Here Thar Be Monsters!

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Don't Fence Me In

If you pick up a handful of dust and see, not the dust, but a mystery...that is magic. Dr. Lao, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao

I came with two bags and a $1,000 in my pocket. I had a couple of plans for things I could do to make a buck. I overall goal was to see Asia like few people see it, or anything for that matter. I really just had a feeling that I had to be here now.

That's pretty much the way I've always done it. I decide I want to do something, and if Universe wants me to do it, the doors all swing open and away I go. I've learned, through some spectacular trial-and-errors that if there's a big struggle to do something, then it's the wrong thing to do.

In many ways, as I ponder my half-century of life, that I have a lot in common with Huck Finn. As long as Nigger Jim and I are cruising down the river, life is grand. But when the raft drags up and I go into town to check things out, life takes tragic turns. Every time I get the crazy notion to settle down and sink some roots I light the fuse of the powder-keg that will eventually blast me back the river. It usually takes a few years, but I eventually forget the lesson and start thinking about getting off the river again, only to find that I was much better off with nothing, drifting along quietly.

My fondest memory is the day my daughter was born, but short of that nearly every other happy moment was when I had virtually nothing but the wind in my hair and the unknown in front of me. Backpacking around the world, going on tour, joining the monastery, driving tours in Europe, excursions to Central and South America, hitch-hiking willy-nilly around the western US all represent my happiest times. Conversely, my marriages represent some of my most miserable moments. The last one brought me as close as I've ever been to "domestic bliss," with the house, the family, the corporate gig with stock options, the two cars, the dog and the cat, and that left me a widower up to my ass with The Most Evil Creatures on Earth (often referred to by the euphemistic Children's Protective Services), completely broke, and living in a bottle for five years.

After I took the decision to haul my carcass to Indonesia, however, my fortunes changed radically. What was left of my Earthly possessions was precisely enough to get me here, a nod from Universe that I was on the right track. I have received just what I need when I need it to once again be able to grow and to smile a bit. I entered on an adventure unlike anything I have known up to now. I moved the the polar opposite side of the world and my life took a similar turn.

Nigger Jim and I are back on the river.

Three years ago, I never imagined I would get used to bucket baths, a profound lack of toilet paper in the bathroom and an equally profound abundance of it on the dinner table, the absence of winter, eating durian, bajaj and ojek, and monkeys in the trees. I live within five hours of Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall, Gengis Khan's palace, and literally thousands of other exotic sights. I am surrounded by volcanoes and have experienced my first major earthquake. I'm pretty much as happy as I've ever been.

The only thing I can figure is that certain people are born to travel. The Germans, in their language, created a word for it: wanderlust. I am a gyrovague. I have only been fulfilled by the moments when I have had nothing but my pack and an open road. One could call it a curse, but I have touched what others have only dreamed.

I recall a theme from the book, The Journeyer, a fictionalized version of Marco Polo's adventures. It has stuck with me for many years. It is the idea that at the moment of my death, I don't want to think, "I wish I had gone there and done that." I don't want to regret that fear of the unknown had stopped me from learning and experiencing something completely foreign.

The sum of my regrets do not include a single minute of travel. No matter how disasterous a trip has been, I have never wished that I had not gone. I have not spent one cent on travel that I wish I still had in my pocket. Can't say the same about a lot of other experiences. I have met Geronimo's grandson on the side of the road. I have watched as two men who lived five blocks from each other in a small city in Kentucky met for the first time at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I have seen some of the greatest art and architecture our species has created. I have gazed on natural wonders and seen the ocean at night. I have been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and sat at the top of the Rockies. I have ridden through the middle of two warring factions. I have held a dying man's hand and received a baby into the world.

They say you can't take it with you, but that's only true of all the crap we accumulate as we cruise through life. The intangibles stay with us, tucked safely in the soul's kit bag. The little scraps of wisdom that I have wrested from Universe's clenched fist are mine to keep. The bonds of civilization are lost to Time when he comes acallin'. I'll take the road over a safe and comfortable bed any time.

As ole Huck might tell us:
The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.

Mortgage literally means "death pledge." For better or worse, I slipped that bond and got free again. For better or worse, I got the wind in my hair and a pack on my back. For better or worse.

So far, it's always been better.

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