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"Last Travel Journal" part II

Here is the second part of a series of articles concerning Travel, Culture and Resistance. I am now writing on the Asian part of my trip, which was the bulk of my experience along this Round the World voyage.

[ first installment of this three part series written for portland indymedia ]

And then came Asia. I arrived on a plane from suburban isolated Perth, Australia (sandwiched between the Great Australian Western Desert and the Indian Ocean) to a sultry hot, suffocatingly humid, just over the equator Arab-Malay oil-petrol rich Muslim sultanate - I arrived a day after Ramadan finished - English was not in common use - nothing was open - I was in trouble. This is a problem with RTW tickets; arriving to another culture, completely foreign, after only a six hour plane ride - is truly a lot to bear. Duty free alcohol was strictly controlled; foreigners who give alcohol to a Muslim can have their heads cut off.

In neighboring Malaysia, a first world Muslim light country with modern women and Tiger Beer, I was introduced to the dark, damp jungles of Borneo where the roots of the trees were larger and thicker than their branches; scattered below were dark green lacquered plant leaves that were massive and bigger than most human heads; beyond the green alive Plants, including the carniverous ones, and hollowed out brown trees were the bat populated and black Siflet bird caves, Neolithic cave drawings, and there were natural water pools, which connected to waterfalls of sticky pink limestone rock and dwarfed ferns. Beyond the muddy brown serpentine rivers lived the ancient tribes of former and not so former headhunters - in modern electrically charged long houses (the Christian missionaries got there before me) delicious Satay food cooking (they sautee over a fire pit rather than overfry their meats and fishes) potent concoctions of Rice wine and stereotypical Asian rice terraced farms; and naturally, the ubiquitous Monkey.

The next stop was Bangkok. The teeming metropolis of dirty sweat and foreign perversion was really trying after a relaxed stay in the Kalamatan jungles. I went north close to the Golden Triangle where I saw police and military thugs searching for people on the buses. These were death squads against the drug dealer menace. Yet everyone knew that the biggest drug dealers were those same uniformed murderers. I also discovered the world of ancient Buddhist monasteries, ancient inverted bell shaped temple ruins of former Asian kingdoms, Theravada Buddhist canon and the Nikaya scriptures translated from the old Pali script, great jungled over mountains, and the power of Vipassana breathing and meditation. For a time I was living in a glorified Kung Fu movie, under the watchful eye of the bald headed orange robed abbot, meditating in discipline for up to twelve hours per day. I took a short dive into Cambodia, the wild east of Southeast Asia, and encountered those who knew the victims of Amerikan sponsored genocide during the 1970s.

After a Springtime in New Zealand and in Australia; a Dry hot season in Southeast Asia; it was time to enjoy the Spring once again - India. My dream fulfilling itself before my eyes - I was off to the magic continent of Curiosity, History and Mystery. So I thought. I was also warned about that continent. I heard the stories of the incredible poverty, the misery of over a billion people, most living in the most wretched of Death waiting - urban contamination, State oppression, police corruption, Communalist religion (these communalists are Hindu fanatics that are secretly supported by the government, and that do attacks against Muslims and Sikhs - they are the best at the divide and conquer strategy that dupes the Indian masses)... what was one to make of this place? I only listened intently: and after arrival, it was the realization that the stories were completely right. India was the hardest place to travel in; it took me a month of seasoning, so that I could warm myself to its erotic element. The first thing one understands is the reality of a billion people - a thousand millions - all walking, moving, breathing and some dying, while others birthing. This is the first truth of the place.

