It’s A Long Answer

Juli is a badass Argentinian.

Women from Argentina are not “ladies.” They are strong and beautiful and they tell dirty jokes. I am constantly mesmerized and infatuated by their version of Spanish. It is passionate, flowing, comical and improvisational. They love to laugh and share. English is a buzz kill. Clumsy and awkward. Just look at these words. Gross.

Juan asks Juli if she wants some yerba mate, a popular South American tea.

“Yes. I always want mate,” she says matter-of-factly with a furrowed brow.

“Sean, why are you traveling?” she asks abruptly.

img_2019
Home for a month while I busked in Queenstown.

We are sitting on the grass by my van and their tents on a small, tiered campground in Frankton. There is little privacy here. There is nothing to stop anyone from unzipping a tent and stealing passports and other valuables. Large houses flank us on either side and only a small apple tree serves as a barrier to State Route 6. We must look very out of place to the cars driving by on their way to Queenstown. But that’s why I chose to stay here. It’s interesting.

img_2051
Walking from Frankton to Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu.

“That’s a big question,” I say.

“No, it’s a long answer,” she says.

I give a convoluted explanation about my Dad kicking me out of the house, my temp job ending, and my girlfriend breaking up with me in the first week of June 2014 and then moving to Australia to live with my best friend in the middle of the desert and then not wanting to go home so I came to New Zealand and then I somehow ended up here.

My journey chose me—I never planned this—but Juli was more deliberate.

“I was spending my day going to work and then at the end of the month I get a paycheck and then I save it. Why?” she asks. “I thought I would come to New Zealand for six months but now I want to travel the world. I don’t care if I don’t have any money.”

A month later I’m standing on the side of road a few kilometers outside of Motueka. I’ll tell you how I got there some other time.

Two tasty-looking Porches with empty passenger seats scream by and I fully extend my arm but they ignore my thumb.

A small blue sedan stops in front of me.

Bronson asks where I’m going. He is wearing a black baseball cap and has a few days of growth on his face.

“Takaka,” I say.

He shoots me a hang loose surfer gesture and says hop in.

Bronson is forty-years-old and has four kids. The oldest is 19 and he is off traveling the world. Bronson looks after his three younger children and works three days a week.

“I work to live,” he says. “I don’t live to work.”

He is heading to Takaka on this beautiful Sunday morning to play in a football match, a sport referred to as soccer where I’m from. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t make any sense.

He lived in Portland, Oregon for a couple years and loved it.

I say you hear a lot of bad stuff coming from the U.S., but traveling is all about the people you meet. There are nice people everywhere you go.

The conversation drifts to U.S. politics and of course, Trump. I say there are a lot of Americans out there who are conscious about the world but there are also lots of Americans who rarely leave their home state or hometown. Maybe they are uneducated or live in poverty but they are more likely to support Donald Trump. The system has failed and Trump is bringing out the worst in people.

He asks if I smoke as we pull over. He rolls a cigarette and says you can have a cone if you want. He already had one this morning.

He shows me the “Sneaky Toke” he’s had for years. It’s a self-contained metal tube with one end to light and one end to inhale. It works like a charm and I thank him for brightening my day.

We drive on and talk about some deep shit, most of which I have forgotten.

We crest a hill and a wide valley opens up between green mountains and the coast. There are pine forests and dairy farms with a few houses dotting the landscape. I talk about how there are so many landscapes in New Zealand. Otago is a sub-alpine desert. The Fiordlands, in the southwest corner, reminded me of Jurassic Park.

“Isn’t it just,” he says. “A land lost in time.”

I mention that I’ve spoken to a lot of people about the ecosystems in New Zealand and how introduced humans and animals have changed the country over the past 1,000 years.

New Zealand is known for its clean and green environment, he says, but that’s not the reality. It seems like every Kiwi I’ve talked to would agree. Tourism is New Zealand’s No. 1 export, so the whole “clean and green” thing gets repeated ad nauseam, especially from Australians. But if you get off the tourist track and spend time observing and talking to locals, you realize the entire country has been sold off to the dairy and logging industries to the detriment of the environment. Stay tuned for more on that, my loyal readers.

Bronson talks about how there needs to be a big change in the way we view the world. I feel you, man.

The conversation drifts and I talk about a Bob Marley interview I saw on YouTube. He is asked if he is rich. Marley replies, what do you mean rich? The interviewer says, do you have a lot of possessions and money in the bank? He responds, “My richness is life, forever.”

