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PhillyB goes to Ecuador


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#16 Frash Brastard

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 03:19 AM

also you kinda look like a white evander holyfield

#17 Ivan The Awesome

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 04:15 AM

I've decided, I'm going to be a bar tender.

#18 CarolinaNCSU

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 09:28 AM

Awesome stuff

#19 LifeisaGarden

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 11:20 AM

Reading this was an awesome way to start the new year. Thank you for sharing your vacation with us. Its probably the closest I'll get to going on a vacation until my daughter gets out of the specialty private school she's attending.

#20 catfang

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 01:15 PM

Thanks PhillyB, as usual I'm insanely jealous.

#21 PhillyB

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 08:38 PM

this sounds like an awesome dilemma


yeah every time im getting pissed as fug because of some stupid misfortune or fart of fate that's leaving me scrambling to adjust i realize that those adjustments are themselves part of what makes it an adventure in the first place

also i looked at holyfield on google images and hooooooly fug you're right

#22 Davidson Deac II

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 10:12 PM

Thanks for the pictures. I use to love to travel back when I was younger. Enjoy it as much as you can while you are young.

#23 Johnny Rockets

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 11:19 AM

Hey PhillyB, in all your travels to off the beaten path places have you ever been in a situation that you thought you might now get out of? Like winding up in some remote area or a part of town where you weren't welcome? Just curious because I find what you do on these trips fascinating.

#24 PhillyB

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 11:56 AM

Hey PhillyB, in all your travels to off the beaten path places have you ever been in a situation that you thought you might now get out of? Like winding up in some remote area or a part of town where you weren't welcome? Just curious because I find what you do on these trips fascinating.


my first trip abroad was completely different than the rest. i had no plans really, just bought a one-way ticket with no clue when i'd return, with no real care for my life and my health and safety, just an unquenchable desire to drink of life and to truly live. this led to my doing things far stupider than i ordinarily would have considered. i was in the wollemi wilderness of eastern australia backpacking around and doing some work on a property for a guy that hired me for a week, and one day i did some cliff climbing without gear. here's an excerpt from the book i'm writing about that trip (it's as yet unedited, so the final version should appear far more polished)

Though I have yet to find a place in my story to discuss it, this journey, the entire process from conception to completion, was highly existential.

When I made the decision to leave home and take up the nomad’s life, it was born of the realization that a great many of my questions in life had yet to be answered, even when I pursued them, and that this journey was very much about seeking the answers to the deepest questions of the nature of the mysteries of life and love and why.

As I have mentioned, the process that led to my departure was begun at first by a bottomless desire to know the purpose of my own existence; a disillusionment with the hollow conversation and empty words that society seemed to hoist high in the air as the ultimate experience, the reasons for existence.

In short, I wanted to know if my life was ever meant for anything more than working until I could retire and die; and if not, then I would resign myself to the weary shuffle of men damned to the hell of their desks and the nine-to-five existence, but if it was true that I had a purpose, that the newly sparked fires in my heart were an insight into some sort of greater plan other than that which I now knew, that I wanted in full.

The solitude of my current location, and the whole of my newfound bohemian existence, free from the cares of the world I left behind, was an excellent combination to allow me to search the depth and breadth of these questions.

I do not know what had appealed to me so much about Blaise Pascal other than that his discontentment with the grandeur of human distraction mirrored mine so precisely.

I envy those who I see living in faith with such carelessness, and who make such a bad use of a gift which it seems to me I would make such a different use, wrote Pascal, and I, in my spidery enclosure, nodded vigorously. For this was the other end of my existential dilemma; I could simply not understand how people I knew, usually Christians, could be so willfully simple-minded about what they believed, basing their belief, if they ever thought about it at all, on itself, which was at odds with all logic and rational thought.

This was my state: I was fairly sure a god existed, but quite at odds with the majority of theists; I was certain that there was no true meaning in the hedonistic pastimes of money hoarding and sex, and at the same time both were entirely attractive to me. I was a man, as Pascal would say, who was caught entirely in the middle of a foggy sphere with no visible edges, drifting, to and fro, with no conception of where I came from and where I was going.


