The search for records in Medellin, Colombia

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A narrow flight of stairs leads up to the shop, covered with 78’s and albums covered in decades of history and dust.

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Giro, the hero of books & music in Medellin

Somehow we always manage to end up in a corner bar, in the middle of the afternoon, in an area of town that doesn’t see many guests from outside the neighborhood. It all started because I got a wild idea to search the city for a record shop. I grabbed my phone and typed into Google, “record stores near me” and a few places popped up, though I found no other information than an address. No reviews, no photos, no websites…just cryptic addresses containing mostly numbers, like this one:  Cr 50 No. 55A-07 – 55A-05 Apto 202.

It would prove to be an adventure.

My friend and I start walking in one direction, trying to make sense of what is a calle and what is a carrera, and what direction the numbers are going to at least be able to orient ourselves a bit.  It’s hot. We are in Medellin, a city at 5000 feet above sea level, and we have had food poisoning and not eaten much for three days, yet I am determined to find at least a single shop selling vinyl in this city. So the search begins.

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streets vendors pushing carts of every color of fruit imaginable

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The streets are so alive with colors and sounds and exotic fruits and strange shops selling healing herbs and dried flowers and natural remedies. We wander down streets with shop after shop selling religious items: statues of the Virgin Mary, amulets, candles, rosaries and laminated prayer cards with the saints names and pictures on them. I say a silent prayer that the saint of music, if one exists, guide me to the elusive record shop. Next came the fish and aquarium district with everything you need to start your own underwater environment.  Fish tanks, water filters, painted plastic coral designs,  and some rather sad looking fish held captive in clear plastic cups,  but still no sign of a record shop.

We check the phone again and realize we were off by a street and have been rerouted. Thankfully we have unlimited data here in Colombia, because there has been much rerouting at this point. We continue down a road lined with small cafes serving comidas corrientes, simple meals of the day for less than $1.  A mostly male clientele sits eating el almuerzo, the midday meal in Colombia, in an area just behind Plaza Bolivar. I get a few stares and a few under the breath comments from some men here who could be mistaken for cowboys, “Hola linda, preciosa, bonita.” I guess I should be flattered but I am still not used to the very archaic gender roles still practiced here by some of the local caballeros. I just stare ahead, focused on my destination which we know must now be close.

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We are in an area of fish markets and butcher shops and the smell of raw fish disrupts my concentration. It suddenly looks a little seedy.  There are hotels, small ones without any other information outside, just that word,  HOTEL, and a narrow staircase leading to a mysterious lobby that may not exist.  Usually these doorways are occupied by a woman (who may be a man) in too much makeup and clothing that fits a bit too tightly. It is not quite 1:00 pm but the streets are alive with a sexual energy that is the polar opposite of what we saw a few blocks earlier surrounded by Jesus and the saints. We are clearly in the less salubrious side of town and I begin to wonder why a record store would be located here at all.
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There is a woman, who is actually a man, wearing a black fishnet type one-piece minidress with nothing under it- no bra,  just a tiny pair of undies and black suede boots. She is in heavy makeup and has eaten a few too many arepas over the years but still manages to get a few glances as she struts her block. It is a working class area, and the streets are alive with music, buses, carts being pushed loaded with fruit, sunglasses, all sorts of snacks and refreshments and household items.
There are men pushing a cart up the road, delivering an old refrigerator somewhere.  There are occasional beggars who ask patrons in the tiny bars lining the street for a few coins. There are young boys in baseball caps smoking a joint and looking like they have nowhere to go. And there are more prostitutes. And there is my friend and I and Google and an address we can’t seem to locate.

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The wall of the entry to the shop is covered with records.

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78’s on the steps

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Room after room of vinyl!

And then, we see it. A single black circle pained on a wall, with the words Libros y Musica (books and music) and inside some record covers hang on the concrete wall. We have arrived. But the rod iron gate is locked and all I can see is a flight of stairs loaded with piles of 78’s on each step leading up to the first floor shop. I yell up, and after a minute a man appears and comes down fumbling with his keys a bit surprised to see us, and let’s us in.

“Bien pueda, a la orden, si senora, adelante, que este en su casa…” He kindly invited us to be at home, to browse, to explore. I didn’t know where to begin. There was no obvious logic to his system, no alphabetical order, no genre categories. There was barely enough of an aisle to snake through one room to the next and each room seemed to hold more that the last. It was dusty, and the books and records were piled in every direction.  I happened to look down and see a record by Carlos Gardel, who had been a favorite of my grandmother and her sisters. I heard stories from family of how she and her three sisters, society girls at the time,  had met Gardel and seen him in Medellin often in the 1930’s. They came to be known in the town as las hermanas Gardel, the sister’s of Gardel. Gardel died in 1935 in a plane crash leaving Medellin, and his music has always reminded me of my grandmother and her stories of Medellin as a young music fan. My love for music has always been in the blood.

