Third World Whirl

Sleeping three hours the night before international travel is really not the best way to prepare for a trip. Yet that’s how it seems to go every time for me. I get so excited and anxious and dreadful (of airports) that I wake up every half hour and then 1 to 2 minutes right before the alarm goes off. Last minute bug-eyed packing ensues and monk-like silence until I get to the airport and my gate where I find other already weary travel partners. It’s at this moment that I become energized and ready to go. I just want to be there. Wherever we are headed, I just want to be there and experiencing it. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Especially in this case. After a 2.5 hr flight to DC, we had a NINE hour layover. My God. Nine whole hours before we really begin the trip. Sigh.

Obviously, we took this moment to cruise the town. DC is a pretty interesting town to burn a few hours in, moreso than say Effingham, Illinois or Flint, Michigan. There was an easy bus to downtown DC and the Mall where all of the Smithsonians and Museums are located. I have to say I like DC. Lot’s of history, mass amounts of tourists yet not touristy, clean, orderly, with an undercurrent of energy. We lunched at the Union Station on some greasy chinese food that was situated next to a cajun stand and a greek stand. It was like a food court on steroids. I chose the “world-famous” whiskey chicken and proceeded to burp and hiccup for the next 4 hours like a giggling drunk hobo. By the time we got back to the airport we had walked our asses off and were ready to crash into the luxurious ethiopian airlines plane. 

I guess the immediate thing that stood out to me when we boarded the airplane (aside from body odor) was the fact that Christmas music was being pumped through the cabin. There’s a moment right after you board a plane and get your carry-on bag (which easily exceeds the maximum) into the overhead compartment that you drop into your seat with your complimentary pillows and blankets either bulging uncomfortably beneath you or being held in your weary hands and your mouth hangs open as you blankly stare at the new people coming on board, fruitlessly hoping that no one will sit next to you so can lay down during the flight. Now imagine a reggae version of ‘White Christmas’ blaring above you. I guess this is a good example of international air travel. 
Well, the flight was long, with a stopover in Rome to refuel and for some airport employed romans to rush on board and clean out the lavatories for an hour before lifting off for the remaining 6 hours. I sat next to a nice, small ethiopian man who was a janitor in Wisconsin. He hadn’t been home in 2 years and was anxious (i think?) to see his wife and children.

Some time throughout the flight, which was horribly orchestrated to have meals right in the middle of a good sleep session, breakfast was brought to us. I was only 2 hours or so in to my Ambien sleep pill and had a general feeling of ‘wtf?’ circulating through my dreary conscience. If you’ve ever taken ambien and get woken up it definitely feels like your drunk. Your movements are sluggish and retarded and you can’t figure out exactly what’s going on. Supposedly you’re supposed to have amnesia with Ambien as the label specifically states that you are more likely to: 1. Sleepwalk 2. Sleeptalk 3. Forget things 4. Have Sex. All if you are taking ambien cr. Seriously. Long story short, I slept-ate my breakfast and then druggishly knocked my tray on to the ground when I was finished. The lady across the aisle kindly picked it up for me and in a fairy-like voice she said, “You can sleep.” Thank you, my kind ethiopian sleep fairy.

And then…
ETHIOPIA

Ethiopia was not cool. The temperature was cool. Cooler than I expected but the place itself, not that cool. Granted, our ethiopian visit was contained to only the capital city of Addis Ababa – a stinking third-world city like all third world cities I have visited thus far. Lemme say something about this; large third world cities are all the same. You drive down the street and see the exact same things, smell the exact same smells, and hear the exact same sounds (with maybe more curry and overall freneticism in India). You will drive down a street that is stocked to the gills with shitty little shops selling electronics from two decades ago. All of the signs will be in pidgen-english with the squiggly forms of the national language stuck small underneath. Carbon-monoxide from cars that haven’t been checked for emissions since Lyndon B. Johnson was in office will overwhelm you while all sorts of burning smells creep in through the windows. People will stare in to your van/bus/suv window as if they’ve never seen one before and, inevitably, you will see at least 28 acts of public urination; this time in the middle of the street in a pothole the size of maine – 7 or 8 dudes had set up their very own lemonade stand and were letting their freak flags fly. Inevitably, you will arrive at your hotel which is either a literal palace or some weird variation of an american hotel. The hilton that we stayed at was the latter. It looked like somebody’s grandpa’s basement in the lobby and everybody was smoking. It’s at this moment in your travels after having been through the rigamoreau of travel, customs, stupid airport officials, airplane seats built for pygmies, guess-what-the-airplane-food-is, arrival-shock of all your senses, and lastly a cloud of cigarette smoke in the place you’ll be sleeping for the next 3 nights that a single tear slips out the corner of your eye. You either collapse right there or suck your nuts up into your body cavity and push through like the kickass world traveler that you are…. so, I collapsed. Well, i waited until I was in the hotel room. I didn’t really have a breakdown i just passed out fully dressed on the bed… only to wake up 3 hours later, like a chipmunk in the middle of winter who thinks that it’s the first day of spring.

