It all comes back to one thing.
category: Travel

So I’m in this beat-up bus, creaking and wheezing along like some geriatric love scene, sweating burst water balloons, smeared all over the back seat. Barely a month into my travels, bamboozled by an overabundance of baggage, I’m chasing waves on the back of a rumour and the heels of a storm.

Hauling my load into the back of the bus in the midday heat, surfboards and all, I caught the driver’s glare through the rearview mirror and he clearly didn’t like what he saw. How I got away without paying twice for it all, I honestly don’t know. We’d agreed beforehand that he’d tell me where to get off, so I felt relaxed enough to lean back and let my mind wander the glittering dreamscapes of my newfound freedom.

As it turns out, I wandered a touch too far, so when the driver slammed the bus to a halt beside a lonely tree and dusty path and shouted ‘Acqui esta, amigo’, I didn’t think twice – grabbed my shit and in a clumsy thump, landed at the start of a diabolical and freakishly perplexing journey through a tropical abyss. There’s a schoolgirl standing in the shade of the tree, fixing me with an unequivocal stare that says ‘not many of your kind step off here’.

There comes a point in travel where you fall so far off course, even language fails you.

I point down the only road and ask her in my elementary Spanish, “It’s there for Barra de la Cruz?

She nods, in a sense, but is still giving me that look.

I ask her, “Where is the beach?

Given the entire western horizon is the Pacific Ocean, it’s probably not my best question but there’s something in her stare that unnerves me, makes me feel I need to keep talking.

How many minutes walking to the beach?”




“Very good, thank you very much!” Ten felt a good answer to me.

What I now know is that when language fails you, it’s your ability to decode the vacant stare – and then act on it that can make or break your mission. I can still hear the sound of my instinct screaming at me but in the moment ‘ten’ was all she needed to say to blind me, so I strapped up, hit the road, grin of blissful stupidity restored.

About 100m later I reach a fork in the road. Just ahead are three old men on a porch. I walk over, working up a diabolical sweat already, feeling slightly awkward approaching them in that state…but best to double-up on directions and be sure, right?

“Good afternoon, gentlemen, which way for Barra de la Cruz?”

Big smiles, “Barra de la Cruuuuzzzz…” followed by this goddamn blank stare.

Uuuhm…yes…Barra de la Cruz. I am a surfer, I am looking for the waves. Which way is the beach?”

Ahhh, yes, yes…there.” He points down the left fork.

There?” I point left too.

He nods. They all smile and nod. It smells fishy as a motherfucker…but I thank them nonetheless and continue on my way.

About 15 minutes in the sweat’s pooling in my slops and my feet slide straight off them. I put shoes on. The first true fangs of doubt start to pierce my brain. I pull half a bottle of water from my bag, stare at it, put it back in the bag.

I come over a rise and see the land arcing way off into the distance, not a hint of civilization to be seen…save for one man walking across the hills with a TV on his head. Makes little sense. I shout across to him, “Helloooo! Which way to the hostals?” Without pause he points to the beach and says, “Straight ahead!” The speed and confidence of his response restore my hope and I can hear the ocean now. So I keep walking. And walking. And walking.

45 minutes later I’m cursing that schoolgirl and the old man in a most shameful way. Vile things spilling from my mouth…it’s too bloody hot and there’s too little shade, so I swear and I shake my fists at the sun and the Gods.

The path then descends into the jungle and for each metre it falls, the temperature rises a degree. Or two. I’m sweating so much my shorts are wet. Obviously, timing being the perfect beast it is, the path reaches a swamp and disappears completely. It’s at this moment, staring into the slush, that I remember what a good friend once said…never turn back. What goes in must come out.

So I’m in up to my knees with a two backpacks and a double-boardbag. Even the bugs are making their play and really, it’s making fuck-all sense to me now but all I can do is keep – moving – forward. I emerge from the swamp in a filthy stink and the sound of a pounding sea drags me from this pungent jungle cave back into a rapist sun. I drop everything in the sand, take a few short steps, splash my face with my t-shirt and try absorb the unfathomable expanse of jungle, beach and ocean stretching as far as I can see in either direction – not one jiggly molecule of man to be seen. If it wasn’t so utterly demoralising it could’ve been quite beautiful.

There looks to be another path further down the beach but what I find is something deeply chilling. The stench hits my nostrils long before I reach them – twenty, maybe thirty enormous turtle shells, rotting remains of the beautiful creatures that once were, ripped apart by the vultures eyeballing me from the trees above. They’re massive, some of the shells easily a metre wide. I feel nauseous. It’s an ending unnecessarily macabre for creatures so tormented by nature. It’s as if some ghoulish feast has taken place under the cover of darkness, something wholly unnatural and I can’t bear look at it.

Far down the beach I spot two kids fishing with a net in the shorebreak. I walk over to greet them and they fix me with that now infuriating vacancy, as if they’d never seen a white man before. Maybe they hadn’t. I ask them in very straightforward Spanish if they know of a little village called Barra de la Cruz, a place with tourists like myself, people with surfboards, where travellers stay in hostals. But they simply stare, saying nothing, almost as if they’re not even thinking. Just…staring. The anger starts to boil, I feel an urge to shout but realised how pointless, how arrogant that would be. I ask where the nearest village is and one lifts his arm ever so slowly, points in a northerly direction. I thank him and continue.

By now I’m so bewildered it’s becoming comical. My major concern is water, only a few sips left by this point. That little witch in her school uniform disguise! Her ten minutes have become two hours and I’m undeniably a shitload further from my destination than when we met.

I keep plodding along, now following a rising plume of smoke in the far distance – a sure sign of man. Truth is, irrespective of my own welfare, the story only improves by me moving forward. So another half hour or so later, through more jungle, across more pastures and pan-fried plains, I come across two rancheros.

Excuse me gentlemen, please please help me…I am very VERY lost.”

Yes…yes you are.”

I explain myself but they’re absolutely clueless as to where I’m heading and simply offer a direction to the main road, so on and on I go. I come to a fence, climb through it. I come to a gate, push it open. I come to a horse trough, rest. Been walking around three hours now, water’s long gone and I’m feeling incredibly pensive.

An old woman spots me through the trees, calls me over. I can tell by her gracious but tentative smile that I must be a frightening shade of red. She hurriedly offers me a chair under the shade of a tree and a glass of cold water. We exchange pleasantries but I’m restless and out of place, so express my deepest gratitude and make moves to leave but she urges me to rest for a little while longer.

In time she points me to the main road, where the next phase of mystery begins. I stand there, on a broken concrete sidewalk, watching the shadows crawl around me, hoisting my thumb to every vehicle that passes – cars, taxis, pick-ups, minivans, tour busses, 18-wheelers, anything with wheels but dusty gusts are all they offer. Small victories.

But then a bus arrives, same as the one that dropped me off all those hours ago. It pulls over, I run to the door and beg the driver, “Please, I am very lost. I want to go to Barra de la Cruz – can you help me?

He nods, “Yes, yes. I don’t have problem.

Elated, “Thank you very much, I’m going to take my bags.”

As I’m jogging alongside the bus to get them, he slams his foot on the pedal, drops me like a tin can in the dust. Far as I can recall, I didn’t turn to watch him leave, just stood up straight, stared back down the road from whence the fucker came, not looking at anything in particular and neither was I surprised…it was just one of those days.

So I stood for another long while, kicking stones, stretching my legs, chewing grass, wringing my t-shirt, repeating the motions – another hundred vehicles, another hundred clouds of dust. Eventually another blue bus heeds my call. I run up to the door and am practically on my knees, begging of him, “Please sir, PLEASE. I need your help. I am very, very lost. I want to go to the next town. Will you help me?

