Thailand by bike

“Each medium of expression imposes its own limitations on the artists – limitations inherent in the tools, materials, or processes he employs. In the older art forms natural confines are so well established they are taken for granted. We select music or dancing, sculpture or writing because we feel that within the frame of that particular medium we can best express whatever it is we have to say.” Edward Weston

After a few months spent in Poland I decided to change environment for a while and go on next trip. This time I went to Thailand. I flew from Warsaw to Bangkok with Fidrygalka. We stayed for two days in the capital and then started cycling towards Chiang Mai, the city situated in the north of Thailand. It took us twelve days to get there, where we spent a month. I was working on finishing writing the book, which hopefully will be published in 2019. It is based on the journey from Patagonia to Alaska I undertook in 2016-1018. Maybe one day it will be translated and published in English, but I suppose, rather posthumously.    

Anyway, returning to the trip – I would like to write about Thailand. Frankly speaking I have very little to add in the topic that the world on the road seems to be like a fairy tale. The accumulation of magical and fantastic elements is so intense and frequent that after a few days you stop treating them as something peculiar, and you start perceiving them as a full-fledged reality, not requiring confirmation by any rational knowledge. And, as if everything happened in a real fairy tale – time quickly and unnoticeably curves its trajectory, and from linear becomes cyclic.

We wish we knew some Thai language. Surely, you can smile, you can use gestures, you can express lots of things without even opening your mouth. But even though – there are lots of things happening around us, to which we do not have the key, or simply we don’t know what to say. We don’t use ice in water or drinks, but you get it in the cups before you fill them in. We don’t use fans, but how can you explain you would rather turned them off? We use toilet paper in restrooms (instead of Thai method of cleaning their bottoms with a hose) but how can you ask where the paper should be thrown away?

We order rice and chicken without red chili, because we don’t like spicy food, but the meal is so hot that we can’t eat it and we have to order something different, which in turn, appears to be absolutely gorgeous. And the funny thing is, you don’t know what it was. You’d like to get to know the name of that dish, but even if you figured it out, it’s impossible to repeat it – all attempts to imitate Thai language end up with laughter and misunderstandings.

So, we create our own phrases and names, for example: grilled banana (pronounced something like kuey ping), or banana with sticky rice (hau tom mat) or muffins with beans (ha ko), or our favorite – fried banana with coconut cake (kluay khaek).

If our ignorance of the language causes misunderstandings while ordering dishes, it does not pose any drawbacks when we try to find a place to stay for the night. It turned out that it is enough to enter any village and suddenly you are surrounded by a group of people who want to help you. Almost each night we ended up close to a monastery where we were able to pitch our tent, in an atmosphere of sincere, cordial commitment. Thai people seem to be extremely hospitable. And they always smile. They smile as wide and often as the Colombians do.

Usually, they do not know anything about Poland, and it is not surprising to me at all. Some Poles should come to Thailand to see that Poland is not the centre of the universe and millions of people carry on living quite well without being aware of its existence. So, we try to explain, if we can, that we come from a country with its own language and a thousand-year history, although now without a king. I mention the king quite intentionally, because Thailand has its king and his omnipresence is very noticeable – on hoardings, billboards, walls, monasteries, banknotes and coins.

By the way, the pride of the Thai king is not necessarily felt by all inhabitants (though Heaven Forbid, you must not admit it and show any disapproval in public), since we saw portraits of the late ruler – Rama IX, abandoned in the rubbish bin. Apparently, the monarch here, like in the United Kingdom, is an unprofitable institution, but nobody seriously thinks to abolish it.

We are white, we are strangers, and yet, or maybe because of that, we are treated as partners. We are treated like a child who sometimes needs to be helped to understand the world. Nobody tries to cheat us. The people we meet want to help, even if our mutually understood vocabulary comes down to ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’. Generally nothing more is needed. How easy it is to be good. Or just a bit better.

