The Face of Extinction – who killed Lonesome George? Galapagos diary # 3


The pin-up boy for conservation is now known as The Face of Extinction.

Lonesome George stands pickled in New York while whispers surf the streets of his Galapagos home. Was the father of a never-born-generation killed by the scientists who ‘saved him’? Have conservationists wiped another species off the Earth?

You hop a bus, ferry and then a 4WD taxi from Galapagos airport into the nerve-center of life on Santa Cruz. It is one of the most beautiful rides on Earth. Terra firma, Galapagos-style, is a heady masala of flavours Africa, Australia, Greece and Sci Fi blended along an undullous ribbon of tarmac that surfs some of the world’s least storied landscape.

galapagos road The road rides like a dolphin through the gently rolling landscape and Ooo – there! A giant tortoise slowly mows the verge. And Ooo – there! The scrub parts to reveal huge craters glittering with indigo waters in which nymph nor pharaoh, Viking nor tribesman ever saw their own reflection. tortoise

This is a land almost free of human history. A land not yoked and laden by empire, legend or myth. Here – this air unfettered by words – has a glitter about it.

A peculiar brightness, like falling in love. Blazing through the untold wilderness I feel – for one hour of grace – the heavy load of my own stories dissolving. A thrill like that first rush of champagne.

An echo, is it, of that translucent state of Life, before the Beginning – the human one, with its Word, and resultant cacophony.

Everything in me wants to just STOP RIGHT HERE.

I want to whisper to the driver, “Let me have Galapagos like this.” Before the petrol stations, shanties, cafes and ports clutter up the innocence of it…“let’s just stop here.

Let me creep out gently into the wild and lie down in it for a month or a year or a lifetime.”

But such things are Not Allowed. The human animal on the Galapagos islands may not walk off into the wild. May not even set a naked foot upon her unless escorted by a guide in those regulated territories set aside for us, at prices set in US Dollar – unless they work for National Parks.

And so, we barrel on. Into human habitat with its scent of petroleum and barbecued chicken. The taxi releases me from its air conditioned bubble, and I wilt instantly on the parched cement of Galapagos’ main business district.

Puerto Ayora rears out of rippling heat like a building site on the industrial skirts of an Orwellian hell. The town has a heat-haze reminiscent of bridling stallions composed of vipers of cooked air, diesel fume, dollars and desperation. It thrumps with the heavy, sweaty rhythm of industry as usual in a habitat that is just too hot for this sort of carry on.

A chaos of echoes rebounds off every surface and the people melt, shimmer, wobble and seep body fluids into their cheap Chinese lycra as they set about their myriad ways of moving dollars from pocket to pocket – like everywhere else.

I gaze across the shop fronts; pharmacies, burger joints, hardware, beer fridges, ticket vendors for last minute cruising, dive shops and a huge, imposing hospital smack bang before the port, with dozens of people sprawled out around its flanks.

The waterfront is mid-way through a surgical beautification process involving the demolition of its natural visage, and replacement with one whose parts were imported from China. What stretches between me and the shimmering sea is the last naked stretch of undeveloped foreshore, receiving its final nourishment of sunshine, birdsong and breeze. Ahead, the long boulevard is already buried beneath 10 inches of desiccated sand and brick, bringing Galapagos that suspicious glory known as ‘development’.

The ‘beautified’ malecon will soon look more like the photo-shopped sexy future waterfront property developers have been flogging off to consortiums and other gamblers lately. And less like it has for those wordless Millennia it has been here.

Millennia which manged to create and nurture all life as we know it, without any mind, nor mouth having ever conceived that word, ‘progress’.

With one foot on the doomed sand, and the other on the new red paving I can feel in my own flesh the actual reality of that much argued about ‘possibility’ even a half-baked blonde can testify to; climate-change.

The beautification work is having a sort of open-air microwave effect on things. To my right side, new bricks are evidently much, much hotter than the remnant sand road to my left. The baking sheet of new road roasts the last flesh of an already enfeebled onshore breeze, which has picked up so much sun off the posh glass, and relentless cement along the foreshore that you can just about see the glitter dying in mid-air and falling to the ground in heaps of ash.

On an island where conservationists and biologists have swollen tongues from all their raving on about understanding and conserving the environment it’s kinda kooky, and sortof sickly to witness an entire ecosystem being ploughed into a shopping strip right under the noses of the world’s most noisy NGOs. galapport

Being the optimistic type, I decide not to dwell on all this and dash brightly across the bitumen to feast upon the waters that (allegedly) helped Charles Darwin, and then all humanity change our view of life, the universe and everything.

Ah – the heavenly delight of that rush to the sea!

There she lies… twinkling and rippling in a bright, cool seduction. I lean over the railings to drink the salty nectar of the far, far Pacific, and seek the shapes we all come here for: shape of iguana, shape of penguin, pelican and our own nature-loving selves. galaptrack2 Lovely red crabs skitter about on a mean-looking rubble of black lava. The calm, fizzing waters of wide, wide sea breathe off puffs of redeeming ions and… what’s that? And that? Oh! Shit! They’re Everywhere! galaptrack

As my eyes adjust to Galapagos frequency iguana, seals, pelicans, rays and other creatures start composing themselves into view… and the weirdness turns up a notch.

My cones and rods adjust their apertures wildly, but no.. it’s actually real – every moving thing, every single living thing larger than an ant on the foreshore of Santa Cruz is attached to an antenna.

galaptrack4 Perhaps scientists are comforted by a scene such as this: wild things zipping about here and there with belts, buckles, or bolts driven through them from which transmitters gossip up to satellites and satellites report back to computers key facts about ‘life’.

For me, there is a rage about it, this horror at watching innocent creatures turned into machines by organisations that claims to protect and serve nature, but are in fact the full expression of a Big Brother impulse, practicing on animals, before they get to people.

I’d spit into the water, if it wasn’t filthy already, and am scowling heavily over the railings when the Fates  call out CUT! And send in an emergency angel.

Stage right: He arrives on a clapped out bicycle, smelling of Old Spice and deepwater.

Mario drops his rickety chariot under a sagging palm with a mortal-ish clatter and flings himself at the view beside me – his heart to the horizon and his arms spread crucifixion.

“Fuckers.” He says. And turns to beam at me deliciously.

I can tell, from the strange radiance of his freshly laundered dive-shirt, his symmetrical grin and luxurious irises,  that he is of the Order of Good Men that have forever ridden into my biography on rusted-out chariots – and saved me from too much reality.

The mingled elixirs of a mutual horror, bewilderment and willingness to trip the lightfantastic anyway etch matching symbols across our gaze, mine blue, his brown, as they fuze in a magical helix across the beauty and the beastliness of Mario’s radio-active islands, this Galapagos.

“Passionfruit gelato?” I offer.

We set off, my wilting story-burdened self, and Mario, sizing up visibly under his sudden destiny as leading man to maiden in cognitive dissonance..

The best gelato on Galapagos is to be found at Galapagos Deli. About this, at least, there is no doubt.

The owners may be scowly, and serve the most unimaginative scrambled eggs on the enchanted isles, but their gelato is to die for.

He chooses chocolate, and I have passionfruit, of course, while Mario tells me in a bubbly Spanglish how he was born and raised among the mangroves, the mountains, lava fields, rock pools and deep water wonderlands of Galapagos. How he knows and loves the islands but is forbidden now, by National Parks, to visit the places of his youth. Despite his life-long passion for nature, biology, diving, exploring and his beautiful, rich mind full of intimate wisdom for the islands, he is forbidden from making a living telling his stories.

He cannot sahre the gifts of 45 years as a second generation actual Galapaguano – because he can’t pass the National Parks test.

This seems kinda smelly to me. It reminds me of the hellofatodo I had trying to assist Australian Aboriginal elders to share the meaning of the dreamtime stories their own families had carved into the rock in the Royal National Park near Sydney. I tell Mario about how there, any rambler can stumble on the sites and chip away at them with a pen-knife if he likes, National Parks guides can lead walkers if they feel like it, but if an Aboriginal wants to tell those stories Rangers will call the cops to get rid of him.

True story. It was me that had to deal with it when Uncle Max Harrison, the last surviving elder of the entire region, dared to share stories on his own ancestral land one day, and all manner of National Park hell came down upon him.

We sigh. We eat ice-cream. And Mario and I pull our focus in around our little cones of gold and brown to share our own stories: about the histories and futures we’d lost. Mine was a fresh wound.

The baby, neverborn in Vilcabamba. Whose American father had scarpered off to live with shamanic entrepreneurs and practice Thai boxing and psychedelic journeying further up the Andes when the last ultrasound said, No Longer Viable..

That was a loss, caused by forces cruel, benevolent, selective or whatever… and I had managed it. I dug the grave myself. In the pretty spiral veggie patch the fleet-footed father had built. It was the only seed ever planted there, while we lived and our love died in Vilcabamba.

I managed it, but did not really survive it in the sense that while I had all the basic signs of life one could send to a satellite, I hadn’t had an actual experience of life other than struggling for nearly a whole year now.

These are things your friends can’t really help with. Perhaps nothing much can. There was only one woman in the town where I lived who hugged me when she saw me afterwards. A man mentioned it once too, not longer after, he said, “Oh, yeah.. I thought you were getting fat!”

Other than that, everybody just ignored it. “Life goes on.” “Onward and upward”. “No use crying over spilled milk…” etc. It was weird. But people are weird – or just frightened of dealing with the losses in life, having been so focused, mainly, on keeping on keeping on.

I had a deep, unshakeable case of Actual Sadness that was not so much about the neverborn baby, but about having been abandoned. About indifference.

Abandoned, I can tell you. Sucks. It is like dancing about in a field of daisies one minute, then falling quite suddenly through a hole in the world and finding yourself in a cement coffin. That’s what it feels like. And it goes on for aaaages.

Ages and ages and eons and suchlike are crammed into minutes and days and weeks when you feel abandoned. Your body, weirdly, keeps doing what needs to be done to keep itself working, but the rest of you (that which may or may not even exist, according to atheists and reasonable types) is in an agony of just wanting to curl up under a flowering tree and dissolve into the soil.

Knowing he has nothing but the slightest grasp of English I feel totally safe to describe all this to Mario at the gelato bar, my passionfruit dripping between my fingers, and chocolate melting on his tongue.

“This feeling, where is it?” I ask, feeling sheltered by the language barrier. “How do you measure it?” “Is it against life, or part of it? Is it killing us, or making us fit for the next round?

“And is it only humans who feel this? O, do you think, that all life knows what it is, to feel lost or lonely or sad?”

I’ve wondered, and any sane person surely has – why we’ve never bothered to plot grief or sadness, loss, love or joy on our compass for understanding the world we live in – as if those were unique to humanity alone.

love for animals 3

I’ve been ashamed and horrified to witness how our greedy monopoly on feelings and morality have enabled us to inflict a cruelty on other lifeforms, and the planet around us, as we obsess over ‘facts’ about atoms and survival, about chemical urges and mechanical impulses that end up being embarrassingly wrong, sooner or later.

“What do you think, Mario? Those antennae feeding off the pulses and movements of living things on Santa Cruz, do they tell us anything at all about what it is to be alive as iguana, penguin, sea lion or shark? Do animals feel what is is to be alive, or are they wind-up toys we can know by their clockwork?”

It’s a wonderful thing to pour your heart out to a man who doesn’t understand your language. It’s very freeing. I recommend it.

I was basking in the lightness of having just set one story free to the air, when Mario was gripped with a primal shudder and bent over in a crumpled shape across the last of his gooey gelato.

“Lonesome George,” he moaned.

“They kill him also,” he wailed..

And a large chocolaty hiccup announced the arrival of a huge orb of glittering tear-water which exploded itself into smithereens across the last of his ice-cream.

“The National Park. They kill him. They kill all of us here too.” I’m stunned and afraid to see this bounding man crushed into misery as he tells me of the loss of a tortoise, and how it felt for the people who love this, their home, Galapagos. lonesome george 5

The story of Lonesome George is a world-famous narrative in devastation, conservation, animal-meddling and human idiocy that inspired, and then saddened the world, leaving an extinct species and lot of merchandise in its wake.

Wiki puts him in a nutshell like this: “Lonesome George (c. 1910 – June 24, 2012) was a male Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii) and the last known individual of the subspecies. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. George serves as a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands and throughout the world.”

George had been rendered Lonesome by human development of his Galapagos homeland, actually, and when said same humans later found him there alone they swiftly agreed they knew just what to do with him and whisked him away from the only thing he had left as the last of his species on Earth – his native land and habitat.

From then on he had been studied in captivity, sampled, used as a tourist attraction and revenue generator by his ‘rescuers’ at the Charles Darwin Research Station and pestered, coaxed and even man-handled into mating for more than 40 years.

All attempts at salvaging George’s species failed dismally, and the last ever Pinta Island tortoise finally died, taking his right to choose non-paternity with him after decades in captivity in a strange land, constantly pestered, bothered and masturbated by the humanity that had wiped out all the others.