Yes, yessss.

Very good! Thank you very much. I’m going to take my bags, they’re over there. Will you wait a short moment for me?”

“Yes.” He nods his head.

I give him one last look of assurance, two thumbs up. He nods again.

I run this time, urgent strides beside the bus. I get my fists around the handles of my bags…and his foot hits the floor. He practically wheelspins, in a bus. But this time round I snap and unleash. I’m flipping the bird, I’m flapping my arms, I’m shouting, “ARE – YOU – FUCKING – KIDDING – ME? SERIOUSLY? YOU MOTHERF…! YOUR MOTHER’S A F…I HOPE YOUR CHILDREN F…”…and, well, yes, you can imagine.

And so one of those profoundly helpless moments descends upon me, ego’s on the floor like a naked baby in the dust. No one to call, time the only source of hope. So I surrendered completely, just let it all go, plucked another stem of grass to chew, sat down and had a good little chuckle. Such a refreshing and wonderful sensation it was, rolling over the tipping point like a kid on grassy hill, feeling pure bitterness at the world become a simple appreciation of its comedy.

And like magic, like all the great sages say – let go and the answer shall present itself. So in about as much time as it took me to chew the sweet juices from my stem, a white double-cab pulls up on the other side of the road and a woman calls to me, “Hey! Where you going?”

I look at her, I look left, I look right. This is no mirage, this is no savage trickery. I run across to her car. She’s absolutely beautiful and she’s here to help me. Her gorgeous daughter sits quietly in the passenger seat. Two glorious visions here to save me! They say they’ve driven past twice and wondered who or what I was waiting for. I try to explain my destination but they’ve never heard of it, so they tell me to ‘Hop in, let’s figure this thing out!

We drive from house to house, asking people they know for clues but nobody has any. Meanwhile, ludicrous fantasies play themselves out in my head and suddenly I’m living this simple life raising a family on small farm in Mexico with my beautiful wife…and people ask how we met and she tells the story of how she and her Mum found me chewing grass on the side of the road one day.

Because, truth is…these things happen all the time, random and impossible tales with unimaginable twists. Why wouldn’t you believe in it? I mean, one of the most impossible tales in the entire known universe is the fact that we’re all here, alive, on a tiny fucking ball of stardust, spinning around in space! Remember that next time you find yourself thinking, “Never! That’ll never happen…”

Anyways, back on earth, we pull into some eco-resort and the owner takes me to a huge map of the coast painted across her wall. I find my destination and ask where exactly we are…and I have to take four big strides across the floor to match the two. We burst out laughing, I’m absolutely nowhere.

My saviour says that, sadly, she can’t drive me that far but will make damn sure the next bus driver does! I hauled my gear from the car, cast a fearful glance at the sun beating down on the spot where I was to wait for the next bus…and on cue, the next bus arrived.

She walks straight into the middle of the road with her hair and her eyes and her skin and her jeans and her boots and everything…and in one fateful snap of time, my fantasy vanished like dawn’s last dream, my day was saved and I fell a little in love with two Mexican angels.

Another three hours, two busses, a taxi and a long walk later, I crossed from the land to the sea and rode waves until the moon and I walked home together.

Moral of the story? Go! Go get lost, never turn back…and be wary of little witches in school uniforms.



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category: Travel

Five days ago I found myself staring into a deep bloody hole in my arm, courtesy the pointy end of someone else’s surfboard – an incident hot on the heels of a brutal two-week sinus infection. Then, two days ago, in what I pray was the last sour twist to this southward cocktail, I landed my third case of food poisoning in six weeks. It has, by most accounts, been a pretty rough ride in Tapachula…

So here I find myself, one week shy of leaving Mision Mexico, pondering the indelible marks this experience has left on my body and soul.

I’d been drifting south for a couple months before arriving here, quietly scouring Mexico’s infamous western coastline, one riddled with jungles and dirt roads, cold beers and coconuts, palms and pointbreaks – the first chapter of a lengthy adventure through Central and South America.

My thinking was to punctuate my selfish surf-centred endeavor with something on the other end of the spectrum…where I’d spend a little time giving rather than taking. And after seeing the trailer for Somewhere near Tapachula four years earlier, the choice of how I’d do it was a simple one.

Now, I’ve led an incredibly privileged life to this point and being very well aware of it, consider myself humble…but perspective is an interesting beast. Philosophising about outcomes unknown is a shallow exercise at best, as it’s only once we sink ourselves into an experience can we truly measure the value of it. To put it simply, over the last two months, my benchmarks have been totally redefined.

Looking back, it’s clear my grasp on things such as humility, patience, gratitude and privilege was a fragile one. Incredible fortune has indeed befallen me to have had my perspectives overhauled like this – and it makes me wonder how infinitely different the world could be if we all had ours overhauled on a regular basis…

Many things frightened me before coming here – most of all was how I’d balance the knowledge of their sickening histories (unspeakable physical and sexual abuse) with the necessity for discipline. For instance, what gave me the right to discipline someone who’d been repeatedly abused by her grandmother’s boyfriends, or strung up by rope and burned with cigarettes?

Coupled with that, who was I to be thrust into a fleeting position of authority, without having earned it? Or how would I command respect, without having earned that either? How would I navigate the psychology and social dynamics of 40 kids, from toddlers to 22 year olds? Safe to say I felt I ill-equipped.

But what I’ve learned is that they’re all exactly that – they’re children – and lucky ones at that. Not only lucky to have been plucked from the horrors of life, but also lucky to be afforded a new one full of childhood luxuries – a big home, swimming pool, new clothes, cool gear, computers, cellphones, surfboards and skateboards, playgrounds, weekly trips to the beach, a big circle of friends and most of all, a caring and supportive environment.

But there are pitfalls here and they’re clear to see. Being the children they are, if one’s not careful, these luxuries will be taken for granted – and therein lies the biggest challenge. How do you instill a lasting sense of worth and gratitude? How do you teach the value, humility and respect? How do you create a sense of perspective and work ethic?

The simple fact is these questions are best directed at those running the show, not someone passing through for a month or two. There’s only so much you can do in 60 days, especially when it takes 30 of them to create anything resembling an honest connection.

So then what’s a volunteer to offer? The simple things I think – love, kindness, helping hands, massive hugs…and medium (to strong) pepperings of discipline from time to time. With the skippers Pam and Alan Skuse drawing on a seemingly bottomless well of forces just to the keep the ship on course, a great deal of the daily care and teaching falls on the volunteers’ shoulders, which is perhaps a blessing and a curse.

Make no mistake, this is incredibly hard work – the hours are long, the days are brutally hot; the hungry little screaming, laughing, crying, fighting noise-machines have a dizzying amount of energy to burn and will burn yours too if you’re not wise to their ways. You will teach, you will play, you will cook and you will cry. You will probably get sick and believe me, you will appreciate silence in ways you’ve never dreamt possible. These little animals will deceive you, unnerve you, hurt you, scare you, overwhelm you and just when you think you’re on top of it all, you’ll find yourself on the bottom, looking up.

But soon enough, something special will happen…something will melt your heart and make you crumble. It’s unlikely you’ll see it coming, one day you may just walk through the door and suddenly seven beaming little faces scream your name and you’ll be the warm, gooey centre in a spontaneous group hug. Maybe you’ll decide to take the kids swimming and find yourself vicariously reliving the feverish delight of kicking caution in the nuts and leaping into the pool, into an open pair of arms – before you can actually swim! Perhaps it’ll be the moment when you accidentally reprimand the wrong person, and after offering your favourite five year old an honest, humble apology, he looks at you through teary eyes, and failing to hide his smile, shakes your outstretched hand.