With one week left in New Zealand and my Australian savings pretty much depleted at this point, that’s how I feel right now. I don’t have a lot of money, but I feel rich.

“Rich with experience,” he says.

Exactly.

We’ve been driving for a while and Bronson starts to worry that he has taken a wrong turn. He doesn’t want to be late for his match.

“Isn’t there only one road?” I say.

“I just thought we should be there by now,” he says. “But yeah, when you said that it reassured me.”

Now we are getting close to Takaka.

“So you’re heading back home in a week,” he says. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know, man,” I say.

“I thought the point of traveling was to figure out what you want to do,” he says.

“No, traveling just makes you want to travel more,” I say.

Juli was right.

Advertisements

When We Were Wolves

Full moon and the wolves are out tonight

Demons dance by the fire stomping the dirt between toes

Uncontrollable we are not controlled

Rhythmic pounding alive forever in our hearts

Once the sun comes up the magic fades but it is always with us

Even after it ends

Our fullest potential is reached when the moon is above

Howling like the animals we are

Anything goes because the wolves are out tonight

 

hmm. i feel awake. this isn’t like last time. i am above the water now. yes.

 

We meet each other in the dark above the dirt and your hood is up and your scarf covers your face

We lock eyes and we both know what is on our mind

“I’m sorry.”

“I know, Sean. It’s OK. I was hoping you would say that.”

“I had to. I’m really sorry.”

“I know, Sean.”

“Thank you. Thank you.”

 

We hug and our bodies tingle and the tension is gone. You are fire. I don’t know what I am.

But you are fire.

 

And everything works out. And everything is going to be OK.

IMG_1181

Spiritual Beings

Pete talked to me for about two hours last night. He didn’t allow me to say much.

He is the 40-year-old guy from Rarotonga, one of the island nations in the South Pacific, who has been staying in an apartment at the hostel for five years. He doesn’t really come out much but over the past few weeks he is always around, talking to the young travelers. Some consider him a nuisance. Some might say he has mental disabilities. He is tall and wiry and has a slightly raspy voice that can quickly change from normal volume to yelling in seconds.

I’m on duty as night porter and everything is clean and no one is drinking. I’m watching a movie in the big green hippy tour bus that has long been converted into a TV lounge, late-night joint smoking and hook up spot. The couches and pillows are not recommended for germophobes. But travelers ignore those little details.

IMG_9153
A peaceful night under the Southern Cross

He pushes the door and steps up and says, oh it’s you. Goodonya for keeping everything peaceful and quiet. You’re a good sort, he says. I say thanks, it’s just because no one is drinking tonight but he says no, really you do a good job.

This is my first time talking to him one on one. One of the receptionists, a white New Zealander, said Pete has called him a “nigger” several times. The only time I’ve interacted with Pete was when I was putting my laundry in one night when I wasn’t on duty and I heard a scuffle. I run over and see two men fighting in the bushes and I pull Pete out and a smaller Maori guy is yelling “Black Power, Black Power,” a motorcycle gang in New Zealand. The following night, I look back over the security camera footage and see the two of them having a calm chat and then Pete stands up and starts pointing in his face and motioning with his arms and then they started to push each other then they started swinging.

He launches into a one sided discussion on spirituality and being comfortable with yourself. He says people in Rarotonga don’t care about gay people and it doesn’t matter if a guy wants to suck your dick but they used to be cannibals. It’s a hard life over there. He was the smallest one in the family so he was beat when he was younger. He has been beaten a lot.

It’s hard to follow him and half of my attention is on the movie, but I enjoy listening to him. I like listening to people who don’t stop talking. They are interesting. I don’t care if I disagree with them or if they are crazy. I just nod and mmhmm to see where he goes.

Then he starts talking about when he worked on a farm. They had all sorts of animals and he would abuse them. He doesn’t know I’m vegan. He says he would kill chickens with his hands just for fun.

He asks me if I believe in God and I say no. He doesn’t understand.

“So who made the Earth?” he asks.

“Umm…no one,” I say.

“Oh, was it a woman?” he asks.

“No…I don’t think anyone created the Earth,” I say.

“So, who made Man?” he asks.

“Umm…evolution,” I say.

“Ok, interesting. Wow. And how did life begin?” he asks.

“Uhh…well I’m pretty sure it started as bacteria and then evolved over millions of years,” I say.

He doesn’t understand.

I like the word ephemeral. And transient. That’s what life is like here. Some days I am so happy with the joys of walking into the communal kitchen with the giant wooden table and seeing new faces to meet and sometimes I just think, what am I doing? Where are my friends? The people I have been hanging out with for the past three weeks just left and these are all strangers. It’s a low and it’s a high at the same time.