(TO BE CONTINUED)


 

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I, G, G, L, DC, DC… Home. (Part Two)

Why United Sucks More Ass than Enemas ~

I made it to London. I made it on the place. I made it to DC. My cell phone worked again! I called family and friends. “I’ll be home soon!!” I ecstatically screamed. Wooooh! Confetti! Parties! St. Louis! The Arch!
Then. Flight Delayed. One hour. Then. Flight Delayed. Two Hours. Then Flight Cancelled. Sheeeeeiiiittt.

At this point I was getting pretty exhausted. I didn’t really sleep at all on the London flight and was entering that phase of staying up so much that you begin to feel like you’re in a dream. I went to the counter and listened to more people complain and laughed at them before running around Dulles and looking for a cache of blankets and pillows to make a nest for myself. They would only give us a coupon for a hotel and I didn’t really feel like shelling out 60 bucks for a hotel bed. I made some more calls and then brushed my teeth before heading to my nest of chairs and blankets. As I walked out of the bathroom I saw this smaller sized man jogging down the massive airport halls towards me. He asked if I was the kid that had been traveling for 3 days. I were. He said most heroically, “Follow me”. I followed him to a 2nd customer service desk 20 gates away (about half a mile). Upon arriving I met the happiest ladies I’ve ever met in any sort of customer service arena. This bigger black woman and smaller asian woman were laughing and hooking up me and the smaller man (and his wife) breaking all sorts of United policies and BS. I fell asleep in a chair behind the desk as they were working actively trying to get me home. 

What happened: They gave us a voucher for a taxi ride to Reagan Airport and booked us on American Airlines flights. I fell asleep in the taxi on the one hour ride as well. Got to Reagan. Fell asleep on the floor outside the security checkpoint. Woke up at 5 a.m. went thru security. Fell asleep at the gate. Boom. Crack. Chickachick. (Snatch-like travel scene) St. Louis. Thank you Jesus.

But of course… my bags were lost. Ah eff it, take me home to BRL!
The next few hours until 7 p.m. were a blitz of shower, driving 100 miles, jumping in the river, drink bud light, eating fatty foods, and promptly passing out. I woke up the next morning at 7 a.m. And i felt like a jabillion bucks. Black river was great as always. Sun, beer, river – who could ask for anything more??? That night, i helped load the fireworks for the fourth of July spectacular and almost lost my hands in the process. It was like a colorful war field. One exploded right above us and it was totally beautiful and deafening.

The next day I just floated and took in the sweet missouri air and loved life. 
I’m tired of writing about italy. It’s over. Done. Fin. Dead.
Tomorrow I leave for Africa. Hold on to your butts.

Italy, Germany, Germany, London, DC, DC… Home. (Part One)

A few more days in Germany…

Goodbye Italy. Hello 11 Hour drive back thru beautiful Brenner Pass. Gas stations are closed on saturdays. Car driving on fumes. Sister freaks, nephew screams. McDonalds in Garmisch. Taste of fatty foods and america. They must have some weird standardization in the cooking of their fries at Mcdonalds because they taste the exact same worldwide. These were pretty good I remember. Finally we arrive back at my sister’s home in sleepy Seubersdorf. Face plant into pillow. Commence stillness for nine hours. 

It was definitely a shell shock being back in a real bed, in germany and without a camera always in my hand. This was the first of many shell shocks on my way back to St. Louis. The next day I ventured out to Regensburg with 3 of the camp counselors who had come from Germany. It was the championship game between Germany and Spain and I did just happen to be in Germany for that one day — awesome. Regensburg was electric and dead all at the same time. The streets were completely empty untill you passed a bar where 150 people would be sitting outside watching the game with a projector shooting on a sheet. It was a great experience, everytime there was a goal or a good play, the crowd would erupt in cheers and start to chant like they were at the game. We hit up a few of these bars before ending at a bar with a small tv on the roof and about a hundred people staring skywards. And then… Germany lost. But you really couldn’t tell. We walked to the city square where people were celebrating regardless of the loss and happy to be drunk and German. There was the occasional spanish crowd that was taunting and cheering but instead of acts of hooliganism and violence breaking out, the Germans just kind of smiled and congratulated the Spaniards. Very civil. You’d get beat up in St. Louis for sure if the Cardinals had just lost to the Cubs and a bunch of Chicagoans went parading around downtown.

After this fun spectacle, we ended up in and Irish pub where we met three irish friends who bought us endless beers all night. Pretty soon, one of them whipped out a harmonica and we were all singing irish folk songs with big, splashing beers in hand. I felt like I was having multiple cultural disorder.