It could happen when you push a young dude into his first wave, he rides it to the beach, and turning to you he smiles that surfer’s breakthrough smile. What about the moment when you find a little person crying, and you dig deep for something to cheer her up, and when she laughs you feel like the hero of the day? Ever felt that before? Has a child ever said to you, ‘You’re my favourite!’ I mean, it’s…it’s one of the most incredible feelings on earth.

I’d had practically no zero experience with children and these little people have surprised me at every turn, in ways both good and bad. Like most of the juiciest fruits in life, the real beauty’s in the small things, the fleeting moments and private connections we share with each other – though I fear it takes a serious amount of work and understanding to reach the point where we’re able to truly appreciate them. It’s taken me nearly 33 years to find an honest point of clarity as to what really matters in this life.

And when I think of Mision Mexico, this is what scares me. Pam and Alan are 14 years into this journey, with a long road still ahead and there’s a huge amount of work to be done. This little (big) family needs a lot of help – help of all kinds – though if there are people out there reading this story, questioning (like I did) the level of meaning and value in their lives, here’s a little corner of the world crying out for your hands and heart.

But as I was saying, there was a hole in my arm. It’s stitched up now but for the rest of my life I’ll have a little reminder of what really matters in life, a scar from a time where my spirit was directed at something really meaningful, and was hopefully truly valued. For the rest of my days I’ll look at this indelible print of a place in the world where I saw true altruism at work and I’ll have a benchmark against which I can measure the success of my own life, wherever this wonderful road may take me.

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category: Travel

Wrote all this in various times and in various states of mind – high, low, tired, giddy, lazy, uninspired and in awe. For various reasons I’ve neglected this blog but my journals are full of words, full of details and coffee stains and dead insects and dried flowers and ash and sketches and the full-spectrum of emotions that colour time on the road. Here is but a tiny swipe across the surface of it all.


On Pioneering, Exploring & Big Fat Bottoms 

I surfed a wave that’s never been surfed before. Yessir, snatched a little slice of history from right under the locals’ noses. I believe that makes me a pioneer, thank you very much.

So I’m paddling one of the classic longboards this dude Tiola has stacked in his beach restaurant, sliding it along the toes of cliffs plunging into the sea. I’m looking for La Elephante – a giant arch of rock rumoured to look exactly like…well…like an elephant.

But first, I pass the caves – a network of huge black tunnels in an epic wall of stone. I come upon the entrance to two of them in an amphitheatre of rocks, some falling into the sea, some rising out of it. I sit up on my board and let the push and pull of the swells guide me into the forked mouth of both tunnels. It’s a swirling dome of rock and reverberation. Little pyramids of water leap and fall and toss me around as if in some liquid rodeo.

Using my hands like little propellers, I ease myself into the dead-end cavern, breathing deep the misty air while salty droplets rain down from the ceiling. Boulders roll and tumble, slamming against underwater walls, stone cracks on stone and thumping echoes fill the chamber. Foamy water hisses and bubbles and rays of light dance on the cave’s shadowed skin. Swallowed me whole it did. My jaw hung low, my arms spread wide. A moment I won’t soon forget.

I slipped back out of the cave, paddled around a bend and there it was – a towering arch of rock, 30m high and an unmistakable match of our African treasure. Two giant legs, cracks and dimples for eyes and ears and a trunk falling into the water, as if he was sucking up the Pacific ocean. I paddle from one side to the other, observing the flow of water. Figure I could make a dash through it. The swells roll in, bounce off the cliff and push back through the arch.

I wait for the next big wave, letting it slip beneath me to hit the wall a few meters away. I time the rebound, put my head down and gun it for the entrance. Three strokes and the wave shoots me into the mouth but with more speed than I imagined, so I leap to my feet and in a swift, dazzling moment – again with arms spread wide – I exit the arch and become the first person to ride La Elephante.

[Note – I told the story to Mapache, a young dude whose humble shack sits on the headland above La Elephante, under the biggest tree and with the best view in town. He’s lived there for all his life, 30 years, and his father even longer. Both confirmed its never been done before. So that one’s for you, Africa, because I love you so.]

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Given the dire lack of swell, I took to exploring the coastline on kayaks and longboards. You see, the weather was as flawless as one could ask – cloudless skies all day, every day; a hot yet sensitive sun that never seems to anger; light winds. Everything perfectly aligned for ocean travel on dinky crafts.

So one morning I took the kayak for a lengthy coastal cruise. Paddled a couple km’s between coves and cliffs until I found a deserted beach. Landed the boat, stayed for a while, let some of that sun-soaked solitude rinse the far reaches of my soul…floating on my back, staring up at the sky, listening to little stones clinking along the ocean bed. Myself and the Pacific, breathing in, breathing out.

Paddled back in a following sea, small slow swells lifting the back of the boat, gently nudging me along. About a kilometer from home, the kayak starts poking her nose in the air, swaying side to side every time a wave passes beneath me. I consider it quietly and keep stroking but it only grows worse. Soon enough, I can barely balance on the bloody tugboat and her fat arse is clearly resistant to motion. I’m suspicious of an extra load and when I try flipping the beast, realise she’s swallowed more than she could handle.

So, a long way from home, I face two choices: a) harden the fuck up and keep paddling, or b) get in the water and drag her back. Tempted by the idea of setting my fearsome strength upon on this fat, floundering whale, I climb back aboard but the water inside it either floods the front or bumrushes the back and seven seconds later I’m back in the sea, swimming the chunky slut home.

I expected much fanfare upon landing but was soon reminded that expectations
are one of our most useless mental endeavours…and settled into a cold beer instead.

On Booze, Basics & Rooms at The End of The Road

I often wish you were here, I think about how much you’d love it. I saw this room perched on the side of the rocks, high tide rinsing its toes. It was the last one, nobody in front, just the Pacific and the boulders and the beach, 180 degrees of the natural world. Figured it’d be beyond my budget, especially after two weeks of post-orphanage indulgence.

I asked anyway, suggested I’d stay for a week, maybe more. Said money was tight, and that maybe the $10 room back along the beach was better for me – they said no, please, I should take the best room, for $10 too. And after accepting their offer, immediately, Carmen gently suggested I drink my coffee at theirs in the mornings.

I moved all my stuff down on the Sunday evening but Sunday’s aren’t the best days down at the beach. You see, everyone pulls in from the city, slamming into the tranquility with their whoops and booze and cameras and kids and they book the beach rooms for the day to let it all hang out. One troop was dominating my balcony when I arrived, with a 250kg matriarch somehow elevated in a weeping hammock…wearing a bikini. I shit you not, she waved to me with bedroom (or overweight) eyes and her hand still buried in a packet of chips and chilli sauce. Beside her lay bottles, chicken bones and prawn shells, all sucked dry and wallowing in the company of flies. Bon Jovi rattling the screws of their plastic hi-fi. Pretty savage stuff. I dumped my bags and retreated to the sea to wait out the clearing of the trough.

I can barely put into words the sense of completeness I felt on that first night, swinging in my hammock, awash in the closeness of it all. It took a few nights to get used to how loud the ocean was. Even without waves, on its flattest days, the volume was mysteriously all-consuming. And the stars, my god, the stars. I lay and swung and stared at them for hours and hours, ignoring every thought until there was none left to think, simply looking up at space, staring at infinity. And then I’d think of you.