Over free vegetable soup and bread, I talk to a 30-something Canadian man traveling around New Zealand for a few weeks and I tell him my story and he asks, “How can you do it? How can you live here?”

It must seem so foreign and abstract to someone with responsibilities. He has a wife and kids, a house and a career. He can’t just drive a 28-year-old van into a new town and create a new life for four months. He can’t imagine that. But now that I’ve been back in Virginia for a month and my former travel buddies have returned to that giant wooden table and are currently surrounded by new faces, soup and bread, I want those feelings again. Freedom and adventure. You can’t live that life in this country. At least not around here.

We are walking home from the pub after closing time.

We are getting close to the bridge over the slow, shallow river and the French guy takes off all his clothes and throws them all over the street. Half of our group—most of us just met tonight—follows him up the beams about three meters above the street while the rest of us take the sidewalk like a bunch of pussies. He dives head first into the water and I’m sure he just broke his neck because I’ve seen that river and it is rocky and shallow but somehow he comes up laughing. A German girl is stuck at the top of the bridge—like a cat stuck in a tree—because she is scared and here comes a cop.

He is young and he doesn’t turn on his flashing lights or anything at the sight of a bunch of drunken backpackers, one of whom is naked and soaking wet and one of whom is above him, stuck on a bridge.

“Make sure you get home safe,” he says casually as he drives off.

Sitting next to each other while watching the Hobbit leads to laying down next to each other while watching the Hobbit leads to meandering hands leads to the night porter walking into the bus at 2 am to put up the new “NO SMOKING” signs and turning on the lights and seeing you sit up naked and look me in the eyes and kind of smile and kind of laugh as I slink out. I’ll put up the signs in a half hour.

It’s another quiet night and everything is clean and I come back to the office after smoking a joint with the Irish girls and I check the security cameras and see Pete smoking a cigarette outside so I grab my guitar.

We sit in the smoke-o room and he tells me the devil is his best friend.

He is a beautiful man. He is a musician.

He launches into a biblical rant about Jesus, Samson, Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem and Babylon. I accompany him with quiet fingerpicking on my guitar.

I ask if he is talking about leaving Babylon and going to Zion, one of the fundamentals of Rastafari. Babylon and Zion mean different things according to different interpretations of the Bible. According to Christianity and Judaism, Zion is Jerusalem. For Rastas, Zion is Africa, specifically Ethiopia.

I start to play “Africa Unite” by Bob Marley. “We moving right out of Babylon, and going to our father’s land.”

He says, Sean, you get it. Wow.

He starts talking about how he only eats good food like oysters and how he knows what the body needs. He takes care of himself. I tell him I’m vegan. For the environment. He asks me what I use for a meat substitute. I tell him I don’t think of it like that. I don’t need a substitute. Before I was vegan I would always think of dinner in terms of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Now it is just all goodness. I just eat a lot of different plants of different shapes and colors. I don’t think about everything as separate anymore.

After I play a song he tells me I have a very clear mind and it’s because of my diet.

He suddenly starts professing his love for Robert Mugabe, the 92-year-old President of Zimbabwe. So, naturally, I play “Zimbabwe.”

Then I play “So Much Trouble in the World.” The bridge goes, “So you think you found a solution, but it’s just another illusion.” And he says, Wow. To hear you play Bob Marley songs, just the chords and singing, really makes the lyrics more powerful than hearing the full band version. You understand. You know your shit.

Bob Marley and Pete both love the Bible so he inadvertently quotes Marley lyrics. When I hear one, I play that song. He says, “Why do you cry for me?” So I play “Concrete Jungle.”

He keeps talking and I keeping playing and I hope we do this again. I want to record us. We are the only people in the common areas and we are creating something beautiful and unique.

He asks me how I can play Bob Marley songs if I don’t believe in God.

I say God is just an escape from the real question. It’s a scapegoat. I don’t know the answers to the big questions but I’m not just going to say it’s all because of “God.” What a strange concept.

He changes the topic a few times and then he stands up with fists and says he quit fighting in ’89 but he is acting very aggressively right now. He tells me he used to get in fights all the time and he never won. He tells me he has fallen off of five-story buildings and he was fine. He has jumped out of cars and he was fine. He knows how to make his body absorb the impact.

He tells me the owners and the receptionists say they have become worried about him these past two weeks. But he tells them, don’t worry about me, I worry about you. God speaks to me.