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I decided to just grab a few records based on the album cover and without knowing much about them. I also found a few from some other classic singers from Latin America that I had heard over the years. Giro, the owner, said he has over three hundred thousand records! I don’t know how accurate he can be, given the disarray in that shop, but it felt about right to me.  Most of the records were under a dollar or two, though none had prices on them that I could see. The plastic that protected them was covered in a filthy dust that turned my hands black in no time, just like the owners hands, but it didn’t matter. I loved the shop, and I loved the man who so kindly let me in to browse and made me feel at home. I loved the feeling that I had discovered something really hidden and special in a corner of the city I never would have ventured to without this mission of buying records.

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What happened after my record buying is another great story. While I was lost in the maze of dusty vinyl, my friend had wandered out into the maze of local streets on his own and quickly made a few friends. We went to a corner bar to have a cold beer and look through my new vinyl collection. He had already met the owner, Claudia, who told him he should not stand on the corner texting but come inside off the street. The locals who passed by her corner bar,  Taberna Las Delicias could be “gente rara” she said, odd people. We too were an odd sight for the locals and getting a few more glances than the man in the one-piece fishnet outfit, who still lingered hopefully on the opposite corner.

We ordered two Aguila, the local beer, and I had her make mine a michelada, with fresh squeezed lime and salt, explaining that I had not had any alcohol in days and was still getting over a stint with food poisoning. Claudia was one of those bartenders you just wanted to share your troubles with and have take care of you, and  she did. She spoke with that delicate Medellin accent that ebbed and flowed and seemed to embrace your soul. She made everyone who wandered into her bar feel welcome and special and her laugh was contagious. She kept a small but spotless bar with just two stools on one side, where we sat, and standing space on the other side plus a few tables in back. There was a urinal in the back corner which men from the street occasionally asked to use, Claudia always kindly allowing.

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I told her about my visit to the record shop, which was just across the street and a few doors down. I pulled out the dusty vinyl one by one, and she examined them carefully. The two other men at the bar looked up from their beers curiously. After seeing my selections, it was as if we reached another level of confianza, and the music she was playing on Utube on an old computer behind the bar changed. She started playing songs from the albums I had selected. She put on some Julio Jaramillo, an Ecuadoria famous for his boleros, pasillos, valses and tangos. The other men in the bar seemed surprised yet pleased by the records I laid out on the bar to show them, and all began to sing along to the music that Claudia played, yelling out their own requests as soon as a song would end. They wanted me to know of other greats from Colombia, and soon I had a long list of more albums to search for at the shop.

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kids drinking bar at the counter say they prefer reggaeton, but I have hope they will discover the classics someday!

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Alvaro, checking out my vinyl selections.

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John & Alvaro were fast friends. A little Spanish went a long way!

Rounds of beers were bought for us, bottles clanked together, names exchanged and nods from locals passing by who seemed pleased as well by the music pouring out from the bar. My friend John chatted in Spanish with a man named Alvaro, another patron who was going to New Jersey in March to visit his son and try to work. They had a playful arm wrestling challenge on the bar, while another man behind us insisted that I watch him act out the lyrics to an Olimpo Cardenas song in a very theatrical show of emotion. It was one of those moments you want to capture in photos and video but just can’t. The young boys in baseball caps stood now at the far window of the bar on the street smoking and observing. I asked them if they knew that there was a record store just across the way, and they shook their heads. They like reggaeton, Claudia told me, not the old music. I tried to explain how important it is to know the music from Latin America and how it influenced the music they listen to now and that records are really cool and important pieces of history. I was preaching to the wrong crowd but who knows, maybe it sunk in. They said there is some reggaeton guy that samples classic music, so there may be hope!