Two more quiet restful days in Germany before the madness of traveling would become altogether real for me, for maybe the first time ever.

How it took me 3 days to get home ~or~ Why United Airlines Sucks More Ass Than Enemas…

The day started off peacefully. Peacefully packing. Afternoon flight. No rush. La-de-da-dee, who want’s to pahdee? Quick wonderful flight to Frankfurt from Nuremburg via Lufthansa (the best airline ever). Casual stroll to the next gate about half a mile way. No worries, no stress. I had finally made it through the 2 or 3 security checkpoints and was walking the final leg to my gate when I heard over the loudspeakers “Flight 933 to Washington D.C. has been canceled, There are no more flights to the United States today”. I don’t know if it was my sublime, blissful feeling or the mimosa from the previous flight but something didn’t click inside my head when I heard this and I thought nothing of it besides “Man, that’s gotta suck for those people”. The reality became clear when I walked to my gate and from the faces of the first few people I saw it seemed as if their children had been kidnapped by United Airlines. People were freaking the hell out. 

I walked in and looked around before finding a little nook up by one of the information desks and just started to listen. People would all come up with the same story, “No, you don’t understand I like realllly have to get back to the states”, and “I DEMAND to talk to your MANAGER and GET ME A FLIGHT OUT OF HERE NOW”! If not for the amazing patience of the people working the tables it would’ve been insanity bordering on hilarious. I learned from perching in my nook that there was in fact no way to leave Frankfurt and I would be here for the night. This was rather annoying as I had my own reasons for returning, mainly Black River Lodge.

We were shuttled like sheep to the hotels. I overheard someone telling their friend to wait and not get on the first bus for it was headed to the airport hotel whereas the second bus was headed for the nicer Downtown Hotel. This is really not a fair comparison but I always think of Schindler’s list and those types of movies where families are being split up by trains and which one will be better than the other. Luckily, I chose right. We ended up at the 5 Star Reichenberg Hotel (I Think?) in a fairly nice room with huge ceilings. There was no plan to any of this, we learned everything from speculation and overhearing things from other travelers. I mean, there was a rather large squad of us, two Tour Busses full in the downtown hotel alone. Dinner was served shortly later and here’s where I met my friends for the night.

Walking into the dinner room, you kind of eye everyone at each table and quickly, mentally decide – “Who will be the most fun/interesting/worth sitting next to while I eat” in a devious Seinfeldian manner. I chose the table with 3 young multicultural travelers that looked like they had done this before. They were Van from Laos, a grad student that has probably been to over 1/2 of the countries in the world, Jonathan, an american of Indian heritage who had been living in Turkey for the past 5 months, and some girl who I can’t remember her name who was turning 21 at midnight and was annoying as hell. She was a mix of a bunch of cultures that she kept reminding us about all night along and now I can’t remember what it was. We ate dinner with a funny family from Boston and then headed out to find some adventure in the evening. 

Just, except, it didn’t really happen. I mean, we found a great rowing club and had a few beers while watching the sun set on the river and it was beautiful and magical and everything that meeting new people should be and then… we got lost in the residential areas for probably 90 minutes. The annoying girls hopes for getting fabulously drunk in germany on her 21st birthday began to fade as her back, and then her feet, and then everything started hurting. We rounded back up to the hotel and happily unloaded her before heading back into the Frankfurt night. Still no news had arrived from United. We came upon this awesome looking corner bar that seemed as if the door would shut at any moments, blinds noisily clattering over the windows and the 4 locals inside would stab, kick, and beat the shit out of us if we said anything negative about Germany at all. We didn’t care. We were having good conversation and people-watching out of the corner of our eyes and it was fun all around. Finally we head back to the hotel around 2 a.m. Stilll, no news from United.

By now, my clothes were starting to gain a little funk. I mean, theorhetically, I should have almost been back in St. Louis by now. And here I was, in a hotel room in Germany, by myself. I stripped down to my birthday and through on the terry cloth robe and laid down – feeling fairly alone for the first time in a month. Normally I like being alone quite a bit but this was unsettling for some reason. I slept for 3 hours. Woke up, showered, through on my slightly less stank clothes and headed to breakfast. Still, no news from United.

