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….


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.