“Memory is nothing more than memory. Events do not remain in it as some holy garments in the trunk, but they still happen, even if simply by remembering them, changing, growing. You can never be sure of them or build anything on them. Once they are closer than the present, once they escape in front of you, although you approach them with good will, and maybe the truth about the things is possible to designate only by our longing for them, our sorrow, our turning up in them. Perhaps by memorizing things we want to ensure they will still be in the present, the only possible eternity. Because only the present time is real in human life, only in the present we experience our presence, sometimes painful” Wieslaw Mysliwski
Ernesto is a sculptor. He makes furniture. If he has a good month, he earns one hundred dollars, if the month is week, he will not earn anything. As he says, one hundred dollars in Nicaragua is enough to buy food and tools and even a beer will do. Ernesto lives in his own, self-made house. The house is set on a plot which was given to Ernesto as a gift from the governmnet for his participation in the revolution. The only fee that has to to born is a rent for land, chargeable once a year. This fee amounts to bare seven Cordobas (the equivalent of 1/3 of American dollar, in other words – about thirty American cents).
The plot, along with the house, is now worth two hundred thousand Cordobas, which is about eight thousand American dollars. The house is beautiful, almost everything is made of wood, it has electricity, the roof does not leak, the large garden is full of running chickens, cats and dogs.
Ernesto says that the climate is changing, and although it is winter now, and the rainy season, it rains as good as nothing. The well has to be deepened continually, because it dries out. I’m going to help. Zeledon Henry, the Ernesto’s sun, enters the well. The bottom of it is very hot and stuffy, and to make the matter worse, there are lots of scorpions there. They bite, no doubt about that, but what you can do – one needs to drink water, so every so often the well needs to be deepened. Scorpions come in almost every bucket, together with the spoil, dug out by terribly hard work, for which the payment is a gallon of clean water a day.
In Nicaragua, unfortunately, beggars appeared. As soon as at the border with Honduras, which surprised me a little, because it has been a long time since I last saw importunate toddlers running around and crying out: give me one dollar. The elders have a more veiled method of getting their way. For example, I ask a quite well dressed lady (dressed certainly far better than I was): Do not you know where the nearest supermarket is? I’m going in that direction, she says, come with me, I will show you. I am keen on a proposal for a joint walk and some talk, but after five minutes or so, the conversation turns into a weird teeth business. That going to the dentist is expensive, that the lady will soon have to have her entire jaw replaced, oterwise she won’t be able to eat, so, could I just lend her some bucks to replace at least one tooth?
Or, I ask for a comedor, because I wanted a hamburger. Forget bloody hamburger!, says a nice, young boy in a white, clean shirt. He smiles at me warmly, protruding his gleaming teeth, a briefcase sticks out from under his left armpit. Don’t eat this stuff, come with me, I’ll take you to a better place and for the same amount of money you will eat a really good dinner! Again, I naively agreed, and finally I had to pay twice as much for the meal (but I will find out about it only when I’ve finished eating), and during devouring (after all) a delicious chicken with vegetables, I heard: Listen, could you lend me two hundred Cordobas? So I could buy a dinner later. I have not eaten anything yet, see how my ribs are sticking out, and having said that, he pulled up his shirt and exposed overgrown chest.
I’ve seen a trick with ribs more than once, maybe I’ll start to use it myself, I’m sure I would not be worse than a boy with a briefcase, cause my chest hasn’t got any facial hair and the ribs present themselves much better.
In Granada, completely by chance, I got to the festival, which at first glance looked like gays and lesbians parade. Painted transvestites, athletic young boys, flexing their torsos to the beat of techno music, and behind them – two big quasi-dragons, on platforms of which, scantily clad girls advertised local brewery. The whole city was gridlocked, but with a bike I could squeeze through it.
Every now and then someone came up to me and treated with a beer, so finally I asked what kind of holiday it was. Assumption of Vigrin Mary!, a boozy man cries out and added: Una buena ocasion por estar boracho! That is, colloquially speaking, a good opportunity to get canned.
The drew into the feast, and, somewhow imperceptibly, the night came, so I decided to stay for the night in town, heading into the first visible hostel. The price per night – one Euro (12-beds room, with only me as a guest). Prices for separate rooms started from two Euros, all were occupied, mostly by the Germans and the Swiss. Microwaving pasta in the kitchen I was amazed to find out that no one sitting in front of their facebook profiles, or playing cards, did not know that there was a festival in the city. I told them that I would be back on the market soon cause it didn’t finish yet. It’s dangerous walking at night, they all say, better to stay at the hotel. Anyway, tomorrow at six in the morning they get up, and go on a jeep tour over the lagoon.