After a 40 Euro (free) breakfast and tons of coffee, I was ready to get the hell out of dodge. Finally there was a sign in the lobby ‘PASSENGERS OF FLIGHT 933 – MEET HERE AT 10 AM’. Finally. Some proof of life. An hour later, we were back on the busses headed not to the airport. Wait. WTF!? We were being shuttled to the airport hotel! No! This can’t be true! The Horror! I talked to my friend Van and the lucky dog said that he had called United and booked a flight out to Chicago. That was all I needed. I checked in to the hotel, just to be safe, and booked it right back out the door to the shuttle that was headed for the airport. Van and I scurried up to the Lufthansa desk and were treated like we were the victims of genocide, in a good way. They asked us “OH, your the passengers from flight 933?? Where have you been, we’ve been waiting for you??” Van and I looked at each other and laughed. The desk clerk, who looked like Ali G, was awesome and booked me on a flight to London, DC, then STL racing around behind his desk like he was in an action movie. Van and I hugged and were on our own separate ways. I still to this day think that some of the 933 passengers are still stuck in Frankfurt.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there (just like this entry which is rivaling the Talmud in length).
To be continued…

The Big Dump n’ Jump. (or Lord of the Fling)

(*Disclaimer* This story contains explicit information about defecation. If you’re not in to that, like some people I know, then skip down to the asterisk line where the rest of the story is poo-free and more about me risking my neck. Thank you.) 

As I pointed out in my india journal entry “The Danger Shot”, there comes a point in each trip I take where I like to risk life and limb for the sake of a good story. That is what this entry is about. In Cambodia, I climbed a massive boulder while getting bit by fire ants, in India I climbed a tower strung with numerous wires and electrical outlets for the sake of a good photo, and in Italy, well instead of ascending, I chose to descend. 

It was our last trip to Cinque Terre with the camp. The weather was absolutely stinking gorgeous and I felt a mixture of happiness and forlorn not knowing when I would be able to visit this beautiful area of Italy ever again. Each trip to this five-town region had been utterly rememorable and distinct and I was hopeful that this time would be no different. I knew what I had to do to make this happen. I had to take the leap of insanity that I had passed up the two previous times I had been here. I was thinking about it all the time. The cliff was mocking me from afar in my restless sleep. It was like the eye of sauron atop Mount Doom staring at me through while I rested my head upon inflatable mattress. It’s power had become overwhelming. Compelling. I had to go. I MUST go…

We arrived at the main train station and hopped off at the first town. This was a journey I had to make on foot. My fellowship of the fling consisted of three others and myself; Kyle, king of texan dwarf giants, Luke, elven prince of friendswood and Peterwise the Gray, wizard of gogurt. We trudged on through the horrors and rank stank of the 1st town. The sight of the Lovers Walkway caused one’s stomach to turn. (Not really, it was really-cutesy and made me feel heartsick that I was walking through one of the most beautiful places in Italy with two guy that were married or dating. There was place where you and a lover could affix a lock to the bridge as an ever-lasting symbol of your love – depending on the strength of said lock that you had attached.)  We battled unspeakable beasts at every niche and corner, our minds teeming with the thoughts of victory while our eyes bled fury from the bloodlust that galloped through our veins. (As did sugar. We ate a few gelatos before making it to the jump. And some fuckatcha.)

Finally, we arrived at the Death Bay of the second city, a truly dismal sight (Tourists, sunshine, waves, fat americans, beautiful italians). In a battle of wits and power, we lost our friend Peterwise the Gray to an evil beast, awakened from the depths of hell (his wife, mary, who is actually super nice and not beastly or hellish didn’t want him to jump). Bloodied and depleted, mentally and physically (from pizza and ice cream) we made it to the top… to the jump… to our destiny… but first we had to go down down below and make sure it was save to jump and that there wouldn’t be any rocks directly underneath the water that we would impale ourselves upon. I mean, we didn’t want to die or anything. So we climbed down the cliff to the ocean water and swam around the amazingly blue water. I dove as deep as I could/felt like without goggles to find nothing at all around us. The leap was on!

Before this could happen, an unforeseen circumstance made it’s self known. All of the damned elvish bread I had consumed earlier had flown through my system like a train through the tunnels of cinque terre. Yes, I wanted to fly, Yes I wanted to jump, Yes I had loads of adrenaline, but before this… i had to dump. okay? From my two previous trips to Cinque, I was about ninety-eight percent positive that were no bathrooms in these cities. People just peed and pooed wherever they wanted. Not like India all out in the open and shit but mysteriously hidden in some manner that my american mind could not fathom. Plus, I wasn’t about to trek back up mount doom to walk back to the 2nd town just to find a place to do my deed. And, I was pretty much already in what resembled a massive toilet bowl anyways… I shouted out my urgencies to my companions and they quickly heeded my call; dashing out of the surrounding water and keeping a lookout for evil orc patrols (or nearby swimmers). A note about this if I may, pooping in open water is one of the most uncategorizable yet totally pleasure filled experiences one can have. I admit, I was slightly conscious of nearby aquatic life that would want to investigate just exactly what the hell was going on but once the motion of my ocean had started, all my fears just drifted away… along with lunch. But of course, idiocy and laziness befell my two companions and no more than 25 feet away, a kayak appeared with two newlyweds happily exploring the surrounding cove. A little note – thiiiiss was pretttty clear water. Like super clear. My fishing expedition came to a screeching halt and I cut the line while reeling up my pants in a discrete motion…. I didn’t ask and they didn’t tell.