It wasn’t much more than a day or two before I decided to just wait it out, wait for a swell. Some travellers like to move, leaping from one experience to the next, squeezing every drop from the worldly fruits until they collapse in a beaming heap. I’m not one of them. I like staying. I like getting to know the chef, the fishermen, the surfers, the kids, the dogs (so when one bites you, you know where the fucker lives). I like feeling connections bloom, seeing expressions brighten and there’s nothing better than when invites start to flow – be it to make pizza with the ladies, catch mussels with the men or share the alcoholic fisherman’s homemade booze in his rank and rumpled plastic bottle.

I untied the knots of clocks and manmade time, left the irrelevant rags lying on a dusty road somewhere between here and there. Didn’t need much more than the sun and the moon, the tides high and low, the heat and the cool, winds on or off. What unparalleled pleasure it is to let the air and sky and movements of space decide how we tumble around between the sheets of life.

And so it went. The bliss of one week turned to two and two into three.

Right up until it wasn’t so blissful anymore.

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On Janice

I was standing on my balcony one afternoon, savouring something of some sort, could’ve been anything really, and I noticed her prowling the beach – middle-aged, plump, frumpy, dangerously curious. Saw her eyeing out my pad, poking her friend, pointing…then she starts for the stairs and my heart sinks. Mentally, I fall to my knees and beg the gods but still she climbs, on and up until there she is, standing on my balcony.

“Halloooowwwww? Hiiiiiiiiiii-eeeee!” With that upward inflection that makes every sentence sound like a question.

“Hi.” Frosty.

“Are you staying here?”


“Wow. It looks amazing. Is this room next to yours free?”

“Uuuhm, not sure. You’ll need to chat to the owners.”

“Oh right, right…yeah…do you mind me asking how much you’re paying?”

“Uuuhm, well, it depends on how long you’re staying. You’ll have to ask the owners. Those rooms over there are cheaper, pretty sure no one’s staying there.” Should’ve told her it was $50 a night.

Unwavering, “Yeah, yeaaahhh, riiiight…this one looks grrreeeeeat, do you know where I can find the owners.”

Next minute, Janice is my neighbour, so lemme tell you a bit about our Janice. She swims with a shower cap and BlueBlockers. She drags her plastic chair across the rough concrete balcony, scraping it inch-by-inch until she finds the perfect bloody spot for the damn thing. Janice gets a violent, dry, hacking cough when she drinks ‘pop’ or coffee…but, or course, she’s addicted to pop and coffee. She’s absolutely mastered the vacant stare . Janice cannot tolerate darkness, so she has a penchant for torches. Big fucking torches. Lots of ‘em.

At night, when I used to lie in my hammock and look at the stars in absolute bliss, Janice now reads her book by a light bright enough to catch the attention of passing cargo ships…passing Japan. And since Janice has to have the apocalyptic epicenter of this cosmic beacon pointing at the exact word she’s reading, she slides the torch from left to right, whipping and splaying light from the Eastern horizon to West and back again, blinding every goddamn thing in its path. Even boulders were heard saying, “Sweet Jesus, is this the second coming?”

I asked her kindly on my last night, before she lay down on her hammock, if she wouldn’t mind facing the other direction while she read, so I didn’t have to watch her floodlight illuminating Orion’s Belt, to which she replied without a millisecond’s thought, “No, Andrew. I don’t WANT to face the other way. And once I’m comfortable, I DON’T want to have to move again.” She didn’t look even remotely comfortable. In fact, she never looked comfortable, almost as if something was probing her bottom most hours of the day.

Later, to stop myself from snapping, leaping and tipping her straight over the balcony, I said, “Janice, if you could – at the very least – hold your floodlight still, that would be really great.” She tried, and predictably, failed. Quickly.

What Janice also loves are her simple pleasures, like eating, coughing, stargazing, scratching her legs, funny sentences and such. She loves them so much that little sounds slip from her mouth on the moistness of delight – little coos and moans and squeals and squeaks, as if some (poor, twisted) gentleman had his face buried between her thighs.

One day, the family and I are about to head off to the La Libertad market. Janice decides to come but sees she’ll have to ride on the back of the bakkie.

“OHHH! Oh dear, oh no…oh I dunno if I can…uuuhm…”

“Oh Janice…what’s the matter?”

“Uuuhm, do I have to go in the back?”

“Yes, the baby’s in the front.”

“Man. Ok. Man. Have you done this before?”

“You know Janice, oddly enough, I have, thousands of times. I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”

“Oh dear, ok. I did it once in high school. They banned it after.”





“Never mind.”

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On El Maestro, El Profesor & El Viejo

The first night I ate in the family restaurant, we were serenaded by an old man, The Old Man – El Viejo. He wore his Stetson-style hat; he wore his machete in a tasseled leather sheath, tucked into his belt. Before each song he’d clear his throat and spit on the ground in a way that would horrify your mother. I found it quite endearing. He sings songs of love, poverty, drunkenness and revolution. He’s been playing the guitar for 40 years, as did his father, who died of alcoholism. As such, he only drinks sodas. His name is Tomas, he’s 65 and he’s the Don of Playa Palmarcito. He’s El Maestro.

Tomas became my guardian. He slept in a hammock around the corner from my room because he felt it his duty to protect me. We’d wake up at first light, he’d rake his dusty floor, I’d sweep my balcony. We’d walk to the restaurant to drink coffee and teach each other our respective languages. He’s El Profesor.

Tomas and I built a rock wall together. Though on the first day, a rock slipped while I was lifting a big piece of driftwood with my shoulder. It landed square on the middle of my big toe, absolutely middled it. I yanked my foot from the rock sandwich and walked away with pain steaming from my ears, took off my shoe and it was as blue as blue can be. It’s an extraordinary pain that one, which grows and grows until you’re incapable of keeping still. It wasn’t long before I held flame to a needle and needle to nail and let the juices run wild and free. The relief…well, extraordinary too. Hopefully one day this dry, scabby excuse for a toe will be good for chewing once again.

Tomas, though, continued on, day after day after day. He’d lift huge boulders onto his shoulder and carry them to the wall. He’d shovel sand for hours, and take to boulders too big with a pickaxe. May I remind you he’s 65. Mind you, Tomas also took four siestas every day – 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm. Asleep by 8 or 9. That’s the ticket.

We caught mussels together, we swam together, we laughed together. When I walked into the restaurant, he’d leap up and ask me what I wanted. If it was coffee, he’d shout at the matriarchs, “Oi, oi…Andres quieres un café! Café por Andres, Andres. Café!” I always felt obliged to follow with pacifying sentences, assuring them I was in no rush at all, when they were ready, and other such things.

We made a huge bonfire for my farewell, biggest piece of wood I’ve ever seen on a blaze. The whole family came down. I recorded videos of his songs so I could take his voice with me, and the sound of him hacking and spitting too. I never got tired of it and found it even more amusing to watch the surprised look on people’s faces who saw/heard it for the first time. I often thought of my Mum and how she’d have reacted…

Saying goodbye to Tomas was very hard. There were tears. Again.

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On Everything In Between

I was walking back from the shop, having bought more toilet paper to deal with yet another case of the shits, when I was invited to lunch with three men – father and two sons, El Salvadorian gangsters. Miraculously, my affliction let up for enough hours for us to drink a bottle of good whisky and eat some of the finest steak I’ve ever come across.