I left Nicaragua very late in the evening, and my first night I spent at Costa Rican police station. What is very noticeable after crossing the border is the lack of buildings. Just a few standing alone mud huts or shattered houses covered with corrugated iron. And between them – lots of hoardings: we sell land, cheap houses and plots, property for sale, etc. After two days of cycling I finally reached the coast, which apparently is owned mostly by Americans. Like the British, or the Russians, redeeming the land on the Spanish coast, the Americans purchasing Costa Rican plots, share a similar view regarding their decision to buy. A simple, very human desire to find a dreaming place to spend one’s retirement. Why not, therefore, in Costa Rica? In a country where it is warm all year round, where the life seems to slow down, where you can gorge on exotic-sounding and even more exotic tasting fruits, where in the shade of palm trees on a beautiful beach you may sip a juice through a straw from a coconut, and finally, where ginger cats enter the tents.
I noticed a new cat only when, with a full stomach, I was about to fall asleep. La gata, says sixty-two years old Emily, who invited me for a cup of coffee, but because in the meantime the storm drew near, I didn’t go anywhere further and stayed overnight. When she was younger, she couldn’t stop miaoing, so my daughter called her ambulancia. I mean, that she just wailed over and over again, she added, seeing that I did not fully understand why the cat was called like that. But it’s a little too long to pronounce, so now we call her ambu, she concluded with a smile.
The cat began with jumping on my lap, and when I immediately dropped her, she began to bite my orange shoelaces. This time, even without the help of a vet I could see myself that this was a female cat, la gata. I finished my coffee, said good night to Emily and barricaded in my tent. Unfortunately, the cat surely wanted to get inside. She jumped between the flysheet and mosquito net, in which she made a few holes – small but large enough for a visit of the colony of ants next evening.
That evening, however, instead of ants there was a cat. After a quarter of frolics I finally pulled her out of the flysheet and threw into the tent. I could forget about sleeping – there were so many new, unfamiliar things to scratch, to bite, to tear, to hunt. I threw her in the end again, but the poignant purring quickly convinced me that that night we sleep together. After another hour she calmed down a little bit, and in the end, came near, bit my beard and buried her claws in it. Her quiet, monotonous purring mingled with intense, vibrating sounds coming from a nearby, tropical forest. Forest at night never sleeps, is full of life, it sleeps during the day that gives solace in the shade.
At night, the forest fills with rowdy lust. All these sounds of chirping, cooing, howling, whimpering, wailing resembling moans, or cries – all of them are magically resonating emblems of seeking solace lust, unsatisfied love, the need for closeness, or maybe they are just a selfish need, driven by instincts, or the most ordinary relief.
The orgiastic sounds of the forest lullabied the cat on my chin. She wakes me up in the morning, purring, gently licking my cheek. Our eyes shine with laugh. Emily makes eggs for breakfast, we eat them together, and drink some coffee. I pack my tent, I would like to say goodbye, but the cat had disappeared, bolted somewhere, we can not find her.
I’m going back on the road, smiling to the world, smiling to myself. I close the eyes, filling my head with dreams; intertwine thoughts in my matted beard, the wind blows on it slightly. I’m going further, I share my thoughts, I share my world. In the evening, I stop by the road and sip some juice from a fruit of a coconut palm. I do not remember what happened yesterday, I do not know what will happen tomorrow.
The juice is delicious, sticks my fingers, refreshes. Maybe that is what will remain from this road. Maybe that is exactly and only thing I should remember. The taste of the fruit of a coconut palm and tangled, sticky claws in my matted beard, scratching me for a good night and a good morning. For agoodmorningandnight. With a sleeping smile in one’s neverending dream.
Perhaps no love is strong enough to get through the whole life. But it seems that we do not have anything else which could withstand life, but love. Wieslaw Myśliwski
The last few days I spent in the backyard of Vladimir Vallega’s property – the man who pulled me out of a very bad mood, or, literally, out of a roadside ditch, where a few days earlier I was lying with a fever, and a piercing pain of my muscles and kidneys. Every morning and evening, on a regular basis, I was visited by the head of bodyguards of a nearby mall. He would bring water, sometimes food and kept asking if I wanted to call my family. I wanted to lie down a little bit more in a cozy ditch, but my body began to swell strangely, and the pain started to be so unbearable that I couldn’t sleep, so I had nothing esle to do, than to put down my tent, say goodbye to the pleasant lodgings and, surely, to the boss for care and protection I received against any possible juvenile offenders.