After they found his body, National Parks said, “His life-cycle had come to an end”. But many, including David Attenborough sighed, saying that Lonesome George may have died about 100 years before his time. Even if he was one hundred, as Parks claim, wikipedia regrets to sign off on his file, writing that this “is not especially old for a Galápagos tortoise.”

lonesome george2 Why environmentalists claim his story as a symbol for their good work is somewhat a mystery.

Mario doesn’t agree though.

He says Lonesome George is the perfect symbol for conservationists and the bureaucrats who have muscled in on the local people for control of the islands and custody of its legends.

“And they can be use his grave too!” he says, rallying up to full size.

“They kill our last one, the last beautiful baby of Pinta Island! They kill him in their prison, with their sad life they force him to survive. “His grave is their truth about what they know of life.”

Mario is commanding the space with the passion of a wounded parent. I can see, it’s for real – Lonesome George did not just ‘go extinct’, he was stolen from his home, miss-treated, and died of misery, lost forever as a being, a loved creature and a symbol for the people who fear they too will be destroyed by forces who don’t understand what it is to be a free being, alive on the land.

“They kill him with the depression. All for money!” he shakes his heavy curls. “The National Park,” he spits out the words. “is dangerousssss. The science, it has no heart inside it. It is only for de money!

“These people coming here, they do not know nothing of the true nature. What is it? I tell you now, what you learn when you grow up with the land, free in de nature. You learn this: the life it is peace. Peace with the land, peace with the water, peace with what needs done to survive, and just let everything else be as it is.”

For the science people, they see only control. They kill for control, and they think it is for understanding. But their thinking, coming from books, and not from the the really living. They forget the power of the world, and hunt for power for themselves – dividing, dividing, dividing into boxes and dollars, and how you say? De Facts!

Mario is angry and sad, he is full of passion and grief. I believe what he says – it’s suddenly obvious to me.

But Lonesome George, I decide not to tell him, has no grave to be worshiped, or sold tickets to.

After he died, National Parks immediately announced that they would have the body embalmed so the tortoise could be preserved for future generations.lonesome george 4 This was the only act of ‘preservation’ the organisation was to actually achieve. It was not without its problems though. Bitter feuds over custody of the corpse are ongoing.

Lonesome George was never, ever to know the scent or the relief of his native soil – even in death. he was frozen, skinned, disemboweled, polished, petrified, forced into a standing pose that tortoises only rarely assume, and used as the poster-boy for the un-dead by organisations dedicated to the history of human thinking.

George became known as ‘the face of extinction’. But even more horrific to consider is National Geographic’s news in 2012 that, “in an area known as Volcano Wolf—on the secluded northern tip of Isabela, another Galápagos island—the researchers have identified 17 hybrid descendants of C. abingdoni within a population of 1,667 tortoises.”

So that would make the whole Lonesome George story a fiasco of bad science, human ignorance, and bad zoo-keeping.

Is this really the best science can come up with still? And yet claim for itself a status higher than other sorts of knowledge!

To the disgust of some of the locals on Galapagos, George remains a symbol for the islands – both as a National Parks scientific playground, and as a reminder of the rare and wondrous life-forms that lived in this tough habitat, and inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Others see him as his species as a sacrifice to the cruelty of the scientific mind.

Darwin’s observation of differences between tortoises on the many islands helped him understand how animals can adapt to their conditions. But he had nothing to say on how they might adapt to being pushed to extinction by ‘progress’, then rescued from the brink by a humanity that thinks it has a grip on the realities of life on Earth.

“Sometimes, I hate the place,” groans Mario. “The research station, it has made the whole place into their prison, for experiments and torture and disrespect. Life here – this life is a trap made of science!”

We sit in a silence half miserable, half beautiful, until Mario shakes off the spell and calls the waitress for paper and a pen.

“But for you,” he says. “I can make a solution. Here.”

He touches the nib of the biro to his tongue and leans down in earnest over a fresh page in the waitress’ notebook.

“Let’s have a boy,” he smiles. And he draws him.

Your son. And he will be mine.” “What will we call him? Who have you loved?”

“Michael,” I say.

“Ah, lovely,” he beams.

“On his left side we will name him, for me, Javir, and on the right – because of all we know that is beautiful in this life, we call him Momento!” he declares proudly.

“And here, above him, we write the name of his destiny, the gift of his mother: wisdom.” Mario and I beam at the boy he has made us.

‘Yes, he is fine,” says the happy father. “But he needs muscles. He is strong.” And he sketches in some ample biceps. IMG_2466 “Perfect! An excellent boy.” Mario tears our son from the book, holds him up to the light and hands him to me saying, “I give you our baby – the hope of our Galapagos.”

The Scum Also Rises… Galapagos Diary # 2


How Charles Darwin’s ‘Struggle for Survival’ theory produced a sick-minded, hell-bent humanity which has failed to notice that…  the scum also rises. hunter2 Jetting into the Galapagos Islands is like taking a slow-motion swan dive into the infinity rock-pool of the cosmos.

You rise out of the hell that is Guayaquil – with its horrendous infestation of glittery malls – rinse the sweaty sock taste of ‘progress’ from your tongue with a gulp of Inca Cola, and behold! – the wet boudoir of the enchanted isles!

galap 3 Twinkling, teasing in their silky blue negligees and hot lava panties, the Galapagos, from 39,000 feet, appear untouched, innocent, and yet… tantalisingly prone to spontaneous acts of passion. These are lovely thoughts to nurture on the plane, because as soon as you get off all such fantasies will be ruthlessly murdered.

In my three months here I mourn over the sad realities of the islands, and discover that a paradise spoiled is a paradise still.

Galapagos is on her knees, but even battered and exploited, she offers that call expressed in nature everywhere –  her longing for harmony with the human animal.

To really see Galapagos is to be slain and inspired by how desperately we all need to change our way of thinking, being and doing.

On the enchanted isles I will learn to talk turtle, find a father for my never-born son… and learn to cry underwater.

Largely untouched by human hands, conserved forever in the remotest Pacific as an intact wilderness, teeming with protected wonders, and proof of man’s ability to keep his oil-stained mitts off just one pristine ecosystem, the Galapagos National Park is the one peace covenant in the galaxy between mankind and nature – or is it?

Swan diving into the Galapagos ends with a nasty head-on collision with the bottom of the pool. Just like when you dive into any illusion.

Galapagos is unwell, according to all indicators, and needs rest without visitors. There’s fat chance of that though, with over US$418 million moving through her skirts a year.

Scientists are sending out word that one of the planet’s most treasured oases is sustaining an, err… unsustainable invasion by a dangerous new species bringing hell down on just about every living thing there – except weeds and ants.

galap4 The Guardian reports a Galapagos Conservation Crisis, while Sea Shepherd, WWF and other observers warn that yet another paradise is choking on a bone. Humans – as usual – are trashing the place.   As the BBC describes.

galap6 Tourism will wreck the wonders of the Galapagos, the paper reports. And I roll my eyes and sigh, because, well… it’s not just when they’re dressed up in their wrinkle-resistant, snap-dry adventure wear that Homo sapiens tend to wreck wonders.

Apparently Darwin’s most highly evolved, fit for survival, first place winner for the tippety-top of the pyramid of life’s wunderkind is entirely hostile to the nature that evolved it. How… weird!

It’s a situation which could easily set one to wondering… if evolution really does select for the fittest members of species to become most succesful at survival in a process creating better and better life forms – then how come humanity is even still here, given the mess we’ve made of it.

And does this selection process, which Darwin said was driven by “constant action in combating the environment and human rivals,” really produce a human animal that reflects the best of our species?lance

Apparently. Not.

For most of us it’s a shock to discover that even the Galapagos is up shit-creek. And a surprise to discover that people actually live there.

Of all the species used as mascots for Darwin’s paradise on earth – the human inhabitants are discreetly kept out of the brochures.

As you jet down into nature’s most cloistered little boudoir, it’s thusly a bit disappointing to discover the bed sheets are well-stained with a heavy traffic of human soles.

It’s because of them, and the Boeing-load I’m arriving with, that various wildlife species are teetering on extinction, being ploughed under taxis, roads and housing estates, or fished out, drowned and chopped up by boat propellers – while Galapagos’ human population hits 40,000 and keeps booming.

The islands have one of the fastest-growing economies in all South America, the highest per capita income and a serious, seeping, seething human underbelly wracked by poverty, contaminated ground water, leaking sewers, decrepit housing, isolation and pollution.

According to research back in 2010, when the population was half as big, 52% of the well-hidden human species in Galapagos was in poverty. Back then two out of five didn’t have access to fresh water or waste systems, and dengue, depression, alcoholism and stress were causing all manner of very big trouble in paradise. Today it is exponentially worse, with the population increasing at about 100% every five years!

Oh dear. This does not bode well for my mission at all. I’ve set off for Galapagos at the fag-end of a rather fruitless search so far, for signs that evolution is working for Earth.

It’s almost my last hope. I’m looking for ways to shake off that strange sense of dread and home-sickness that stalks the human soul, and any evidence at all that humanity can play nicely with any other sort of Life on the planet.

galap7 Upon this quest, seeking evidence that ‘progress’ and ‘natural selection’ have indeed led to the success of a superior animal, I have mostly followed the advertising and been thusly mauled and battered by various storms in the chipped tea cups of lifestyle cults turning a trade on the current existential crisis in middle classes everywhere.

I’ve tried and failed to become more evolved, which is the latest thing in fending off human suffering – by becoming better than everybody else – just as Darwin and his ism have encouraged.

evolution1 I set out suffering from boredom in the burbs, dread of not getting richer than my neighbours in Sydney, disgust at the ploughing down of wilderness around me and that sense that everything just seems to be going to shit.

It was a hopeful misadventure via Bali’s yoga circus, the David Wolfe’s superfood con, a hijacked American plant medicine ride, and the shamelessly hypocritical gringo shaman scene for almost a decade… all of which reckon they’re higher lifestyles that just fretting away in the burbs, watching The News, but are actually… Not.

hippy1 I narrowly escaped the psychedelic cactus cult, meditation mafia and the violent malice of hordes of expatriating Americans all over the planet. And washed up on the Galapagos Islands – which is somehow perfectly fitting.

I am here to kick the tyres on Darwin’s wonky pyramid. Test the supporting beams on this ‘reality’ of survival of the fittest we’re building our lives around.

And to ask some questions like, “How come, when people become successful, powerful, wealthy or dominant, they tend to immediately, and by exponential degrees, turn into hostile assholes who make life hell for every thing and every body else?”

America1 Could it be possible that Darwin’s nasty little idea that Life is a “Struggle for Survival” in which “the strongest party always carries off the prize,” in a system designed by nature to serve and support the best possible expression of life is just horseshit?

In between wondering about all this, I’ll just stare at finches, penguins, clouds, stars etc to see if they might whisper me an insight about Life that will either release me from my unevolved uselessness, or at the very least, provide a suitable cliché for a book deal.

I’ve come because I’m having doubts about Darwin, but want to snuggle in his arms as well. I’d like to just let myself go, in a lovely safe place, where somebody with a beard is confident they have a grip on reality.

Darwin portrait1I’ve been advised by my conspiracy theory mates to keep an eye out at Darwin’s iconic HQ for hidden vaults, codes, Masonic isymbols and bloodstains. There are many who claim the so-called naturalist was nothing but an Illuminati stooge with connections to all sorts of Bad Guys. Bad Guys in high places, with the specific agenda of misleading humanity into the idea that life is supposed to be a rat race of competition, fear of failure and dog-eat-dog survival.

Human elites did this in order to plant insecurity and fear into the masses, keep them at hard labour, and profit from their misery. They did it to perpetuate a system which guaranteed them privilege, arguing that only the best and most competent emerge on top (by which they meant themselves) and to justify abandoning the poor, the sick, the gentle, the negro, women, children etc to the lesser lives they deserved, due to being less violent contenders in the battle of life, and therefore lesser beings.

It’s a mind-fuck we’ve all bought in to. I’m afraid. Because everything from kindergarten to TV, sports, beauty pageants, economies and our ideas about success, power and identity are designed to entrain us to Darwin’s central curse: that life is a struggle.

darwin story2 Evidence of this dastardly plot stretches from Ladakh to London, and has a file here too, because while Galapagos’ human predators thrive, everything else on the islands is bracing for a grand mal seizure.

Predictable,” say both scientists and skeptics.

Darwinism, the brand that still sells Galapagos, was a trick of the intellectual light, they say, that ripped a hole in the history of human thinking. The islands are nothing more than a living theme park – the lies about which reflect a grand human lie about everything, really.

Nothing will be left untouched by a humanity out of grace with the cosmos, they warn. Progress will be the end of us, because it’s just, basically, wrong!

darwin story1 As it turns out, evidence for the gross stupidity of nature’s triumph of evolution: us – hits like a hot skillet before you even order your first latte on Galapagos.

Touted as the world’s first ‘Green’ airport, Baltra, is hotter than a tin roof in the Nevernever and resembles a sort of glorified car park cum Pet World contraption. This hideous testimony to the green revolution sports a few feng-shui-inspired living things, like trees – which wilt about its flanks, and sparrows, which slip off its glossy exposed steel beams.

galap8 Squatting triumphantly over 6000 square meters previously known as habitat, Baltra is an example of developers’ dedication to preserve the wild by building all over it.