I was wandering once, why those people are so nice to us. Maybe their positive attitude is misleading because and it is only culturally conditioned. As we know, appearances sometimes may be very deceptive. But even so, I‘d rather meet someone who is seemingly good, instead of being with people who openly show aggression and lack of tolerance.

So, we are in Chiang Mai, in a hotel for which we paid the equivalent of about one hundred American dollars per month per person – this information is for those who ask me who supports my long travels. I do. I earn some money and then I spend them. Mainly on food and accommodation. Plus I buy spare parts to the bicycle, and common things such as toothbrush, soap, sometimes shoes (but clothes I change seldom – on average each three/five years, depending on their quality).

The last years I used to get by having equivalent of about three hundred American dollars per month. For everything. It is not much, I agree. Sometimes it would be better to have a little more, for example, in order to find a safe place to stay for the night or to buy more food. But it’s ok. I don’t starve, far from that. I can’t complain. And Thailand, luckily, is pretty cheap, comparing to Europe, or to the United States.   

But let’s go back to Chiang Mai for a while. We have peace here, an air-conditioned room, a few pounds of free (!) bananas each day (that reminds me my stay in the United States, where I had to pay a dollar for one banana), free drinking water, our own coffee maker and a bazaar with a mass of good food, just ten minutes walk from the hotel, where the dinner costs an equivalent of one American dollar.

Surely you may find in Chiang Mai and in other parts of Thailand more expensive and elaborate meals, if you are unwilling to eat directly on the street with the locals. You may find good restaurants with waiters, where you will spend ten times or more buing one dish. But the street food is cheap, tasty and definitely healthier from lots of stuff you find in European or American supermarkets, including those with a very funny label ‘organic’.  

We came from Bangkok without any GPS. Actually, we don’t even have a cell phone. Really – you can survive pretty well without those ‘amenities’. We are guided by the sun, the stars and the signposts, although those are not always legible.

Maybe it’s even better that we don’t understand everything here. There is a room for imagination. The room of imagination. A small one will do. A tiny room (for) the imagination. With a large window wide open. Open to the world.

 

Sound of silence

 

The trip is over. After sixteen months of travelling I came back to Poland. I need some rest. I would like to thank everyone I met and everyone who accompanied me (even virtually) in my journey. I will cherish the memories of those encounters and I will keep telling to my friends in Poland that the world is generally good. And that the people are good. And that we should travel not only to admire places but to admire people. We mustn’t forget that those people are mirrors in which we could see ourselves.

After all, what we see in others in a reflection of ourselves. 

Hibernal

droga (6)

It feels good to be lost in the right direction

Today, I will tell you something about ghosts. First, the Poles. Two men came from Vancouver to hunt deer. They appeared suddenly – just stopped next to the bench where I was sitting, and after a while I was given some canned food, two jars of minced meat, a huge loaf of good bread and three twenty-dollar bills. – Buy yourself a cup of coffee – said one of them.

A few days later a car stopped in front of me and a friendly-looking man asked if I would like to spend the night under the roof, take a shower and get a decent dinner. At first I thought I had misunderstood something or that I was being delirious, because – believe it or not – a minute ago I thought exactly about how wonderful it would be to finally take a shower and rest a little.

The place to which he had invited me turned out to be a roadside motel. The room had a bathroom and a deep bath in it. For two hours I was in complete bubble bliss, which was prolonged by the flow of hot water.

In the morning I got breakfast. Three huge pancakes, six pieces of bacon, three fried eggs, fried potatoes, some toasts with jam and coffee with a jar of maple syrup. At first I thought I would not be able to eat it all, but I did. It is unbelievable how much you can eat after a dozen or so months of cycling. I did not even notice when the plates were taken from the table – I stared at the little picture hanging over it: Live every moment, laugh every day, love beyond words.

