Tales

Monks & destination propaganda 

Boating on the Kumano-gawa River, 2016

​The train to Tokyo Metro was packed with silent shirts headed to their desks. Advertisements on train doors aptly positioned at eye level showed an over-enthusiastic gesturing professor. Next to him, an ad for ‘Sweat Jelly.’ Overhead, Arnold Schwarzenegger indicated his military prowess for the latest war scenario game. It was silent the entire journey besides the Nokia noises indicating the train’s arrival & departure. As if the loudness and excessive ads sucked the life out of any normal level of activity. All the passengers’ necks were horizontal, staring at their phone screens. Curious, I took a peek trying to discover what had everyone so enthralled. About 60% were just flipping back-and-forth between the various homescreens.  It was a bee’s hive near the top of the escalator at Tokyo Station. In merely a few moments, everyone had neatly compressed into a single file line on the left. This was a revelation of neatness compared to the obviousness of Americans and their sloppy- joe tendencies.

The Japanese train system is impressively connected and far-reaching to the point that the trains are taken completely out of contemporary context and placed in atypical, natural scenes. Its tentacles reach into the most remote and seemingly natural, untouched areas. This is a fact that they’re obviously proud of – posters portray the trains as if they’re were movie stars. Their sleek noses overlaid on top of vibrant scenes of their daily journeys. Red-filled maples in Autumn, pink-cherry blossoms exploding in Spring, a rainbow of bright flowers before a snowcapped peak. We selected the one splashed with giant cedars and valleys of dark green mystery. 290 minute runtime.

The train to Tanabe cut through towns overflowing into the ridges and seasides. At Tanabe, I traded the train’s sizeable window seat for the captain’s chair on the bus to Kuyama. The bus jutted besides the following waters and slopes packed with concreate diamonds to hold back the pack mud. Whenever the bus was entering or exiting a one lane road, oncoming traffic halted immediately and let the bus pass. This was done seamlessly and without the anxious looks and erratic motions that typically accompany such waiting in the U.S.

A smell enveloped the bus, a sudden overwhelming eye-watering occurrence. Photographs of the Yunomine Onsen had been picturesque. In reality, however, it was a boiling creek of festering sulfur-emitting gas smack dab in the middle of all of the eateries that existed in the town. Luckily, we had opted to stay in Kuyama Onsen. The proprietor’s son, a delightfully attentive man with an overgrown bowl-cut and unknown age, instructed us to venture to a trail, fiercely elbowing the air while talking.

We ran down in the apparent direction, but no matter. We were cursed with traveler’s doubt and proceeded along our own way. A high-grade slope winded its way into the mountainsides, ferns crowded their way to the sky. Stacks of walking sticks piled at the trailhead with a curtain of shiny, scratched CDs pronouncing their once-esteemed artist. Within 15 minutes we were densely surrounded by an Amazonian landscape. Ancient concrete walls swallowed in algae and moss, water rushing down at constant speed. Tall cedars massacred ­– their limbs layered the forest floor, asleep on maroon piles of dead leaves. Flies and some vigilant type of biting insect tunneled around us while spiders were continuously misplaced from their homes to my head and shoulders. Their webs dispersing into fragments of floating wisps.

Sprinting along the Kumano Kudo, 2016

At every bend of the river, the trail was to be rescouted, yet it never seemed impossible to locate­– rather the perfect level of discovery. Each new portion of the route complete with the moss-grabbing, feet-tipping, rock-slipping, spider web shakes.  After a few miles of high-jumping fallen cedars and skirting the river on mossy rocks, we reached the O Falls. Their cascading water audible to the point that I thought we were nearing a road.

Little did we know this was the intended destination. The way back was sloppy as is usual with any out-and-back trail, the adventure had given way to monotonous routine. Cross the mossy tree bridge, jump stream, find this marker, etc. etc. We emerged from the dense forest and broke into full sprint, running through the wide corridor of the valley along the gray rock-lined river beds, its frosty water dappled with the setting sun. A small cabin perched in the middle of the river’s curve. Covered with sweat and fragments of the forest, we peered into the open door. An old man sat presumably enjoying dinner on his wooden stool. His kitchen filled with covered barrels, papers neatly stacked on the table. Beers? Out came two small glasses and large bottles of Ashita. We saddled up on a square basin overlooking the valley and bruising sky.