He says he has lived here for five years and he loves talking to the backpackers.

“I see youze as spiritual beings,” he says.

The next day I talk to the receptionist and he tells me Pete was kicked out of the hostel a couple of hours ago.

Everyone here hates him and thought he was the crazy guy who causes trouble. I’m sad that I won’t have any more late night talks with him. I’m sad I will never see him again. I wonder where he will go.

IMG_9139.JPG
First light and the world sleeps.

A few weeks later I look through the hostel complaint book and see a series of notes:

Hostel: Other guests complained that you were behaving strangely and making them feel uncomfortable. You also left strange notes about being “the messenger and child of God.” We are a backpackers and you are not a backpacker. Sorry.

Pete: last night I was helping out in the kitchen. I am not God’s messenger. what the fuck?  im just being a dick, I love this place. The other guys accused me of stealing stuff the other night too. Does Ben have a grudge against me because I told him NOT to give you that silly shit… it was a game OK?

Hostel: You are not staying. Please leave or I will call the police. I do not like your swearing or your behavior.

Pete: what the fuck, you will regret it later. Can I please have my stuff from my room?!

Hostel: I am calling the police as you have just threatened me!

Pete: ? no I didn’t?!

Maybe Pete doesn’t exist. Maybe I made him up.

Under Construction

I’m struggling.

I left New Zealand 27 days ago and now I’m staying in the spare bedroom at my Mom’s house in Virginia.

I made a desk from two saw horses and a door I found in her garage and I’m reading through my journals. I thought I was going to be able to write something from all of this. I wanted to write a book or a series of short stories but this is hard. There is too much. I can’t process this. My brain is weak and I can’t get the big picture. I want to smoke weed to help guide me, but I need to pass a pre-employment drug screen so I can get a menial job because I’m in America.

I’m not even close to when the good stuff started. When I left the hostel and started traveling with the Irish girls and the California girl and the guy from Uruguay and the Kiwi busker we picked up. We would camp out and play music and get dirty and swim in the rivers and eat cous cous and vegetables. But I’m not there yet. Baby steps. Crawl before you can walk, right, Chris?

I’m sorry I haven’t updated my blog in a long time but I’m working on it, OK? This is going to take some time. The word document I wrote from my final month in New Zealand, when I was hitch hiking and camping and communing with nature, is 65 pages single-spaced. Most of it is word vomiting but with a bit of refinement, I believe that vomit can be turned into gold. But I’m not even close to cracking into that document. I’m at the point right now where I start to read my journals and take notes and find themes and I end up with even more hand written notes and that is just making even more work to do and then I have to stand up and walk around the house and look in the fridge even though I’m not hungry and then I go back to my “desk” and I can’t control the demon inside of me that opens up Facebook and the Reddit and then I check my e-mail but nothing has changed.

IMG_2167.JPG

I know what I need to do, what I need to write and what I need to focus on but I don’t want to say it until it is done. I feel the compulsion to read everything I’ve written in chronological order and not just jump to the good parts because I don’t know what I will have missed. And then my guitars distract me and then my Mom gets home from work.

Meanwhile, I’m broke and I need to get a job so I can buy a car and move somewhere new because I don’t want to stay here.

At first I was hesitant about Virginia. Then I watched the Washington Nationals play baseball. It’s like nothing has changed. F.P. still says, “And there goes the no-hitter” at the first hit and Bob still says, “SEE, YOU, LATER!” when we get a home run. I sat down and watched my first game in two years and I felt a sense of belonging and community with my hometown. The team has barely changed. Life goes on. I can be happy here for the summer but this is a means to an end. The Drifter in me needs to stay on the move.

Don’t fret, loyal readers, Stories From A Drifter is still running. The resident Drifter is just working out this whole life thing and trying to live while also trying to re-live the past and show people what I have experienced. I have changed. I am different than I was two years ago. Even one year ago. My year in Australia revolved around working. My year in New Zealand was about learning and growing and being a soul rebel, soul adventurer, soul capturer. I’m here. I’m working on it. I promise (eek!) something good will come. But I can’t say when.

Everything was so easy in New Zealand. I had my rucksack on my back and my guitar in my hand and all I had to do was stick out my thumb and after a few minutes or a few hours I would summon a car. Some kind soul would give me teleportation, conversation and positive vibrations and then I would end up at the next campsite, pitch my tent, eat my oats and breathe the air. Constant high speed Internet, cable television and hot showers didn’t distract life in New Zealand. Life was simple over there. I was a wild animal. We all are.