I met Vladimir next to his restaurant called Portena. When I asked him if he didn’t know where the nearest clinic was, he took off his red apron, closed just a minute earlier opened premises and took me to the doctor. The visit, along with medicines, cost the equivalent of one hundred dollars. It turned out that I came at the very last moment, anyway, that’s what the doctor said. I got inflammation of the urinary tract, but now, after a few days of resting, generally everything is quite all right.
After a visit, we went back to the restaurant. I ate three pupusas (pancakes with cheese and meat), which almost burst my stomach. Firstly, Vladimir suggested that I should go to the nearest hotel, but when he realised what my budget for the trip was – he changed his mind, and suggested the roof of his restaurant. The roof was a really great place, but the idea of converting it into a cosy apartment did not please the police, so the next day I moved to the Vladimir’s house, or, actually, the backyard of his property.
Apart from the restaurant Portena, Vladimir leads a second, similar place – on the ground floor of his house. This second restaurant is a typical comedor, where, for very little money (in Salvador, the currency is American dollar) you can eat decent breakfast or substantial lunch. The comedor is a family business. Vladimir’s wife works here, along with their children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.
Ali and Junior, Vladimir’s children, do not go to school. They learn at home, and have private tutors. At the end of the year they take one, all-year exam at school. Textbooks for learning are printed in Honduras, where “home” way to educate children is more common than it is in Salvador. Junior is fourteen years old, and speaks fluent English with a very good accent.
The members of the family live together in a big house, which stands in the middle of the market area. At the very early morning, the market starts to be full of the hustle and bustle, which doesn’t fade until late afternoon. It also hosts the bus station and it is a place where one may purchase various types of livestock. People sit there on the streets, occupy every bit of any availalbe space, every piece of a valuable shade.
There are plenty of people, but shaded seats maybe a dozen. Who is lucky enough, and owns such a precious spot, does not move an inch from it, even when a careless bus driver runs over a basket filled with bananas and watermelons, or a wheelbarrow full of husked beans. Such clumsy actions cause huddle unheard of, which ends only with blasts of firecrackers shot by the police, meticulously guarding the market.
Those who didn’t succeed in getting a shady spot, apply different methods of getting their way. They don’t sit in one place, but move all the time; from gate to gate, from alley to alley, sniffing and looking at all imaginable places where they could find a potential client. From a wide range of products available, analgesics dominate (Ladies and gentlemen! For one, only one dollar, wonderful pills for everything! Diarrhea, headache, teeth, sinuses, muscles, arthritis, menstrual cramps, rheumatism, for one dollar you may get rid of all your health problmes!), but among other odds and ends, which are being sold, you may also find belts, shirts, Colgate toothpaste, watches, detergents, cosmetics, everything just for one dollar.
I’ve never seen anyone buying anything from these people, and yet, with some dull stubbornness, or maybe just a sheer desperation, each day they enter the same places, with the same genuine smile on their faces and the same sort of confidence, praising crappy products as if they hadn’t been at all doing that for weeks or months, and perhaps years, but it was their first, new day at work, when one is still able to muster (even if fake) admirable enthusiasm.
Vladimir wants me to stay longer, but I have a queer feeling that I am resting too long, I do not want to abuse the hospitality, and, after all, I can not sit still at the table, lingering under the Canadian flag, looking blankly at moving out, kaleidoscopic images .
One should not detonate a bomb in someone’s heart by the ocean, writes a friend of mine. Probably she was right, or maybe not, I do not know. Maybe I deserved what had happened, maybe whatever I would have done, and no matter how much I would have tried – it was inevitable, anyway. I can not give immortality to anyone or anything. Mortal I am, like a white mouse, which is an object of experience of time.
I’m going towards the border, the ride did not do me well, so I decided to spend the night in the hostel. I had a strange dream. I dreamed that I woke up. I was lying on the ground in a stuffy, dark room that was slowly filling up with lights and sounds. There were some people around me but I could not recognize who they were, and all I could see were a few dark silhouettes. They were talking something to me, in a whisper, which slowly thickened and eventually turned into a light buzz. I stood up and raised my head. Millions of butterflies were flying through a big hole in the roof. There were so many of them that I could nearly hear the flutter of their wings.