Using two tattered English-Japanese dictionaries and primeval noises, we extracted four (seemingly) fully communicated stories.  The most entertaining, a tale of the demise of a pack of snorting, gluttonous wild boars that had ventured down from the mountains to feast on his onions only to be killed and cooked on open flames. The meat enjoyed by this cook and enthusiastic avenger.

If you go:

Skip:
Boating on the Kumano-gawa River unless you’re going to be entertained for the pure absurdity of the experience.

Stay:
Ashita No Mori

Notables:
Dig into the sand along the river and relax in your own outdoor hot tub. 

Horsing around in Bogota

Bogota, Colombia 2014

After a beautiful night’s sleep on a mattress that sounded like sheet metal and felt like a trash bag stuffed with over-starched towels, I opened the shutters to find a miraculous day waiting for me. Blue skies and birds chirping, I was like Snow White but with a boxed wine hangover. The street was speckled with ravaged garbage bags that had been looted by the homeless for recyclables that they could cash in. It was May, the rainy season, but the sun was pouring in, illuminating the colorful walls of the Candelaria district.

Took a cold shower (not on purpose) and had a hearty breakfast of one medium-sized mediocre apple and four cups of glorious black coffee. The place was practically kicking me out, motioning me to get a move on.

Many described the route to Monserrate as though it was a ramshackle stone path but instead it turned out to be a well-manicured park gleaming with bright plants and a plethora of policemen. Along the way, I passed a milieu of life. A lonely horse galloped up the path with no traces of the owner. Shanties grouped together, their residents displayed their pickings for sell – papaya shoots and pineapple slivers. Women robed in sweats were nearly melting into the ground while old men passed by breathing heavily but at a cruising speed. School children, on their decline, were all flirting with one another — dressed in white shirts and neatly pressed navy pants. I was confounded— they had no traces of sweat. Only when I got to the top did I realize they had taken the funicular up. 

​On the mountain top, I could see life playing out below. A futbol match — people scurrying about like legos: just color and shape. The Transmilenio snaked through Ave. Carrera 14 — its red street easily identifiable. The dense, wild side of the mountain was quite the contrast to the expansive city that sprawled below.

// Down in the city, I sauntered through the Emerald Street Market. Street vendors announced their offerings with megaphones. Their fast chants resounded making the whole place vibe like a betting window at a racetrack rather than a marketplace. This place was a sight to behold. A man stood playing the drums on his bare stomach next to his juice stand. Next to the drummer, a homeless man with a scholarly suit and lab coat wore his glasses on the tip of his nose, his pleas for change slightly nasally. A store advertised their newest product – 3D sculptures made from the ultrasound of your unborn baby. This seemed rather suitable for a city that legalized prostitution and banned abortion. The traditional Colombian crafts had been replaced with cheap Chinese knockoffs — their vendors too lazy to remove the stickers. Surely it was time for more boxed wine.

​If you go (in a nutshell):

Eat:
La Despensa Calle 70A # 9-95, Bogotá
La Taperia -Carrera 4A # 26d-12 – spectacular food in La Macarena
Abasto_ in Usaquen
Casa de Citas for music/ drinks

Venture:
– La Calera – best views of the city. Go here at night and buy hot, spiced drinks from the vendors
– Bogota graffiti tour: Where: Plaza de Periodistas
– 10 best contemporary art galleries in Bogota
– La Macarena is home to a collection of funky boutiques 
– Cool Crafts // Artesanías de Colombia – The shop carries crafts made in different regions of Colombia. They have rings made from tagua nuts, macramé shawls, black pottery, sisal baskets. El Retiro Shopping Center, Calle 82 No. 11-75
– Museo Botero Home to Fernando Botero’s private collection, this colonial mansion displays the work of the Colombian maestro alongside canvases by the likes of Miró and Monet. 