I’ve been bitten by dogs, stung by sea creatures, and stitched inside and out. I’ve had more diarrhea in the last five months than I’ve had in the last five years. I just picked a scab on my shin, only when I tried to bend and roll it between my fingers, as you do, I realised it wasn’t a scab at all – it was a shard of my surfboard. Damn thing’s been buried in there for a week.

In a stroke of classic cosmic poetry, I met a fellow African – Kenny – who’s a science teacher in San Salvador and a musician with a #1 hit in Malawi. He rents an apartment in the sky and I slept in, on and above the clouds for four indescribably magical days. At night, the city below turned into a vast, winding river of stars that made space look awkwardly naked.

One of the most unforgettable days of my trip so far was spent with Rosemary, who owns the house in the sky. We made fresh ceviche and took five hours to eat it while classical music filled the air around us. We drank cold beer and the better part of a bottle of tequila and like a handful of my favourite women have done before, she drank me under the table. Listening to her speak Spanish was utterly mesmerising…words like fireflies dancing in the dark, like dolphins swimming through a phosphorescent ocean under a full moon, like watching flames light up a desert sky while you’re wrapped the arms of your best friends and tears run down your faces.

These are the kinds of times that make me think the universe might indeed be a conspiratorial force – some bundle of omniscient energy plugged into every one of us, playing dirty tricks on us, dropping little crumbs to help us find our way through the jungles of life, giving us little gifts when we need ‘em most. Maybe there really is something out there and in here reminding us not to get too big for our boots, not to be greedy fools who just take and take and take…and to rather give and give and give, to treat each other cool and be grateful and warm and loving and kind and all that good shit.

Why wouldn’t you anyway?

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category: Travel

First published in a couple weeks back…

This is a little story about what can happen to people who come second.

The Great Rock n’ Roll Surf Swindle – take a year off, ride the world’s waves, have the time of your life, and tell the stories. I mean, come on, seriously? Far as competitions go, few come as effective as this.

Soon as I saw the advert for it, pretty bland black and white double pager, I knew – and I mean felt my life whip round a bend, tearing off in an entirely new direction. It was breathless, jarring and in hindsight, set off a chain of events that have been as personally defining as any I’ve ever had.

Over the years leading up to that point, a distant dream of mine had slipped quietly into that dusty old corner of the mind where all the big dreams go to die…but in the time it took to read few short sentences, a luminous spotlight hit that thing, whole room went deathly silent. No noise, no questions, no doubt.

Doubt. One of those evil little concoctions of the mind designed to protect a safe, regressive, cotton wool existence. What a breathtaking luxury it is in life to face something as monumental as this…against a backdrop of cerebral silence.

Well, my old friend, you asked for a little clarity? Here it is, in black and white.

Moments before I saw those two pages, the fire of my big dream lay in embers, a passive slumber. Far as the story of big dreams goes, ‘passive slumber’ is something to which most of us can relate…right up until someone brings kerosene to the slumber party.

Months passed as life and thoughts were completely devoured by the possibility of things…but the twist in this tale was one I did not see, as all good twists should be. We were up until offensive hours editing that last video, after which I lay awake in my lover’s bed, staring at her hair until the sun handed my deadline to me. It all made so much sense, as if the Universe was making all the necessary arrangements. Even fell for the near-perfect woman only weeks before, a common signal one’s about to leave town.

In what was clearly a sluggish dash for the airport to get to Joburg for my sister’s wedding, I missed my flight, caught the next one, Dad forgot to pick me up on the other side, arrived home to see final tweaks on the video, approved the send, got lost on the way to the wedding, ran down the aisle fixing my tie while my sister softly said the words ‘I do’.

Couple days later the email from John and Iain (said kerosene bandits) reads, “Dear Andrew – we know this must be incredibly hard for you to swallow but…yadda yadda…Craig is the winner”. Got up, walked a couple steps to my childhood room, collapsed onto the bed, face first in the pillow, four words ricocheting around this dead space where dreams were supposed to be exploding to life - I can’t go back, I can’t go back. 

So I accepted an invitation to be Guest Editor of theBOMBsurf magazine and hauled up to Durban for one of my life’s most memorable tangents – a stirring patchwork of life’s little pleasures; cold beer, hot nights, wild rides, questionable decisions, good time blank spots, sleepless leaps into surf wagons bound for northern points, sleepless eyes at the doors of printing houses. The whole nine yards.

I felt privileged to be playing a part in theBOMBsurf story but something was painfully wrong, same thing which nearly caused me to sail past a deadline without any presentable work to speak of – I wanted what the winner had, and cared for little else.

You see, I kept hearing these words I’d said aloud to my good friend Sam one late boozy night. Said if I didn’t win this thing, I’d do it on my own terms instead. Looked him in the eye, shook his hand.

Six months and two issues of the magazine later, the words still tormented me. So I quit and swiftly wrapped up my Durban affairs – retrieved R2K in bail money from the cops (which I owed to John, who paid it for me the morning after our second night out together); took the lip of 6ft tube on the pip, mincing one of the discs in my spine; pushed the boat out too far at my Cool Runnings farewell…and moved to Joburg to make cash. As you do.

So I hit the city streets running – figuratively of course, as I had to use my new salary to draw a R70 000 bank loan to pay for spine surgery. Curious thing that, coming second in the “surf adventure of a lifetime” competition, and twelve months later ending up landlocked, flat on my back with savage debt on my hands. But what’s really amusing is how at the same time, in a distant rainy corner of the world sat another man scratching his head in equally savage debt, in a city equally as landlocked…Craig, the winner. Go figure.

Spending a month horizontally lends a rather humbling perspective to things. I owe a great deal to that little disc of mine, wherever it is. Two years was all it took – with a little help from my friends – and here I am, salty skin after a first-light session at a fabled right point, deep in the Mexican backcountry. Here I am, quietly fulfilling a declaration I made to my friend all those years ago. Here I am, clueless as to what day it is, weaving through time around sun and tide alone.

In just a wink of time’s eye I’ve seen flames and music and lights tear the heavens open while a giant Man burned in the Black Rock desert; danced naked with a 150 other people to swing music in a giant glass box, while laughing people with fire hoses sprayed us with mint-infused foam; woke up at first light in a giant wooden temple and lay beneath the biggest tree on the face of the planet; I laughed with a troop of my best friends on the shores of Lake Tahoe, while the Dave Matthews Band played live down the beach, sending songs to us across a gentle breeze.

I saw riots on the dark streets of Mexico City, pyramids of an ancient Aztec civilization and spent six hours drinking mezcal with an intelligence agent and a doctor, on the doorstep of driving rain, to the sounds of 50’s jazz on vinyl. Absolute poetry, the lot of it.

After all this, I set my feet in the sand…and five weeks later, they’re still covered in it. One slice of paradise after another, and for the next couple days I’ll stay here, in the finest little slice I’ve yet found. The wave is so good it’s good when it’s bad and when we surf, we surf among friends, gentlemen and ladies of the sea. Yesterday I surfed for 4.5 hours in a single session, my personal best. At first light today it was practically flawless, word on the street says swell’s on the up and fuck me, the sun is shining this fine afternoon.

Make no mistake, for most of us the road here’s a formidable one. Been turning this bad boy over in my head for seven years, five from a great distance. All it really took to set things off was an idea two crazy bastards had one day – to send someone on the adventure of a lifetime.

And look what happened…

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category: Travel

Been asking myself why I’m out here, two months later and I’m still not entirely sure. Maybe it’s my age and opting for the road when practical theory suggests I’m nuts. Maybe it’s the gravity of the risk I’ve taken, maybe I’m running from something. Maybe it’s just simple lust for an amazing journey with youth and freedom by my side. Maybe I haven’t peaked yet…

I wonder why, when people tell me how courageous I am for doing this, I feel anything but. I wonder why, after spending seven years carving a single dream into reality, I spend all this time reminiscing about the way things were. Why walk all these miles, miles and miles away from home…yet, still staring at the ground, thinking, thinking, thinking. Noise.