I was so comfortable in that bar. It reminded me of some of the seedy areas in Barcelona I liked to frequent when I lived there as a student, before it became the city it became after the Olympics. There was a palpable feeling that life happened in these streets, the good and the bad and all that comes in between. It was real. There was no filter, no watered down version, nothing pretending to be anything other than what it was, and it was majestic. These people loved and laughed and danced and didn’t need to read a book or wear a slogan on their shirt to remind themselves to do it. There was nothing else but that. And it was intoxicating.
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I will always prefer to be lost in a city, in the seediest neighborhood, than to be safely seated exactly where a guidebook, or a map tells me I should be. That little bit of losing yourself in a moment, in a place, and with total strangers who can instantly feel like family is the reason I travel, and why I will always want to search for records wherever I go.
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San Blas Islands

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There is something really incredible about seeing jewelry being made by hand in the tradition of the people who wear it themselves. On my recent visit to the San Blas islands, I was happy to find the local Kuna women making, wearing, and selling their woven bead designs in the same way they have done for years. The beads are tiny and colorful and sold on long strands that the woman wrap tightly around your wrists or ankles, threading a string between the beads through the middle to stitch it together. The San Blas region, called Kuna Yala by the local people, was one of the most beautiful areas I had ever visited as well as home to a unique jewelry tradition I was able to witness first hand.

The San Blas are an archipelago off the northern coast of Panama comprising approximately 365  islands and cays, (imagine a different island for every day of the year!) of which only 49 are inhabited. Many of the islands have only a single family living on them, and from what our sailboat captain explained, the tribal chief decides which families live on which islands and there is a system of rotation between families. The Kuna are an autonomous indiginous group who run San Blas with minimal interference from the national government. Because of this, to visit these untouched islands is an incredible experience and chance to see a protected region of the world where the inhabitants truly take care of the natural environment that is their home.

We sailed from Portobelo in Panama and arrived later that afternoon to the first island. We took the dinghy from our sailboat and visited a tiny island locals called Venadu (Frigata island according to a sign nailed to a palm tree). It consisted of a single thatched roof hut, a small shack serving beer, water and shellfish, and a few palm trees providing a bit of shade over some rustic wooden tables. The Kuna women had a small display of giant conch shells, beaded jewelry and colorful textile molas that they use for their clothing (the Kuna were encouraged to start wearing clothing by the Spanish missionaries, but previously had painted the colorful designs seen on molas directly onto the skin). I picked out one of the  strands of beads and the Kuna woman in her colorful Mola had me sit down so she could wrap it for me. Most of the beads are $5 or $10 depending on how long the strands are, and once she started weaving a string through each bead, I realized it would not be coming off my ankle any time soon. The Kuna themselves have their arms and legs wrapped in layers of the beads often up to the elbows and knees.

Later that afternoon we were back on the sailboat when a small wooden canoe with two Kuna woman and a young girl came rowing up beside our boat. They were also selling the colorful bracelets and I decided I needed to have one more! Just as I was about to climb into our dinghy so that she could wrap my wrist, a huge rain cloud opened up on us and we all were drenched. Our captain invited the Kuna to climb onto our boat to escape the pelting rain. It was one of the best moments of the visit to San Blas. There I was, sitting on a sailboat quietly with the local women, surrounded by remote islands and blue seas and a tropical rain storm. We shared a single moment of mutual appreciation for a bit of relatively dry space. We waited, sat watching the rain, and for a few moments said nothing at all.

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Here’s a video of the beads being wrapped!

Here is a link to an informative article about the reality of life in Kuna Yala.

 

 

Colon: the city tour you didn’t know you wanted to take

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The Panama Canal Railway: where you can glimpse the canal, the jungle, & tourists in search of that elusive National Geographic photo.

The Panama Railroad is said to be one of the best train journeys in the Americas and connects Panama City with the country’s second city, Colon. Most folks on this hour and a half train ride are taking it as a day trip to experience a bit of the jungle and view the canal from the comfort of an air-conditioned train car. We were the only tourists carrying backpacks who were planning to stay on in Colon. Most people would return by bus to Panama that same day, travel on to the islands, or were part of an organized tour. We didn’t have a return ticket, a hotel, or a tour booked. As the train pulled into the station at Colon I started to think that it might have been a good idea to at least have a plan!

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Bar car on the Panama Canal Railway: Most people fight to get seats upstairs, I opted for the less crowded lower seats in the bar car where there’s a bit more room to breathe.

 

Arriving at the train station in Colon we were met by a handful of taxis and tour touts hoping to recruit us for a tour or a ride into town. We joined a few other travelers who were in a van headed to the bus station and realized most people already had an idea about their onward travel. We however,  did not. In most cities this would not seem problematic, but after seeing the area around the bus station I wished we had a destination. We knew Colon had a dangerous reputation, but had not expected it to be quite so seemingly unsafe.