Stay:
Fulano Backpackers (not the hostel mentioned in this post)

Dolomite days and eonian nights 

Blyde Canyon, South Africa

​Hiking in Africa is like a dangerous, fatal porcelain shop: don’t touch anything. When you’re walking in the brush – or anywhere near the brush – your senses are heightened. A leaf crinkling 50 m away registers. A blade of grass wiggles – dually noted. The further along the trail you go, the more the thoughts spiral in the caldron. Root or snake? Antelope or mountain cat? Is this the poisonous plant that kills with one fatal scratch?

Thank goodness the view points and trail markers still placate, if only for a few heartbeats. Fleetingly gratifying. But the views in Blyde River Canyon surpass simple gratification. The three Rowdavels pleasantly peering down over the monstrous canyon walls – third largest canyon on Earth. Their domes a symbol of safety, comfort. The trail continued onward, towards the multicolored beach – red, yellows, greens speckled with barely distinguishable sunbathing hippos. Every time the trail dipped out and into a new patch of forest, the noises evolve like a new set. An interlude between the screeching and clamoring of a thousand beetles. A dense circumference of layered commotion – like emerging from the depths of a public pool on a Saturday.

Blyde River Canyon, Limpopo Province, South Africa

About 85% of the way in, racket up the mountain. Antelope and brown guinea like creatures running my direction. Not a trusting sign. As I continued forward, I fumbled over the entangled roots around my feet as I thought about the leopard sighting the past two days. Defeated, I turned around and headed back. Careful to not to scratch my knee on the potentially poisonous bush.

When the Nature Conservators’ hut was in sight, the sky thundered and opened up. The rain poured down filling the air with freshness. A mammoth kudu strutted across the road and paused, looking up towards the dark clouds that had rolled in.

I left Blyde as a rainbow spread across the river down the short 2.5K Pennisula Trail. The rain eased as I carefully hiked along, taking in the splendor of the glistening emerald water below. About halfway a sign glared ‘Krokodil’, jolting me from a brief state of calmness.

While starting at the sign in disbelief and terror, I stumbled on a snake?!

No, just a gigantic lizard.

It was enough to seize further hiking, I promptly turned on my heels. Just in time to be greeted by a baboon.

If you go:

Stay: Blyde River Canyon Lodge – Located in a gated botanical garden on the river, it is a splendid property just outside the Reserve gates. Dine at the lodge – the fantastic traditional meals are made by locals.

Venture: See the Canyon from all angles. Drive into the clouds and witness the magnificent rock formations from the ridge. Hike the canyon. Take a boat trip on the water and engulf yourself in a panoramic view. 

Notables: Check out the museum in the reserve. The exhibition provides a great description of the rock formations and how the canyon was formed. Disregard the yellowed photographs that haven’t been touched in decades.

Transpecos: welding rattlesnakes

Derelict roadhouses, rolling hills, whipping grasslands bleached by the high sun. The wayward journey to Marfa feels as though you are perpetually becoming more lost. Only when you enter and pass the schools of perfectly tailored men and glamorously robed women do you realize you have arrived. And it’s somewhat off-putting. Here, in the middle of nowhere, where you have supposedly left the confines of highbrow society and its grasps on values, lies the exemplary dog and pony show of the art world. Another cast system relayed as a bohemian mecca. 

The 2 x 2 pinhole in Southwest Texas airs a perplexing aura – there is an undisputed novelty in everything from an abandoned warehouse to the street light’s glow. El Cosmico, the undisputed lodging treasure lies on the edge of the Chianti Foundation property, about a mile from the center of town and is no doubt an experience of its own. The teepees are luxurious and the company an interesting breed for a fireside tales. Nothing is as enlivening as an outdoor sunrise morning shower with the crisp desert air whirling through the steam in a tin and wooden bathhouse followed by freshly brewed coffee.  A kick before the Chianti tour.

Visionary contemporary artist Donald Judd imagined a place where art lived amongst the landscape. The two former artillery sheds were renovated to hold his 100 aluminum works – each differentiating slightly, providing various reflections of light and color. The whole tour a stiff, cult-like pace with canvas-lad Brooklynites and art-lovers dragging their heels in reserved bewilderment. Silence besides the wind and leaves. 