I relate these reflections because they were on my mind the morning I climbed Mystery Mountain, which, to this day, I look back on as by far the most dangerous of my many foolish undertakings.
On my last day in Newnes I set off for it, having finished mowing the paddock in front of the hotel, the last of Thomas’s requests. “Cross the Wolgan and follow the trail until you come to a small trail on your right,” he explained, telling me how to get to the path that led up the mountainside.

Distracted by an enormous lizard, its body the length of my entire arm, I failed to notice the first trail, and after plying the length of the path, realized I had missed it, and decided to blaze my own way up, since, after all, I was good at land nav.

Several minutes into the climb what little trail there had been disappeared, and I fought obstinately upwards, conquering the initial slope and entering into a wooded path, which leveled out, and then inclined again. I picked my way up at an increasing angle, grabbing onto trees and rocks, until finally I reached a vast rock wall. It shot up vertically for at least two hundred feet, and there appeared to be no way around.

I moved horizontally along the face until I discovered a gap, and then a number of protrusions from the cliff that created a sort of rough ladder, and I jumping up on the first one to see if it would hold me.

It did, and I began climbing, pausing only after I was well off the ground to reflect on the pure idiocy of my venture. I paused on the foot-wide surface of a ledge and made the mistake of looking back. My stomach lurched into my throat. The view was spectacular, but the drop unquestionably lethal should I slip. I estimated a hundred feet straight down from where I had first started climbing, and then a few feet beyond that, several hundred feet of rocky outcroppings plunging down not quite vertically, but close enough for the sake of impression.

Something deep within me, some powerful longing, kept me moving upward, something existential at its base; I think now it was a way of testing God, or the forces of the universe, whatever they may be, to see if in the face of the most extreme peril I would find safe passage.


Here, inching along, pausing on a sheer wall for several minutes to catch my breath, plan my next succession of moves, and then thrusting up, half leaping, latching into a handhold and hauling myself away from the creeping clutches of death, is where I entered into a place where life was as distinct from death as I had ever known it.

In the comfortable, insulated world of the daily existence, routine separates life from death so that both are philosophical ambiguities, hazy and indistinct; here, perched on the side of a cliff hundreds of feet in the air, with no gear, nothing to stop my plunge but the hand of God, life and death were but fingertips apart; they met, one dark and one light, one a crew of demons roaring lustily for my destruction, and the other a host of angels encouraging me on, bidding me careful maneuver, both as visible to me as the next rocky ledge on which I pinned the entirety of my mortal future.

I reached the top of the cliff, but it was neither the top of the mountain nor the end of my perils. I continued gingerly along a narrow pathway that existed in the form of a ledge several feet in width, not against a vertical cliff but in the midst of an incline impossibly steep and chocked with boulders and trees growing horizontally out of the soil, turning upwards to the sun so that they made leafy L’s. I used them as handholds when I could. At least once they saved my life. The ground slipped from under me, my footholds collapsing, and I slid towards the precipice and certain doom. I threw myself to the ground, lowering my center of gravity, and latched frantically onto the tree, which thankfully did not itself come uprooted, as that would have been the end of me.

After fighting these conditions for a good half an hour, as well as a Pandora’s Box of horseflies and spider webs and vicious bull ants and rivulets of sweat dropping constantly into my eyes, I reached another sheer cliff, this one devoid of outcroppings. It was impassable. I was considering going back, frustrated because I had to be near the top, when I saw a bright orange marker nailed to the trunk of a eucalyptus tree several yards away. And when I saw another one past it I realized I had found the original trail.

I followed it, up and through a large crevice in the cliff face, and just like that I was climbing onto the flat top of the mountain. I whooped ecstatically. Two hours of hair-raising hell had paid off and I was at the summit. I could see in every direction, an unobstructed panorama of the Wollemi wilderness area, which stretched as far as my eyes could see: nothing but canyons and gorges and mountaintops like mine. It was desolate, wild, untamed country, and I had tamed a piece of it at risk of my very life.

