A Not So Auspicious Start

In perusing my “z-Old” folder on Google Drive I came across a folder called “Beat the Path.” This was the travel blog that I intended to keep and eventually monetize about my indefinite world travel (which ended up being 8 months).

Well, I got too caught up in actually enjoying my travels and it kind of fizzled. But in that folder, I found 5 or 6 blog posts that I wrote and never published. (I ended up not publishing any). Pictured below is the graphic I made for my blog’s banner.

Today, I would have paid someone from Fiverr to do a much nicer one.

As I read these drafts, I was brought back to events that have sort of been pushed to the back of mind what with building a settled life for the past 4 years.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to post a couple of the better ones. The posts that I actually wrote back then are all rough drafts, so I’ve edited them a bit – mostly for grammar and typos.I’ve also inserted some commentary from 2018 Matthew.

The following posts was probably written in July of 2013 recounting the events of my first day of travel, July 12th, 2013:

A Not so Auspicious Start

After a painful goodbye (2018 Matthew note: to the person of whom I am now married!) at Richmond Airport at 9:00 AM…. I was off to my travels! I got in the TSA line to go through the usual invasive routine. I placed my meticulously packed and arranged bag (so as to fit into carry-on storage bins) on the conveyor belt. I went through the superman machine (the thing where you put your arms over your head so they can body scan and irradiate you) and got pulled aside.

I stared in horror as they tore apart that well-packed bag piece by piece, searching for whatever they thought that they saw that wasn’t there.

“No matter,” I said, “just doing their job, now off to my flight.”

Enter my layover in Boston.

I left the domestic terminal and made my way to the international terminal. I got in the TSA line to once again go through the invasive rigmarole. I once again placed my perfectly re-packed bag on the conveyor belt and walked through the super man machine.

Upon exiting the machine, I got pulled aside and watch in horror as another TSA agent ripped apart that well-re-packed bag looking for a water bottle that I forgot to throw away upon changing terminals. I didn’t realize that I would have to go through TSA again, so I carried the bottle with me to refill so as not to have to buy water at the airport for who knows what ungodly sum. Sigh.

I board my flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, land, and mentally prepare for my 8 hour layover- ready for a nice 2 hour nap (it’s 12 AM at this point).

Chatting with the nice older couple I wound up in the customs line, and accidentally left the international terminal, activating my period in the Schengen VISA area of 90 out of 160 days, which I was making a point to avoid.

Since I “exited” the airport, I had to walk all of the way around the airport and go through security…. again.

No bag check. Yes!.. something going my way.

I spent the next 8 hours trying to sleep in every possible position I could imagine, getting in maybe an hour of total sleep, which was about as long as the sun goes down in Iceland in July.

Finally the time came to fly into Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, we landed, and I exited the plane. I was greeted by a customs agent that grilled me on how much money I had and how long I planned to stay being that I had no return ticket or other way out of Britain (I planned on buying a bus ticket to Paris while end London, which I did). I now had to kill 3 hours in Glasgow before catching the bus to Edinburgh. St. George Square, the one place that I wanted to see, was closed. So I bought a local SIM card for my unlocked phone, enjoyed my first pasty, and watched some street performers until the bus arrived.

Finally, I arrived in Edinburgh and followed my Couchsurfing host’s directions to her flat.

First, I walked a mile out of the way on Edinburough’s main throughfare. Eventually, I found my way and made it to where she said her flat is (Argyle Park Terrance). At least I thought it was Argyle Park Terrace, but it was actually Argyle Place.

Being exhausted from lack of sleep and toting a 20 pound backpack around for 6 hours, I arrived at the Argyle Place house and knocked.

No answer.

She said she was home and so I walked in.

Nobody there.

I walked up the stairs briefly. Nobody there.

Keep in mind that these flats are old tenements, so the apartments look just like the houses.

So I knocked on the first door in the house (she said she was the first door) and a gentleman walked out. I ask for Hannah, and he responded with “who’s that?”

It appears that I had just done a home invasion.

I apologized profusely. Luckily, he was a good sport about it and helped me find the street that I was looking for which was a block away. I arrived at Hannah’s (huzzah!) introduced myself to her and her friends and commenced with the craic – which I learned from Hanna is a Scottish term for a good time or conversation. She thought it proper to explain this as I looked on with horror that this group was talking so casually about people who have good crack.

But no, that’s not where it ends.

The next day we went to Sandy Bell’s pub. I was drinking with my host and chatting with some locals at the bar while listening to some Scottish folk music. Hannah (my host) then introduced me to the two other people who live in the house that I invaded at Argyle Park Place, Shirley and Kieth.We chatted a bit talking about the irony and exchanged numbers.

I got “snackered” (Scottish speak for moderately insensible) with them and their friends the next day.

And who says crime doesn’t pay?

2018 Matthew: My Couchsurfing host, Hannah, has since become a professional, licensed tour guide in Scotland. She gave me a great tour while I was there.. and that was before she was a professional tour guide! Her website is: http://www.scotlandwithhannah.com/

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Stories From The Road: How I Got the Nickname “Cowboy” in Cambodia

Chillin at Utopia, where I worked for 6 Week in Cambodia.

Chillin at Utopia, where I worked for 6 Weeks in Cambodia.

My nickname while I worked at Utopia in Sihanoukville, Cambodia was… “Cowboy.”

There was a stray cowboy hat that said “Cambodia” across it that was laying around at Utopia, the hostel/bar I worked at in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I picked it up, washed it and started wearing it.

Every day.

All of the time.