And then Chamberlain. His work punched us out of hypnosis. Crinkled graphic steel a tangible graffiti seemed to implode before our eyes.

STAY: El Cosmico teepee 
DINE: Maiya’s 
CAFFENIATE: Frama
VISIT: Marfa Studio of Art
MIND:  Chianti tours and dinner reservations should be booked in advance.

Nightmares of huckleberry pie

The Highline Trail is synonymous with Glacier National Park. The 11-mile trail follows the Sun Road – curving through the pass to bestow immaculate views of the Continental Divide and surrounding peaks. The trail profile is practically a straight decline from Logan’s Pass to the Loop. The route follows along the mountainside so that you can see every nook and cranny of your surroundings.
 
Like the weather or traffic in the city, there are two impending dooms that are staples of everyday conversation in GNP – bear sightings and wildfires. During my first day in the Park, a local calculated my fate: at the rate of hiking 12 miles a day for 10 days, I was destined for at least three sightings. Maybe four.
 
Like any other runner (or human), I used my biased rationality to prove why this trail was an exception to the GNP tenet ‘avoid running’ (running increases the chance of a bear attack). Since this was a popular trail with unimpaired panoramic vision – it was safe for me to jog along this trail. Plus I had bear spray and a bear bell*, this was my chance.
 
As I galloped along the ridge, I couldn’t help but concentrate on the dry river beds, streams, waterfalls, glaciers. Smoke filled the air and a wraithlike haze lingered – a cornea over the landscape. The land dry, too. Dirt whirled around my feet. Is this a snapshot of the world that lies in our future?
 
The Sun Road is usually known for evoking a humbling sense of wonder in the face of nature’s grandeur. Below along the Pass, motorists stood on the side of the road with their binoculars hanging idle. Midwesterners seemly stymied in more of bewilderment than awe while looking out at the landscape.  Although it was nonetheless still gorgeous, there was a deep sense of loss for the land.
 
I emerged near the historic Granite Chalet without even realizing that I was near the final decent – somewhat surprised that my half-baked timing was actually going to get me where I needed to be before sunset. I stopped to admire the view with a family that was perched on a rock in the bend. Five minutes later I was invited to stay in their extra bunk bed at the Chalet. The Chalet’s entire lodging for the season typically sells out within a few days of going live. I won the lottery.
 
Normally I would say yes immediately, but I’ve grown somewhat weary about whether invitations are sincere these days. I thought about this invitation for the half-hour as I climbed the steep trail up to Grinnell Glacier. The sight was if I was beholding a fragile, fragment of scenery. The glacial lake below looked broken, shattered bits and slivers of ice cut their way through the lagoon. The red faced peak looking straight at me behind its defeated body. Spectacular. As I crumbled down with the mountain. I saw the stone Chalet in the background. An patriarchal presence. In the foreground the family was waiting for me.
 
Dedicated hikers share a common bond which is rooted in underlying appreciation and willpower. That night we watched the sun set until 10pm with about 30 others then laid on our backs to catch the meteor shower. At sunrise the next morning, I tiptoed out of my bunk and ran down the mountain like a little kid who spent the night in an amusement park.
 
If you go:

  • * Bear bells: The consensus on whether they work is actually still unverified and some outdoorsmen think they actually attract bears. I retired mine after finding this out. The only proven defense is bear spray and making noise. Oh, and a bear was definitely sited on this trail.

 
Granite Chalet & Highline Trail details

  • The bit about the water is invalid, there is fresh treated rainwater available at the Chalet.
  • Complimentary earplugs and tea available during ranger talks
  • Bring a headlamp
  • Full kitchenware available for use
  • Check the bus schedule that services the Loop & Logan Pass, hitchhiking works in the morning but is hit or miss at nightfall
  • Be extra cautious around huckleberry shrubs during the harvest season

Diverse trail beds of South New Zealand

Rob Roy Track, Aspiring National Park, Wanaka

Your calves will be burning but no bother, the trail is grassy and the endless array of mountains will keep you distracted.
Wear layers – storms emerge out of no where.