I wanted to thank that guy who invited me to the motel the previous day, but no one saw him. What was even more surprising was the fact that the lady from the kitchen did not seem to know who I was asking for. But surely somebody had to tell her to prepare that huge breakfast for me. Anyway, the man disappeared.

And I can’t forget to mention Debbra and Blair – the couple I met six years earlier in the vicinity of hot springs. Debbra drove her car five hundred kilometers to meet me up and then took me to her home. Unforgettable three days which I spent on talking and resting, wandering if I really deserved such lavish hospitality and care.

One day I met a red fox. I saw him from a distance, so I stopped. I was looking at him and he was looking at me and suddenly he came closer. It thought that I was drawing him towards me as if on an invisible cord of mutual interest. He slipped under the bicycle and touched me with his nose. Then he sniffed one of the panniers, sat down, and kept looking until a car finally stopped nearby, from which a woman came out. She approached us and the fox ran away into the forest.

– Is it your mascot, you cycle with a fox? – she asked suddenly, after exchanging standard questions: where, why, absolutely, good for you, have a good one.

– No, it was a ghost – I replied.

It’s getting colder, quieter and I’m getting closer to the end. And I still do not know what to do next. I keep thinking about what to do with the pebble which I’m carrying from Patagonia. I could have given it to the fox, but what he would do with such a stone? Maybe I should give it to the world? But there are plenty of stones in the world. So, maybe I’ll give it to the silence. I’ll throw it into the silence. The silence will accept anything. Without any unnecessary words, without translations.

Live very moment, laugh every day, love beyond words. Maybe the silence helps. Just like a dream. Maybe the travel does it also? After all, traveling is a bit like looking for some fairy tales, isn’t it?

Wingbeats

a bird“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Tim Cahill

I was cycling slowly in the stillness of the night, looking for a place to put up my tent. I tried to spot something which would be more than a shallow ditch or a fragment of meadow on the edge of the forest. Canada differs from Mexico or Colombia. Knocking at the door does not equal an invitation for a supper. Firstly, there are less and less houses and gas stations. Secondly, even if I’m so lucky that I can get to some buildings just before sunset, I have no guarantee that someone will let me stay nearby. Money would fix all things. There are lots of motels or campgrounds along the way. The problem is that with my twelve American dollars daily budget I simply cannot afford them. 

After all, sleeping in the forest does not sound so bad. But the nights often end with a morning visit of a teddy bear. Then, I do not know how to behave. I carry bear spray and I keep it handy but everybody says that if the bear is hungry the spray will not save me and I will be eaten anyway. 

That time the buildings appeared unexpectedly – I might well write that they suddenly fell down straight from the sky. A pale light was coming through half-drawn curtains. I came closer.

– No problem, you can put up your tent wherever you want – said an older, white-beard man after opening the door. – But please get inside if you wish. We will talk a little and drink a beer. Santa Claus, I thought, someone dropped him from heaven.

The words hovered over the table, rose, then dropped and faded. The smoke hid them in the  reigned chaos of papers, cans, glass pieces, wood and metal frames. In one of them – my host with a young woman. Sunny and cheerful faces with clear sky in the background.

The cats came out only after some time. First, the ginger ones and then – the huge black-and-white feline creature. – Strange that she came out – said James. – She never shows herself to a stranger.

I stretched out my hand, she came closer and then jumped on my knees. I touched her once, then she fled and did not come back. The time stopped, and so did we in it.

In the morning a bird song woke me up. It sounded like a bell. I listened for a moment, but the sound melted into silence and did not repeat itself. I said goodbye to the man. I kept on listening. The bird was gliding in the sky, higher, and higher, until it disappeared in the clouds.

 

Purnamadah

salvino i piotr

“The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” Shirley MacLaine

I went to Carnation. I had to go there. I stood under the shop where four years ago Captain Chicken and Nick Salvino tried to convince me not to go to Fall City. But I did not follow their advice and I went and in very weird circumstances I broke my knee cap. And I still don’t know what would really have happened if I had done what they had asked me to do.