******Poo-Free*********Poo-Free*************

It was time. We gathered our belongings and made peace with the recently deceased. Up the cliff we went. We had made it. And holy balls did the nerves hit us. From our estimates this was somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 feet. The only real measurement we had was to drop a rock and count “One-One Thousand, Two-One Thousand, Three-One Thousand, FOUR”! Splash. If somebody can translate that to height in feet, then let me know. I wanted to go first, kinda. But Luke wanted to go first as well. We danced around like the butterflies within our stomach before Luke approached the railing with an increasing ‘ohshitness’ factor building quickly. Hands on the rail. One leg over. Two legs over. We held on to luke’s wrist because the ground was rather slippery and unsteady as was the metal railing. Luke turned around reversing his hands on the pole… He looked back at us… and leapt. It felt like he was falling forever. HUGE SPLASH! And boom! there he was waving at us like a kid that had just jumped into the pool. Watching this made me feel peaceful that he hadn’t died and also less peaceful because HOLYCRAPDIDYOUJUSTSEEHOWLONGITTOOKHIMTOHITTHEWATER?!?! Also, a crowd had started to form. This did not help. An american lady came up to me with her hands on her mouth in scared awe. “What would your mother say??” she asked in disbelief. I told her my mother would by crying against the rocks over there. Regardless, it was my turn. I jumped over the rail in  the same manner as luke and had kyle there to hold on to me. This was the last place you wanted to slip or trip. If you didn’t jump out or somehow fell to either side of the jump, you were most definitely seagull lunch. I shimmied to the center and turned around. My heart was pounding. I tried to step outside myself to look at how it was affecting me but thankfully i stayed right where I was mentally and sucked in the moment. A thought ran through my head from a scientific experiment show where they display how jumping wrong into water from 60 feet is like jumping onto cement from 60 feet. I was going to dive like a pencil off this sunuvabitch…

And then… silence, beautiful weightlessness and freedom in the earth’s atmosphere… beauty and peace had collided against angst and nervousness and created a millisecond of utopia. Then the air started whooshing around me like I was skydiving and I was plummeting like a ton of bricks into the waves below. I looked down to make sure i was pointing my toes down and creating the least wind resistance possible, whiich in retrospect may not have been the best idea.

KRRAAAAK

I hit the water and experienced an instant feeling of red throughout all my senses. I felt my body sinking down, down, and down further as air bubbles escaped from trapped air my body had brought into the water with me. I reached a point of darkness and a thought danced quickly into my head “am I going to pass out?” …. As quickly as it danced into my head it flew out and i shook my head while spreading out my legs and arms to stop the descent. I looked up into darkness (i don’t remember if this was visual or mental) and began to swam… for what ended up being like 7 seconds. 

I broke through the water and luke was right there smiling and laughing. He was concerned that I didn’t pop up super quickly like he did. I felt an instant explosion of joy and accomplishment, all from just jumping off a cliff. As stupid as it may sound, something changed in myself (and luke) from doing this jump. I feel totally changed in the realms of confidence and adventure from just jumping off a high place in italy. At the time, I also felt red hot fire on my ass cheeks from slapping the water so hard, even in a pencil-like position. My teeth ached from having my mouth slightly apart before landing. There was salt water pouring from my nasal cavity which wouldn’t stop until 3 hours later. My neck ached the next two days from looking down before I landed; hence the red lights. But i felt absolutely stinking great. 

We climbed back up to take pictures of the jump and the cove. An older italian woman, about the same age as the american woman, came over to me and spoke in broken english. “You justa jump eh?” Yes, i nodded my head. She just whistled and smiled before saying “grande couragio!” And this is why european women rock. They like it when guys do stupid stuff such as jumping off a stupidly high cliff!

The rest of the day was a blur. The aftershocks of the jump resonated in me until I drove away from italy a few days later. Looking back, it may just seem like a humorous story of jumping off a cliff like any number of countless drunken rednecks do every weekend. But it was also a momentous moment of kicking apprehensions and worry in the balls and laughing like a maniac while plummeting through the air; tears streaming from your eyeballs in the wind. This act, foolish or not, has changed the way i look at everyday and not-so-everyday events. If thoughts of hesitance confront me in any circumstance all i have to do is think back to the cliff jumping in cinque terre.
Just jump you damned fool, and laugh while you do it.

Lunch With a Tuscan Family & Eva Longoria = Wife 63.

