Getting myself into hot water on the way to Aguas Calientes

You pass through the town at the peak of the mountain and the road ahead is suddenly blanketed in cloud and a recent rockfall forces all traffic on to the muddy shoulder which overhangs a hundred metre drop.
You look to the left as your driver makes the sign of the crucifix on his chest.
This may bring peace to the driver but to you it says “we’re going to need divine intervention to get through this alive.”
Inside your head you’re screaming at the driver “mas despacio, por favor” but outwardly you’re attempting to remain calm as the speedo creeps past 80 as he overtakes a ute in the pouring rain on the edge of a cliff as he again makes the sign of the cross.
You reason that he has probably done this drive hundreds of times before and he’s still here to do it for you and your fellow passengers, but the creeping pessimist in your conscience speaks up at this point.
“That just means he hasn’t killed himself yet, doesn’t mean he hasn’t killed anyone else…”
The pessimism doesn’t trail off because it’s finished detailing the reality of this mortal test you paid good money for, but because the blind corner you are now navigating is suddenly occupied by a very much sideways travelling truck and, and much like a computer still running Windows XP when it attempts to do too many things at once, your brain has simply shut off.
You emerge from your lucid blackout somewhere on down the mountain road, and you wonder if the hangover you are nursing through this experience may be your last.

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Aside from the time I made a public announcement to inform my mother I had had a goat tattooed on my ribcage in San Diego, this was the first time I had legitimately (sarcastically) feared for my life during my travels through North and South America.
I hadn’t entered in to a shady cocaine deal and ended up being held up at gun point.
I hadn’t wandered off in to the wilderness unprepared and come across the local wildlife.
I hadn’t even attempted to surf the gnarly northern Peruvian coastline.
(In defense of my mortality, I had been hit by a car while skateboarding through traffic in Lima, but only my ego was damaged in that exchange.)
My only crime was to get raucously drunk losing at beer pong against a girl I had met on Tinder and clamber on to a bus hungover and sleep deprived for a seven hour journey to see my first of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Yeah, that second week in October was a week of firsts.
So it was not a punishment; it was not a torturous journey I had entered into unwillingly, it was simply a part of a journey which I had not so much planned as fallen into, hoping it would culminate in an experience worth having, or at least worth sharing.
But it was that 12 hour microcosm of my travels throughout North and South America that, for me at least, would act as a metaphor for the entire journey: entering willingly, and unpreparedly, into the unknown in the hope that I could come away with an experience worth sharing.
I envy those who can travel for self-exploration alone, feasting on the experiences as nutrition for their own soul.
But I have to share these experiences; arrogantly, self-deprecatingly and honestly, as validation that they are experiences worth having.
I see that as a weakness, but if I use to skills I know I have, can that attitude in itself not become something from which I can draw strength?

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Am I really going to end this post with a rhetorical question?

Would it not be more interesting to finish on a hypothetical situation?

Checkmate.

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An open letter, an apology to my Mother

Throughout my life, two things have been certain.
The first is that one day, somehow, I will die.
The second is that if I ever got a tattoo, the first would be at the hands of my mother.
Despite being an artist herself, she has never seen the human body as a suitable canvas.
So it was with 24 years of accumulated trepidation that I found myself lying on my back with my t-shirt off and multiple inky stab wounds in my torso in San Diego on Thursday night.

Dearest Mother,
There is now an angry goat below my right nipple, and he’s going to be there a while, feeding on the lush pasture that is my abundant chest hair.
No kidding, I goat a tattoo.
I have shown Goat to pretty much everyone I have met in the days since going under the needle (four days partying in San Diego equals plenty of witnesses and new friends) in an effort to prepare myself for your reaction when you inevitably find out.
It hasn’t worked; literally everyone has laughed and high-fived me, and I have a feeling you’ll do a better job at containing your excitement.
So I have decided to man up, and from behind a keyboard 12,000 kilometres away, safe in the knowledge we probably won’t actually see each other for another year, confess to you that I now have a tattoo. You raised me a brave man.
To help you come to terms with having a delinquent, inked up son, I want to share with you the story of how the decision came about and the deep symbolic meaning behind the resulting tattoo…
I got drunk with some friends and was like, huh that goat is pretty adorable.

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And now it is on me. Forever.

Forever ever?
Forever ever.

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The Alexander Beetle

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There has been a few times, and they’ve stuck with me, that I would look down at the dash and all three dials would be pointed directly ahead.
Really they point directly up, but I like to think it is ahead.

The smallest gauge on the left was for fuel, and it seemed to perpetually indicate I had around half a tank left.

The speedometer hovered around 70 miles per hour for the lion’s share of the journey and with cruise control set it rarely wavered from its 12 o’clock setting.

And the tachometer matched the pace of the speedo, and at 70 miles an hour the little engine would be spinning her guts out at a rate of around 3300 revolutions per minute.