Shimmering amid a halo of heatsnakes at about a squillion degrees in the scrub, it issues a sort of Auschwitzy glow as it elbows the little wood and coconut palm-fringed previous airport behind it into the non-renewable past.

It’s a strange use of US$24 million, when you consider that just down the road the sewers are over-flowing, the water is polluted and the little sea lion babies, penguins and boobys that support this limping community are dying all over the place from causes not exactly linked to natural selection.

galap9The new airport is the prefect icon, actually, for what we’re doing to our Galapagos – indeed, to our planet, as humanity oxymoronically bulldozes its life-giving wilderness for what the brochure calls sustainable development.

Built to receive 3 million people a year (nearly eight times the present, devastating horde), the airport, let’s admit it, is an up-scaled syringe for siphoning cash-dollar out of a carefully planned stampede of Homo sapien across one of the most fragile environments on Earth. galap14

Ecuador wears heavy lipstick on the international tourism and development scene. She has indulged in the flagrant seduction of foreign nationals to her bosom with easy residency and mass marketing since 2008. She touts herself as a world leader in social reform and brags about her constitutional protection of Mother Earth, while filleting her own womb for gold, oil, wood and anything else tradeable for cash. The present regime spouts a socialist rhetoric that is beginning to give the whole nation a migraine.

Galapagos is a microcosm of the macro economics of Ecuador, and the whole industrial world. Despite creating a climate of growth and wealth that will undoubtedly destroy the environment, the governing agencies – both governmental, and National Parks, say their chief priority in Galapagos is conservation of all the lovely flowers, bugs and myriad creatures that inhabit these faraway islands. They say they’re all about nature.

To which the locals sigh, “Yeah… right.”  And the rest of us cheer, “Right on!” As we book our package tours.

galap12 A visit to Galapagos is how middle class people get to marvel at the intoxicating loveliness of life on Earth.

On the Galapagos you can also experience what it is like to get very, very close to wild animals who aren’t so terrified of humans they shit themselves or pretend to be dead.

This experience is so profound for many people that they actually cry. Which is evidence, I think, that life is more than a bloody battlefield for survival driven by ruthless genetics and a hostile environment.

It is evidence of a bond between all species, and a native space in the human soul not utterly indifferent to other living things – both of which Darwin and his cronies have all but bludgeoned from our experience with sick thinking and violent politics.

Anyhow. What cannot be argued over is that as the middle classes everywhere crack up with depression and sickness, as loneliness cripples economies in the world’s richest nations, fear of war, contamination, climate crisis, politicians and a deep, bubbling un-nameable misery sweeps the human biomass, the promise of a lovely holiday in a pristine wilderness full of happy sea-lion babies is a bloody good business proposition.

Ecuador is well onto this. And so are its international partners. They have tailored the Galapagos experience to mine US$500 a day, on average, from your pocket. The intricacies of this extraction are understood to a degree more rarefied than anything scientists can say for sure about any other life cycle on the islands. Which is disappointing. When you think about it.

Tourists thrive on a diet of jpegs and polo shirts. For this bounty they make extra-ordinary pilgrimages from all across the Earth. Their quest, driven by a need to make sense of life and impress the Jonses, is for digital evidence of Intimacy with Nature and Moments of Happiness. There may be, too, a primal urge to stand on the stage where Charles Darwin coughed up the idea that ferocious competition in a pitch battle for survival on a hostile Earth are the facts of our reality.

On their adventures, tourists will unwittingly reduce at least 10,000 birds a year  – to roadkill. The props of the boats they cruise on will frequently slash the bellies or sever the spines of dozens of the baby seals that have been frolicking with them on day trips.

I saw injuries like this often in the Galapagos. This image is of a California Sea Lion from

I saw injuries like this often in the Galapagos. This image is of a California Sea Lion from

As they sip sundowners on the decks of their cruising hotels, smugglers might be stowing illegal catch, trafficking wildlife or dumping waste overboard as the tourist fleets, oozing oil, plough their dogged routes. The slick that seeps from the Galapagos myth shimmers so voluptuously off Puerto Ayora at sunset, will thicken and ripen, causing the sea to shine a picturesque scarlet at dusk.

Humans will suffer their own casualties. Thousands will get very nasty sunburn indeed and be cranky unless air conditioned. Hundreds will decided to watch the stunning BBC series Galapagos instead of getting off their luxury boats to actually see the place – hot, ridden with mosquitoes and tricky to walk about on – and not get the most out of their adventure-wear. A few will somehow fall into the lava and suffer very nasty injuries indeed.

This is not to poke sticks at Galapagos. It is to show that there’s something kinda smelly about human behaviour, in general.

Is this really all we can hope for from the triumph of evolution?

Me, I am unlikely to be injured, even though I possess only a pair of flipflops, and no adventure-wear at all. But I am destined to be a Failure of chilling proportions during my Galapagos migration. I am not likely to buy an I Love Boobys T-shirt, have nothing like $500 to spend and lose all my photographs anyway.

I will spend three months poking about behind the set, seeing through the hologram, getting involved in the deaths of several sea lions that could have easily be saved, recording interview after interview with scientists, ecologists, politicians and guides who have given up, reluctantly, on Galapagos, on humanity, on the survival of anything much.

As these real-life stories constellate, I will hear echoes of the words of my hero and mentor, one Dr of Gonzo, H.S Thompson, who, after reporting on the American Dream, politics and human nature his entire career wrote, with a sigh composed of various opiates…

“The scum also rises.”


Survival of the Sickest – the mess, the cause and how to fix it.


If you’re on the path to peace, you’ll find out pretty quick that those be shark-infested waters! A guide for toe-dipping, the Curse of Darwin and who’s who in the spiritual zoo.

Twenty years’ down the road less traveled and that gorgeous, lonely path is now some of the most fought-over real estate on the planet.

This far along, and with a little bit of overview, I wanted to write about the world out here, reflect upon the hullabaloo, and offer some insight to those considering a bit of a Walkabout.

From Cusco to Ubud; Kathmandu to Ko Samui, it’s true that New Age profiteers have hung their shingles everywhere you’re thinking of heading.

They eclipse the pretty views of nature, and lure would-be questers with a buffet of spiritual experiences. A booming spiritual industry sells anything you can think of – shamanic travel, kundalini for cats, conscious fashion, chakra readings, weird medicine, yoni massage, activated pet-wear, transcendental panties and sacred gardening.

The business plan is to promise you nothing less than the life you’ve always dreamed of.

If your dream is more Martin Luther King than Martha Stewart, they’ll either ditch you, or help you ‘evolve’ to one less ‘angry’. They will reprimand you for being ‘negative’ and encourage you to aspire instead for personal radiance, orgasmic joy, funky tribal fusion outfits, ageless beauty and great sex.

Their banner – sometimes subliminally, but often just blatantly – features a heavily opiated anorexic woman in a yoga pose. She hovers pornographically, in shimmering soft focus, above what first appears to be a chakra, but turns out to be a cosmic asshole.

sexy yogi


For between US$50 and US50,000, the New Age’s shamanic businesspeople will also sell you a balm for all your suffering. If you’re worried about the suffering of others, most will just call you a moaner, or a projector, fogging up the psychic realm with low vibrations.

Only a few will gaze out across the remaining wilderness to sigh before saying… “Yes, it took me a long time to come to yoga for the right reasons.”

The New Age rests its superiority over traditional elites like bankers, lawyers, doctors and big business by pointing out their trails of victims and self-serving ambition. But contesters for the enlightenment dollar are often worse offenders.

Why? Because they will promise to help you while they exploit you, using a language of spiritual cliché, pop psychology, pseudo-science and hope that a businessman, in even the most treacherous field, would rarely dare exploit.

Does this mean we should shun the path, turn our backs on Yoga and all its glittery cousins?

No! I mean, No Way! As the madness amplifies, the scene diversifies, thousands are setting off to search for a better way and many will find ,if they have eyes to see them – guides who are fit for the coming of age that is upon us.

Weathered and bewildered by their own stumblings about, earnest yoga teachers, healers, activists and therapists in the alternative movement will admit to rites of doubt, confusion and dark nights of the soul in the dizzying storm of ‘the movement’s’ crescendo. They know all about the in-fights and rivalry, fakers, shakers and ball-breakers who eclipse more humble workers on so-called spiritual soil.

As teachers they do a heroic job, balancing on one hand the competitive silliness of their industry, while nudging students to toward compassion, non-violence, kindness, selflessness, trust and devotion with the other. If you can get that sorted, you’re halfway home.

There are some where I Iive. People like Cat Kabira, Les Leventhal, Sky xx, Lesley White at Smiling Buddha, Meg Maskell, Daniel Li Ox, the crew at Bali Silent Retreat, Chiara Ram Ramella and her husband, Mino. Seek them out if you can. They stand in the eye of the storm, holding space for one heck of a shift.

But in general, yes… The Way has been snatched from the humble fingertip of the solitary dreamer where it famously alighted, and turned into a billion dollar business fraught with all the power games and scams of any surging market.

Artwork from Osho Tarot

What a shame. But not a surprise. You can’t really blame the New Agers, or even the American MBAs who exploited them in a stampede for universal franchise of spirituality.

Not really. They, like me and you, are victims of a flaw in the very fabric of the western brain. A shadowy hoax in our reality you could call the predator effect.

There’s a shark in the ocean of Western thought, placed there deliberately, and designed to keep us enslaved to frustrating lives of fear and despair, racing against each other to escape the looming shark bite called natural selection.


It’s the Jaws in your own neural waters you have to face, and evaporate, if you really want to be free.

It’s not your job, your divorce, your mortgage, illness, sadness, wonky headstand,  backed up colon or your saggy kundalini that’s the main issue, really.

Even if you get those things sorted, you’ll discover it’s your own Great White Sharky thinking – and that of the guy next to you –  that will undermine you eventually.

There are teachers who know this, and can change your life completely.

But to get the best out of them, you need to make your own peace with the problem, and I am going to start you off.

If you want to put a face it and call it the devil, then that would be the face of Charles Darwin. Poor thing.

Darwin portrait1

It was Darwin’s thought-virus that was used to validate the idea of a life driven by suffering and survival, that pit brother against brother in a fight for existence hosted by a hostile environment, ruled by a cranky god.

Darwinism is the root cause of human sadness in the West. It’s your part in it you need to make peace with.

His ideas, backed by a ruthlessly expanding colonial elite, created a Survival of the Fittest epidemic pitching the strong against the weak, justifying violence and bullying, slavery, the subjugation of women, expansion of empire and the abandonment of the Irish to famine. In the mid 1800’s Darwinism became the carefully chosen banner under which we slaughtered Indigenous, animals and environment as we supported an indifferent  elite upon whom we entrusted our own survival. His was an argument used to contest the end of slavery in the States, and adopted by Nazis and other not very nice people. The ‘fit’, Darwin ‘proved’, were supposed to get rid of lesser beings so a more perfect human could ‘evolve’.

darwin story2

It was Darwin who argued that, actually, universal intelligence seeks a blood bath. He showed that dominators and manipulators are selected for by nature itself, in an effort to create superior beings through a linear process known as ‘evolution’ which loved nothing more than gladiatorial battles of life and death.

He put the gun in the hands of ‘progress’, pointed it at animals, wildlife and ‘savages’, nerdy kids, fat girls, boys who were bad at rugby, and argued that it was our duty to nature to blow out the brains of the meek – or at least cower them into submission.

The smoke from three centuries of this gunfire has utterly choked up the Western notion of reality. It has left us all wounded, blood-stained, lonely and estranged from the gorgeous cosmos of bliss and elegance with which earlier humans had been having a divine romance for ages.

Mad with fear for our own survival, we still argue about whether qualities like compassion, mercy, collaboration and quietly pottering about in peace are inferior traits to be weeded out by government and evolution. We get blue in the face about whether animals have feelings, if morality is a ‘construct’, whether genes are selfish and if we will suffer a debt for contamination of a mechanical biosphere.


Today its still Darwin behind our sneers at the underprivileged, the lazy, the tubby, the confused and dreamy. We use his thinking when we feel superior to others if we are better looking, better paid, score higher marks, or kick bigger goals in cooler clothes

But In academic circles Darwin has already had the colour sucked out of him by Sociologists who don’t even argue anymore about whether Darwinism has any actual merit.

In a word, they agree. It doesn’t.

Darwin and his ism were the perfect brand, and the perfect trick of reason at a moment in history when the ruling materialist elite required a public to swallow the notion of empires built on the suffering, exploitation and humiliation of others.

It’s because of the Darwinian misadventure we have tolerated a culture in which the bullies are entitled to all they can get, while the rest can suck it up.

Why? Because we are fundamentally bullies ourselves.

That’s the sneaky logic by which we really live today, and from which we are desperately trying to escape… if only we could see it.

Instead we blame our anxiety on the banks, sugar, military industrialists and the International Situation – on others, generally, because we don’t yet realise it’s our own Darwinised selves we’re sick of.

