Masters of the Dance

I. Takeoff

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16 December, 1998 Caracas Airport Map

Once more into the fray! My god, the last month just flew by! From the time I gave my notice until now, the days vanished. Ending some things, starting new ones, and just moving through life.

But the last nine months have been good - new friends, new interests, a new home. A time in my life unlike any other. The potential I sensed after returning from my trip around the world was realized. I arrived in town a complete stranger, and found, no made, a place for myself. It all worked - dancing, writing, dating, job, life. I feel like I have finally managed to work my travelling attitude until my day-to-day life.

But a new trip begins. Why did I leave this time? I had a great, well-paying job, decent friends, a new girlfriend, a new apartment, things were just beginning to take off. This trip could wreck all that. But it never felt like a choice for me. I would travel. The only question was where and when? From the day I gave notice, the journey rolled on ahead of me, leaving me breathless and panting trying to keep up. The urge to travel is all-consuming. It must be satiated. And yet I find myself less willing each time to continue. I have seen most of the places I dreamt of as a child. I need more now, more than a map and a ticket elsewhere. Why did I leave this time?

The easy answer this time around is to dance! To dance! To set aside all social, emotional, philosophical, sexual, and financial concerns and lose myself in the music. But dancing is not just something done in a club. An escape to simplicity, immersing yourself in the music, it is the same with travelling. And the dance whispers my name now. Doubts of my abilities, hang-ups from the past, and my fear of the unknown all pull me back, but I take the plunge and damn the consequences. One dance in Caracas is worth all the effort. One night where the music flows in my veins and the body moves like passion is all I seek. One sunset viewed from the Andes where the moment is so sweet, it is almost painful is why I leave. I need a place that's fresh, a culture that's new to me. I need to be enthralled, to move! A white boy with feet of clay dares to seek out the masters with hips of fire, dares an attempt to steal some of that fire, a search for passion!

But the trip, the journey. It all comes down to details. Once more, the limo takes me the first step along my way. A far different man looks out at the gray skies than last time. A darkened heart but a happy spirit fills his gaze. His life is as he wants it this time around. Shaking slightly at the task he is about to pick up, the question is answered with a simple phrase: Because I'm a traveller. Insufficient, perhaps, but adequate for now.

I had a good encounter on the plane. Sometimes, I get carried away with my own rhetoric. A woman sat next to me, forty-something, Spanish looking, with long black hair and dressed in a business suit. During the flight, we passed the time with the usual smalltalk that passengers use to make the time go by. This woman managed to bring me back to earth. Up until now, almost every story I heard from people about South America filled my mind with images of military coups, violence, thieves on all sides, and a people crossed between the proud Spaniards and the shifty whoever. This woman practically laughed in my face. She was a consultant for IBM, flying weekly between Caracas, Quito, Miami, New York, and Boston for her client. How... familiar. Once again, it brought home to me several points. First, the world is shrinking rapidly, get out and see it while you can! And secondly, people are people. Never assume anything until you know better. They sell M&M's in Bali, and the Sphinx is a very small structure. Iranians are a friendly folk in general despite the media, and you really can survive in Paris for under $20 a day! Never assume! It made me reconsider everything I had heard, and come back to reality just a little more.

In a twist so fitting I just had to laugh out loud, the movie showing on the plane was - dare I say it without a grin? - "Shall We Dance?" Ah! With intent eyes, I watched the dancers. The story failed to impress, but the dance was there, and I was smiling.

My arrival in Caracas was a bit of an anticlimax. An airport like any other. The women more beautiful, perhaps, but after San Francisco, nothing to make me sit up and pay attention. After bidding adios to my companion, the long night began. I was only connecting through Caracas on my way to Quito, Ecuador, but rather than deal with the hassle of going through customs, finding a hotel, coming back in the morning, and going through customs again, I decided to just sleep at the airport. Haven't I done this before? I wasn't sure what to expect, but there were no surprises. I attempted Spanish immediately, asking a cleaner "¿Donde esta el transito?" He shrugs, picks up his broom, and with an ironic gesture up and down the long hallway, indicates, "Aqui." Ah. I found a secluded spot, spread my sarong, locked up my pack, and attempted to find sleep.

Sleep that evaded me. I was too much on my guard. One, maybe two hours of fragmented snoozing, and I finally gave up. It was only 4:00, though, and the night was far from over. So, I passed the time. I drew, I read, I managed. Humph. A glorious start to the new trip...