I wanted to lift, soar into the air, fly away with them, but I could not raise, I could not move. I wanted to scream, but the voice faded in my throat. Someone shouted: Come on, get up, go on, finish your trip!, someone else: Pull yourself together! and yet: Start enjoying life, get up, fly! But maybe nobody screamed, and it was only me, dreaming a bad dream, because life is just a dream, dreaming by a shade, so maybe it was just my own ego crying, bouncing off from the vivid figures that were deepening the circle, approaching me inexorably, and soon I was about to be covered by their more and more shining and penetrating light …
Thanks for all of you, for your kind words. There’s nothing wrong going on. Everything what is happening, is happening just in my head, so, in fact, actually it does not exist. There is no cosmic solitude, no headaches, no sorrow and no bad thoughts. It will all pass, the wings will grow back, I just need a little rest.
I’m not going back, I will go on. Devoided of any hope and illusions, I do not have to hurry anywhere now. I need some space and air. That’s all I need, a little bit of space and some fresh air. After all, I am a wandering bird. And what she loved in me, was a bird. Txori nuen maite.
Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something De Mello Anthony
A new cat came in sight. A red one, I do not pay attention to the rest. I do not know why I pay special attention just to red cats, it’s hard to say. Maybe, because my grandfather was a redhead and I got a reddish beard from him? But, truly, he wasn’t quite a readhead, but my grandmother would call him that way. My grandfather also was like Snufkin, so to speak. He was rarely at home, but, in contrast to me, almost all his life he would move in a circle with a radius of not more than five miles. He knew its every corner, he would say that it was the whole universe. Although he passed away not such a long time ago, I do not remember the timbre of his voice. I wish I had talked to him more, when there still was time for that. Where has this redhead gone again! – my grandmother’s cry reverberated from above the cooking pots – Go, look for him and call him for dinner! So I ran into the woods to look for my grandfather, and didn’t come back until evening.
But I was supposed to be talking about cuddling! So, I met a new red-haired cat. Just in case, I was not too nice to him, hugged him just a little and not with such an affection as the previous one, because I could have tamed this one, too (as the Little Prince did with his rose) and I would only cause more trouble, though probably of different sorts, because it was a male cat.
I met a cat on my birthday, in a Salvadoran village called Mizapa, in a house of Vega family, whose one member invited me to dinner that night, fed, watered and sang Colombian songs of Oscar Agudelo. Frankly speaking, there was just one song, sung over and over again, a Colombian hit, La cama vacía.
More than a dozen people live in the house, so the family is large and virtually self-sufficient. Behind the house there is a garden, which is full of fruit: huge watermelons, juicy mangoes, bananas, coconuts, and the others that I have never seen before. The family grow corn as well, which they use to make tortillas, and there are lots of chickens running around the yard. You can catch one, and without any further ado – cut off its head, as if it was the most natural thing to do, then pluck, tan over the oven and make chicken soup for the guest. For breakfast there were eggs with beans, and delicious coffee, which taste was incomparable with any other liquids, served by baristas in any networking coffee restaurants. It had an intense flavor, strong and deep and stayed on the palate for a long time after the meal.
Salvadorians were supposed to cut off my head, rape me, rob me, gut me, and in the best case – just to give gringo a decent thud, lest it occurred to him that he couldn’t ride so carelessly and freely, in his tight clothes, with a stupid smile and a red beard, on a far too conspicuous bike.
These warnings gave me people in Guatemala. In contrast, I heard similar stories in Mexico – but they were about Guatemalans and their sublime methods of tormenting gringos. We are good people, Mexicans would say, but when you get to Guatemala, no longer will you be able to ride your bike so carelessly, and to put up your tent wherever you meet the night.
The first impression after crossing the border between Mexico and Guatemala – there was more of everything: people, smells, fruits, comedores – roadside restaurants, but also there was far more noise and traffic on the road, holes in the asphalt, garbage. I liked the notes and the original name of the currency – Quetzal, attributed to the name of bird of paradise, which in the pre-Columbian mythology was a symbol of freedom and beauty.