The driver stood at the sliding side door of the van waiting for us to exit the taxi, but none of us moved. He told us that this was the bus station, and asked where we wanted to go. It was just my friend and I and an older Italian man remaining in his van, taking in the scene at the bus station which was crawling with downtrodden locals. We asked if maybe he could take us to the center, thinking we could get a hotel or make a plan at a cafe about where to go from there. We all agreed that we had hoped to see a bit of the town. Without a word the driver closed the van door, having to jimmy it a bit to make it shut properly. It was a vehicle that would not pass an emission test in the US. He walked around the front of the van, got in, glanced back at us in his rear view mirror and said, “let me show you a bit of the town. I don’t think you understand what Colon is all about”.

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A view of the streets of Colon taken from the relative safety of the van

He was a big guy, and spoke English like a Panamanian who had spent a good part of his youth in New York City. We drove past crumbling French colonial buildings that were struggling to remain standing and empty lots littered with old cars that marked the places where once magnificent structures had fallen victim to the elements of the tropics, human neglect and urban decay. A woman with two small children at her knees stood at the side of the road holding a hose above them, bathing them with the trickling water.

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Despite urban and environmental decay a few industrious types set up shop beneath the once majestic colonial archways of Colon

Two policemen on bikes wearing bullet proof vests stood questioning a young man wearing a guilty countenance. Makeshift shops were set up in the gutted remains of buildings and beneath crumbling stone archways in defiance of the decay. People carried on with their daily lives, but as far as I could tell it would not have been a good idea to try to explore this city alone. In fact, our driver Dino basically told us there was no way he would let us out of his car in this area.

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We decided instead to stay with our driver and take him up on his original offer for a city tour. Wherever this big guy decided to take us would be better than trying to find our way around town on our own, and besides, he was a “zonian”- born in the Canal Zone, son of a U.S. army captain and a Panamanian mother, making him a perfect guide in this city where the USA had such a big presence for so many years.

We liked the way he breathed new life into what would have otherwise probably been a pretty bland city tour. This guy told the stories with character, like a spoken word poet with a rhythm and style that was all his own. Since there was just the three of us he wanted to return the van and take a smaller but better car for the tour. He also realized he didn’t have his cell phone, so we went to his house to switch cars and find the phone.

He went inside to look for the phone leaving the three of us in the car, air-conditioning and 70’s funk pumping at full throttle. The Italian sat in front and while attempting to help search the car for the missing phone, he found something unexpected. He picked up the bag from the driver seat and realized it was quite heavy, turning to us and saying, “it’s a gun inside!” None of us said anything more about the gun until later that day. The good news was, Dino found his phone after a second look in the side door of the van, so the mood, if not a little tense, was at least one of victory.

Besides the side tour to Dino’s house where we met his wife, realized he had a gun on him, and was also a DJ with a serious sub woofer in his trunk, the guy knew his history and liked to tell stories. He played his music loudly, but paused it during his monologues about Lesseps and Captain Morgan and this history of the canal. He also didn’t really care about obeying rules and signs warning, DO NOT STOP ON THE BRIDGE as we were going to cross over the site of the third set of locks currently being built for Post Panamax ships. In fact, he told us to get ready, because he was going to stop so that we could all jump out and take some “snaps” as he called them. These locks will allow container ships and cruise ships that are one and a half times the current maximum width and height and carry twice as much cargo to fit through the canal. Standing at the fence and looking down the enormous chamber you realize how massive these ships must be, and how there is no way in hell you could ever get this close to a construction site like this if we were in the United States! A few workers looked on in casual dismay by our presence but nobody stopped us. This impromptu tour was already way cooler than anything we could have booked legitimately. I was impressed with our guide Dino for his passion, his industrious character and his tenacity at making a tour of Colon seem worth it.

We talked about all sorts of things and learned a lot from our eccentric guide. We even discussed the gun control debate of of the US and asked about gun laws in Panama, which is when he decided to pull over and show us his gun. I am not a fan of guns, and being in Panama and having the driver of our unofficial tour of Colon pull over, open a sort of man bag and pull out a loaded Colt 45 was for me an unexpected experience and surely not stated on the tour brochure had there been one. He cleared the chamber and handed the gun to my friend to hold. I was having visions of an accident and could feel my heart racing. He told us that he also works as security for many visitors doing business in Panama, who expect him to be armed. He explained that in self defense of an armed attacker you can shoot to kill in Panama. Nobody wants to do this, however, because you may later face an angry family member who feels they now have the right to kill you. I was sort of half listening and trying not to be nervous around the gun, but I’m pretty sure when I asked casually if he ever had to use his gun for self defense he said, “yeah, and it didn’t end well for the other guy”.