Driving in the centre lane of a three lane highway I smiled as I drove through Orlando and past Disney World, glancing at the dials which were arranged in a sort of inverse Mickey Mouse head formation, using the dash to placate any worries I had that forward and further away was not the direction I should be heading.

In reality, the dials are probably designed as a caricature of the car itself, given how much character the VW Beetle has garnered over the years, and how much it relied upon sentimentality when they released the new models in the late 1990s.

And what with my innate pretentiousness constantly bubbling away, I was probably rebelling against that sentimentality and cringing slightly at the idea of driving around the US with it hanging over me that I went for an inverse Mickey Mouse. Much less sentimental. Dickhead.

But after 3,000 miles, damn near 5,000 kilometres in the new money, I’ve entertained the thought of never driving anything else in my life with fairly worrying conviction.

Aside from the built in character of the new Beetle, my particular model, which was apparently the first of the new models off the assembly line in Cincinnati in 1998, has plenty of character from bits falling off.

There is no air conditioning, so climate is sweating-your-tits-off with the windows up, or sweating-your-tits-off with a nice breeze but zero conversation as wind rushing by at 70 miles an hour sucks all human interactions back out on to the highway.

The passenger side window switch also fell out of the door the other day, so if you’re in the passenger seat you’ll need to voice your climate requirements.
The stereo volume control is also questionable, as it doesn’t work, turn it a little more, doesn’t work, turn it a little more, doesn’t work, turn it a li- MAX VOLUME OH GOD TURN IT OFF.

The ceiling cloth has also lost all contact with the body of the car, and is held up with a combination of thumb tacks and bulldog clips, both of which fail at more than 100 kilometres an hour.

But those three dials are still pointing dead ahead, leading me and all that character around these great United States of America, and I will continue to follow their lead.

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New York by the numbers

I could quantify my time in New York in a variety of different ways.
I could create a bar graph and plot the actual physical time I spent in the state against the number of bars I visited with a correlating set of data points denoting the number of drinks consumed in each which would invariably fade into obscurity due to my propensity to not remember anything past the third or fourth drink.
I could, theoretically, count the number of total Instagram photo likes I’ve received since landing against the number of photos and compare it to previous likes on previous photos and record how much social media cred I have gained on my travels and therefore how much cooler/more interesting I may be perceived to be since becoming a hashtag traveller. But hashtag fuck that.
I could put the number of places I’ve slept at night (or not slept) against the dollars I’ve spent on accommodation but it would come out at something like [eight beds:zero dollars] because apparently I’m a bit of a legend when it comes to convincing strangers to let me sleep in their house.
Or, more accurately, I met a few legends who felt sorry for me and let me sleep in the house.
But ultimately, what any numerical gauge of New York will do is fall short of justifying the absolutely wild time I’ve had here.
And that’s wild in the animalistic, explorational sense, as I’ve never been heavy in to the party scene, and many things I saw sober during the day were as personally confronting as those I saw (or did) buckled by night.
The number of great cafes I found doesn’t go any way to indicating the number of good conversations I had with the people in them.
The number of kilometres I walked doesn’t in any way describe the things I saw, heard and experienced as I walked them. Though it does go some way to driving home my refusal to use the imperial system to measure distance.
The subway rides and the tickets bought; the concerts seen and sing-alongs sung; the crosswalks crossed and the taxis dodged; the spare change given and the spare change not; the rooftops dancefloors and the basement clubs; the forever from the skyline and the claustrophobia of the street; the individual beauty and the collective criminal; it’s all greater than the sum of its parts.
I won’t exercise any of my considerable arrogance to try and reflect on my time in New York on a broader scale, because I’m still overwhelmed at the size of the city and any advice I could give would be fairly obscure and specific (When staying in Bushwick take the M-train from Wyckoff-Myrtle to Essex Street for the skate shop on the Lower East Side that sells Vegemite.)
But I will say that if you’re going in to New York City and you’re anything like me, ease yourself into it. Give it a week and get out.
I did two weeks straight up, and as someone who hasn’t lived in a city, a couple of times I needed to find the centre of Central Park and lie under a tree where I couldn’t see the sky scrapers and pretend the noise of the city was the crashing of waves at the beach.
I also went to the beach at Far Rockaway, and I get the feeling that may have been comparable to a New Yorker going to Adelaide to experience a city again.
I’m about to board a bus for a ten hour trip to Columbus, Ohio for the next leg of my journey, and I’m excited for a horizon that isn’t skyscrapers.