The first night in Guatemala I spend in the yard of pastor Vilar, who, without batting an eyelid on my question, Do you know any good, safe place for camping?, responded: I’m inviting you to my house, the whole family will be delighted. A nice evening ended only when my knackered body almost fell out of the plastic chairs under the table. The next few days looked nearly the same. Such warmth, hospitality and willingness to help I haven’t experienced for a long time.
With regret, I was about to leave Guatemala, so long I stood on the border, wondering whether to go further, or maybe it’s time to stop fooling around and not to go any further at all. Maybe I should go to the bazaar to buy a machete, I thought, cut a piece of forest, and then build a little hut, beat out the threshing floor, breed chickens, have a plot of corn, and a rambutan tree, find a readhead cat and grow old with her, put up passing cyclists and invite them for dinner, then make them scrambled eggs for breakfast, serving it with a delicious cup of coffee.
Andrzej Bobkowski, a Polish writer, spent his last days In Guatemala. This time I could not, or maybe I just did not want to look for traces left by him. I went to trace my own path.
To say something more. In order to be said again. Said somehow. Always the same. Attempts. Off the mark. Never mind. Try again. Miss again. Miss better. Samuel Beckett
It was a redhead cat. She was running under the table and was eating all creatures crawling on the floor. She had dark, trusting eyes and large, pointed ears. I took her in my arms. What a scrag! I thought, scratching her ear with one of my hand and moving my fingers on her spine. Warm body purrsed gently. We touched our noses. Her rough tongue licked my skin. I hugged her tighter, a small head snuggled into my arm.
Rigoberto Rene Mijangos Maza, a forty years old veterinarian, who can pull his leg over his head and jump two meters up, found the cat on the road and embraced. Gato Angora, he said, a very wise and well-behaved, if you want, you can take her with you. I wanted, I did want, but I could not. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken her in my arms, I shouldn’t have hugged so warmly, because, probably, she thought something, no matter what, I do not know what cats think. Definitely she had something in mind, she thought of something, but I do not know what. How would I? I often do not know what I think, let alone a cat … And maybe she didn’t think at all, after all, thinking has nothing to do with it. I took her in my arms, hugged, and it should stay like that forever. From that moment she was about to snuggle in my arms, to the end of the world.
But next day, I was gonna leave, and I couldn’t take the cat, I wouldn’t be able to carry her in my panniers or in a camera bag, and she was to small to run after me. So, why was I so surprised in the morning, when I said goodbye to Rigoberto and his friend Benjamin, why was I sad when I saw her jumping through the gate and running towards me, like a little dog… Rigoberto grabs her and tosses through the gate, but the cat is back on the road again, and now, runs even faster in my direction, so she must be caught once again and locked, as Rigoberto said, now, she can’t escape, unless through the chimney.
I’m going fast, but still it’s too slow. I’m trying not to think, but I can still hear her miaowing through the door. Finally I stop and don’t move for a long time, until I fall asleep. An old man, carrying a plastic bag full of red, hairy fruit, wakes me up. It’s rambutan, he says. Have not eaten yet? Try it. He shows me how to peel them and says they are good for any bad thoughts. Then he goes away, stooping, disappears around the bend.
In the evening I got to Tapachula. I have a fever again. I sleep in the park, some Salvadorans come at night. They are pushy, do not let me sleep. I do not talk to them, I feel bad, I want to scold them, but I have already used all words during the day. I don’t utter a word, finally they leave. The second night in the same park, there was a slight earthquake around midnight – the earth wavered ridiculously, a strange feeling, as if I pitched a tent on the sea. In a few hours I will find out that the epicenter was in Guatemala. In the morning, the police wakes me up, telling, it is not a camping ground and I should go to the hostel for immigrants and the homeless.
I was sitting in one place for hours, trying to collect my thoughts together. Then I went to the suburbs to look at the way, to look out of red spots, but apart from a violent storm, there has been nothing to see. So I came back to the park.
In the evening I went to seek a shelter, but ended up in a patio of Chang-Martinez family. Mrs. Lulu’s grandfather came from China and married a Mexican woman. The family is big, there are ten people in one room, and it’s still only a part. I ate a sweet mango for dinner, went back to the tent. I started wandering in my thoughts on the redhead’s hair, weaving words in it, and then I dreamed that I went back, that I did not want to go any further. I wanted to be with her, didn’t go anywhere, and if I was to move one day somewhere, then only with her, but Rigoberto opens the door and says that the cat ran away. She ran the other way.