My heart was warm and full as I descended, chasing the waning light, and I thanked a god I still very much doubted, without a second thought, for delivering me from the pantheon of dark rogues who had cheered so mightily for my entrance from the light into their domain.

When I left the next morning, Newnes lost twenty-five percent of its population, and significantly less food for its population of arachnids. I can’t say I felt sorry for them.



#25 PhillyB

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:06 PM

others include getting stranded for three weeks in northern thailand (on that same trip) with no money and being forced to play an acoustic guitar with an upturned cap in the night market of chiang rai to make enough money to survive, get a visa to vietnam so i could catch my flight to the philippines, and get home from there. that was the most frustrating experience of my life by far

chasing a jaguar into the guatemalan jungles to capture a picture and finding myself stalked and confronted by it ten feet away through a jumble of bush

landing in a monsoon at the airport in manila, worst turbulence of my life i actually thought we were going to crash

in thailand i had this grand idea to write up an expose of the human trafficking industry for the newspaper i was doing a column for. here's another book excerpt cause its entertaining enough

Feeling a bit like an investigative reporter on an undercover mission – which I suppose I was, technically – I set out shortly after dark to see what I could scrounge up. A nervous twinge refused to leave the pit of my stomach. I had done my research. Most of the brothels were components of organized crime, run by the Thai mafia. There was nothing lighthearted about the Thai mafia, whose flesh-peddling activities were highly illegal but largely unchecked by what my guidebook described as a woefully underpaid police force. If there was a question, a bribe was the answer, and everyone went away happy (except the sex slaves.)

Undoubtedly there would be little patience for a meddling farang looking for a way to shed light on highly lucrative trade.
So I decided I was going to be prepared.

I started by suiting up in two layers of clothes. Inconspicuous jeans and then a t-shirt with a collared shirt over top, and my hat, and sunglasses. This way if I had to bolt in a hurry, I could strip off the top shirt, hat, and sunglasses and disappear into the crowd.

I had to have somewhere to stuff the clothes, and a place to hold my camera, so I hunted around the night market until I found a tan satchel. It was a European brand, Diesel, all the rage there, but obviously of cheap construction, a fake. I doubted it would last long, but it didn’t need to.

And of course any investigative journalist worth his salt needed some sort of self-defense mechanism in case poo hit the fan. Three stalls down from to the one selling fake Diesel products was a weaponry stand. Nothing particularly high quality, but enough variety and glint to catch the eye. It was one of those tables that compelled you to stand for ten minutes browsing every piece. Or maybe that was just me, having grown up on The A-Team and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

I grudgingly skipped the small katanas and the K-Bars – they wouldn’t fit in my satchel – and picked up a small butterfly knife. I’d learned to use one years ago in my martial arts class. The handle is split in two and swivels over the blade to conceal it. Grip one side of the handle and flip it back and the blade is exposed, and then you swivel the handle one hundred and eighty degrees and catch the other hand, and you’ve got a knife in hand. Of course that motion is an art form, and if you don’t do it right you’ll either cut yourself or clumsily use two hands to fix it properly. Hoping I remembered how to use it, I argued the merchant from four hundred baht down to two hundred with a shiriken thrown in.

Ninja stars, the laymen called them, but we martial artists knew better.


With this insurance tucked accessibly into my satchel I headed down Silom Street towards the Patpong district. I was assaulted by conflicting senses of idiotic over-reaction and increasing apprehension. I was just snapping a couple of pictures. You don’t need a bazooka and a fire squad of Marines for that.

But rule number one in Bangkok is that you don’t fug with the Thai mafia. Rule number two: forget rule number one and you’ll be fish food at the bottom of the Chao Phraya.