Stay: Te Wanaka Lodge
Dine: Relishes Cafe
Cheers: Kai Whakapai 

Hooker Valley Track, Mt. Cook National Park

An endless array of terrain over bridges, through the valley leading to the glacial lagoon.

Stay: Hermitage Hotel
Dine: Yesh. Get ready for a random, expensive Asian buffet unless you bring you’re own food.
Cheers: Bring you’re own wine & nestle in next to the grand hearth.

Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds, Picton

Ship Cove to Endeavor Inlet

Lush tropical forest. Depending on the weather, it feels like a combination of the upper Atlantic Ocean and Polynesia. 

Stay: Furneaux Lodge is spectacular This is a difficult call though based on the length of your stay in the Sounds. Ferries leave from Picton in the am and pick up early evening. The schedule changes according to season. If you stay in Anakiwa backpackers you’ll be isolated and nestled at the end of the track, but the curvy roads are mind-numbing at night. Only bonus is the glowworms and dolphin songs at night, which you can find anywhere along the track.

Dine: Furneaux Lodge at the end of the trek, especially if you’re heading back to Picton.
Cheers: Bring you’re own wine from one of the vineyards in nearby wine country.

Mt. John Summit Track, Lake Tekapo

Run this route through the meadows, vie to take your own path to the summit and run down on pine needle trail then through meadows surrounded by the white-capped foothills of the Alps.

This place is tiny and does not have a ton of outdoor pursuits, best bet is a one night stay after you catch a golden sky and a starry night.

Stay: The Chalet
Dine: Tin Plate
Caffeinate: Run77

Statures of society

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King’s (Queen’s) Day // Amsterdam, Holland

The streets are lined with spreads of unwanted goods, vendors selling kebobs and pot dessert items, and jobless gypsies pitching games of luck for a buck. The techno soundtrack never fades too much as random DJs are dispersed every couple of blocks. Smells of cigarettes yet to be smoked. 
King’s Day Festivities  he
streets are lined with

PictureHungarian poet Jozsef Attila near the Parliment // Budapest, Hungry

Around each corner, a message left by the transitory reigning authority and the subsequent vigor and life contra.
History of Budapest

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Helsinki Central Railway Station // Finland

A dystopian illusion: drying rugs lying on wooden beams listlessly catching wisps of the bay’s wind. Traces of human life, dark hollow windows match the hollowed eyes of the city.
Midsummer Holiday

PictureTraditional life // Miranda do Duro, Portugal

  

The sky: lilac, a rosemary scent from the passing fields.  Rows of lush olive trees, a donkey grazing on overgrown shrubs in a peach orchard.
Miranda do Duro History

PictureSt. Petersburg Russia

 

An underlying melancholy, hint of paranoia. Birds move methodically taking their positions. Air uplifting the waters weight beneath the minimal white light.
St. Petersburg Statue Guide

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Theater master Henrik Ibsen outside the National Theater // Bergen, Norway

Sun setting beneath the ocean’s soft cape at midnight to the echoing sounds of heavy metal racketeering.
History of Bergen 

PictureSafed, Israel

An oversize fur cube glides atop a crowd of yamakas and shrunken black hats. Heels on cobblestone, flags whipping the dusty air as it encloses bright ribbons of color.  
Safed, Israel History
The many hats of Judiasm

Missed Isolation


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Sauntering towards Mont Saint Michel, 2010

Left at the crack of dawn (possibly before) for the Normandy Coast. Took  the train from Gare Montparnasse to Dol-de-Bretagne, then the bus from there to the island of Mont St Michel. Driving up the peninsula, the gray marble water of the Couesnon River looks like smoothed terracotta in the stillness of morning. The tide is low and calm- emitting an emanation of serene mysteriousness. It feels more like the coast of Ireland (i.e. Cliffs of Moher) then it does a part of France. Hikers energized with croissents and cafe-longe march along the marshy path, pressing their walking sticks into the silt. The seabreeze bitterly snaps the cold against my skin.  