Darwinism is behind our stress in this indifferent, scarcity-afflicted universe we invented. It’s behind those first squabbles over toys at pre-school, through competitive sport, scaled schooling that favors the ‘best’, status, loneliness and on and on. In a culture which ‘wars’ over peace, drugs, poverty, religion, cancer… it’s a fight over everything. Surrender? Be damned!

To see this in action you don’t have to visit the halls of government, the New York stock exchange, or peek at the machinations of Greenpeace or the Bill Gates Foundation. Nasty politics, in-fighting, rivalry, ladder-climbing and bullying are alive and well in the playground, on the road, at mothers’ groups, yoga school, in the surf, the local disco and creep in to our relationships. No?


They’re the reason many won’t hop out of the rat-race. Terrified of ‘failing’, of being left behind, devoured by their rivals, or just found ‘unfit’ in a competitive universe they can imagine being ploughed into dust at the bottom of Darwin’s ruthless pyramid – because that was the fate of millions before them.

When you attempt to break this bondage your question should be… who, or what, can I trust?

It’s the right one, because those who can’t quite give up the impulse to dominate, even if they say they are ‘at one with the divine’ are just like the sharks in Finding Nemo, who want to be vegetarian.

Disney, Finding Nemo

Disney, Finding Nemo

And because walking into a new cosmology requires a complete break from the old one – at least for a while.

This is not a matter of character, but of a cultural virus sewn deep in our bones and jellies. In general, we’re tired of the anxiety, the lack of trust and happiness, but we don’t know where it’s coming from. We want out. We want happiness. We want love and fairies, good waves, picnics… and a nice cup of tea.

It’s not only because of evil leadership we can’t have this peace – we’re all destroying it, because we don’t trust it..

But hang on a minute! Isn’t this all a bit far-fetched?

Wasn’t Darwin just a nice quiet man who killed a lot of finches?

Actually, no. Charlie gave the game away in the title of his book, which was, in full:

On the Origin of Species

 by Means of Natural Selection,

or the Preservation of Favoured Races

in the Struggle for Life”

 (thank you, Meg Maskell)

He paid a bitter debt for these philosophical efforts. In a personal tragedy that was poetic in its unfolding. Darwin confessed to his diary near the end of his own exhausting, lonely life of conflict, that…

“I cannot endure to read a single line of poetry… those parts of my brain now atrophied.


The loss of these tastes [poetry, literature, scenery and art] is a loss of happiness…


My mind seems to have become a sort of machine for grinding general laws out of a collection of facts.”

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin.

His theory, he frankly writes, came from disenchantment with God, and a failure to see any sort of design in life.

“I can see no evidence of… design of any kind

in the details [of the universe]”, he wrote.

Seriously? He couldn’t?

Was that because he was consumed with mild depression, unpopularity, sea sickness and doubt about whether he should have ever given up a life of partridge shooting afterall?

Darwin was making, actually, an unfathomably dumb statement.

Given that Leonardo Da Vinci had already exploded the boundaries of human thinking in art, engineering, biology, aviation, physics, chemistry… everything, all after looking closely at nature.

da vinci

Da Vinci’s doodles of flowers and waves revealed an innate architecture behind everything from flying machines to dripping taps a full four hundred years earlier!

How could Darwin have missed it?

I was desperate to know.

And, since there was but a 3-hour taxi ride, one squalid night in Guayaquil and a picturesque flight between me and the theme park using his name as its billion-dollar mascot, I knew exactly how to find out.

I booked a one-way flight to the Galapagos.

To sniff around in Darwin’s underwear and see what evolved from there.

The Bitter Cup: Ayahuasca – beware the hand that serves you


As ayahuasca tourism explodes into a frenzy of expensive retreats, gringo-shamanism, one-night love-ins, and do-it-yourself thrill-seeking across the planet – a shaman from the Amazon sends a postcard on which he writes, only this….

beware the kiss

of the vine of death.


If you were sick, I mean really – and abandoned on a sandbank in the Amazon -would you trust a chain-smoking motorbike mechanic with a fetish for vomit and a blunt machete who turns up out of nowhere, and says…

“I can be help you if you be come, come with me

 I will be show you how to love de medicina.”

Deep in the ancient forests of the Amazon, where healing arts have been honed for thousands of years under strict and secret lineage, a shaman of an unknown tribe blows heavy plumes of Marlboro Red from a rickety stool under a banana tree.

His practice is a jungle garden. His ‘consulting room’ is air conditioned by plants, and his library is living all around him; in blossoms, cloud, roots, shoots, animal visitors and continual dialogues with nature who informs his powers of diagnosis and prescription.

The currandero was five days late for our appointment.

DSC_0054When he finally boomed into camp on a supped-up Yamaha, wild curls dancing behind him, he wore a grin so wide it instantly erased my resentment for the long and cranky wait.

This was a meeting I was forced into, really – having had no intention of ever ending up on the ayahuasca scene, let alone in a shaman’s wretched camp.

I came to the jungle assisting a team of American medical volunteers for the CNN-awarded outreach project, Amazon Promise.

It was in deep jungle, far away from Iquitos, that a recurring undiagnosed health problem struck me down again with its presentation of angry circular welts, allergies to everything – fatigue, fever and painful, deforming joints and nightmares. After two years’ under care of Sydney specialists I knew the pathology: disorders of the white cell count, acute and unattributed inflammation factors, evidence of infection, progressive decline with no known cause, and no known cure.

At the peak of the illness in Australia my feet and hands were reduced to livid claws too fragile to bear the weight of even a sheet. I had been placed on large doses of steroids and their related chemical cousins. I was warned I was unlikely to walk again, and told to ‘toughen up’.

My questions of experts from rheumatology, infectious diseases and oncology had not been welcome and I spent long, expensive years in a state of chemical dependency and shame.

So ending up here, on a splintery bench in the rainforest for one more shot at a happy ending did not seem intimidating at all: I was used to feeling confused and cranky.

I was also well ware that here in the jungle, shaman give a medicine so powerful for its effects it is known as the vine of death. That didn’t bother me much. Most of the drugs I’d been taking the last few years were likely to kill me in the end.

What did bother me was that I was here at all.

I had been ‘miraculously’ cured of my symptoms a year ago after a juice-fast my brother recommended from a book. 10 days of beetroot and miso soup brought on a hell of nightmares and weird thinking at the end of which I was pain, welt and arthritis-free enough to climb Kilimanjaro and five other of the world’s highest ranges for charity.

touching the void

But here in deepest, darkest Amazonia, I had plunged back into a hell much worse than the first. It was an ER doctor, a veteran from a Boston hospital, who pleaded with me to find a jungle healer.

“What Western medicine knows about what you have is the equivalent of a bucket’s worth of ocean,” he said.


“Get yourself to a shaman.  Bring back something useful.”

So I set out to find a shaman. In Iquitos. Which is a bit like looking for a raindrop in a river.


They call it zombie-fever. Bleary-eyed ayahuasca tourists; the sick, the lame, the lost and confused who have descended on Iquitos these last ten years in search of healing or of a new career in shamanism.

Most locals shy away, but hordes of gringo healers, jungle side-winders and scouts prey on the tide of incoming, just like most of them were preyed upon when they first set out to taste the medicine.


It’s an ugly scene. There are deaths and rapes, fakes and all manner of weirdness in the circus that has been conjured up around the promise of ayahuasca.

I hunted for a healer in this city of dealers for more than a month and come across every breed of charlatan, con man, gringo wannabe and naysayer as I got sicker and sicker and weaker and more desperate to believe that the legends of great cures and wisdom in the jungle were not a hoax.

The greatest name around Iquitos is Rivas. The Banco.

He is one of the Grandfathers of plant medicine and a very wealthy man, by all accounts. It was exactly due to his Big Reputation that I had struck Rivas off my list. I wasn’t interested in anybody famous, I wanted the real thing. Somebody genuine, authentic,remote and exotic. As a result, I ended up with Rosa, who had a lot of stuffed toys, some fascinating stories, and no idea at all what to do with me.

She had plied me with the toxic juice of a rubber plant to help cure me of parasites and was taking me to her jungle camp for further ‘healing’ when, an hour down the Amazon, she apparently had a sudden change of heart. She made a pretty loop in the speedboat, pulled up beside a muddy verge, and shoved me out with no instructions, food or even a goodbye. Then she fled into the jungle steam.

It was not a great start to my ayahuasa healing adventure.But it was no worse really than things had been in general. So I sat there, sweating and inflaming, listening to the water lapping on the bank and the howl of far off monkeys.

About an hour later a tall, slim man and with remarkably white tennis socks turned up in a rickety dinghy. He was an ambassador for the Maestro, the said.

The who?

The Maestro. Vamos!”


And so it was that I found my wretched self before none other than the Banco. Himself.

It was his cigarette smoke that hootchy kootched around me as his sweat wilted the flowers on his Hawaiian shirt.

The Maestro, I knew, was a legend in Peru. He was feared and adored in his region and quietly famous around the world for his power with the plants. He guarded the dignity of the medicina with a ferocious respect, and had openly declared that we are in a time of great war on Earth – over nature, over power, over everything.

He was on the side of the plants. And an enemy of those who either destroyed their habitat or offended their honour.

The Maestro was credited with cures for aches, pains, indigestion, infertility, snakebite, depression, cancer, arthritis, warts and every complaint of the soul. He was to be admired for his drumming, respected for his temper, and the only man to go to in Iquitos for advice on how to fix both motorbikes and photo copiers.

His patients came from simple villages along the chocolate-coloured  jungle rivers and all the wealthy continents. And occasionally, apparently, stumbled in as orphans – like me.

I was in no condition, really, to be meeting a legend. I could fairly be described at that time as scruffy and irritable.

I offered a scowl and a floppy, swollen handful of hideously deformed fingers by way of introduction. He shoved my hand aside to crush me in a wet and fragrant embrace.

Now! How are you?” he asked in melodic jungle Spanish, pulling up his wooden stool. “Come! Sit here. Relax, smoke de cigarette?

I want to know de  ev-e-ry-theeng!


How you in de heart?

How you in de feelings?

How you in de self?”

And so began a journey you will likely never take either in classic Western medicine, or in the circles hosted by gringo entrepreneurs who have recently got hold of the medicine and market ayahuasca tourism.

You cannot sell this sort of a thing. And you cannot buy it in a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all ‘retreat’ setting. It does not bless any one night stand flirtation which might involve a ‘dose’ of so-called ayahuasca, and cannot abide even the slightest sniff of hippy thinking, according to the Maestro.


To know ayahuasca – or any other plant – requires that sort of wisdom you cannot serve in a cup.

What true ayahuascaroes cultivate is an ancient process of diagnosis, treatment, care and insight strongly based on relationship – primarily to nature. Many died in keeping this alive during the persecutions of the Conquistadors. Many were exiled as they kept the covenants of their lineage through the carnage of the rubber boom.

Those who were passed the rites cultivate their intimacy with the plants through long, solo pilgrimages in the jungle dieting specific species, meeting with the blessings and terrors they keep, to earn the right to give ceremony.

Many are declaring, now the fad has hit the mainstream, that appropriation or abuse of the ‘medicines’ are acts of war to be avenged.


It takes a lot more than knowledge of the recipes, a few icaros and a splattering of shipibo artwork here and there to suppose the role of currandaro – let alone of shaman.

A true ayahuasca journey is conceived by a sort of fate, conducted down a river deeper than it appears, in a craft made of fear and trust.

When you active the bonds of chemistry that cause ayahuasca to appear before you, you have conjured a genie even the most powerful healers do well to treat with awe.

“She is the wise one,” says Viejo, adoring the little leaves of  stems we are going to cook with.

“She be the beautiful one.

The empress of all the plants, of de everything.

But Ooooo, she be  the terrible, terrible  jealous one.

The vengeful one.

She be not be liking to be fucked with.

Not de one de little tiny bit.

For my recovery I was apparently to live in Viejo’s camp for as long as it was going to take. “You be live here, in my paradise,” he beamed. “Maybe two weeks, maybe three months.. we be see what the plants, she’s saying”

The camp, far from what you may be ‘shopping’ for now, if you are considering buying a pre-paid, web-marketed, $2000-a-week ‘authentic shaman experience’ in the Amazon – was slightly lacking in mmm… charm.

It was a sort of  ramshackle jungle squat with hungry-looking chickens, a dubious-coloured bog and a slightly worse than average rat issue. My home would be wooden yurt with a moldy single bed and an even more moldy pillow, which were to become my heaven as the healing journey began.

On the second day he told me, after a long diagnostic massage in his plywood temple, examination of my rash and conduct, evocations of deities from the jungle university and lots of poking about;

“You have de poison in de blood and de heart-ache long time.

You have de blockages in de love, and de many hurting not go away.

You must have take out de metals here –  in de teeth.

You must be cleaning de liver and de whole body.

You live here.

With me.

We play de bongos

and talk with de nature.


And so it was.

Every day for 8 weeks I slouched about camp in bare feet, listening to Viejo on his bongo, or vomiting in buckets, or preparing to vomit in buckets, and running a constant dialogue of wonder and irritability that my life had come to this.

There was Viejo, greeting the dawn with a Marboro dangling from his lips and a bongo on his belly, singing like mad to the quivering garden.