I’ve been back for almost two months now and still have not finished writing about Italy. Honestly, I look with dread upon writing these last few entries because I have to be mentally prepared to return my brain back to everything that happened two months ago. It also doesn’t accurately portray how these events happened I’m sure and memories can get slightly fuzzy. But, it’s not hard for me to remember one of the two most defining moments I had on my trip; lunching with a tuscan family on their vineyard. 

In between the two weeks of campers we had a good three or four days to relax and prepare for the next round of campers headed our way. On one of these days, the organization planned for all of the work staff (and this mangy photographer) to travel out into the tuscan country side for a tour of a vineyard and lunch with a family that worked the land. This wasn’t a touristy-featured-stop as if you were traveling with any one of the trillion european tour lines. No, these were friends of one the volunteers in Italy whom she had known for quite awhile. They opened up their beautiful house, food, and wine to us and greeted us with open arms and smiles. We traveled through some of the most beautiful countryside I had seen in Italy since being there and drove our bus up some of the most lovely tuscan roads and through treelines. I totally felt like I was in the Godfather. (I actually just watched the Godfather for the first time two weeks ago and felt like Al Pacino and DeNiro were covering some of the places I had stopped.)

The owner of the vineyard, who’s name I’ve long forgotten… I wanna say Giuseppe, gave us a wonderful tour of the land that provides for his family. He showed us the olive trees and that grape vines and gave us wonderful spiritual parallels for everything that I have long since forgotten. His broken english was inadvertently humorous but was quickly shadowed by his genuine spirit. Italians seem to be genuine across the board it seems. They don’t really try to act like they are something that they are not. If you meet a slick backed don juan then he will act like one because he is one and he knows it. He won’t try to be something else. I wonder if anything I am writing at this moment makes sense. I hereby promise to only write about my future travels if I am actually traveling.

Anyways, long story short, we had a great tour of the grounds by Giuseppe (Gosh I hope that’s right, I know how many tuscan vintners read this blog) and his american son-in-law, Phil. I remember phil because he wrote his name and email on a piece of paper and offered to let me live and eat there in exchange for physical labor. I also talked to phil and Giuseppe’s son, who’s name really escapes me, about possibly redesigning their wine label, which would be awesome. I will keep you updated if for some reason I bolt from real life in st. louis to life on a vineyard in tuscany literally down the street from Sting. Hunter found a quick friend in Phil’s son and the two ran around the villa raising hell and scaring the chickens all the while screaming in their little boy high-pitched screams that I loved at first, found humorous after a few days, and then hated by the end of the trip. The food was, how can I put it, real. It came from their trees and from the ground around them. It tasted like earth. Not mud but just straight lively goodness that Trader Joe had not touched. Good solid mediterranean food; blocks of mozzarella, tomatoes, whole grain bread, chicken, pasta, olives, oils, and plenty of wine. I made more than a few trips to the pitchers of red wine that were whispering for me. I may have had a few cups too many because I felt great. I ended up buying five bottles of wine and some olive oil and talking excitedly with Giuseppe’s son and Phil while the rest of group had already been on the bus for a bit. I jumped on to the bus, stowed my hooch and promptly… passed out. Along with everyone else.

Only to awaken what seemed like 2 days later (in reality 2 hours) in San Gimniano with a nasty headache and craving any sort of water on my dry lips. The last thing I wanted to do was walk around this tourist trap. Actually, a very nice, out of the way tourist trap that kind of feels like touristry and authenticity at it’s core but nonetheless americans. San G was a very beautiful town that deserved more snooping than I had the ability to offer at this time. My boy Chauta (one of the leaders) and I kind just stumbled around with minimal conversation from point of interest to point of interest in the grand walled city. Eventually, I didn’t care anymore and sat my cheeks on the well in the main square. I was delighting myself and some bavarian kids by attaching my gum to a stick and pulling out euros from the well through the security gate that covered it. I got about 80 eu out and passed around before we all decided to throw everyones wishes back into the well a la Goonies. Plus, my stick broke. So we sat there and just took in the sights. And of course, my 63rd wife just happened to traipse up to the well that I was standing at and look down inside. I kind of looked at her and she looked at me and it was magic, except for the puny looking mulato guy that was with her holding her hand. A semblance of familiarity crossed my consciousness but I couldn’t understand why and so as they walked away from the well I let out a little “ciao bella” only slightly out of ear shot. 

Turns out it was that desperate housewives chick; Eva Longoria and her b-baller husband Tony Parks – who must have some mad skills on the court because he was not that tall at all. I didn’t find this out until later after they walked back through and a gaggle of american kids were semi-hounding them in a polite american-in-europe sort of way. Right. 

Then we were back on the bus hurtling down winding hills and me stuck in sort of disney hell as everyone started singing the soundtrack to every hot ham disney movie ever made. I laid in the center aisle and hunter began running over me and stealing everybody’s shoes. I cried a little.