The mysterious aura is abrubtly ended upon entering the tourist trap.  Packs of Asian tourists with their loudly clicking cameras and gereatrics cause a congestion as they snail upwards along the cobblestone path towards the Abbey. Intolerable clots form around stands offering free sugar cookies and apple cider. Then again around the shops handing out identical samples. Irritated, I hastenly navigate through the soon to be diabetics in time to vanquish my sins at twelve o’clock mass. 

The cold wind chills the abbey like an icebox. It seeps in through layers and I can feel it in my bones. Constructed out of granite, it is almost unbearable . I think about retreating until the friars and nuns emerge. Dressed in angelic white robes, they begin to light the candles. The place suddenly feels warmer. The friar gathers the long rope laying between the center aisle separating the rows of stiff pews. Giving it a powerful tug, the bell echoes imperfectly, penetrating through my frigid body then once again after the waves ricochet back. The bell’s sound unnoticeablely fades to the comforting chants. The psalms softly follow a harp’s lead. I follow along, raking through the frail pages of the petite psalm book.  Everything is serene until an old French man blows his nose into his hand (later of which I am to shake in greeting).  

Then it is a slowly unraveling domino effect. Apparently unaware of social politeness, four-eyed Asians continue to ignore the multiple ‘No Photography‘ signs as they flash their Fujis. The last possible space untainted by tourists’ assault. Undaunted, the young priest begins leading an inspiring sermon. He lifts my spirits, telling a story of a bird, free to choose any direction to fly in. After mass, I lookout at the residue of the Atlantic, swallowed by the Gulf of St.Malo’s marble clay and glistening in the sun. 

I weave down to the ancient, famous omelette eaterie, Le Mere Poulard, which has the fluffiest, largest omelettes even seen. Two eggs enlarge to the shape of twenty. The downstairs is oversimplified and overrated, but an unintentional escape upstairs uncovers character-lined walls leading to a high-class cigar bar (which is no doubt never as packed as the downstairs chicken coop). Afterwards, I hightail it back to Paris in need of class after endless free butter cookie samples and fanny-packs.

If you go, don’t miss:

Mont St. Michel
– Free entrance into the Abbey with mass attendance (highly recommended)
– Morning mass recommended, 11:00AM

Le Mere Poulard Restaurant
Grande Rue, 50170 Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France
+33 2 33 89 68 68 ‎ · merepoulard.com

Oh Porto

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Porto Roofline at Sunset, 2010

PictureLourdes Castro Original

It’s like a dream. No, better. Porto is separated by the Douro River, that is made all the more splendid by its six bridges. At the base of the Dom Luis I Bridge near the Sandeman Port Distillery, colorful women dressed in traditional Portugeuse dress dance through a specialty market offering olive oil, wine, port, cheese, bollo pastries, boudain-like sausages. Inside the Sandeman Distillery, groups of tourists tour and hear the story of how an Englishman conquered the port industry two hundred years ago. After paying penance and completing the routine tour, everyone eagerly tastes the sherry and tawny. Too sweet for my taste, I prefer the dark red wine and salty olives of the Portuguese in the gardens of the Serralves. 

During the Serralves em Festa, the Parque de Serralves are filled with art of all traditions- artists, musicians, and contemporary art demonstrations span the grounds. Giant plush Royal thrones sit patiently in the middle of a field. Women untangle from the limbs of a tree, their silky dress flutters in the breeze. Photographers appear out of nowhere with wide lenses, snapping up the beauty from all angles. The soundtrack of a live jazz chantress with an orchestra accentuates the fluctuating smells of minty herbs, geraniums, and mossy leaves. Artist hang their crafts, their flamboyant colors mosaicly broadcast amongst the dark greens of the forest. We relax in between the gentle foliage facing a quartet of jazz musicians that emit lazy Spanish beachcombing tunes ideal for cracking that first cerveza of a hot summer’s evening. 

Afterwards, we meander over to pop into the Museu de Arte Contemporanea, which reveals characteristic portrait of Porto’s contemporary art timeline. An exhibit on ‘Teatro Sombras’, or shadow theatre, by Lourdes Castro is colorful, sexy, mysterious yet all-telling. A women’s outline lit in the doorway by the light of the moon. On the screen, an unidentified body moves through the shadows, much like the alleyways of Porto.