There was Viejo, preparing me another concoction of leaf medicine, ordering me wrapped in honey, buried up to my neck in dirt, asking me to sing to the plants, drawing me a picture of the 13 chakras, holding my hand as a jungle dentist drilled the amalgam from my teeth and watching me puke my miserable guts up about three times a week due to one ‘medicine’ or another.

There was no ‘between’ the medicine. There was only the medicine.

And I don’t mean ayahuasca. I mean everything. Everything was medicine: the screaming whistle of the jungle bugs, the twisting heat, the soggy bed, the starlight, dripping off banana leaves, the hideous shit and puke and spit we lovingly poured into Pacha Mumma, who would know what to do with it.

And Viejo… singing as he tenderly stripped down his Yamaha. Viejo, caught in rapture at the tinkling of motorbike parts as they sun-dried on the washing line. Viejo, offering me a litre of pure tobacco juice, saying only ‘Drink. All. Vamos!‘.

And there were my own miserable thoughts as I wrestled with an inner dialogue that was variously unhappy with my body, my life, my circumstances, my pain, the heat or my diet of salt-less rice, fish guts, steamed plantain and vile or psychotropic juices.

I was prepared fresh medicines from turmeric, passionfruit leaves, resins and slimy things served in recycled jam jars by the doctor himself, and or by his friendly staff who sat with me while I drank tinDSC_0028ctures, hideous goop and poisons that did things unmentionable by a lady.

The mechanic held my hand when their effects were diabolical.

He enthusiastically inspected buckets-full of my vomit, searching for signs and clues and bubbles which would lead him to either frown deeply or throw out his arms in joyful rapture when he found de something that he was looking to get out of my body.

These triumphs were usually a puddle of froth or an asymmetrical slime blob that I had troweled the depths of my being to wring out in misery over a bucket. They were sometimes fragments of dreams.

The maestro played the harp when his plants were ruthless.I often begged him to stop because his presence seemed to amplify the agony of the process.

Then he would sit close by, gently de-greasing bits of motor bike.

He never once left me alone. He never once refused my questions. He called me Princessa, and was as concerned with my psychological journey as he was with my physical ones.

After he made me hallucDSC_0039inate, shiver and puke for a full day to get de bad liqueed out of my gall bladder he took me on the back of the bike on a day trip to a spring and restored my joy for life.

When he thought he had squeezed a good puddle of de bad out of me, he had me scrubbed raw with a laundry brush and commercial bleach, then wrapped in mud for a full afternoon before we drank the ayahuasca – which seemed mild in comparison to the other plants.

In the Western model this would all, I know, be considered quite ridiculous. Such a level of personal involvement with a patient would be frowned upon for sure, and if one were to be so indulged – just imagine the cost!

In the tourist model, there’s nobody can give you even half the actual experience.

But in the larger part of the world, and in the oldest medical traditions – the Chinese, Tibetan, the curranderos of the Amazon, the Australian Aborigine – from whom the pharmaceutical industry still takes it cues for synthesising medicines – what’s being offered by doctors and ‘healers’ would be equally unthinkable.

Listening, connecting, sharing the experience are as much part of the cure as the treatments.

In fact, any treatment or remedy that has not been made and blessed by the healer is considered next to useless.

Which is why I warn you –

beware who you drink with, where your plants come from, and how much faith you give to the new gringo market in ayahuasca.


The power of the bond between healer and patient is equal to the power of the cure – without trust and confidence, says the maestro, an illness can only be cut at the stem, it cannot be removed at the root.

A cure cannot come from a person who is ‘dabbling’ with the medicines. “Ayahuasca, she is dangersousssss. Oh, very she be danger. When you play with her, like with any strong woman, she can seduce you, she can be suck you into a very very bad world of delusions.”

Likewise, he says, a cure cannot come from a bottle, but only from a living dialogue between the patient and the healer, the healer and the Mother. He spent hours of his day caressing, listening, adoring his gardens, the clouds, birdsong and moonlight.


Since this adventure I have been free of my illness and interested in the doctor/patient relationship which in indigenous medicine is not without its challenges.

When a shaman asks you to drink his deadly medicines he is well aware he causes fear – and it is this he wants to work with. The disorientation and surrender in a patient who is put in a threatening curing situation is the very means by which a shaman finds a gap in the ego wide enough for him to create change.

But not all shamans are equal. And many you will find are not shamans at all – despite their feathers and their pretty websites. So tread this path with care…


The Beautiful Suffering


Could the wounded human love story be the tearing open of the bud to a truly Divine Romance?

Huge, hard, kinky, tantra, boots and whips and puppies. Ice creams, gags, wax and weird conjugations of the kundalini…. since when did sensuality form this venomous helix with suffering? And where, on our wounded Earth, is all this going to end?


Is it a secret to say that for so many of us those precious, early tones of longing for love got warped somewhere: on the dating scene, in marriage, in the loneliness of this modern three-way hi-way adventure in the bad, bad honeylands of craving? And if so, what next?

Out here in expat-land, on the frontiers of the new, ‘unshackled’ humanity, there’s plenty of talk about finding Love, but not much time for making it. Meanwhile, we bud into tribes of vegans, yogis, crusaders for animal rights, poets, ayahuasca junkies, singers and yes – ecstatic, sexy dancers.

The love-scene here’s as sad and demented as it is at your place. A hit and run sexuality spiced by fetish, lust and lonliness leaves its blue fingerprints on throats and hearts among us – just like everywhere else!

Tantra, Tinder, a wild imbalance of the genders, and this so-called ‘adult’ sex scene, which dabbles in the, errr… quixotic, leads to all manner of cringe.


There’s no topic more deeply poured over in Ubud, anyway, as love. Or the lack of. Except maybe sex – and the unreliability of.

Beyond the norms of our home towns, ex-patriots everywhere explore free-range landscapes for new ideas in relationship, food, sex, money, health and spirit. But love – where to look? And beyond the luscious orgies of superfoods and smoothies, body oil and massage – how to nourish our longing for sensuality?

If they are honest, the free-rangers can report that changes of scenery and of lovers do nothing, actually, for a humanity deep in the lairs of depression. Erotica, gluttony, porn, lust and tantra promise a ‘purer’ exchange of the ecstatic, but more often mix a bitter cocktail.

I’m all for erotica… I’m cautiously for Sex San Frontiers, but does that really mean cocks and racks and candle wax? Does it mean that blokes really marry bitches, and women need to date like a man, and that adultery, one night highs and the grotesque, deformed expression of sexuality portrayed today in advertising are actually even satisfying?

burger   fashion

In the void of Love,it looks to me like delight and suffering have formed a most treacherous alliance.

On the churning seas of erotica, the lighthouse of sensuality is terribly eclipsed. Our boats of tenderness are adrift in a sea of chemistry and propaganda – so, where, oh where, is that safe harbour of the intimate?

Monogamy? Monogamy only recently received an exit visa from the wastelands of ‘old-fashioned’.

marriage egg

Marriage, of course, is recovering from a stab to the liver.

On this note, imagine if you will, marriage as the creation of a third living entity – a wedded ‘us’ as Joseph Campbell writes about. If this is so, then the recent destruction of so many unions through an orgy of divorce was one of the greatest recent acts of symbolic genocide on Earth. As we sought our individual power, and freedom from unholy unions, the sacred bond of marriage – laid open for refining in the 1960’s, was filleted by ‘progress’.

Marriage didn’t fail, it was hunted down at a delicate moment and slaughtered by economics, politics, Nestle, Ford and Unilever, who used it to enslave us all to suds and Saabs and sugar.

All this instilled a bitterness toward love that wept down three generations. And still, the casualties from millions of unions fear the fields of love are mined.

sad marriage

Yet we make this epic migration, beyond the golden band toward lasting human tenderness, don’t we? And perhaps this is our triumph.

Along the way, we find in casual liaisons a cortisone for longing.

We find in a bent erotics the claws to scratch our itch.

We discover, in our precarious courtships, that the seas of love are muddy.

Men blame women. Women blame men. We all blame social constructs and ‘stress and pressure’. Our confusion is irritated constantly as porn exploits this rift throubeer mangh fashion, ‘art’, music, cinema – everything!

Our own ideas of the erotic? Of sensuality? Of love? They are warped every day by a vile collage of images hurled out by a society deeply estranged from tenderness.

Romance? She hardly dares produce a single rose.

Sensuality, I’ve been told, is  ‘needy’.

Intimacy, her clingy cousin.

Together they are accused of setting traps in the pleasurelands – traps which glitter magically when exposed to that special light given off by perceived attempts at ‘commitment’.

And while the notion of the beloved has come under deep suspicion, except in the most poetic terms, along that squinted eye a profound and lovely teardrop trembles.


Here in Ubud, and in so many places, men hunt women openly, and rack them up as ‘friends with benefits’, or friends whose benefits are in decline. People craving love, but suspicious of its demands instead stalk ‘encounters’ – leaving 52 shades of misery across the fields of our desire.

Women? Women crave to be chosen, to know they are chosen, and also to be craved. In these strange hunting grounds the rites of intimacy have shriveled into a mutual feast of predator and prey.

All of which, as we know, only sharpens the scythe of loneliness.

One balm for this, and evidence of our seeking, is the extraordinary new bond so many have found with animals.

There is en mass, across the world a deep wail issuing from all humanity about the suffering of animals. In them we have – at last – found a mirror for our souls, the true and living symbol of our grief, and our love and tenderness. In their stories we have found the call to scream our heartfelt  Noooooo!

orangutan   chicken   bull  dog

Animals are the excruciating image of the faces we dare not show. They are the image of our own innocence, loyalty, tenderness – of the love we had forgotten.

In pets we have found companionship beyond our hopes for marriage. And in the cruelty we do dogs, and elephants, whales and dolphins – even cattle, sheep and chickens, we see the reflection of our own wounds, and the urgent call to make amends.

sad elephant

And in so doing, we find in ourselves this deep and healing wail. This agony of guilt and sorrow and rage for all we have done in our conquering of Earth, to ourselves, and each other – through which we are crucified and raised up a level in awareness.

And right here – don’t miss it – there is a widening of compassion, a re-connection to nature, a chance for humanity, again, to feel the sentience of all souls. There is a magic beyond logic, beyond judgement – a truly holy eclipse of ‘I’.

Where we have lost each other, we may yet find a truly divine romance.




In the garden, wet with rain,

we went seeking a balm for our longing.

There, folded in the petals of a flower,

trembling in the heart of every leaf –

the letters of a poem from the beloved.

*    *    *    *


find yourself humbled
by a petal….

wet with rain.


 begin to express

 what you think it means

   – this   erotica.




The Shit Whisperer

When you’ve worn out your Havaianas traipsing from yoga to kirtan via every sideshow spruker selling ways to clean your aura, change your diet, flush your poo hole, pump your chakras, cure your cancer – or your sadness – and you’re still not feeling the luurve – it’s finally time… you’re ready my friend, for a holy moment with the lady they call…

the Shit Whisperer.


I don’t know what’s been wrong with me lately.

Here I am in Ubud, Bali – the world’s greatest mecca for all things Healing, Golden, Love-ish and Transformational. I’ve been carving off those American kilos at the most sumptuous buffet of yoga teachers anywhere in the world, swanning about the place on my sexy Scoopy motorbike draped in all manner of floaty garments for three full months now… and am still a bit of a bitch in the morning.

My path toward the radiance remains littered with doubt and shrouded in fog despite a routine of 8 yoga classes a week, massage, manicures, pedicures, green smoothies and chakra-activated cotton kickers.

I am nervous about the future – all our futures, actually. And about several other things, including being still not cool enough to hang with the beautiful tribe, increasingly suspicious of people with green smoothie stained mouths and anybody offering to help me activate my dream life.

What does this prove anyway?

What does this prove anyway?

My questions, as usual, are tiresomely serious. They inconveniently transcend most things tackled here, axing-away at issues like the failure for any actual unity to be achieved, Chinese expansion, the grinding down of indigenous peoples, rampant mining, disinformation, the cataclysmic shift in ocean PH, alienation of aging women, and the global epidemic of depression, confusion, sickness and class war that rages on despite all the crystal bowls quivering away in Ubud.

I am too fat to fuck in this slightly vain city… apparently. Thus unable to distract myself with that handy detour out of anxiety known as a fling. And actually just so bored stiff by the blogging/journalist/i’vegotalltheanswers crew that even writing has begun to feel like a deadset waste of all our time.

Underneath all this I have the feeling that I’ve swallowed something awkward. Was it the promise if the New Age movement? Was it one too many turmeric shots? Or indeed the whole myth of the ‘alternative dream’, that caused me to step out of the ‘real’ world and mess about for EIGHT YEARS STRAIGHT on a healing path leading directly to.. err…?


It’s true that I arrived in Ubud in a less than optimum state. I’d  lost my way completely, and various other things including proper work, love, quite a bit of currency, and confidence in the revolution. But who hasn’t?

I mean, if you’re even half sober in the world today you’ve got to be asking some hard questions about where this is all headed, at what price, and when did all these hippy weirdos get control of the conversation anyway?