17 December, 1998 Quito Map
Today is the tomorrow of yesterday, and yesterday is still today, but the sun is rising, and the airport comes to life around me. With bleary eyes, I somehow managed to write this while I waited for my flight to Panama to board. I felt scruffy, unshaven, in shapeless pajama clothing - a far cry from my business attire I managed while living in SF. And yet I'm comfortable. This is the real me, not that pompous peacock of a man. Sitting here, I don't feel the slightest bit self-conscious, despite the fact that I'm the only gringo in sight. So what, I travel alone.

But these writings begin to resemble those of a madman in my sleepless condition.

What in hell am I doing here? ?

o o o

Well, it's a beautiful day in Panama. The sun is shining, puffy clouds drift across the bright blue skies, and the air is just slightly warm and humid. Palm trees sway slightly with the mild breeze, and the hills are lush and green. Welcome to Panama airport! :-)

This morning was unpleasant in the best sort of way. Close to departure time, I went to sit next to the proper gate. A half hour before departure, I heard them announce that we would be leaving by a different gate, and everyone gathered their things with a sigh and walked down to the other end of the terminal. I lagged behind, however, adjusting my backpack. When I finally got there, no one was around! Hm. I walked to the nearest gate listing, and it remained unchanged. Hm. I went to passenger information. Copa? Gate 15. OK... No, no one around. Then the girl who gave me that information chased me down, gate 22! But I was there, no one is around. She grabs a walkie talkie and starts talking, grabbing my hand and leading me down the hall. Turns out, people were queuing up at gate 21, which said a flight to Miami. OK... It was nice of her to chase after me like that. But when I tried to board, I had another problem. I had not checked in for this flight, because the only way I could have done that would have been to go through customs and then come back again. As a result, I had no boarding card and no seat, despite my reservation. This resulted in a flurry of calls going back and forth, while I stepped out of the way to let others pass. Well, after all the calling, it turned out I had no problem getting on the flight here, but the woman then told me I had no reservation for tonight's flight to Quito! What?! And the flight's full. No! For a minute, I lost faith. My spirit failed after a night on the airport floor. I lost my perspective on the situation. I wasn't into the swing of things yet, and small problems like this seemed insurmountable. I left the queue and sat down, my face in my hands. Go into Caracas for the night and try again tomorrow? Raise hell at this end and demand my flight? Cry? They were all tempting, but then a glimmer of the past stiffened my spine, and once again, I joined the fast vanishing queue. Take me to Panama, I'll work out the next stage from there.

By this time, the flight was ready to depart. I was the last onto the plane, and we left soon afterwards. Descending into Panama, I enjoyed the view out the window. I suppose I can claim I've been to Central America now! Hm, perhaps not... As I gathered my things, I collected my scattered wits and prepared to do battle. Going through customs was simple, stamp! another page from my passport was gone. Preparing to fight for my flight out of there, I decided to first clean up. Shave, brush, fluff. It may have been a good idea, because my agent turned out to be very attractive and flirtatious. At first, she told me the same thing as the agent in Caracas. "No, all flights are full, you'll have to stay here tonight." No! I put on my best combination of charm and helpless pitifulness, and she ended up finding me a seat somehow. Much better. I thanked her profusely, then turned to face the day.

Hm. It's an hour to Panama city, I have no map, no local currency, and no idea what to do. Plus, I'm exhausted. I suppose I could have found a hotel for a nap but that was too much effort. Instead, I just sat on a wall outside the terminal and admired the green hills. Eventually, my agent came out to smoke and chat, but had to return to work soon afterwards. So I went inside, found a comfortable seat, and here I am, passing the day. Tommy Jeans, Duty Free Shops, and Latin music filling the air. *yawn* This day is going to be hard... *yawn*

o o o

But the day passed somehow. Long and boring. I was fed up by the time my flight left.

And the magic began. As I was waiting to board, two Yanks with SF accents started chatting in front of me. They were here on a short trip to climb as many of the mountains of Ecuador they could manage. Each had an absolutely massive duffel containing all their mountaineering gear they would need. These two were hard core. But they were staying at a hotel that was number three on my list to call. I decided to take my chances on the place having a room for me and teamed up with them. Our flight landed in Quito, we retrieved our bags, and walked out to face the taxis. We managed $5 with no haggling from one driver. Good enough. Our taxi raced through the dark streets into the center of town.

$17 was very pricey for a room for me, but I wanted comfort tonight. My first night in a bed. Ah, that hot shower felt good! The three of us cleaned up and wandered around some. There was a real positive feel to this city. It felt like a slightly more run-down version of the Mission in SF. But people were friendly, the women were beautiful, the energy was good, and I felt comfortable. Back to my room to watch Spanish videos and settle in for a long sleep... *snore*

Alston Inn US$17/s US$24/D
Water 4000/half gallon

Email me at nomad3 @ GoneWalkabout.com

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