 

But the city tour was not just guns and grit. We visited the San Lorenzo Fort, various sites of old US Canal Zone installations and even witnessed some howler monkeys in the trees on the opposite side of the canal where the jungle is thick and according to Dino, full of snakes. We stopped to check out the hotel located in the former School of the Americas building where the US trained Latin American military in anti-Communist counterinsurgency, now an outdated hotel lacking in character. We were lucky to be crossing the Gatun locks just after a giant container ship and could glimpse it within the locks, the colorful containers stacked in rows moving slowly through the locks toward the Gatun Lake. But what really made the tour, was the day to day musings of a local and his passion for his country (both the USA and Panama in equal parts) and his pride in sharing each story, each detail, and every chance to grab a “snap” of something that he knew we would have missed on any other tour of Colon. It was the tour you didn’t know you wanted to take, and the one that would leave the biggest impression. Trust your instincts. Be spontaneous. And get yourself a guide with guts (and a gun, maybe…) if you come to Colon.

sailing from Panama to Colombia

The first time I traveled in Central America was after graduating from university. It was 1994. I was 22 years old. I had less than $1000 for 3 months. There was no internet. And we had no plan.

It began as a road trip with a friend that I met while living and studying in Barcelona. I skipped attending my college graduation opting to set off ceremoniously instead for a roadtrip to Central America. We made it from Chicago to Flagstaff in his beat up car surviving on strong coffee from petrol stations, bean burittos, and a cocktail of typhoid pills we kept on ice in the cooler.

 When the car broke down in Arizona he sold it for a couple hundred bucks and we made the journey to California by train. From there, a friend dropped us off at the Mexican border of Mexicali, and we were on the start of at journey by land through all of Mexico and Central America. 

The travel was strenuous and in many towns we had a hard time changing a $20 travelers cheque. We took malaria pills, disolved iodine tablets in local water, slept on thin mats in rooms at the back of farm houses where roosters woke us before dawn. We stayed in hotels that charged by the hour and where we unknowingly shared our beds with bedbugs. We once resorted to sleeping  on a church floor in San Cristobal de las Casas, where we were unable to find a room because journalists had taken them all that week covering the negotiations with Zapatistas and elections in southern Mexico.

We ate rice and beans daily and occasionally found a Chinese place or a Pizza Hut where a salad bar and pitchers of beer seemed like a luxury. We ate in a shanty town made from corrugated sheet metal in Menagua, where the capital was still recovering from war and natural disasters yet was still alive with constant music and smiles from the local people who seemed as shocked and surprised as we were to be confronted by each other.

We learned to scuba dive, to negotiate in Spanish and how to change dollars on the black market because there were no ATMs. We were treated well in most places but looked at with suspicion in others. We crossed borders without knowing what might await us on the other side. We traveled just because there were roads that allowed us to go wherever they went. There was no trip advisor, no comments page, no reviews, no suggested itineraries.

And now, over 20 years later, I find myself back in Panama, the place we had to turn around and head north again on that trip because there was no way to cross the Darien Gap into Colombia. 

This time, the crossing will be possible. And it will be by sea on a sailboat through the San Blas islands and on to Colombia. A new adventure awaits. And as adventurous as it may seem, in 2016, all you need to do it is the desire and an Internet connection, and the rest has been made pretty simple.

 

 

Memories from a Chicago neighborhood

My high school friends and I used to drive into the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago seeking adventure, live music, a bit of danger, and anything else the city could show us that was slightly more exciting than our suburban lives at the time. It was on one of these drives down Sheridan Road and into the cobblestone streets below the Morse CTA redline train that we discovered No Exit Cafe.

No Exit Cafe in 1989 photo from Flickr – Genial 23

The place smelled like it had been there forever (actually, since 1958) and I still remember the sound of the creaky screen door that would announce each person that stepped into the space hidden down Glenwood Avenue. The cafe was drenched in sunlight from the large windows and a constant haze hung in the air from decades of exhaled Drum tobacco. An older, intellectual-looking crowd smoked, sipped coffee from mismatched ceramic mugs, wrote poetry or screenplays, worn copies of Kafka and Camus were ubiquitous and jazz played in the background. I was a sophmore in high school. And I was hooked.