The store was closed. I took a photo, sat on the ground, leaned against the wall and waited. It was hot and windy, completely different from the fall time, when in the thick mist I was wrapping myself in the cobwebs. I fell asleep. I was awakened by a tipsy-looking man. I thought he would know where the Captain Chicken lives. So he did. There was an address on the flyer I had a picture of, but I did not look at it intentionally. I knew that if I was about to find the place, I would find it anyway.

I wandered an hour, maybe two, long enough for any reasonably thinking creature to finally give up, but I am not a reasonably thinking creature, so I was still looking for the place. The funny thing is, that the closer I was to meet Captain Chicken, the more I asked myself: “Why”? What for? Why do I want so much to see him again? I will meet him and then what? What will I tell him? Something like, Do you know that four years ago after our meeting I broke my knee in Fall City? Do you remember how you with your friend tried to convince me not to go there? Do you know that I often thought what would really have happened if I had actually followed your advice and took another way? That I often looked at our photo taken four years ago – with you and me and Nick, and that I tried to get into your eyes? Literally. And you know that in fact I actually came here to do so? I wanted to get into your eyes. It’s not possible? Well, I am just doing it.”

So, I wandered and wandered and could not find it. Once someone said it was two houses away, once that it was closer, once that the house is green, then that it is blue and it can’t be seen from the street. I finally did give up and was cycling back to the town, but suddenly I saw a narrow road going into the forest with two mailboxes close to it and I did not know why but I was sure it was there. And when after a few hundred yards I saw a figure of a wooden man in a hat and a doghouse with a doll inside, then I had no doubt. That was the place.

kapelusz

Nick Salvino recognized me right away, but he seemed somehow frightened. Captain Chicken left the house a moment earlier. He gave me a quick glance, then another, longer and muttered something unintelligibly. The leaves rustled in the light breeze. Something moved in the doghouse. I closed my eyes and jumped. Straight into his pupils. And as I opened it, the Captain had gone. He stayed inside. Inside of me.

– He is tired – said Nick . – Leave him alone, and let’s go back to play with horseshoes.

In a moment I got to know the rules alongside with the players themselves. Captain Chicken had gone and didn’t come back. I joined the party for a while. I don’t know why but I didn’t stay for the night. The most plausible explanation is that nobody suggested it. I was about to say that I came there nearly at the day of my birthday, but somehow I didn’t say more than some silly utterances, and after some time of loitering – I left.

But the birthday was celebrated anyway. The family I met at Nogales were coming back from their holidays from Alaska. We met up in Seattle and they invited me to dinner. A lot of smiles, loads of warmth wards, sharing good energy, with the sea behind the window, and the ocean of memories left behind. Will I have place to put them all when I got silent? Will I ever reciprocate their hospitality? Will I have time to put everything into proper words? Will I be able to express in words what I got from them? A fragment of their lives, a little and tiny very home.

And it was just the beginning. I barely left Seattle, when I met Beth and Ray, who put a birthday candle in a cake for me to blow it up. Then Brain, who gave me a new saddle and invited for fish and chips, then Meilani with her husband who made absolutely delicious pancakes with blueberries for breakfast, and who were about to get to Australia soon for a year or so.

One wish – to be better for the others, to become a better person. Then the world will be better and everything around, too. And to start giving, giving more, taking less, or best – not to take anything anymore, or even refuse. Or take what is offer and then give it away. After all, I have everything, I have more than enough. I have a bicycle; I have the sunset and sunrise almost every day, I have the sky above my head, I have some food and strong legs. Even love goes with me. And when you feel love, you have almost everything. Love. Just a word, but how important, perhaps the most important of all. And yet. It goes, it rises, it hugs me, it rocks me to sleep, touches, whispers. Infinity.