Unless you’re here on Honeymoon, you’re in Ubud looking for something. Most everybody, everywhere wants to catch a breath after some sort of crunch – to get better, forgive, let go, get rich, amp up their cosmic magnetism and be the change we’ve been waiting for.

We’re ready for change, we want to know how. And we’ll rip out our fillings, pump out our gall bladders, let fish eat our impurities… if it will show us the way out of the mess we’re in.

But which way ahead? And who’s who in the revolution zoo?

It’s way too easy to get mean and cynical and superior about the yoga scene and its associated shop of horrors. It’s actually very 2012, I’m not taking that route.

Instead I’ve managed, occasionally, to just sit very still with this question since a Vipassana course and a heavenly week at Bali Silent Retreat, and come to confess that I’m just stuff-full of the bullshit. I feel like I’ve swallowed three books and about 27 elbows.

The books, under x-ray, would likely include Why Men Love Bitches, Fountainhead and Eat, Pray Love.IMG_8220

There are probably several of my own unborn novels in there too… but since I’m too bamboozled to write, and going blind anyway, I decided to avoid tackling the metaphorical crisis and go instead for the basics.

I’m sick of blaming others, bored of pointing out the scamsters and just basically keen to get my own attitude sorted without falling into that snotty trap of condescending the New Age fiasco.

Which is why I found myself dangling, tipsy, off the edge of my balcony last full moon screaming into the jungle…

“God! I’ve GOT to get this shit out of me!”

Which turned out to be true.

After the hangover I set out to shop the multitude of offerings to do just that here in Ubud – of which there is a stunning array.

Fruit-fasts, juice-fast, detox diets, music therapy, protein diets, shamanic colonics, mud wraps, clay pills, tuning fork exorcism, and pricey capsules of all manner of hocus pokery promising to get de bad out and deliver one to radiance abound. You can’t walk five minutes down any wonky street here without somebody offering to free you of negativity and flush you into the fifth dimension.

I was in the ass-end of the market – literally – for help, when some fair soul at Café Vespa said, “You need Lesley. She’ll sort your shit out. You can put your bottom dollar on it.”


I turned up to the Smiling Buddha Colonic Clinic bloated up like an egg on legs, two hours early because I’m just that way lately, and was pleased to see not a single feather, wind chime or singing bowl anywhere. The clinic was surprisingly down-to-earth for Ubud – for anywhere, actually.

When she appeared, the formidable Lesley – a vision of True Blue Aussie might and no-nonsensery, was not adorned in not a single ounce of lycra.

She poked me about a bit and said, “Shit girl, you’ve got a bloody pile of crap stuck right here. And here. Bloody hell mate! Let’s sort that out, and see where we get to.”

Off with the panties then! And off we go… this is Colonic Hydrotherapy with Lesley White – the Duck’s Guts in sorting your stuff out, with no bullshit included.

Lesley makes it clear from the start. There’s no fairies about it. “What welesley12‘re up to is basic common sense,” she says. “No glitter ponies here. You’ve got a blockage in the donut – here, around the belly button – that’s serious business. You’ll be feeling more cluttered than box of bones carrying that lump around.”

“Yes, it’s the elbows,” I explain meekly. “It’s a shit-load more than that,” she said.

She calls herself a seductress, a colon-dancer.

The poo whisperer says, “It’s basic common sense.” as she expertly hooks me up to her little bottom laundry.

What does that feel like?

It feels exactly like what you’ve already seen on the face of your pet when they get the bottom thermometer at the vet.

Anyway… Lesley’s telling me more…

“Just like you brush your teeth and clean your body, the colon needs taking care of,” she says. “We tend to ignore cleansing our insides until some form of disease sends us a wake-up call. Constipation, parasites, IBS, gas, bloating, stomach pain, chronic fatigue, digestive problems, depression, back ache and foggy thinking can all be signs of a toxic colon.”


“We all learnt this in the day, when I trained to be a nurse in Sydney.” she says. “It was harsh back then. They toughened us up, but it made us fit to do our work, and there was no bullshit that went with it. We had to have the seams on our stockings perfectly straight, and our work immaculate.”

“You didn’t get to play games with people – you had to be exceptional. With everything. That was the business of serving health. It wasn’t perfect, but the fundamentals were in place – the nurses were dedicated and tough enough to turn up with the love and ferocity required … without making up a tonne of crap about it. In those days everybody admitted that a clean colon was the first thing to do for almost every issue.”

But is this yet another weird and self-indulgent ‘experience’ I’ve gotten mixed up with?

Actually, No. I looked into the history and found that birds do it, and in fact, Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, reminded his students that first, they should look at the spine and clean the colon. He’d adopted that from the Egyptians.

Flushing out the belly has got nada to do with this present addiction to being skinny. It’s about rinsing out the apparatus, rinsing the plumbing, getting all the working parts de-greased and humming. With bright and happy insides, you’ve got a better chance of bright and happy everything else – makes sense!


Lesley hooks me up to her closed system irrigation hose, and to an LCD screen on which we would watch the triumphs of our work together. I’m not totally mad about the hose, and less about the impending live TV show featuring – oh god…..

“You’re uptight. Just relax. What do you want, dolphins?”

There’s a little lesson on how it goes; her equipment, a clamp, how to let her know if I’m uncomfortable and how she’s going to ‘water the garden’ inside me, to let my system know it can relax. Then she’s going to gently ‘sing’ my colon into giving up its secrets. Riding little waves of gently lapping water she will deliver into me, easing her way into the cluttered up ocean inside,she’s going to seduce the shit into just letting itself go.


“Clean out the colon, and you’ve got the basis for sorting out everything else – illness, confusion, stress, depression… everything starts here in a backed up, swollen out, stressed and helpless gut. There’s no need for any ‘stuff’ to get this done, just a real understanding of how it works: no forcing, no paraphernalia,”  she tells me as my garden goes all Disneyland with watering.

It’s important to you get this, because now that detoxing, fasting and colonics have hit the healing scene full-tilt, the usual circus has arrived with a million new offerings, sexy language, convincing research and no solid medical or actual experience to get your detox dollar. There is ‘help’ in every flavour as the industry explodes, unregulated –  so how do you know who to trust?

“You know what the secret is?” says Lesley. “Pick the people who are in service. The ones who are humble about it. Me, I do this because I swear to that Hippocratic Oath, I had it tattooed across my heart. I do what I’m good at because it serves others, and I make damn sure I know my shit so I never, ever do anybody harm – not with promises, not physically.”

As any sensible person knows – and you’ll find out fast if you’re dabbling in the New Age industry –  a full command of the basics is the foundation to genius… and the first thing to go when folks get too ‘cosmic’ about their trade.

“It’s basic. And it’s a skill. That was the truth we all knew before the pharmaceuticals put an end to colon baths in standard care because they can’t sell any fancy chemicals to do this work.” the colon whisperer tells me. “They killed it because it’s simple.  I’m here to say there’s an art to this – a medical art, and a loving one that’s got jack-shit to do with shamanism!”

Clear running water flows onto the screen, discreetly showing the contents of a clear plastic pipe carrying away the lavage.

I’m settled right in and delighted to see little blobs olesley9f poo swim merrily by. Then little gushes of black clouds, then water, then torrents of muddish-looking goop, then puddles of air – “that’s the gasses! Great work! We’re getting there,” she encourages.

It’s the most fascinating show I’ve watched since Baraka!

We discuss life, our work, pets, all those serious questions that surf my head like sharks, and our visions and lessons and those heroes of great wisdom we admire – courageous nurses, sensible people, Amazonian curranderoes as the poo flies.

Waves of fizzy sweat wash over me sometimes as the hour glides by, and Lesley gently churns my belly, releasing floods of happy poo, then a torrent of golden slime.

“There! There it all is,” she beams. “That’s the crap that’s hurting you – a big pond of it – great job!”

She fixes me in the eye, dead serious for a moment and says, “I cannot tell you how important it is that you got that out. Are you hearing me, Jade? That’s the shit that had to go – for a helluvalot more reasons than I’m going to pretend to know about.”

Benefits of Colon Cleansing

A generally accepted benefit of colon cleansing is based on the theory that hardened mucus lining the intestinal wall greatly reduces one’s ability to absorb nutrition. Because you are not able to absorb proper nutrition this feeds the cycle of craving more food and stronger flavors. When in fact what your body really wants is better nutrition. Unless this cycle is broken, no amount of will power will successfully change one’s dietary habits in the long run.

After removing this intestinal build-up, it has been observed that people feel the body has returned to a more natural state. It has also been observed that people have much greater discernment of how foods actually affect them. This opens the possibility to fully appreciate the “true taste” of foods. At this point, people have found they can easily make dietary changes and really feel (& taste!) the difference!

Are you clean inside?
Common signs you’re not…

Foul breath, body odors; unhealthy skin: blemishes, acne, sallow complexion;
feeling and looking older; swollen joints, neuritis and neuralgia (aches and
pains throughout the body); eyes become dull, or dark circles under eyes;
thinking becomes sluggish, confusion, mind fog, loss of memory, difficulty
concentrating; fatigue; headaches; irritability, anxiety, nervousness;
abdominal gas, bloating, diarrhea, belching or flatulence; nausea; abdominal
discomfort: protruding, tender or rigid abdomen; poor posture; insomnia,
brittle hair and nails; coated tongue; cold hands and feet; lower back pain,
sciatic pain; menstrual challenges; high or low blood pressure; lack of
interest in work or life; overweight or obese; underweight, poor appetite.



Mr Walker’s Fingers

They sell the remote Andean paradise of Vilcabamba, Ecuador online as The Valley of Longevity – a cheap, beautiful, magical place where you can re-start your life, connect to nature and fulfill your dreams. But beware of sharks in the waters if you’re hunting for a peaceful place to relocate – all is very much not as it seems out here in ‘paradise’.

Strangled for a year by the ever-tightening secrets of my life as a nigger in Vilcabamba, I thought I’d peel away a couple more fingers to see which body they were attached to.

 “I’ll drag you out of here by your throat if I have to.”


When you hear a line like that, first thing in the morning, you know you’re about to be part of something … universal.

It’s a bright, sunshiny day in uptown Vilcabamba, Ecuador. We are in the living room of a spacious family home full of soft cushions, children’s books, and racks of herbs and spices. The kettle is singing. A child playswith plastic farm animals on a soft rug at my feet as the happy dogs bathe beneath a looming view of Mandango mountain beyond us.

My hostess, whose brother is threatening to strangle me, is cooking pancakes.

Young Mr Walker had burst into our idyll while we were still blowing the clouds off our first cups of spicy Malacatos coffee. He had thrown open the front door and lost his shit all over the house in an outburst so livid it curdled his skin a deathly pale. Sweat poured off him. He marched across the terracotta. Chewy strings of grey spittle dangled like maggots from the corners of his mouth.

He swore. He spoke about me like I was a filthy dog, adopted from the dump. He spoke to me in a way that you will understand if I say it is the way white men have so long spoken to… niggers.

Like he had found a focus for whatever fear and venom had boiled up over his young life, and like I had, at last, given him an excuse to act with power, to act with clear force: to act  like a man.

We were three women; a four-year-old girl just picked up for a day’s baby-sitting, my young friend, maybe less than 30, and I – invited to share this house as a guest two days before, and spend a week or so there cooking together, caring for baby, swimming in rivers, dancing, drinking bad South American wine, and sharing our stories, like girls do.

She was minding the house for a wealthy American family who kept home part-time in Vilcabamba between business and political exploits in the States. There was a picture of them with Obama on the fridge. Smiling beside a plane.

There were also the little tea pots, the kitsch shelf ornaments, hand-sewn rugs, cook books, aprons, well-chosen lamps and worn novels that let you know you are in the house of people who care about people.

In the fruit bowl was a cheque made out to Walker for US$1000 – a vast sum in remote Ecuador, and no doubt a vital symbol of hope for the young man who had moved here with his mother, sister, now-wife and a child from Colorado to… what?  To what? To fucking what?

I’m so used to scenes of mayhem and bullying here, that while my adrenals wind up the generator again, I sit back and wait… whatthebloodyhellisitthistime?

Walker is one of those guys who likes to come off kinda herbal. He is tall, skinny, with a long auburn plait. His eyes are crinkled with sun and smiling. He’s one of those nice guys, the ones everybody likes so much because they’re easy – you know: neutral. One of those guys the neighbours would tell the papers seemed like such a nice man, such a quiet man, if he got busted for violating grannies or dragging somebody else’s wife into an alley one night.

But I am not a granny. And I am not a wife. I’m not even black!

“Get fucking out! I don’t care where. I don’t wish you any harm. But if you don’t leave here by the end of this day I’ll hunt you out. I’ll be everywhere. I’ll destroy whatever you have here. I’ll drag you down the street on your bloody knees,” he explodes.

What I am is single, unlanded, relatively sober and actually unpopular. In this vile little American frontier town I have no politics. Which means no allies. And short of the police, who would likely have this asshole thrown out of the country, and all his dreams turned to ash if I reported him – there isn’t a one soul left in Vilcabamba who would risk their financial and tribal affiliations with the nouvea regime blanco here to draw a line around me.