No Exit Cafe Chicago great photo from Flickr user- Genial 23

We started hanging out there for Open Mic night which eventually led to my friend’s band playing there, and being invited afterwards to a bar down the street called Roy’s (now Red Line Tap). We didn’t have fake ID’s but since the band had been vetted over at No Exit we were treated like special guests. The patrons at Roy’s seemed to care more about good conversation, cheap beer, and live music and less about some underage kids being their entertainment. I think some guy bought us a pitcher of beer and demanded that my friends take to the stage and play. And play they did. The crowd loved them. They were something of an avant guard trio of hyper talented high school misfits. We’d found our congregation. It was existential bliss.

Rogers Park was one of the first neighborhoods of Chicago that I ever explored. Some nights we’d end up at Biddy Mulligans, a reggae bar on Sheridan. It was gritty, hot, crowded, and perfect in every way. We drank Red Stripe with the Jamaican crowd, fell in love with the music, and realized again the crowd was more interested in making a few young suburban kids smile and dance than asking if we had proper ID. It felt like the city embraced our wandering souls and provided a space for us to examine what Chicago was about, at the same time hooking us into her urban beauty one city night at a time. It was also on these urban adventures that we found out a little bit more about who we were ourselves.

The great things about Chicago is that every part of the city had its own unique vibe, and it still does, especially in the neighborhoods. Edgewater, Rogers Park, Boys Town, Uptown, Lincoln Square or Logan Square…this city has as many unique identities as it has unique individuals who call the city home.

One thing is sure in Chicago, you don’t need to go far to have a totally cool experience with local food, music, cultures and traditions from around the globe. Come see Nomadic Ant this weekend at Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest; our booth is in front of another local haunt from my past, Heartland Cafe.

Below is a photo taken around 1989. The Dodge Charger, with Abolish Apartheid & Question Authority bumper stickers, was the car that gave us the freedom to go on countless high school adventures into the city. Even when you can’t get out of the country, you can create an urban adventure every time you step outside of your routine in this city. Sometimes, in the words of Kafka, you need do even less.

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” – Franz Kafka

The Dodge Charger with a bumper sticker quote from Einstein, Question Authority, and me. High School adventures into the city started in this car!

Bumper sticker from the Charger: “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war” Albert Einstein

Being spontaneous

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I said goodbye to everyone. I’d decided to finally leave the island paradise I’d called home for what felt like an eternity though it was only a few weeks. My horsecart arrived, a young driver with his son along for the ride. We headed off in the direction of the pier, and the rain began to pour down. Young kids ran behind the horsecart, chasing after us and laughing. One young boy held on to the back of the cart and ran with it, keeping pace all the way to the harbor, his young legs in perfect rhythm with those of the old horse, Rusty.

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My mask and snorkle were strapped to the outside of my pack, and when we arrived, I pulled it off and gave it to Alan, the young son of the also very young horsecart driver, himself perhaps no more than 25. I wanted to leave it in the hands of someone who I hoped might use it more than I would once I left the island.

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I sat waiting for the fastboat, and watching the storm clouds roll in. The thunder and wind picked up, and the sky looked ominous. Big waves delayed the boat from Bali, I was told, but it would arrive soon. As I sat there, taking in the scene of this enchanting island for one last moment, I had a strange feeling come over me.

I was not going to get on that boat.

Maybe it was the storm in the distance, or the fact that it was already over an hour late and would mean I’d arrive quite late to Bali. Maybe it was the fact that I just wasn’t ready to leave. I’m not sure why, but at that exact moment I made a spontaneous decision: I was not leaving on that boat. Not today.

I didn’t tell the boat company that I was going for fear they’d try to convince me to stay. I didn’t care about the possibility of loosing the ticket. I didn’t care if all the boats might be full the next day. I grabbed my backpack and walked in the pouring rain to where the horsecarts were waiting and got in one. I was going back home for another night.

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The horsecart pulled up and everyone at the bungalow looked shocked and a bit worried to see me. Had something happened? Was there a problem with the boat? I just smiled and explained that I decided I wanted to have one last swim. It was the first time it rained that much while I’d been on the island and I wanted to swim with the rain coming down. The truth was, I just needed another night.

I threw down my bags, put my swim suit back on, and was in the water floating under my favorite sky, the raindrops falling softly on my lips. It was the best decision I’d ever made, simply because I made it and never once looked back. Sometimes you guide yourself toward the things that matter most. And if that means one final swim, one last chance to share a moment with a group of people that make you feel good, the only option is to do it.

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Thanks to everyone who made me never want to leave. You know who you are.