 

Caje Sukarije

rozbitek

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” Anna Quindlen

I was cycling slowly through the park. Rustling leaves hovered in the air somewhere on the edge of the silence and gentle whispers, like the murmur of barely perceived, subtle sounds, audible only inside me. The giant trees grew around, staring at me with their invisible eyes buried among twisted boughs. I was looking at them with my eyes fixed on something lying ahead and I could not escape the feeling that I did not move, but the trees themselves were moving behind me. And I stood still, motionless, as if I had not moved an inch for years, and only the landscape and the sky were going somewhere, going to the place where I was born, where I came from, and the only thing I could do was to stand still, look and wait until everything flowed and there was nothing more than empty, clean, bright sky in which one day I will melt and disappear.

I fell asleep among redwoods, in the silence of the forest, in the darkness of the night, and in the calm of my thoughts. A young guard came in the morning and woke me up, somewhat uncertain what to do, because he took me for a bum who got lost in the grass, and actually the guard wasn’t very mistaken, because in fact, there is very little difference, if any, between me and so many vagabonds I meet on the way.

Funny as it may seem – people in the States (with some exceptions) usually take me as a bum, a professional one; a soret of cyclist, who has neither home nor job nor any prospects of changing his life. I would not have any problems with it (let people think what they want), but that perception has its repercussions in practice.

When I’m looking for a place to sleep in the evenings, people usually greet me with a phrase that resembles Polish “fuck up you dirty bum” (though it is possible to hear also more elaborate and sublime phrases such as “Do not tease my dog because I won’t be able to stop him and he will get you”). I honestly admit that indeed – it was a little frustrating at first because after a year in the countries where people not only willingly allow you to put up your tent in their gardens, but usually invite you for a conversation or even for dinner, I just forgot that not everybody is so cheerful and hospitable as most Latinos.

Surely – I also meet some friendly and hospitable people – so generous, so full of warmth and friendliness, that it seems to be even overwhelming, as it was the case with Marta’s family, where I could take a rest and get a feeling that I found myself at home.

No, I do not blame anybody for anything, and I don’t hold any grudge, far from it. I would even say that I understand those who chase me away from their properties. All in all – they don’t know me, and they want to protect their houses and neighbourhood. And in fact – at the first glance I really look like all those “castaways” I meet. Instead of a car I use the bike, I sleep in a tent, I cycle without a helmet (which seems to be a really distinguishing feature), and I do not wear professional, cycling t-shirts, neither I possess a cult Brooks saddle or even more cult bicycle named Surly. I have a simple bike, even more simple saddle, I collect all plastic bottles and bags, I take coins from the road, in McDonald’s I buy just a coffee, I wash myself in free restrooms, and in the library I do not rent books but I just use free wifi. Finally I often talk to myself and smile a lot. And then I go to pick up wild blackberries.

I have been eating them for a month, putting juicy fruit straight into my mouth, into the palate and the sun and the blue sky under which they grew was pouring inside of me. There are so many of them that I choose only the biggest, the sweetest and the ripest.  

Do you know that there is a separate, scientific study of blackberries named “batology”? It serves “to understand the very complex differentiation of blackberries at the genetic and morphological levels.” So, if there is any batologist among the readers, I have to say that I have no idea how much these California and Oregon blackberries are genetically and morphologically different but they are the tastiest and the sweetest i have ever eaten in mz life. If only I could share their taste with you. But I can’t. It can’t share those blackberries with you. And again that thought – is it possible to share anything at all?

I’m heading north, or maybe I’m not going anywhere, I’m not floating anywhere, neither with the wind nor with myself. I’m just standing there where I am, and the world is fleeing south. The winter is still far away, blackberries grow around me, birds fly in the sky. They hover above, spin in the beat of the trumpet’s sound. I stand in the middle and see how trees approach and whisper, inviting me to dance. They touch me as they turn, attract and tempt until they finally get hold of me, pull me into their dance, faster and faster. I dance.