Walker knows it. And I know it.

In Vilcabamba I am ‘black’. Or ‘gay’. Or ‘Jewish’. Or fat. I issue the scent of
that peculiar kind of leprosy, vulnerability, by which bullies and conquistadors sniff out their prey in security of belonging to the confident.

There’s no real risk for Walker if he does tear out my throat. There’s no reason he can’t terrorise me – even in front a small child – the child of his own benefactor – or his sister, who seems to have seen this all before, the way she keeps tending the pancakes, and saying, “You need a glass of water. Please, just sit down and have a glass of water.”


Matt Monarch, the superfood guru, who lives in a gated gringo enclave in Vilcabamba. Matt (not his real name, actually) is high on the Latino hit list for most hated new arrival, and currently embroiled in law suits against his former business partners over a dirty little business known as Adyar Clarity. He is locally scowled upon, even by the gringos for his endeavours to develop the precious nearby Podacarpus National Park. Also busy establishing himself as a San Pedro shaman in Ecuador, to cash in on the psychotropic wave… he’s a busy little raw food guru.

There’s no real risk because I have not allied myself with the fairy-tale machine of the new American elite here, set to make their fortunes off this land where they have no respect for the law, and less for the police. Where they are rapidly building their New Age enterprises, banking on creating the new Ubud, or the New Aspen – where they can bitch about the fall of the United States, the evils of world government and industry, and cash in on a property bubble to realise their ferocious, earnest, violent vision of belonging with the rich.

Even if the most successful are tearing each other’s throats at to do it, as you can see here – in a bitter feud between two Vilcabamba superfood entrepreneurs, the very tip of a very murky iceberg.

There’s no risk, and anyway, I appear to be on some sort of Doctoral program issued by the University of Life to travel that narrow line “between humiliation and untrammelled fury” that Barack Obama maps in his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, describing his quest to work out what to do for the powerless blacks and poor single mothers of the world.

But is this really a race issue, a poverty issue, this sort of shit? Is it a Feminist issue? A class issue? Is it an American issue? On my table right now are the biographies of Mandela, Obama, Maya Angelou, and a hair-raising little beststeller, Why Men Marry Bitches. And although the blacks, the poor, and other tribes and races have a valid hold on this territory, the landscape of the hunted, I’m there too, in this story… and we’ve all been, haven’t we? On the tooth-edge of the human will to violence.

I’m quietly of the mind to wonder if we, when we find ourselves here, are not suffering a racial, sexist, economic hatred – but the natural ferocity of a capitalist system. Is all this just the process by which those in any ‘club’ promising power, belonging and success use ‘others’ as dumping grounds, to blow off the nasty by-products of human ambition?


If that’s the case, we need to quit the race conversation Now. And start some trans-history dialogues about what in the hell modern human security is really all about.

Here in Vilcabamba I’m in niggerland because I’ve been asking uncomfortable questions about the dispossession of the original community, outing online charlatans and other immigrant creeps prospering here while the locals clean their houses and lose their inheritance.

Online Gurus channeling intelligence from aliens, and big fat dollar bill from their online ducklings.

Online Gurus, Fat Josh, and Kacper Potawski, channeling intelligence from aliens, and big fat dollar bill from selling online super food, Ibogaine, far-out water and other weirdness online from their glamorous burrows in Vilcabamba.

I’ve been sniffing about in stories of murdered land holders, knife-backed social spirals, drug dealing, pyramid schemes, and cringing publically at the rhetoric of the New Ecuadorians, building what they call ‘community’ as they dismantle an entire region and ecosystem around them. I’ve been nauseous about their exploiting of ‘opportunities’ in this embryonic California, and totally under-estimating, it seems, what it is to be an American who will not fucking give up his entitlement to the wealth and supremacy his own land can’t guarantee him.


If I was black, or gay, or fat or poor it would be easy to misinterpret my position, and that would be a shame – because you don’t have to be any of those things, actually, to be treated like scum by even the most pathetic white trash.

In Vilcabama, at the time, the word was that if I wound up in a ditch, it’d be my own fault. And Walker might even be a hero – at least to his wife and mother, already counting the pearls he will earn them from his business as the mushroom tycoon of El Dorado. And to certain others, whose little empires were offended when I asked the same questions being asked everywhere, really – whose back are you climbing on for your right to success? For your popularity?

And I’d be there anyway, in the ditch, with so many of the local Ecuadorians whose stories

Failed author and foul-mouthed local real estate agent, Nick Vasey, who has been publically initing violence against me for, oh, about two years now - thanks Nick ; )

Failed author and foul-mouthed local real estate agent, Nick Vasey, who has been publicly calling for violence against me for, oh, about two years now – thanks Nick ; )

and dignity are as vaporous to the new arrivals as mine are, that I should finally have found my place.

But these ditch-surfers are angry too – they just don’t have the bad manners to say so. Or the overview to know why.

They are angry as they realise their sons and daughters will never prosper here now the expats have arrived. As they realise that, despite the new-comers’ concern to assist them and their elderly, their sick and marginalised with gringo-know-how, their children are admiring the wealthy new drunks and the pot-smokers and being supplied acid and ass at gringo parties, their sick are losing access to local plants that cure and comfort them, and their adults may never be elderly because of new sicknesses and despair among them.

When I ask an Ecuadorian woman my age how she is one morning, she actually draws a line across her throat.

If she did that in expat public, the new arrivals would boycott her business and drown her like a rat.


When you talk to the young Latino men around the fountain on late nights, when the boom boxes in front of the church are rebounding a racket off the surrounding Andes, about their future… some list the order in which they would punish, even kill, the Gringos who have pissed down their throats with the most acid.

If they admitted that in public, they’d lose their $10-a-day jobs building gringo mansions in conditions that will cripple them before they’re 30.

When you read gringo social media about the Big Issues in Ecuador, you are asked for your input on where to find ‘decent’ staff, how to not get charged ‘gringo-prices’ at the markets, where to find dental floss, and whether you want to buy an imported Labrador puppy for $1000 while the unwanted local dogs wretch themselves to death in the open streets from poison laid down for them by town gardeners.

You read outrage over the occasional home invasion, robbery or scam. The gringos scream blue murder when one of their own is violated by thieves or intruders – still not yet realising that these are the acts of people who are coming to see, with a mortal shudder, that when white people arrive on undeveloped land, it is called an invasion – sooner or later.


But you’re not allowed to say that either. You offend all the charitable expat ladies, helping at orphanages, or politicising Ecuadorian women against the abuse of their husbands, and into menial labour at $2.50 an hour in their plush villas. You offend the gringo real estate agents, and the in-coming wave of despairing foreign nationals, looking for cheap reef to incubate their hungry alien colonies.

If you say that, you experience in hyper-colour, the same self-righteous rage that drives these new arrivals to abandon home to ‘make it’ here – no matter what obstacles have to be bought out, ploughed down or dragged down the street by the throat. A rage caused by the stomach ulcers in their own cultures, squirting acid after a post-Darwinian rampage of feasting on the weak.

In Ecuador the gringos say that if you don’t like it, you should piss off.

In Vilcabamba they say that I left because magic forces deemed me unfit to belong to their rarified, chosen elite and therefore banished me to the NeverNever. They say that about everybody who gets sick of the drinking, the violence, the drugs, the sense you’ve landed in Hell.

But if your problems, be they substandard dental floss, or threats to your life, are caused by a Latino – you should damn well scream for blood – the whole expat tribe will back you up. If you run into bad blood gringo, then you’d better suck it up.

It puts me in mind of abused women, kids raped at school, black minorities… people who are supposed to be diplomatic about abuse. People who, if they don’t keep their secrets, risk exile, punishment, humiliation. They are better at all this than I am – they are groomed to be.

Me, I’m pissed on all their behalves, and on my own too, because I’ve seen just about as much of this sort of violence  against the kid with glasses, the smelly girl at school, the spider in the bathroom as I am willing  to pretend is really about anything as clear-cut as race.

And all of you who blame the government for things like this are denying the fact that this is a tapestry woven of individuals seeking their own security, or privileges, or power.

glassesIt’s one thing to wonder where the fat kid is from school, when you never stood up on his behalf when it was your tribe who humiliated him.

It’s one thing to be sad, or even guilt-ridden about the state of the conquered peoples in your colony these days, now the deed is done. But –at the actual time of displacement of an existing culture, or of an individual – when the first arteries were cut, this is a most dangerous narrative indeed. That’s the kind of treason which the tribe – your friends, and not necessarily the hierarchy of power will address.

Walker is a victim of it, same as I am, in a way. He has a cash-powered, land-owning expat elite to show allegiance to. He has dependents, and an American pride to make sense of. He’s gambling everything he has on this Ecuadorian frontier. He’s just like the settlers who came to his own nation, and found that the sort of peace they wanted required a bloody fist, a civil war and an armed aristocratic cult.

Maybe this is his moment, after years of being the skinny wimp, when he can mix it with the cool kids.

But Walker, like every individual, had a choice. He had a choice he had to calculate for risk. That risk depended on the importance of his belonging to a power-broking tribe, his perceived value of me as a sentient being, measured against my status in community and dependent on the special intimacy of the terrified.


The Blood Edge… Ecuador’s Progress for the People

Seven years on….. trails of blood and the sweat of healthcare workers mark the way to President Correa’s constitutional promise of health care for the people.

Dr Maria Cordez works in a sparsely appointed concrete bunker in the dusty heart of downtown Raita, on Ecuador’s dreamy Pacific coast. The clinic serves villagers from hundreds of pueblos speckled higgledy-piggledy along the beaches and adjacent cloud forest, but not even the most desperate tourist would stop here.

An hour by public bus from a busy fishing port to the north, and an hour from a buzzing hippy hangout to the south, little Raita offers nothing of what brings the big dollars; whale watching, custom-made surf boards, fashion, gourmet coffee and any drug you care to party with.

Despite surging trade along the nearby China-funded super-highway, and massive new investment all over Ecuador by hordes of land-hungry new expats, the dusty streets remain deliciously quiet. What gringos have arrived to exploit cheap tierra do so quietly, to avoid the lustful attention of their compatriots, notoriously plundering similar regions all over the nation and cluttering the peace with their in-fighting and conspiracy theories.

IMG_6533There is one store, reliably stocked with beer and jam, but not much else. A few sleepy cabanas host surfers and Argentine minstrels, while the occasional blue-footed booby, blown over from Galapagos, lands here to die on the un-manicured beach.

On the day I visit the public health clinic, the little rutted street it sits on is blistering under an unseasonably ruthless sun. A bashed up motorbike is parked delinquent to the building’s rickety gate, which hangs open like a wonky jaw.

Dried blood spots graffiti the winding pathway to the entrance, passed a clutch of gossipy chickens and into a cheerless waiting area, decorated with a decrepit dental unit,  plastic wheelchairs and a strong scent of… what is that?


The patients avoid this maw in the same way they avoid the full equatorial sun, and gather instead in an unlit corridor cluttered with broken medical equipment and browning posters. Serene golden mothers, sun-bitten fathers, aunties and grandparents snuggle sweetly up against the three drab surgery doors, cuddling and singing to their lovely-eyed children.

Raita’s new clinic provides free medical attention to thousands of people living simple, substance lives in the region. It is the frontline of social change, where medical staff battle to deliver the promises of charismatic President Rafael Correa’s boastful social revolution government.

This place is real-life evidence of how Ecuador’s progressive new democracy is really for the people. How his is a truly left, conservationist and humble pie political vision closely shepherded by a President who cares… which is why, he says, he is in perpetual campaign.


Ecuador’s full-tilt dance with development tangos autistically with it’s hi-profile pledge of social change, and declaration of constitutional rights for the planet and all its beings, flaunted relentlessly by government spruikers and winning the President (if not the people) fame and fortune. The intoxicating Correal vision risks compromise every day by oil mining in the Amazon, expansion and illegal fishing in the Galapagos and a wildly undermined local economy.. it’s trail is horrifying to watch as it unfolds on the ground.

IMG_6763The tiny South American nation has private and public health sectors – the former heavily marketed to medical tourists and expats for cheap, quality surgical, cosmetic, dermatological and dental care on demand in 18 spanking new or up-graded hospitals. The latter visibly creaks.

Mercilessly under-funded, ruthlessly accounted and dangerously under-resourced, the public system has brave rhetoric but struggles to traverse the lovely nation’s wild geographies and live up to Correa’s own constitutional pledge, written in 2008, to provide, “permanent and timely access, without exception, to all comprehensive health care programs and services” for all citizens.

Raita’s is one of 250 promised regional health centres, and a vital source of help for wounds, trauma, pain, bites, burns, wounds, emergency dental care, education and cheap antibiotics. Given that public health is independently estimated to have reached only 50% of the needy, surgical wait lists surge as high as 4,500 names, and doctors in both sectors are stressed and nervous of further reforms, the people here are among the luckiest of the so-called poor.

Meanwhile, due to a fierce governmental campaign to attract swathes of Americans, fleeing their own dilapidated health system, economy and political hologram to the ‘good life’ in Ecuador, backed by the dubious writers at International Living, foreigners have indeed arrived and placed such a burden on both sectors that even the President raised an eyebrow.