Because I’m from the United States, wore the hat, and used Snuss (chewing tobacco, which I have long since given up), Europeans, Aussies, and Brits started calling me “Cowboy” (mostly because they couldn’t remember my name, but remembered the hat). It is, by far, the coolest nick name that I’ve ever received.

The nickname doesn’t fit at all. Yeah I might be Libertarian leaning, but I grew up in the Bay Area, California. Though, I did live in Reno, NV for about 7 years which is the Wild West…so I guess there’s a bit of Cowboy connection.

My friend ("Buddha") invited me to join their table because they liked the hat. He wore it. A true privelege

My friend (“Buddha”) invited me to join their table because they liked the hat. He wore it. A true privelege

Anyway, I lost it at a bus-ride rest stop somewhere between Mui Ne and Hoi An, Vietnam. I genuinely felt a sense of loss. I had grown very attached to that hat. Since I was in the middle of a harrowing, fiasco-filled 24 hour bus experience and had already read all of 1984 by George Orwell, I decided to write about it in my travel journal. This is not masterful prose by any stretch of the imagination, but a pondering of why I felt such a sense of loss. It is also a journal entry, so it is not proofread.

“I lost my hat. My Cambodia hat. It has been with me for only one month but it has been with me through so much. I will never own a hat quite like that again. It gave me an identity, a recognition, a “look,” impressed the ladies, gotten me goodwill from foreigners and the locals alike, shielded me from the sun (both asleep and awake), and was my prized souvenir of my travels.

I left it at a rest stop in Vietnam. I hope that hat is found, worn, and treasured by someone. Perhaps it will shield them from the sun preventing sunburns or skin cancer. Maybe it will help another guy with the ladies. Maybe a local will pick it up, have a good laugh with his friends, and toss it aside to be left as garbage. That hat has passed between 3 people, and my hope is that it continues to be picked up and passed on living on in other people’s photos; forever a part of their trek through South East Asia. It’s a magical hat of sorts. It’s a symbol of freedom from the drudgeries of daily life, and a symbol of joys and hardships experienced on the road.

Maybe it’s that as my trip comes to a close, that I’m ready to part with a life on the road in which that hat represents. Perhaps it’s a sign that I need a new hat to adventure with until that is too lost and passed on to the next worthy wearer. A symbolism of shedding one phase and moving to the next.

If that hat represents freedom does that mean that I’ve lost the freedom that the road has given me? NO! I’m always free in my own way.

Or maybe my hat just blew away and is thrown in the trash…”

My friend from Spain who I met on the bus and later kicked it with in Hoi An, Vietnam said “I don’t get it. Why don’t you just buy a new hat?”

He just… didn’t…understand….

IMG_0864

Tuan who I met in Da Lat, Vietnam and brought me to his friend’s house for a Tet party

 

In Mui Ne, Vietnam

In Mui Ne, Vietnam

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

At the Elephant Waterfall in Da Lat, Vietnam

At the Elephant Waterfall in Da Lat, Vietnam

Hey! That's not what cowboys ride!

Hey! That’s not what cowboys ride!

Accidental Shoplifting in Spain – Stories From The Road

Using dirty words in Spanish that I didn’t understand, the small, middle aged Spanish lady tried to yank my groceries out of my hand.

For two months in August/September of 2013, I lived in Granada, Spain. I found work at the Granada Inn hostel via helpX (a web site that connects travelers with jobs in exchange for accommodation and/or food). I started out cleaning rooms and ended up guiding Tapas Tours (in Granada when you order drinks you get free food called “Tapas“) and historical tours for tips. My arrangement was only for accommodation, no food. It was expensive to eat out for every meal, so I purchased food from the local supermarket and cooked it myself.

Shopping bag

The bag look something like this.

One day, I went to the supermarket and it was exceptionally busy. There were no hand carts available and a bigger cart cost €2. There were however these cloth rolling carts(pictured right) lined up near the entrance , so I picked one up and began gathering my groceries. I had all of my groceries picked out and was heading to the counter to pay.

Suddenly, this small, middle-aged Spanish lady snatched the cart out of my hands and shouted angrily in Spanish. With no idea what was going on, I snatched it back. After a brief tug of war, the store manager emerged from his office.

Finally she calmed down enough to explain herself to the manager (angrily of course) and I could finally understand her enough to realize that this was her cart that she brought to get her groceries back to her house. Apparently many people bring these carts because they have to carry their groceries home by foot, and this rolling cart makes it easier. They have to leave them in the front of the store, however, because they could potentially be used to conceal items for shoplifting purposes.

I was not aware of this practice.

I was not only accused of taking her cart, the store manager also thought I was trying to use it to shoplift!

Oh, and to top it all off, I had a backpack on, which is what I used to transport groceries to and from the hostel.

It’s amazing how fluent you become in a foreign language in an emergency situation. In better Spanish than I thought I knew, I stumbled through an explanation that I didn’t know it was hers and there were no carts available when I walked in and I thought that these were carts.

To them, it probably sounded something like “I not know that she’s, I think them for all clients.”

The grocery store manager seemed to understand that I was a foreigner who had no idea what was going on and took pity on me. He took me into the office, with my complete cooperation, and made me empty my backpack which had nothing in it, and my pockets. He told me that somebody had just been caught shoplifting a champagne bottle, so they were on high alert.

This whole time I’m thinking “Man, now I’m going to have to collect all my groceries again!”

Luckily, I walked out of the office to see the woman angrily emptying the cart onto a single shelf. I picked up my groceries, paid, and went back to the hostel thankful that I didn’t get taken to jail in the poorest part of Spain, a country with 20% unemployment.