I wiped a sheet of sweat off my forehead with the hairy part of my forearm, which was equally as sweaty, and now my eyebrows were waterlogged. I pulled off my sunglasses and wiped my entire face with my shirt, which clung to me in the heat of the night, and came away only slightly dryer. The humidity had to be in the upper eighties. Just before Patpong I ducked into a 7-11, enjoying the sudden oasis of frigid air, and bought a Lipton lemon-flavored iced tea, which I paid for and promptly chugged it. I was getting addicted to those things. (It is worth noting, to the reader, that Lipton lemon-flavored iced teas taste completely different in Thailand and are worth planning a trip just to try them.)

Thusly refreshed, I plunged back into the humidity and the heat and towards Patpong. Eventually I was bothered by the obligatory sex DVD salesman, and then another, and then I turned off the main road onto Soi Nine, on my left. A few lowly-lit pubs lined the lane, soft rock tunes floating out in stark contrast to the pulsing beat of trance music from the next couple of bars.

It didn’t take me long to get accosted. There were a handful of girls lounging by the bars, though in far fewer numbers than I had seen. They seemed much more …aggressive? Calling out to me, checking me out… wasn’t I supposed to be doing that? Something wasn’t right.

“Sawa-dee-haaaah!” cried one particularly well dressed prostitute, fantastically figured in a skin-tight dress. The pronunciation, overly sing-songy, gave him away moments before I spotted his adam’s apple, bobbing above two perfectly-formed silicone breasts. I had heard Bangkok was one of the cheapest places in the world to get cosmetic surgeries done. I didn’t doubt it.

“Sawa-dee-krup,” I replied, my wai a little awkward, a little too quick, and about-faced as casually as I could manage.

“You want boom-boom!” he called after me, the others watching expectantly, and I laughed and repeated my walking-fingers motion.

“Just walking,” I said, and they exploded with mirth.

“E’reybody just walking,” he said, and they laughed louder.

I returned to Silom Street and made a left, continuing through the congested night market traffic. No pimps had approached me, much to my consternation. I had hoped to interview one of them as well, since their English was usually pretty good, but they left me alone. Maybe I looked a little less lost after a week in the city. Tuk-tuks left me alone now too.

Silom Soi Seven was next. The street here was a little bit wider, a little bit more open, but quiet like the last one. A single large bar was the highlight of the alleyway – Club Omega. A cadre of scantily-clad women – at least they looked like women – sat out front, each wearing lacy halter tops as bright pink as the flickering neon sign above them.

Perfect.


I approached the brothel as casually as I could manage, staying as far to the left of the road as I could without losing a good shooting angle. I stopped next to a parked moped, doing my best to blend in with it, and pulled out the camera. The butterfly knife rattled reassuringly, sliding with a muffled clink against the shiriken, and I shifted the satchel so that it lay near the small of my back, out of the way.

I flicked the camera on and switched to a manual setting. I hadn’t done any shooting in the dark with it before, so it took a few minutes to discover the right setting, and then a blinking battery icon appeared in the upper righthand corner of the screen. Dammit. This thing absolutely drained batteries. I fumbled through the interior pocket of the bag for a spare set I’d brought with me, found them, switched them out, and reset the lighting options I’d painstakingly chosen, and then I was ready for action.
I had been standing there long enough to become used to the rhythm of the sounds. It was a quiet street, no traffic to speak of, save for the occasional moped buzzing through; only the muted hum of Silom’s masses drifted through. So when the first car came through the narrow road, I was aware of it by the sound of its idle, and the soft squeal of its tires turning on the pavement.
I took a picture, and then another picture, and then another, zooming in to catch as much detail as I could manage. The lighting was terrible. I couldn’t use a flash from this distance. Maybe the headlights of the approaching car would illuminate the scene for a shot or two. It was driving slowly enough for couple of tries, even with my maddeningly slow shutter speed and the blurry shots that I had to keep redoing. It was behind me now. Still dark. Why weren’t its headlights on?

The idling car had been a rambling series of semi-conscious observations in the back of my mind up until that point, and a sudden alarm bell went off in the depths of my brain, and a very uncomfortable feeling snapped those observations to my immediate focus. Something wasn’t right.