All this I’m still trying to understand. I don’t know if it’s my mind fighting back, tearing through my headspace taking potshots at my weak spots. And because I need the damn thing from time to time, it makes calling on it when it’s convenient almost impossible.

Whatever the hell’s going on, for all the noise, loneliness and fear, I come upon moments, accidentally or otherwise, that vividly reveal the real reasons I’m out here. Moments of such mesmerising poetry they render past and future completely numb. Noise? It’s the kill switch.

IMG_5312 - 1One Sunday morning I decided to spend the day getting heavily drunk on mezcal with my journal, a pen and whatever or whomever came my way. I tell you, nine hours later I walked home in the pouring rain, swaying my way through tacos and cake with a smile on my face even surfing has yet to match.

The first mezcaleria wasn’t much to speak of, just sipped a glass and moved along. Found Mezcaleria Los Amantes 50m later, same sidewalk. Place was tiny, four casual steps from the door to the bar, and behind the bar a very beautiful smiling woman. To either side were two benches, one against each wall. A single door open to the street, room for 10 people, max.

I was patron #2, the first, Lenny. At the door were two kids chairs, wooden, light blue, the kind that bring your knees up to your armpits. We sat on them, Lenny and I, clinking our glasses one sip after the next. On one corner of the bar was a vintage gramophone, massaging the air around us with gentle, smoky 50’s jazz. Hanging were three paintings, a big one of a naked Chinese lady, which took me about an hour to notice thanks to the woman behind the bar. Paint peeled off walls stacked with books (lots leather bound), painted plates, artifacts and empty bottles from a worshipped mezcal-making tradition.

Lenny and I were soon joined by Manuel, which made for an interesting trio. Manuel was a doctor in the nearby hospital, Lenny an intelligence agent. This in a town graced with a ‘not to be fucked with’ attitude – story goes the locals staged a small Occupy movement, cops pulled in, came down heavy on the protesters. Out of nowhere, the villagers mobilise and drive local police force out of town, armed with nothing but sticks and catapults. Made absolute fools of them. What’s more, guns were outlawed in the village…for a while anyway…until nonsense was restored.

Lenny wasn’t keen to head down that dark alley of conversation, just grumbled a response and changed the topic. Eina…

The three of us sat in the doorway, leaning to one side if anyone dropped in or out. With the setting sun came a whispering rain, more mezcal, more jazz records and more storytelling. An older man tries to seduce a younger woman on one of the benches. He’s gently leaning into her space, she’s gently leaning away. He has a wry smile on his face, talks with his hands, painting pictures of his words in the air she breathes. Her body language asks more of him, man has work to do – offers his caballito, she takes it, eyes fixed on his every move as she sips from the glass. One side of her mouth curls up. Seems she likes his taste.

Manuel turns, picks up a guitar lying on the bench, asks if it’s ours. Nope, belongs to the bar. He runs his hands over the wood as if it were a lover’s hip, dude clearly knows how to drive this thing. His first song’s about a kiss. He’ll do anything for one kiss – just one kiss – from a skinny girl. It’s a famous one. I don’t know it. He sings many more songs and the room loves him for it…gets damn near perfect in there.

Streetlamps tint the world outside an iridescent orange, the three of us speak in broken languages of the world and travel and drinking and fun and things. On and on the night rolls and everything aligns. We have it all, one night only.

It’s just poetry and the room’s splashing it like a mad thing all over the place. Poetry, and it balloons inside me something silly, splitting my seams. My eyes even well up at one point, but we’d pushed the boat pretty far out by that stage. Happens easily with me but I’m blaming the booze entirely.

One of life’s indelible little treats. The Universe goes ‘Here, have this…on me. I think you’re gonna like it, it’s one of my best.’

And I think to myself – why am I here? Well, this kinda thing you dickhead!

Original experience. Wave after wave of the stuff.



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category: Surfing

And the owner of the tiny little beach shack, spraying water on his beach sand floor to cool it down, says, “Awww, esos? Grande? Hee hee hee, noooo, you should see it when it gets big…”
























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categories: Burning Man, Travel


I retract that statement.

No, I haven’t found what I’m looking for…man, that’s reckless commentary. The first whispers and tickles perhaps. I’ve only just begun and the really good stuff always asks a little more of you, which was made abundantly clear after drinking mezcal for six hours in the Oaxacan back streets, couple hours south of Mexico City.

Two weeks in the Distrito Federal was about right for someone still shaking off that loved-up desert dust. It was the best and the worst idea, starting all this with Burning Man…I don’t have a particularly strong grip on my emotions, so to have shared that with my friends, each a gift to this world of vast and awe-inspiring character, and then to suddenly be alone…it’s been hard. Loneliness was always going to be the first battle out here so I gave myself two quiet weeks to soften the crash landing. It’s a descent from near inconceivable heights, Black Rock City back down to planet Earth.

Did I say two quiet weeks? Forgive me. Warm, ideal and unforgettable my hostel may have been, it was so close to the airport I could hear the airplane’s engines starting up. Mexican Independence Day headlined my first weekend, so we had four street parties over four days, which was rad – but Mexican sound engineers haven’t a clue about balance. Seems there are only two elements of sound worth hearing; bass and voice. The windows in the back of the hostel, surrounded by three buildings and two stories of concrete were aggressively rattling three out of four nights. Good for storytelling, very little else.

The one that took me most by surprise though, was the riot. I mean, real world mob. Local water supplies had been shut off for two days, enough glue to bind the bitter underdogs. I was in a familiar position, feet up on the table, when I hear shouting. Then things start unravelling, the purposeful smashing of stuff you really don’t want’ smashed, like cars and windows. 

I run downstairs, open the big steel door and see about 50 riot police marching across the street a few steps from the door, shields, helmets, batons, whole nine yards. Two dudes break from the mob and sprint towards to the hostel, I swing the door a little closer to closed, enough to see them run past but with two cops at their heels. I shut the door as they scream by but very clearly hear the collision, followed by the sound of two men being slammed over and over into the steel door next to ours.

This goes on for about two hours, the mob simply running circles round the hood trashing stuff while cops slowly but surely block off the roads. Blindingly loud firecrackers and gunshots blow holes in the still night sky. Baffles the mind if you consider it was their neighbourhood. I mean, if you started a riot, would you really walk around smashing up your neighbours’ shit? A touch counter-productive, no?

Memorably, the following day, word has it the municipality says ‘Fuck that! Bad citizens, you riot? We’re not gonna fix the water.” Thugs, Public and Police; guns, fists and batons. Indeed, a Mexican Stand Off! With a little catch-22 thrown in for good measure. 

So it was fairly boisterous little ghetto and to dip the cherry on top, for my last three days a young handyman moved in to renovate. His was a rudimentary set of tools, headlined by the sledgehammer.

Minor dips on travel’s soaring mountain passes.




And speaking of wins, didn’t have my pockets picked by the pocket pickers either. Guard was well up on the underground, memorized the exact location of every item on my person: where he’d have to be elbow deep to reach it, or where he’d have to finger his way through three stages of clips and zips…into the backpack, of course. So a fair first effort at picking the picket pockers and since Burning Man, I haven’t lost a thing.