Camplife Pt. 2

Day 4 was Cinque Terre –
During my time in Italy, I was allowed the travel privilege of touring through Cinque Terre on three separate occasions. Each time was completely incredible; the last time so much so that I will post a separate entry on that. Traveling to 5Town (as my friend nate called it) was a pretty funny headache with 5 tour buses and just as many 16 passenger vans carrying workers, leaders, program crew, and a mangy photographer. The shady looking town of Spezia is sort of the access point for the Cinque Terre region where you are able to purchase the colorful train ticket for any of the five towns. Thus, a posse of american army brats would swamp the stairs rising from the street to the train station in noisy revelrie. I’ve already mentioned Cinque in one post and will do so in another so I won’t bore you even further with what the average day was like.

And on the last day, we returned to the beach
New friends were made by this point and yet, somehow, it was already time to say goodbye. A long beach day (12-8pm) was the perfect ending to an active camp week and resulted in ample time to jump into the incredibly satly mediterranean, play volleyball against the undefeated leaders team, get some italian rays, scope some italian laydays, and taken in an overall good summer vibe. After some quiet time on the beach as the sun was setting the kids were surprised with an impromptu dance party in the parking lot where all the tour buses had formed a party ring complete with blinking hazard lights. 

5:00 pm – 11:59 pm

After a raucous day of touring through italy, I would normally come back and either work, nap, or hang with hunter at the pool scoping laydays. In fact, there was quite a bit of pool time. A lot actually. I would take the reins on my nephew so my sister was allowed to exhale for an hour or so as we splashed about in the base pool. And we did this everyday about. I didn’t mind babysitting because I was still doing ‘something’ while in reality doing ‘nothing’ just lounging at the pool. Dinner was around 6:30 and was actually delicious and I ate huge portions everyday that made me feel blimpesque. I would normally sit with mary and peter, a couple from Texas that were traveling europe for three months or so. We would sit and snicker while making inappropriate jokes about getting a case of Chinks (nasty nether region rash) in 5Town while filling up on mostly mexican themed dinners. After dinner was club where the 300 youth would file into the adjourning non-ac gym that felt like one of the seven layers of hell. There was literally a wall of heat that you could feel after taking one step past any of the doorways leading to the gym. There were only so many photos you could take in a dark gym at 120 degrees celsius with kids sitting down, so most of the time, I sat outside and let the mosquitos feast on my chlorinated skin and watched some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. 

After club, campers would get a snack and be sent on their way for either tent-time, county fair (where campers were allowed to assault their leaders with shaving cream shot off their face with super soakers, whipped cream pies thrown right in the kisser, or a dunk tank), or some other misc. activities that I can’t recall any further. For a steady three to four days, a group of us had developed a mean egyptian-rat-screw tournament that resulted in bruised fingers and severe deep-gut laughter. Every time someone slapped on a fat pile of cards, my new friend Joseph would say in his texas drawl, “Big hand.. Huge hand.. That was a really big hand”. Laughter and tears ensued. 

And then I would crawl back in the steamy arms of the 505 to rest my head for another night on a mattress filled with my own breath. Sometimes a few of us would stay up and be reckless but most of the time, italy had sapped us of any strength and sleep was welcomed. A happy, tired sleep like if you had just played outside with your friends all day, running through the sprinkler, playing soccer, eating ice cream, getting nailed by mosquitoes, eating bbq, and falling asleep with dried sweat on your forehead looking so forward to the next summer day where you would be able to do the exact same thing.

Camplife pt. 1

Let me peacefully relate to you what an average day was like at CLUB BEYOND – BEACH BREAK 2008 so as to give you a better idea of my experience:

 7:00-9:00 a.m.
This was the time of day we’d call waking up, and oh lord, waking up is hard to do. Truthfully, I’m a pretty good morning person I just don’t really like waking up early. I can pop out of bed and start running laps around the military post if I had too but it’s not how I normally like to start my day.

My first strokes of consciousness would be that feeling where you think are somewhere else, perhaps in your bed at home or in a hotel room in some faraway land, and then the slow realization that I am laying on a blow up mattress on the dingy floor of the 505. I was able to make my room pretty dark by laying the tripod I had with me against the metal shutters. Thus, it felt like dusk all times of the day in my room unless I hit the ‘cubicle-standard’ flourescent lights that emitted an eery hum. I’d stumble into a pair of shorts and shoes before making the walk over to the Sea Pines Hotel room that my sister was living in. My nephew Hunter, would greet me at the door with either the sweetest hug ever or a kick to my bloody shins depending on his bi-polar mood shifts. My sweet and awesome sister would make me a cup of french press coffee every day. Coffee is a natural laxative so then you can figure out my next move…ment.