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Sitting alone on a sold out train

“This is a sold out service from Penn Station to Niagara Falls, so today is Make A Friend day at Amtrak.”
And so I snapped back to reality while boarding a train in New York City to head upstate to Albany.
To this point, the 40 odd hours of travel (at least 25 of which had been spent in the air) had been a sort of suspended reality, as the extent of my human interaction was robotic at best and symptomatic of a brain injury at worst.
It’s not unusual on long haul travel for people to operate at a bare minimum, shifting a total of three to four smiles an hour, dealing in fewer words and moving only enough to not have the occupant of the window seat drag their crotch across your face as they make for the bathroom.
But even still, it took another train ride, several exclamations about my accent and a terrible chicken sandwich to liven me up to the point where I could laugh at our conductor’s jab at New York residents’ famed hostility toward strangers.
It’s bizarre how the same hundreds of people who had no understanding of the concept of personal space 30 seconds ago while forcing their way through the queue to get on the train could be so uncomfortable about being required to sit next to someone.
Symptomatic of the jet lag worn traveller and the early morning commuter then; not of a city.
I’m probably just bitter because on this ‘sold out’ service there was still an empty seat… next to me. They’re just feelings New York, they’ll heal.

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Buy my Subaru Forester and find true love

Owned by my father before me, and to a dealership possibly owned by someone else’s father before him, I regret to announce I must part with my noble steed.
My valiant vehicle. My fortuitous ferry. My safe swan. My brave bitumen Brienne of Carth (Game of Thrones reference no. 1). She’s for sale.
I first came across her fresh from the womb, or factory, if you will, in 2006, when my father purchased her to ferry wounded animals around South East Queensland.
So if you question her nobility, the loss, and the resulting shame, is entirely yours to bear.
She first came in to my possession, although she is a free elf, in 2009 and developed a thirst for adventure.
She carried my companions and I on journeys musical in taste and spiritual in ambition.
In Byron Bay and at Woodford we sought Splendour for three years running.
But when life gave me opportunities, my proud pony followed me further afield, and we arrived in Western Australia, where journalistic ambition and surfing abounds.
But now, three years on again, I must venture further afield than my humble hound can follow, and so I seek a new owner to care for her, and to give her the lifestyle she so deserves.

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2006 XS 2.5L Subaru Forester Located in Margaret River, WA
5 Speed Manual Transmission
Full Service History, 6 – 12 monthly for Duration of Ownership
170,000km
Unleaded
Towball, Roof Racks, Cargo Basket, Fog Lamps, Cargo Barrier, Floor Mats, CD Player, Cruise Control, 2x Glasses Holder, 6x Cup Holders (that’s more than there are seats!)
Registered to December 10, 2014.

For more information email powell.ad89@gmail.com or call 0413 634 289

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‘You’ve probably experienced bigotry but you’re proud of who you are’ and other non-insults

I was 19, living on campus at university, when someone first questioned me as to why I had attempted to insult a friend by calling him “gay”.

It was during one of the weekly games of porch poker we played on the outdoor tables of our campus apartments.

Six or eight students of the University of the Sunshine Coast living at the Varsity Apartments would each scrounge together five dollars of shrapnel (a veritable bounty in itself after alcohol and rent had been taken out of your Centrelink allowance) in the hopes of winning a student’s fortune in a hand of Texas Hold’em.

Surprisingly, as an arts major playing against engineering and accounting students, I occasionally held my own and claimed the $35 prize pool and would be the one drinking actual Smirnoff vodka that weekend as opposed to the brands I’m fairly sure are just random assortments of letters masquerading as Russian.

It was during one of my less successful reads of a friend and opponent, who I thought to be bluffing but had actually been dealt pocket aces and managed four-of-a-kind on the turn, that I lost the hand and exclaimed “Ah, you’re so fucking gay!”

I was laughing as I said it, as the poker games were always more for entertainment than financial gain, but the intent behind what I said was still, in a way, negative.

At the time I was sharing my particular Varsity apartment with three others.

We each had our own bedroom and bathroom but shared the living area and kitchen and, as young people do when they spend the majority of their time together drunk by a pool, became quite close with the majority of the revolving door of housemates I had during my two years living on campus.

During that semester, one of my housemates was an American free spirit by the name of Tasia who was abroad in Australia studying feminism and philosophy.

Tasia was also bisexual, I’ll let you decide whether or not that’s relevant.

She looked at me, after I lost that fateful hand of poker, and simply asked “Why’d you call him gay?”

I knew Tasia pretty well by that point in the semester and our friendship had been solidified on the previous weekend during a hungover excursion to the cinema to see the Disney Pixar film ‘UP’.

We still occasionally greet each other online by yelling “Squirrel!” or informing each other that “I hid under your porch because I love you”.

All of this online via Facebook chat though, as she moved back to Baltimore at the end of 2009 and I have not seen her since.

Although I have not seen her, I remember her asking me that one simple question because it questioned a phrase I had been throwing about as long as I could remember, and certainly since my early teens.

I was not homophobic, but I had never been close enough with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex person to have been called out for using ‘gay’ as a negative.

It was a simple lesson for me – “Oh yeah, gay people are rad. Calling someone gay isn’t an insult.”

The same goes for ‘faggot’ and ‘dyke’ and all the other lingo keyboard warriors and insecure privileged white males everywhere are using – it’s not actually an insult, you’re just making yourself look like a muppet with an average vocabulary.

Not that there’s anything wrong with muppets, of course.

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