Man oh man, Burning Man, the story’s still cascading through my mind, dancing and weaving about, revealing itself more with each passing day…

It’s really amusing at times. A few of our crew brought a little trick to the festival with them, a means to hear and find each other through the wild and wobbly orchestra of chatter, laughter, music, singing, lights, space and senses…the Circus of Life personified.

So, the trick was a sound that we all made, kinda like a sheep’s bleating but without the stutter, just one solid burst of ‘BAAAAAARR’, and often with our own little twists – some sounded quite sad, gripped by the fear of having lost one of the flock, others were deranged, others a little raw from excessive use.

Every now and again as well, strangers within ear shot would hear us calling and send their own ‘Baaaaaaarrr‘ high into the night sky. You know that sound – the sound of a smile in someone’s voice? That’s what Burning Man sounds like.

I digress…so yesterday, walking down rain-wrecked gravel roads, staring over the slopes and hills so thick and green, stepping to the meandering sounds of simple lives, somewhere a sheep decides to speak…and from the distance, he belts one out. Sticks his note, one committed burst, ‘BAAAAAAAARRR!”

Suddenly I’m in the middle of the desert, we’re all looping around on bicycles and laughing with mouths wide open, a hundred thousand lights colour the horizons and I hear the call…‘YES! YES! BAAAAAARRRR! BAAAAAAAARR!’

Burst out laughing, kicked a stone and giggled my way down to the beer shop.

Timing. It’s everything.




So Mexico City was great, I felt really spoiled for those two weeks. By Trinidad, by the kids, by family of friends, by the people I met. The street art was a constant fascination, the Teotihuacan Aztec ruins and pyramids were literally awesome and I must hand it to the Mexicans, they are fully committed to public displays of affection. Lovers will melt all over each wherever they please; under the trees, in the trains, in the restaurants, on the grass…nuzzling noses, kissing cheeks and hands and necks and lips, staring into each others’ eyes in the safety and shade of that impenetrable love bubble. It’s good to see, especially in a city that wears the wrinkles, scars and dirty fingernails of life’s many hardships.

And here I am, in the green hills of Puerto Escondido. The 30 degrees feel like 45, the fan is maxing out and there’s a long left point break a few minutes walk from my bed, where butterflies flit between the waves. Seriously? Butterflies? I see your pelicans…and I raise you!

A bottle of beer is R7, a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese only ten, and Frosties have made a triumphant return. The swimming pool is warmer than the afternoon air, I’m on ‘friends rates’ and in a few days time, a swell is hitting these deadly shores, and on its heels a handful of the world’s best riders of waves that either change lives…or end them.

I’ll be on the beach, satisfied.

So no, I haven’t found what I’m looking for – I’m only a month or so in, didn’t have a clue what day it was yesterday and the whole thing has only just begun to feel real.

Takes getting used to, this freedom I’ve bought…


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I’m sitting on a deck outside my bedroom in Mexico City, plants everywhere, cascading from the ceiling, rising from pots on the ground. Random objects surround me, seemingly useless but perfectly placed. The TV’s unplugged, a tenor’s voice meanders through the air and a cool breeze chills the beads of sweat of my forehead.

Where yesterday there was a quiet empty street outside the always-open front door, there’s suddenly a bustling market of meats, music, spices and cheeses, clothing, jewellery and flowers. People look at me funny till they hear ‘Sud Afrika’ and their faces light up. It’s what I’ve been looking for. Bought a bunch of flowers for Trinidad, the old lady who owns the hostel. It was her birthday yesterday. Her eyes and wrinkles tell more stories than I’ll ever understand through words alone. Trinidad…what a beautiful name.

Walked through the streets and stumbled on the aftermath of a Mexican wedding. A mariachi band was playing a song serendipitously named ‘El Hombre Negro’, the kids played soccer in the square before them. Sparklers and the smell of dirty streets and sizzling food filled the afternoon air. Sun bathed ornaments and decorations on every storefront, cars were wrapped in red, white and green. A foreign stillness enveloped me, something I haven’t felt in far too long.

No alarms, no alerts, no traffic jams, no deadlines, no phones, no pressures, no commitments, no ‘buy now to avoid disappointment’, no calls to action, no ‘action this’…

About 10 kids from the ‘hood have adopted me, we play soccer in the evenings in the street outside the hostel. Tonight Ricardo, one of their fathers, gave me a tour of the ancient artifacts inside his home. We spoke in broken Spanish, long after the sun had set, about the city, the volcanoes, the heritage, the sun,moon and stars. He said we’ll be friends forever. This is what I’ve been looking for.

Slept for 11 hours last night and 12 the night before. Most I’ve had in many, many weeks. Left the desert 9 days ago yet return to it every time I close my eyes. When they’re open, my senses tell me I’m very far from home, further than I’ve been before.

And so it begins – The Dance – with a lady called Fate. Finally, after hearing her whispers year after year after year…we’re toe to toe, hand in hand. Heartless fox even teased me three years back with a round-the-world surfing and storytelling competition…and slammed me into 2nd place. Looking at it now, kinda makes for a better story though, doesn’t it? Humility. When the lesson inevitably comes your way, let me know, I’ll send you congratulations.

It’s been an interesting road to reach this point. Life sure has thrown its lessons my way – death, debt, immobility, a broken heart, patience, pressure, perseverance, emptiness…horizons without an ocean in sight. Curious thing is, in facing it all, I found new life, new friends, more money, more mobility, a bigger heart, more patience, less pressure, focus, gratitude, abundance, even a little love…and a realisation that without surfing, life can still mean something.

So Sam, I made a promise to you, sitting in that bar in the Waterkant all those years ago, building this blog. Said if I didn’t win that fackin’ thing, I’d still do this trip…and, well, my friend, here we are! Only that Fox of Fate knows what will come of it all…but somehow, I made it. We made it.

Just goes to show – shit will try break you in this life and ironically, it’s exactly what we need. We need to eat the dust from time to time (one should aim for a cup a day, according to the latest research) and we should absolutely cherish the moments when they come.

You’ve heard it all before – bring fear into your life, every chance you get. Face it, fall, get up, get lost, give more, take less. Elevate your dreams and then elevate yourself until the two shall meet.

Come on, we have heard it all before, a thousand times over…only now I can legitimately stand behind the words. The proof’s right here man – I’m just an ordinary guy in an extraordinary world, made from the same shit as you, the stars and everything else. Look at those stars…they’ve done a pretty sublime job, right? You’re made of the same stuff, kiddo.

Just takes a little time, that’s all – but trust me on this, it can vanish in an instant.

So…shall we dance?

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category: AfrikaBurn

We left the desert on Monday. It’s Wednesday as I write this.

Last night, I wept.

Once quietly during some goddamn rom-com left sitting on the table when I got home, and again when my housemates arrived and asked for stories. I suspected something was stirring down there, and wasn’t alone in feeling it…between our team, tears fell through Notting Hill, a random advert, and one pair were said to have been ‘literally bawling through Masterchef’. But there were no weasels round these parts, oh no no no…these little tears were first-timers, came from somewhere deep, something woken after a 31-year slumber.

Forget having legs, this stuff has wings.

Stepping from the rain into that overland truck, darkness revealing Friday’s dawn, the giddiness I figured to be fever pitch was thrown to the corner by my wanton over-excitement. We left around 5am, cracked our first beer by 5:03, and (some) were in full swing by 6. Given the size of our hulking carriage, we were a serious operation, imposing on most counts…but if love be the measure? Well, beacons seldom glow as bright.