After a bagel or something, we’d walk over to the breakfast tent by the campers whereupon I would pilfer whatever the brekky foods happened to be that day. I also enjoyed going through the line with the campers and grabbing fistfuls of gogurt packets with them wondering who the hell i was exactly. And my God, gogurt is effing amazing. We had a surplus of the spongebob variety and I sucked down a couple Bubbly Blueberry Blasts every morning. 

10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Depending on the day, there was a multitude of activities that I would participate in and photograph.
The first day was the beach, which was a beautiful little slice of heaven right on the mediterranean. –
Five busloads and countless vans from the camp would dump 200-300 little darlings right on to the sand of the America Beach (rented by america from italy) and I would begin to snap random candids of the kidlets. The first week of camp (highschool) was pleasantly cloudy and fair-temperate allowing for some nice beach volleyball and cool evenings. The second week (middle school) had a blistering hot tuscan sun that was relentless in it’s power. I mean, I remember getting sunburned pretty bad as a kid but I saw some kids with huge pus-filled blisters on their shoulders that looked indescribably painful. The hotter week made the salty sea much more enjoyable though and I loved swimming far out and up and down the coast to get a feeling for the italian beaches. Again, the beautiful-woman ratio was staggering. 

On the second day was a short road trip to Pisa & Lucca. –
Pisa, for anyone with even the most basic traveling knowledge is where that leaning tower resides. And that’s pretty much it, sort of. It is a beautiful area with two other magnificent buildings built right alongside the tower and surrounded by perfectly manicured grass. The downside is the huge influx of tourists and african vendors selling sunglasses and purses and anything else that breaks or falls apart 4 hours after you buy it. I’m sure that there is some adventure worth pursuing within the city streets of Pisa, as I experienced partially one night at midnight. A group of us went to downtown pisa for the Luminare Festival where the main river is filled with miniature boats containing a luminary and sent floating down the river. Unfortunately we missed the majority of the luminaries but arrived in time for a pretty spectacular fireworks display. 

Lucca, on the other hand had countless streets to lose yourself in a very authentic italian setting.
On one of the days that I was there, a huge antiques market was taking place selling all sorts of crazy european old crap. And by ‘crazy european old crap’ I mean nazi memorabilia. Do you call that memorabilia? I mean I have baseball cards and bobbleheads that I would call memorabilia but do you call propaganda and vestments of an oppressive bygone regime that killed millions, ‘memorabilia’. It’s not like they’re selling Hitler Trading Cards and Eva Braun candy pills. 
In Lucca, I also met one of the 63 future wives carrying a painting into an art studio. I guess it was her art studio because she unlocked the door. She had a decidedly american skater girl vibe (with a really large spiral tattoo on her shoulder) for being an italian art studio owner though. She let the group of kids I was with come in and take some pictures and then we exchanged a few garbled american/italian phrases back and forth while watching the kids go nuts in the studio. After a gracious few minutes, I got the kids out of there and waved goodbye to wife 26. This is totally unrelated but definitely worth mentioning; Luca had superb gelato.

And on the third day, He made the waterpark…
An hour or so away from Camp Darby existed a water park*. Water park’s tend to be something I don’t ever think about. Like, the last time I was at a water park was on my family’s one and only floridian vacation where we stopped at Busch Garden’s. I was ten. Now, I am twenty-five. And I guess you could say that not much has changed over the years because this waterpark was effing cool. After I did my mandatory photograph cataloguing of the surroundings and people running around getting wet, I shagged ass for the slides. One of them launched you at least 300 km/h over a hump, shedding water droplets from your skin and tears from your eyes before proceeding to knock the air out of you. It was great! Another one was a corkscrew that took me literally four and a half minutes to get down. I kept getting stuck like a fat kid in a crawl-space. And then there was the miraculous Slip n’ Slide Soccer. Wow. It was so frikking cool that you had to pay for it even though you already had to pay to get into the park to begin with! That’s how cool it was! (Seriously, it was.) A group of ten of us split the thirty EU price tag and jumped into the pit ready to slip and slide our way to sloccer sluccess. If there was any way that I could be even halfway diligent about getting my photos on the internet then you would be able to visualize what I am talking about. Instead, like good ambivalent song lyrics, you will have to visualize it yourself. Basically, it was just like 10 slipn-slides sewn together to make a field about the size of a volley ball court. Also, you had to wear a padded wrestler’s helmet and play with a ball that was a little lighter than average but everything else was pure chaos. You just bolted for the ball whenever it was near you before completely flying right pass the ball, unable to stop for the life of you before finally managing to slow down on one of the side barriers. Then, you would take an assured step forward only to go cheeks over cheeks and fall on the unpadded field bruising your internal organs or fracturing your pelvis. The game ended in a 7-7 tie. It was glorious. We walked off the field — gladiators in a coliseum made of slick plastic and soiled water.

*also, the wave pool sucked hilariously but this is already too long of an entry.

To be continued…