If you go, don’t miss:
Douro River Cruises 
Speedy boat trip under the six bridges and almost to the ocean, quick and beautiful.

Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves
Rua D. João de Castro, 210
4150-417 Porto
Portugal
Show on MapTel: +351226156500 
Web: www.serralves.pt

Lourdes Castro
Portuguese Artist
Shadow Theatre YouTube


Volcanic Ash


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Garbageville and waffles in Brussels , 2010

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In March of 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in Iceland leaving millions of travelers stranded across the world. I happened to be in a fairytale land known as Luxembourg at the time with a friend visiting from the United States. The next snipet is how I found myself in the squalor that is Brussels, Belgium…

 An usual Icelandic volcano eruption compounded by a usual train strike in France made the Luxembourg train station was in utter chaos. One frustrated traveler was arguing with a ticket attendant, periodically switching between in French, Italian, and German. The stress was contagious and we began to feel that our immediate departure was more necessary by the minute. We decided to depart on the next train out, either to Brussels or Paris- whichever was first.  After about an hour, we hopped on the train to Brussels, ecstatic to have escaped the madhouse in such a short time. 

Once the train station was no longer in sight we began to take notice that, although there was a shortage in available transportation, the train was scarcely populated . The woman behind me reeked of stale cigarettes and her mutt continuously emitted a stench of rotten eggs. Every person in the car had a cellphone that rang on maximum volume. The ring, however, was not a standard ringtone but one that was a medley of the most irritating technical sounds obtainable. I began to be convinced that all the other passengers were in a conspiracy to see who could make me jump from the yellow tented windows onto the track. 

Immediately once we crossed the border into Belgium, it became gray and cloudy. The landscape was gritty, the grass in the passing fields was dead. As we began to approach Brussels, vile graffiti became more prevalent. Homeless (or otherwise bored vagrants) drank cans of Belgian beer outside Gare du Midi amongst construction, throwing their empty cans into the dust – adding to the piles of filth.  The Fine Art Museum was across the street. The color of its columns matched the grey of the street and the sky.

Meandering the streets, a storyline began to take over my mind: I’m in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus inducing dementia has taken over. The virus causes paleness and cravings for waffles from contaminated street vending carts. Instead of the Bourbon Street Lucky Dog carts, these carts were selling waffles instead of three-year-old minced meat conglomeration. I deduced this was the source of the virus. 

The whole city is an anarchic toilet bowl. Instead of avoiding the litter on the streets, couples strolling hand-in-hand purposefully kick garbage while smiling at each other. A downtown art installation consisted of a giant orange construction cone.  The city produces wafts of waffles, simulating being in a port-o-john while eating a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. If I had an appetite before arriving, it has now been bludgeoned into nothingness. I deduce that I will not be joining Erica for dinner, but drinking myself into an intended oblivion. 

Irony mocked us continuously. Ironically, these were the people known for producing comics. The fact that these dirty, barking homeless beings’ one call-to-fame was laughter and delectable sweets was impossible to imagine. The sole Tabac nearby carried a sparse selection of intoxicants: merlot or peach schnapps. 

A peeing cupid statue dons the mantle over the front door to our hostel, the statue a welcoming to all the tired, poor guests to the Sleep Well Hostel.  Needless to say, I was drinking straight from my bottle of merlot by 20:00 in the lobby. Walking up to the front desk (bottle in hand) I asked the receptionist, a Hunchback Dilbert, where to find the book exchange. The only geek to ever state, “I’d rather watch the movie then read the book” leads me to a dungeon where the ‘book exchange’ was located. It only consists of Lord of the Rings knock-offs. I tried to imagine Hunchback Dilbert joking with friends over waffles in a diner. The scene quickly ends in bloodshed after pancakes are brought.

Around 2:00AM a homeless man acquired a jackhammer and began to test it outside the hostel. Although we were on the 3rd floor, it sounded as though the Jackhammer Villain was beside my bunkbed.  I awoke from my booze-induced coma delirious but ready to escape. Once we arrive at the train station, we drop 100 Euros, no longer pennywise, and step into our escape car as the whistle blows.