?.” He is suddenly serious.

“Yes.”

“I’ve been following the news about your country and your new president.”

“Umm. Ok”, we chuckle and frown a little. We are still getting used to everyone we meet making some comment about our country’s current political climate.

The border patrol officer looks at our backpacks and smiles.

“Are you refugees?”

“Not yet. But are you receiving refugees? We might have to take you up on the offer in the future.”

We smile back, he is just being funny. Passports are stamped and our new friend welcomes us into his country. He thought it was crazy to be walking into countries so he orders a car who was also crossing the border to give us a lift into the next town.

Today there are thousands of displaced humans who are crossing borders on foot, others who are waiting at camps and many who became our neighbors and live in our cities. Thousands who unlike me aren’t out on a beautiful adventure, humans who unlike me actually are refugees.

Let’s not forget about them. Let’s extend a helping hand. Let’s lift up the borders of our lives and let’s give them a chance.

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Welcome to Chile

Fat Guy

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Location No.: 78

Time spent there: 04-21-17 – 04-26-17

I don’t like the nickname we gave him but it was involuntary. His name starts with a “J” and his weight isn’t his most prominent feature. However, every time we tell this story, we end up calling him “Fat Guy, the one who took our money”.

We met him through Couchsurfing, he had eighty-seven positive reviews so no need to worry. He picked us up at the bus station on a Friday and took us to his family’s home. He was a  really big guy, long hair in a braid, a friendly smile, and an arm in a cast. His mother cooked lunch for us, we took a nap in his room and he explained that he had to work that weekend.

Fat Guy was an operator on a radio/tv tower on top of a hill outside of town. The tower had a small bedroom, bathroom and kitchen in it. It sounded like an adventure and we had read some interesting reviews about it in his profile.

We spent the next two days with him, cooked meals together, learnt about his job, shared personal stories, gazed at the city lights below us, and hiked in the trails nearby. There were a couple of inconsistencies in his stories, but who doesn’t have those? Life doesn’t always add up perfectly. We liked Fat Guy. He had unique life tales, he related to the world around him in his own way and he welcomed us into his whirlwind of colourful experiences. He was Bolivian yet so un-Bolivian both inside and out.

Nice guy, but we still kept our backpacks locked at all times, except for those thirty minutes. Damn moment of carelessness while we skipped over to the nearest store for breakfast items. Half of my hidden emergency fund was gone and Thomas’s wallet was ransacked with about seventy percent of it missing. We didn’t want to point the finger immediately but after going over every possible scenario we couldn’t find any other suspect.

Thomas, who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt was willing to believe that an alien had abducted our cash before blaming Fat Guy. Until he decided to take a break from our  hushed Sherlock discussion and eat a snack. Thomas keeps a hidden stash of gourmet chocolate in his backpack. To find the pocket where he keeps his treasure, one would have to be intentionally searching his bag, throughly. That was it, no further proof needed. What kind of man takes another man’s chocolate?

There is always the chance that our conclusion was wrong so we decided not to confront him. We packed up and said a brief and short goodbye to Fat Guy and his radio tower. He didn’t seem surprised to see us depart in such haste. As we shook the dust off our feet, we wondered if he had eaten the chocolate already or if he was savoring it right then.

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PS: I reported him to the administrators of Couchsurfing and his profile has been removed. Usually, with an allegation of this type, a user might be blocked for a time but in his case he was removed completely in less than two days. It’s possible that other guests reported him in the past as well. I’ve had nothing but amazing experiences with Couchsurfing and continue to vouch for the community yet there are always a few bad apples in the bunch.

That time I built a fence

Puerto Cayo, Ecuador

Location No.: 115

Time spent there: 07/15/17 to present

The agreement was 3 hours of work every day in exchange for beachfront accommodations. And the fence. Like the one she shows me on Pinterest.

I set to work hoping it doesn’t become a Pinterest fail. Intertwined pieces of driftwood slowly took shape as I held my breath with their balancing act. Structureless they held on to each other as the fence grew wavy and rich in texture.

On low tide mornings, we would drive to the south end of the malecón and scour the beach for fresh crops of wood. One day we even loaded up an entire tree on top of the pick up truck. The neighbors complained but eventually settled into the artsy new addition to the beachfront. She likes it, it actually does look like the one in the photo.

The birds like it too.

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Ref by The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge: Textures

Coin

Sucre, Bolivia

Location No.: 75

Time spent there: 03/31/17 – 04/17/17

“They have been in my family for generations. My grandmother made me the current custodian. We have twelve of them.”

He places one in my hand.

“I’m lending this to you. Now we will have to meet again in this lifetime. You need to return it.”

Undoubtedly, I will see David again.

 

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Vintage coin reads “Republic of Bolivia”