Leper colonies visiting train stations where trains arrive many hours late, or don't arrive at all; people and animals going to the bathroom everywhere in public, including wandering old cows, monkeys, stray dogs and goats; whole families sleeping in blackened soot gutters; untouchable caste people that were made to clean shit and dispose of the Death; children purposefully maimed with missing limbs; underage slave girl prostitutes; transvestite men with bald eunuchs that danced and begged for change; Sadhu holy men with their Asian style rastas, blue and white body paint, loin cloths and chillum Hashish smoking; women bound in colourful saris carrying little kids; streets bursting and overfilled with Men, all looking the same in their buttoned down shirts, chino slacks, black shoes, short black hair and cheesey black moustaches; thousands of altared shrined temples to the many thousands of gods; the rancid smell of shit and the ecstacy smells of incense; the toasted sooted out abandoned skyscrapers and the majestic bulb shaped white (with majestic colored highlights) marbled tombs of Medieval lore; the noise of the leaded cars, scootered taxis, bicycle taxis, ox cattle herds, people endlessly moving and the sounds of the sweet sitar music and tabla drums whose scores never seemed to finish, and still was played the same from the Vedas of thousands of years ago. This was the land where the Gypsy was birthed and the Buddah made his vows. The scams were the best in the world; The Thugees were repressed, but the spirit of swindle is everywhere; the King of the Beggars lives in India and his true followers are all out in the streets. I was experiencing the oldest form of organized paganism and reading some of the greatest texts of world philosophy and literature. The food was intense, heavy and delicious, but I was constantly battling against stomach attacks - running to squat in toilets that often had over active worms from the last shit; I learned to use my left hand correctly with the brownish water, and with taking off my flip flop shoes (I wore thongs-flip flops all throughout Asia, going through about three pairs in a thirteen month period); and I tried the use of my right hand to dip the fried curried vegetables into spiced up pickles. I encountered a light form of Dyssentary in Varanasi-Benares. Before India I was a vegetarian, afterwards I turned back to meat eating. I chose Left handed Tantric freedom as my guide (Tantra of the Left Hand explores sex, meat eating and alcoholic drinking as a celebration of the universal Spirit that is normally repressed in Hinduism; one guide book on India described it as the punk of Hinduism). The Heat began to move in more intense ways; it was becoming more and more difficult to move around - I knew that I could escape where they say Shiva lives - the Himalayas. I turned north into Nepal. I did a week trek in the Helambu region of the Himalayas, in between; staying often in Katmandu eating steaks, hamburgers, pizzas and drinking lots of beer with other friendly like minded stomach recovering travelers. The country was another land gripped in a terrible poverty; the Maoist guerillas control most of the country, yet the evil Amerikan Empire is supporting a spurious King who claims to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. I spent most of my travel time in this part of Asia. Summer was approaching; the monsoon rains hit everyday. I was to move in drier climes - North Africa.

There again, the Sun pronounced its entrance; it became the Black and Red giant that I imagined it could have been before the cataclysm of the vast yellow ochre sand and orange wind furied desert; as the nemesis Night stalked its aproach; the Moon was more open and threatening, so white, and the blue shadows were quite intense; the cold value tones were high. The Heat was not humid, but unbearably hot; oven baked heat; mysterious fires surrounded the heavy air. I had engaged the world of the alchemist, the haggling merchant and the free caravaners.

History showed its strange face everywhere. I visited the ruins overlooking the hills of Carthage and what remained was an eerie childrens cemetary from around 2000 years ago. The Romans left roads, old temples that were foraged to build churches and mosques, and many mosaics and fresco paintings. The mosaics and frescoes were highly erotic, often portraying the gods of the sea, wine and love mixed with the nymphs and satryrs (lesser deities) of mythological days; some in erotic pose or in danse embrace. Then came the swift movements of Islam. I walked the ancient Medina city streets of the Souk market; wares sold of every persuasion; hookah pipe smoking and green tea drinking; striped arches and large painted doors of colored cedar woods; patios of citrus trees, elaborated white columns and black barred windows. The ancient mosque blared the Arabic songs five times a day; the Hamam baths breathed the vaporous deep incensed mists. I rambled through the fourth holiest city of Islam, Kairouan, and explored amongst the engaging alleys of old Tunis. Here was also a society of Muslim light where most women walked without the head scarves and beer drinking went on late into the night at most cafes. Islamic art was not only in the geometric shapes and carvings on the tombs, but also in the making of cous cous semolina, tea, and the cultivation of olives and figs. At the end of my African journey, I was to meet some men from a shrouded town, descendants of Andalusian Muslim settlers who were exiles from the intolerant Spanish crown. Their descendants came hundreds of years ago, but many people still live and adhere to old traditions. One of these is the music of Malouf; a sensual group chant with drumming usually sung at weddings. I stayed at a man's family house; where the doors were multi striped curtains, the floor the dry earth, and the food rich in Mediterranean abundance. In the hidden patio, under the dark sky, the singers gathered for hours of singing and drinking tea. Meanwhile, along the coasts remain the shells of Spanish, Italian, French, Maltese and Moorish fortresses; ruins, civilizations, empires and cultures arrive, conquer and leave; but the creative human spirit stays all of them. The terror of heat was only to last for so long though. My stop in Europe was at hand.