When I was a teenager I wanted to be a police officer. My parents signed me up for a program called Police Explorers, which was a paramilitary organization that got high schoolers involved in the local police departments. We learned how to do routine paperwork, administer DUI tests, even cool stuff like SWAT training. It was a great program.

Tony Hess taught us how to perform felony car stops. “Sometimes,” he told us, “you’ll approach the car, and the license check ran cleanly, and it’s no different than the last six thousand traffic stops you performed. Some idiot forgot to renew his tags, and that’s the end of it. But sometimes for no reason at all you get this hinkey feeling.”

He looked at us hard. “Hinkey feeling,” he repeated. “That hinkey feeling is your instinct, the hair raising on your neck. Trust it. Sometimes you just know.”

That car behind me, stopped in the middle of the empty street, idling rhythmically, soothingly… I had a hinkey feeling about it.
I lowered the camera, at once feeling terrifyingly exposed, and turned slowly around. The car behind me looked brand new. It was pure white. Nothing white stays white in Bangkok, especially when they’re cars. It was a BMW, a luxury sedan, also rare. No dings, no dents. Even rarer.

The club’s sign glinted off the windshield in the dark, plastering a backwards pink Omega where the driver sat, and through the heavy tint and the bright reflection I could see several dark figures posed motionlessly, heads all pointed squarely at mine, relaxed, devoid of details in the dark, but unmistakably hostile.

I let the camera slide down to the left side of my leg in an effort to hide it, and like the script of a clichéd spy movie, the BMW maintained its authoritative position in the middle of the road, idling coolly, lightless, its occupants staring me down, and then the plot stereotypically worsened, as the front window, and then the rear one, slowly lowered with the automated hum of precision engineering, and two middle-aged Thai men, both well-dressed, faces drawn tight, glared at me with eerily expressionless faces, eyes invisible behind sleek polarized sunglasses.

Ho.ly. poo.

I about-faced with a sense of purpose that Staff Sergeant Signorelli would have been proud of, and, shifting the camera from my left hand to my right in one fluid motion that kept it away from the hostile eyes several feet away, shoved it down into my satchel, and stepped off down the sidewalk, as swiftly as I could manage without hurrying, and did not look back until the buzz of Silom had enveloped me.

When I finally looked back, only a murky puddle in a stretch of sinking concrete reflected the Omega’s neon glow.

Rule Number Three: GTFO.



#26 Mrs Pantherfan

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:08 PM

Do you have a blog?

oh..and I need another picture :)

#27 PhillyB

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:12 PM

honorable mentions include staying next to the mayon volcano in southern luzon for a week or so only to find out it erupted after i got home, and actually on this trip that volcano i photographed from the car blew up two days after we passed it

slipped on a patch of mud on an island in the gulf of thailand on a motorcycle and wiped out, almost snapped my leg in half

took a bus from manila to legaspi in the philippines and wondered why a seven hour trip took thirteen, found out a few days later that we'd been driving through a monsoon that'd wiped out several bridges and dragged other buses along the route into the sea and drowned the passengers, that was pretty freaky in retrospect

drove a motorcycle around saigon and out into the my tho countryside, that may actually have legitimately been the scariest experience of my life

thats probably it. i jumped off a bridge in tarawa and thought it would kill me because the water was so shallow but obviously i lived



pardon the tl:drs

#28 PhillyB

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:18 PM

Do you have a blog?

oh..and I need another picture :)


i do but i haven't updated it in years, i used facebook as my primary social network so i usually just write blogs on there with the Notes app since anyone that reads it is on there already

here's your picture

Posted Image

#29 Hawk

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 01:51 PM

awesome!!

please post more pics of wife, rental car optional!

come on...someone had to say it

#30 Seal (SmittyIsOurSavior)

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 02:28 PM

I tell everyone I meet that I was born in Quito, as I have done since I was like 12 years old, so it's on my top places to visit list. I think you just bumped it up a bit too.


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