The 130km dirt road leading into the Burn, notorious for good reason, was but a belly tickle to that titan of ours, and together we plunged into the middle of nowhere. Rolling this way, wrapped between your favourite people, awash in the heady melodies of mischief, adventure and the complete unknown – and wanting for nothing – is a gift most rare in life; one worthy of enduring pursuit.

Spirited by those shimmering winds, arm-in-arm we leaped and danced, pondered and gasped, wandered and laughed, stumbled (and dropped) wildly from sunrise into sunset, repeating without the rinse. Virgin to both the desert and the Burn I may have been, but believe you me when I say the most luminous of life’s lights boogied and swirled across those Tankwa plains.

It’s total submersion into Nirvana’s wayward cousin, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that the 5000 of us were levitating for the most part. And I say ‘most’ because I remember most vividly the 20-odd tent pegs I bailed over on the triple-run round the park trying to find my own tent at some curiously amusing moonlit hour.

Gifting being the spirit of the games, we let fly the flow of sweets and poems, cuba libres and frozen margaritas. Proudly we gave up our Bedouin lilo lounge to random strangers, thirsty for simple pleasures or feverish conversation. Think about it, when was the last time you found fourteen strangers dominating the leisure section of your campsite and you took a quiet moment to gaze upon it and say, “Check that shit out…I don’t know a single person in there! How rad is this?”

So there we were, weaving in and out of shifting tempos, radiantly drunk on some vivacious celestial juju. And damn the hyperbolic language, nothing in this life has rendered me so utterly dumbstruck, endlessly in awe of the space around me. Sure, I’ve travelled, played in places, thought I’d seen some things, done some things…but this…this was truly original experience. In every possible way. And rather than fade, like most things in life, with each passing day its roots dig deeper and deeper into my sweet spot.

Some folk are inherently designed for it and slide right into the spirit of things, no blinking. Others take a little time to find their rhythm, I’m tempted to say it’s because the brain actually buckles under the weight of it all – the space, the skies, the creation, the energy…and the stars. Fuck me gently those stars. It was as if the universe and its full-extended cosmic family squeezed a little closer in, like kids to a TV screen, craning over each other to gawp at us in twinkling delight.

For whatever reason, I missed most of the burning over nights one and two, but Sunday…man oh man, a new dawn in this little world of mine. We’d heard about the Boxing Bunnies. I’d even seen them hanging out there, facing each other, but never figured them for bunnies, never mind the fighting type. How wrong I was.

We’re on one of the 4000 dancefloors when, from across the plain, the fire catches our eyes. It’s by no small margin the biggest we’ve seen, and bolting across the to it, we arrive with flames snapping at the desert ceiling, and in a most extraordinary move, the structure groans languidly to life…raging fires orbiting each other like two fighters in the night. The Boxing Bunnies.

There’s a slow rhythmic clanging of metal on metal, the deep notes of heavy momentum. Turn by turn it gathers speed, and with it their legs lift higher and higher from the ground. Flames whip through the darkness, growling like comets in a hurricane. The Boxing Bunnies ascend like Gods ablaze, and the fight begins. Flying through the air, arms bending with martial precision, their leaden fists slam against one other with frightening force.

It’s an overwhelming sight. I felt the power of it punch through areas of my brain where the lights never come on, whispering ‘There you go! Now you’ve some room to move…’ Banging metal, flames spraying all over the bloody place, whirling Boxing Bunnies, and a crowd beside itself, glowing orange, whooping madly in the night.

Later, as the hares slowed from their dizzying celestial brawl, all but ambling now, easing to embers, the most breathtaking mist of sparks begins to float ever so quietly from the rumbling, spiraling, dying bodies…and breathless, the crowd falls silent once again.

It seems fire has the same hypnotic effect on a crowd of 1000 as it does on one man alone. But if the object on fire should suddenly behave in an unexpected fashion, like Bugs and Foe, neither man nor crowd remains contained – old T-Rex being the premium case in point.

A short while after said celestial brawl, pondering the stars and a sudden dumbstruck affection for my space between them, the flame-spewing truck glides over like a dark angel towards our monster: T-Rex – a massive metal and meshwork beast, cut with jagged, menacing features, malice dripping from its bony face. Then, the floodgates of fire open upon it, feasting on the monster’s frame, turning it into some kind of colossal, demonic apparition.

It burned with boiling sounds, furious cracks and licks, and as the heat really began to scream, the creature’s right fucking foot lifts off the ground! I shit you not…followed by the left…and suddenly the beast is walking. No…accelerating now! With biological precision in its joints, one foot after the next to a thunderous clanging, soon the damn thing’s running. Running hard and fast across the bloody desert, a T-Rex, on fire. Hard to convey really, that thing I felt.

The air all but vanished from our quiet little corner of the world. I remember clearly the weight of my jaw, its position on the ground, and how I grappled internally with what I was watching, flames now gargling from its frame, embers and nightmares cascading from its face. Indelible.

And so it ran, with a rumbling violence, the crowd absolutely beside themselves. But as the synapses choke and splutter trying to process it all, you catch from the side of your eyes the massive smouldering metal globe planted square in the path of this rampaging inferno. You think, ‘No ways. NO fucking ways. They’ll never…’

Ah, but this isn’t the world you know, the one dragged down like a ball-and-chain by those three single words Stephen Fry described as ‘the worst in the English language’, Health – and – Safety. Yup, they sent that old T-Rex crashing full tilt into the damn thing. Obviously. That’s how they roll in those parts.

I’ll treasure that little gem for the rest of my days.

It’s been nearly two weeks now, since that creature burned before my eyes. I’m still wearing it like a cape, as if one of life’s great secrets has been whispered in my ear. I’ve been to a place lawless, rampant and free, where it’s impossible to judge. Yessir, no judgies…as they say. That in itself is one of the principal reasons I’m so deeply moved by all this. I, for one, have never felt something as liberating as a completely non-judgmental and synergistic society. Small as ours may have been in the grand scheme of things, to fault the logic would make you a diabolical fool.

I hang this experience at the same heights as the Atlantic Crossing and our tropical storm, those two Brazilian months spent sinking into life’s simplest of pleasures, and though it’s hard to fathom…even that year we shared in Spain. It keeps the same company as my most treasured life experiences. So much more than anything I ever dreamed it would be…and more like the best dream I never knew I had.

There’s a collective spirit in that desert circus – a symphony of playfulness, hedonism, selflessness and freedom unparalleled in the gatherings we create. If you have but even a delicate pinch of curiosity in the boundless possibility of human interaction and imagination, you owe it to yourself as someone alive and kicking to visit this world – it will take your breath away.

There’s a book called The Storytelling Animal written by Jonathan Gottschall, who points out that ‘clever scientific studies involving beepers and diaries suggest that an average daydream is about fourteen seconds long and that we have about two thousand of them per day. In other words, we spend about half of our waking hours — one-third of our lives on earth — spinning fantasies’.

Difference is, you can drop it to one thousand nine hundred and ninety nine, and buy a ticket to this one.

Over and over again.

My kids will tow me in my mutant wheelchair behind a mutant car across those desert plains.

Early Risers

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categories: Photos, Surfing


It’s been three weeks since I moved back inland, and every night I dream of them (fact proven by the sleep-stained scribblings in a little book beside my bed). Then, when I wake each morning, they’re everywhere I look: suspended in time, fleeting glimpses, or manufactured to simply stoke a now simmering fire. It’s a pleasant paranoia of sorts; a creeping and curious love affair, only my lover’s no longer here…and my affair’s with her scent, her ghost, her breath, her wake. I’m falling for all the things that resemble her, and it’s the healthiest thing I can do.

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