The plane journey from Tunis to London was a short one. I arrived late at night, and therefore not willing to deal with the London scene at such a time, after such an honest journey through North African sleepiness; I resolved to continue my sleep in the airport. The next day, I met a friend in London (whom I met while traveling in New Zealand) and only stayed a few days at her friend's flat, due to the expensive nature of the place. The weather was cool and splendid; sunny sometimes and overcast other times. I took a quick trip to the quagmired moors of showery Yorkshire in the north, and to the pebbled beach at Brighton in the south. I then took a bus to Wales, stayed a day in Cardiff, the capital, and soon found a cheap flight to Dublin in order to meet a friend from Portland who was now living in the outskirts, called Dun Leary (this is not the Gaelic spelling of the name) with her new boyfriend. I stayed a few days at their basement flat, and was told by her boyfriend of certain special places, whether of Celtic lore or simple tourism - who knows, that while traveling in Ireland I should visit the west coast and the north. This west coast of Ireland would become the wonder and the flourish of trumpets - for the end of my travels.

I would be hitchhiking again, as I did in New Zealand and in Australia, this time along a misty Atlantic coast of skyscraper granite grey rock thrusted from the attack of mighty Atlantic Ocean god; weathered and whitened morbid coast; blackened thrust of pushy waves; whitened wisp of blowy prickly wind and gentle trickle of clear and clean rain. Standing by the ancient piled white rock tombs of Neolithic clans and warriors, watching the Sea take its mighty respiration along the cliffs; the maelstrom below and overhead within the fracas of the grey white clouds; I experienced the sensation of the far away traveler - how much I had accomplished in such a short period of time! Still, I had only this Ocean to cross... And the crossing itself, done many times through the terrible tangle of History's burdens - the Famines and the resistance against the British Empire - the stories of great and tragic peoples. I learned the accounts of the shipwrecked Spanish captains, the old Tain legends of glorious beasts, and the corsair-pirates of recent times. The flow of words was alive in these parts; the gift of music was supremely excellent.

Crossing into the cease fire north, was the end; but Resistance encountered me again - how great it can be! The wall murals, amongst the battled communities of Bogside and The Falls, told the stories as strikingly as reading the accounts of them. I saw Bernadette Devlin; the Civil Rights Movement; the Bloody Sunday Massacre; the Hunger Strikers; the fight against the paramilitary death squads and their guns from South Africa; communities united in common struggle against one of the oldest colonial projects of sordid world history. I visited cemetaries of the recent martyrs and those lost to political murder. I also encountered murals dedicated to Palestine, Kurdistan, Basque Country, Corsica, Brittany and Catalunya. I read often; whether the plays of the Irish writer Yeats, or the personal autobiography and historical account of Bernadette Devlin. The cultural centers still stand, and the history is still so alive; through all the Death and Surveillance - the victory is theirs - and their enemies know it.

I ended my European journey with Scottish friends (known from my long extended voyages through Britain many years before) staying at their flat a few days, in gritty and dark Glasgow, Scotland: a fitting send off to my final stop coming in New York. It was a light September nightfall, and I was off; from a bus ride to London and then a flight reaching New York the next day in the late afternoon; crashing at a friend's apartment in East Side Manhattan; I was back in dreaded Amerika. Was I nuts? Traveling around the world, I heard the same attack on the Amerikan Empire; only a few dared to defend it.