Ahh, it feels good to write.

Strangers

“Can you keep an eye on my stuff while I go peeing into the wilds?”

The German hitch hikers asks as she places her bags next to my van.

My van is overheating so I pulled over on the gravel car park at the bottom of the Cardrona Ranges to let her cool down. I’m practicing some songs to pass the time. The hitch hiker came over to ask if she can borrow a piece of paper and a marker to make a sign. She is headed to Cromwell to start a WOOFing job on a farm in two days.

“I wish I were just a backpacker like you,” I say and explain the problems that come with owning an old van.

“I wish I had a van like you,” she replies.

“What color are your eyes?”

The French violinist asks before he leaves and I take off my sunglasses.

I’m busking at the grocery store in Wanaka and they stop to listen with their big backpacks. They are carrying everything they own. He has a slim and shiny, jade-green hard case.

They emerge with food ten minutes later and he approaches me.

“Can I play with you? I don’t want any money,” he asks.

“Actually, I have a problem. I’m going on a hike tomorrow and this is too heavy,” he says as he reaches into his pocket and drops a couple of coins in my case.

“Do you need to know the chords or do you just want to follow along?” I ask.

“I’ll figure it out,” he says with confidence.

“All right, how about Jammin by Bob Marley?”

“Perfect.”

I start to play the chords and he immediately picks out the melody. I sing the verses and the chorus and he follows along like we have been practicing this song for years. I play the chords and he has a solo then I sing again.

There’s a Kiwi family standing in front of us with smiles and the father gives his daughter a few dollars to put in my case.

I thank him. He is Xander from France and I’m Sean from the States. I give him the pack of milk chocolate biscuits that someone left in my case because I don’t eat dairy. He says, we will probably see each other again, I’m the guy with the violin. And I say, Yeah, New Zealand is so small.

He turns around and a couple has been watching us. The man says, “Xander?!” And they can’t believe they have met again. They share a kiss on either cheek. It has been ten years. They are friends from back home in France and Xander tells me he knew his friend was in New Zealand, but he forgot to message him and he can’t believe they met right here.

New Zealand is so small.

“I usually hate guys with a beard and that hat but you are fucking inspiring standing there with your guitar.”

The drunk tourist from Denmark says as we share a six pack of Blue Moon on a bench on the Queenstown Mall late on a Friday. He starts to punch an imaginary douche bag in front of him. I’m wearing my plain black beanie that holds my hair up out of my face.

It is my first time playing late in the night like this and a group of 18-year-olds from New Caledonia are sitting on the bench next to me drinking tall cans of beer. They have been listening to me for at least a half-hour and they throw in 20 cents and then offer me a beer.

The man from Denmark sits on the end of the bench and when I finish a song he leans forward and asks, “Can you play Stairway To Heaven?”

I start to play and sing and when I get to the third verse, I start to fumble the lyrics. He says, I knew you couldn’t play the whole thing, but I am going to buy us a six pack because I want to drink with you.

“Ok,” I say.

It’s a much different scenario busking at night. Instead of being ignored, everyone wants to request a song.

“What can you play?” Uhh.

“Can you play any Ed Sheeran?” Who?

“Do you know any Bruno Mars?” No.

“Play us a love song!”Ok.

I stop to look at the set list taped to the back of my guitar and a woman with frizzy hair and a green stone necklace stops with a big drunken smile and asks if she can pick a song.

“Lonely Boy!”

“Good choice.”

I start to rock out and when I start singing she dances and smiles and then she walks away.

I’ve been playing for over three hours today, with a break in the middle, and I decide to call it a night. But it’s a dangerous game sitting on the Queenstown mall with a guitar case and beers.

Three gray-haired English men walk up and ask what I’m doing and where I’m from.

“The States. Virginia.”

“Ahh, that’s John Denver country.”

And now I have to play Country Roads.

They give me five dollars and I think this is a pretty good life.

“Do you know how to play Wonderwall? I knew a busker once who could play Wonderwall.”

The Kiwi chef asks after he welcomes me into his car at midnight on a Friday.

“Uhh… I mean I know the chords but I haven’t memorized it,” I say. “Wait, are you taking the piss?”

“Fuck yeah I’m taking the piss!” he laughs.

I thought I might struggle to get a ride this late on a Friday night, but I stuck out my thumb and he was the first to drive by. I knew from the second I saw his shitty little sedan that he would stop.

Shiny, new cars never pick up hitch hikers.