There are at least 10,000 American expats in Ecaudor officially, and thousands more – they gloat about how they can live in luxury on less than US$1,000 a month here, paying next to no tax, receiving aged care benefits,  buying waterfont parcels for under $100,000 and paying $25 for consultations at up-market new hospitals for elective surgery.

I”It helps to be rich” wrote one gringo recently on an expats’ message board, ” and rich is what you instantly become when you move to one of the world’s poorest nations from the USA – even if you’re on social security, as plenty of arrivals are.

If you retire in Ecuador, every cliché you’ve heard about living large on little money–about settling into the lap of luxury on even a pensioner’s budget –is true!


writes International Living magazine

Consuming health services is favorite pass-time which North Americans are particularly miffed about not being fully able to indulge in back home. Dizzying numbers of them who now claim Ecuadorian residence are therefore enthusiastically shoving their Ecuadorian brothers and sisters aside for all the cheap cosmetic dentistry, hip replacements, heart surgery, dermatology, lab tests and pharmaceuticals they can dream of.

Meanwhile, the real Ecuadorians, with an average annual income of less than US$10,000, have had so little exposure to the benefits of medicine that they tend not to get help, even when they desperately need it. Correa’s health plan was designed to harvest from the wealthy, by giving them what they want at attractive prices, to give to the poor.

But judging by what’s on offer in Raita, government care comes with its own risks. Sanitation, power and resources are a mess.

Mercifully, folk who may never otherwise see a nurse, and most certainly not a dentist, may have no idea how miserable this offering is.










Expected to provide a minimum of 10,000 appointments a year, with only two medical staff,  no receptionist, no dental nurse, no actual doctor, lab, phone, computer, cleaner, steriliser and often, no electricity either, the Raita clinic treads a fine line.

Across the developing world, the World Health Organisation says progress means escalating road trauma, increased accidents at fishing, farming and in industry, diabetes, depression, loss of land for the poor and an oral health crisis, caused by multi-nationals like Coca Cola, Danone, Tony milk and other peddlers of sugar. In the case of accidents alone, lack of treatment for the poor means injuries have become a higher cause of death in these regions than HIV/Aids, malaria and TB combined. In rural Ecuador, oral health is described by Dr Cordez as ‘a disaster’. She reports rampant decay, infection, disease and lack of hygiene in almost every mouth along the whole tropical coast.

Recently graduated from the glittery city of Guayaquil and sporting hip blue Invisalign braces, she is in her compulsory year of social service and on the frontline of Correa’s mission. She is equipped with an unventilated, dilapidated and badly-lit one-chair room with broken cabinetry, adjacent to that of a community nurse who has adorned her space with little paper butterflies.


Both are required to see at least 16 patients a day, and are charming, but exhausted, rattled about how to attract that number of remote, hard-working, notoriously nervous patients to the clinic – and be there to treat them.

If they can’t prove the community seeks at least 600 medical contacts a month, the government will deduce a lack of need and close the centre. Just like that.

There is no education budget, or advertising of the free clinic, which is left to the medical staff. Nevertheless, what these two women provide in the region visibly changes, and frequently saves lives.

Today it’s another motorcycle accident. A family of three hit by a truck at an intersection on their clapped out Yamaha have been dragged in bleeding, numb and in shock. The youngest is tumbled onto a sagging gurney and washed off with saline as all the waiting patients – about 20 in all, rush in to watch, whisper, and quietly hand their faith to a medical service that is equipped to give nothing more than pain relief, band aids and a priceless dash of comfort.


The other injured people wait quietly, dripping more blood onto the pocked lino, and smiling gently when they catch my eye.

The dentist isn’t in – she’s teaching hygiene at a nearby school, reminding children to remind their parents to brush their teeth, with local salt and chamomile flowers – since toothpaste is a luxury in places where three generations might share one toothbrush.

I meet her a week later, when all hell is breaking loose.

The screams escalated wildly for half an hour as I hovered in the waiting corridor with 15 other people, smiling nervously and taking turns to peep through a crack in the door at the horror-scene inside.

A 5-year-old boy visiting with 8 family members is having his turn in the chair, and none of what the doctor wants to provide. Which is extractions. Three of them.

Family and other patients venture in and out of the surgery to stare, coo or speak tough love to the writhing infant who drools blood, sweats rivers and is held down by four large women at every corner as Dr Cordez tries to prize his mouth open and take the last molar.

Little red bubbles bloom and explode on his firmly closed lips. When jamming and squeezing burst those terrible rosebuds he explodes with yells that rack his body and screams of “No quierre! No quierre!” I don’t want. I don’t want. I don’t want.

It takes the pretty dentist more than an hour to complete the grizzly job, there being no sedatives available, comforts, audio-visual distractions or counselling, and no possibility of a return appointment in calmer conditions due to the family’s costs of travel (at least $3 a person) and a lost day’s work ($10, at minimum wage). Not to mention the doctor’s own desperate need to fill the quota that keeps the clinic open.


This is her seventh extraction of the day, and it’s only 1pm.

When it’s all over the family thank her with obvious gratitude, gather their babies and grannies, and leave after kissing and embracing me, one by one as they head back to lifestyles that only the rarest gringo here would care to even imagine.

Does the young doctor like the work? At the end of the day, her bloody instruments sit in a dry Tupperware in a waterless sink, her spittoon is caked horribly, yet she lingers happily an extra hour to talk with me. “I chose this profession because I love children, and Dentistry here is more practical than pure Medicine,” she says. “I love the service, with the people, and admire them – not because they’re poor, but because they are genuinely good.”


On an average day she sees three root canals, seven or eight extractions, unanimous gum disease, “even in the babies”, and a constant relay back and forth from the chair to the circuit board to re-boot the electricity. She cleans up afterwards herself and walks home to her rented cabin by the beach.

“The standard treatment for pain here is extraction,” she explains. “For carries it’s extraction, for emergencies it’s extraction – we don’t have the material to fill cavities and anyway, the equipment isn’t working. I spend a lot of time at schools, educating, traveling to pueblos to let them know we’re here – all of that I pay for from my pocket.”

The public system is a far cry from what’s available in the city nearby where Dr Cordez has a swank new practice waiting for her, state-of-the-art resources, a booming cosmetics trade and a wealthy time ahead, if all goes to plan.


“It’s hard work here for now,” she smiles, “and it’s hard to see the conditions, but I am lucky – there are other graduates who didn’t get such easy posts. Some of my friends are posted in the jungle, or the very deep Andes, and have to cross rivers, avalanches and forest just to get to work. For them it’s dangerous just to be there, for me this is a beautiful place, but a sad situation.”

At the end of my third day here, after four hours in the surgery, I am feeling ill – the stench, the blood, the broken cabinetry, the singing mothers, the rotten teeth, the beautiful babies, the caked-on drool…. and go home to vomit under a banana tree.

 * I’ve changed the names of people and the village, in respect for their security.






How a career man got a real life….

Eat a little dirt, crush a little road… getting the sack can balance your reality check book.

He boomed into town on a Kawasaki KLR 650.

Dust swirled along the beachfront. Electricity crackled the off-season air and the unmistakable scent of men on adventure spiced up the saltbreeze off the sweaty Pacific.

Eric Lange put a boot to the sand, ripped off his helmet and grinned at me with ice-blue eyes. He’d just finished a 9-hour day at his new office: the road, and I knew I’d met a man who really loves his job.


Roaring up behind him were six riders including an American plastic surgeon, two CEOs and a dentist from Canada. They had cruised 160kms of the gorgeous Pan American Highway toward Peru on a guided motorbike tour through the high Andes to the tropical coast and were among the happiest-looking men alive!

Career dentist and family guy, Dr Andrew Hall, had a radiance that only natural sunlight, open road and premium organic mountain air can give a man. “What’s been the best part so far?” I asked later, as we all headed for the surf.

“”The guide, the route, the riding, the intensity, the freedom, the splendor, the beauty, the insanity of a thousand curves in one day of riding, the craziness of coming into cities at rush hour, the bliss of blasting along for kilometers after that in no traffic whatsoever.” he says. “I’m a new man.”

After 15 years building his business on a professional mission that “might make me rich, but nearly sucked me dry” – Dr Hall skipped work for this two-week tour in Latin America so he could “spend every day on an open road.”

“I don’t want to see a single between me and the world. I wanted dirt in my teeth and that old feeling of being free and strong in the wild.”


I’ve bumped into a pack of intrepid executives using the real world to recover from their real lives on a tailor-made tour with Eric’s company, RIDE Adventures. On radical itineraries through mountains, across Altiplano, jungle, snow and desert, in terms of real-life adventure, these are the kinds of trips where the rubber really meets the road.

Eric specializes, mostly, in high achievers with a hankering for the world, for adventure, recovery and freedom – much like he did, when he was one of them.

Offering guided trips or logistics across Latin America, USA, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and making reconnaissance for more, Eric, 39, travels over 50,000kms a year for the business – and that’s just on bikes!

Founder, director, guide and pioneer in his field, every RIDE Adventure is a reminder of how close he came to missing out on the life he had longed for back when he was a six-figure man in the ‘real world’.

For Eric, it was a disaster of life-shattering magnitude that saved him from ‘reality’ and delivered him a lifestyle beyond his wildest dreams.

It took more than three hours (and a few tears), as he told me how he went from a University-educated executive role with an American multi-national, “looking for that feeling of success”, but feeling halfway crushed by it all, with a 3-bedroom tricked-out house, bikes, a flash car and healthy bank balance, but a sense of what he called ‘dread’, to being … happy.

“I guess I didn’t love my job,” he reflects, “but I was very good at it. I was doing it for the money – to make more, pay for the house, get more stuff, because that’s what you do, isn’t it? You grow up, get an education, get a great job, buy a place, meet somebody, be stable, smart with money, and one day… you’ll feel like a success.”

But in March 2008, at 33, he got a call that went more or less like:  “Sorry mate: you’re sacked.”

“Things were shaky in the world economy, people were holding tight to whatever security they had, so when I got notice that I was ‘terminated’ it was like a thunderbolt ripped through me,” he says. “I honestly couldn’t breathe.”

“I stayed on the line choked up, trying to convince the guy, to save my life. It was a very, very tough thing to accept. I had poured my heart into the company: lived where they wanted, skipped from airport to airport when they wanted, made my career the soul of my life for ten years.” The word that was being graffitied across his neo-cortex at the news was Betrayal.

So Eric did what thousands of men do every year in the increasingly competitive, sometimes ruthless world of business: he panicked.

“I saw an attorney: no joy. I told my parents: less joy, and that’s when some heavier than usual soul-searching began,” he smirks.

He went to visit a mate, and the mate said: ask yourself what you really want to do. “I mean, if you could do anything, anything at all – what would it look like?”


And Eric, suddenly ‘free’, came up with an answer he remembers word for word. “I want to be outdoors, travel everywhere, meet everyone.”

To which his mate said, “Hey, I’ve got a buddy with a job just like that!”

Eric got a 6-month gig with a tour outfit that gave him a taste of the life he imagined, but didn’t quite fit his numbers. And then he jumped. “I knew I had to look for something bigger than that, I knew it was going to be about motorbikes, tours, adventure, the world – and that it needed to pay, but not straight away. I wrote down what I needed: ‘the perfect bike, the perfect price; cash’.”

Through a series of freak coincidences, with his house rented, its contents mostly sold and a night spent sleeping on the floor, Eric says, “I rode off from my life on an orange KTM named Julius and I’ve been riding ever since, “ he grins, and orders me a mojito.

“I am from a conservative family, I can guarantee my parents weren’t sleeping much. I headed out into the world through Mexico with Julius, speaking no Spanish except this phrase; El país más peligroso del mundo (the world’s most dangerous country). People said I was crazy, that I’d be killed. But instead I was met at the border by police officer Antonio who loved the bike and shouted out ‘Welcome to Mexico!’

“Life just got better and better after that.”

Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile, Patagonia and Bolivia have ‘happened’, as well as friendships, inspiration, know-how, streetsmarts, luck, opportunity, and eventually a vision took shape, stabilized, took root and blossomed into RideAdv.

Patagonia Group-resize

The business is a rare bird in the adventure travel market, demands the education and skills that Eric honed at school and work, and returns freedom, travel, adventure, time with great people in breath-taking country and a very handsome salary… could that be what he calls success?

He stops to ponder. “The big question I have these days is: how do I live the longest I possibly can, because I Love My Life!”

Tomorrow, for example, Eric will work six hours online in a hammock, sustained by fruit pancakes. He will manage teams of partners and providers in 11 countries, as well as tending and growing the business, which has tripled per annum.

“It’s not about escaping work,” he says. “I love work! There is still uncertainty, change, issues, but I have a work-life balance that is about freedom and commitment, not about suffering at work and then having ‘a life’.

“What I learned is that it’s a big world out here, and whether you admit it or not, it’s full of great, happy people – opportunity, enjoyment, doors to open. Sometimes, whether you’re craving a taste of it, or if it ‘happens’ to you, the truth is that worst thing you can think of might be just what you always wanted”