Hey Hospital… we need to talk

(since I didn’t take a lot of photos while we were together, Hospital, I’m going to share with you some photos of my leg and I enjoying our last week together)

I guess you’re used to drama, Hospital. You deal with the full circle of emotions. Life is created in the maternity ward and it hangs by a thread in intensive care. Some experience the triumphs of modern medicine while for others it just isn’t enough to save them. For me, and for us, our relationship is bittersweet. My life will be saved inside your walls but it will also be changed very drastically in ways that I’m sure, even now, I haven’t fully come to terms with.

Hold on. Emotion? Full circle? Life and death? I better move on now before I break out into a verse of Hakuna Matata.

                           Family Fun

Ok I’ll be honest with you, Hospital. On the day that we met, when I was admitted, I was in a foul mood. It wasn’t that I was mad, I was just anxious so I had a short fuse. Mum, Dad, Valerie and Sofía came with me and I was snapping at everything that anyone said. I’d been so good up until now, so relaxed and well centered, but all of a sudden everything was going wrong. My iphone decided to go into recovery mode and fixing it meant that we were an hour late for you. I hate being late. When we got there Mum said that the slightly gothic looking girl at the front desk looked like Abby from NCIS and I growled at her. When we got to my ward, Dad told Valerie that she didn’t have to worry about being jealous since my overweight nurse “doesn’t exactly look like Marilyn Monroe”. The worst part was that both of these comments were made within earshot of Abby and Marilyn.

Great, I’m bound to get fantastic service now that my parents have made friends with everyone.

And Valerie. Well, Valerie didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that every time I looked at her she would smile back at me and it would make me want to burst into tears. Sofí would make me smile. The innocence of a child has a calming effect and it was probably the only thing that held me together. As soon as I was shown to my room I fought back the tears and said my goodbyes. This would be the last time that they would see me with two legs.

FlyingCuddles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It feels mean to say it, but as soon as they left and I was on my own I felt all of the stress dissolve and I was calm again. Since finding out I have cancer, my leg and I have made peace with the decision to amputate. Even though we were both comfortable with this decision, it’s natural to freak out a bit as the big day approaches. My plan was to stay calm and focused from beginning to end, allowing me to get through with the least amount of mental trauma possible but I knew that the wheels could fall off at any minute. I had a feeling that heading into surgery would be really emotional. And I was dreading waking up from anesthetic and seeing myself with one leg for the first time. These were the 2 moments that I was afraid of.

Surgery was the next day. I couldn’t bring myself to even plan for it so I decided to just take it as it came. They were going to knock me out anyway so I figured it didn’t matter if I kicked and screamed a bit. As for waking up afterwards and finding myself with one leg for the first time, well I had a plan for that. I packed a couple of handkerchiefs and I was ready to feel sad (if need be). I thought that I might just look down and sob. Maybe I’d even get hysterical. Maybe it would last for a few days until it was time to get up and start working towards recovery. Maybe it would only last a moment. I was confident that regardless of how I reacted I would have the strength to pull things together and keep moving forward with the attitude that I had before the surgery. It’s perfectly natural to want to grieve the loss of my leg and I was ready for it.

Dorky Family LifeToe Love

Me and Val

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the evening before surgery my doctor and anesthetist came to my room and talked me through what to expect the next day. I had to fast from midnight – no food or water. At 5am I had to wake up and shower. At 5:30am I’d be given a little cocktail of drugs to relax me and then at 7am they’d come and collect me to prep me for surgery. I’d be put into a deep, deep sleep at 8am and then… well… it would happen. Depending on how it all went I may need a blood transfusion and may or may not end up in ICU. I found both of these things quite alarming but apparently it’s all pretty normal with major surgery and nothing to worry about.

Beachin'IMG_1202

I slept well that night. I had expected to be a nervous wreck but it just wasn’t the case. My leg and I had enough time to say goodbye to each other over the last week and we were feeling pretty Zen about the whole thing. Even still, I couldn’t quite tell if this was the calm before the storm or if I really was ok with what was about to happen.

Family LoveCradlingSport Super Star

5am rolled around and I had a shower. My last shower with 2 legs. I popped my hospital gown on and hopped back into bed. The last time I would hop into bed in a non-literal sense. 5:30 arrives and so do my drugs, which I gulp down with very minimal water due to the fasting. I get warm and fuzzy and happy and watch something on my iPad. 7am and the nurses come and get me. We glide through the corridors of the hospital and wind up in a small room where they hook me up to a drip. My anesthetist and surgeon arrive and we have ourselves a goofy, drugged up little chat before things get underway. Presumably I was the only goofy, drugged one. I ask, straight faced, just like I’d practiced, “I know it’s different for everyone but on average, how long does it take for the leg to grow back completely?”

Ok I didn’t really but that was the plan before they doped me up at 5:30am!

The next thing I remember was waking up in my room again. I had gotten through the first leg without a hitch (aside from that clumsy pun). And now this was it. I had surpassed my expectations by staying calm before the operation but this was the real test. How was I going to react? I didn’t even know. There’s no shame in crying. Nobody would blame me for having any crazy reaction to this and I’m sure the nurses are trained to deal with whatever happens. I looked around the room and got my bearings. I looked down at my heavily bandaged leg, what was left of it.

And I smiled.

Suddenly it all made sense to me. I just beat cancer. I wasn’t going to be sad today. Sure there will be tough times ahead but this is not the day to be sad. This is the day to be happy. To be relieved. To be grateful. To be thanking my lucky stars that these brilliant doctors have just saved my life and given me the chance to live out my life with my family just like I was supposed to before all of this happened.

Freshly Cut!Fam!

My Family

Our time together has been pretty uneventful since then. The dust settled and I didn’t have to go to ICU. After a couple of days of looking like a vampire, white and in need of blood, I perked up, was given the all clear and escaped having to have a blood transfusion. I spent a lot of time in bed. I took a lot of painkillers. Like, a LOT of painkillers. Thanks to these wonderful drugs I haven’t felt a great deal of pain. On the flip side though, I’ve been feeling pretty fuzzy and out of it which has made writing next to impossible.

At The End Of My Rainbow...Feedin' Time

One week together came and went in a flash and before I knew it my doctor was picking out rehab places for me to move to. By this stage I was already up and mobile on my crutches, zooming around my room with ease, so I posed the question, “do I really need to go to rehab?” to which the reply was a resounding, “yes”. After a bit of back and forth and after perusing a number of brochures full of elderly people with walking frames I put my foot down (my only foot) and said, “no, no, no”.

I don’t know when my life turned into an Amy Winehouse album but they tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no so I called my fiancé and said, why don’t you come on over Valerie. Facepalm.

Concerned Daddy

I won’t say it was against doctors orders because I’m not so foolish to think that I know more than a doctor, but against doctors recommendations I came home from hospital to recover with Valerie and Sofía. You see, until my stump settles and the wound heals a bit better, there is only so much rehab I can do. So I have my exercises to do, I have my instructions to take it easy, I have my copious amounts of heavy duty, big boy painkillers and I have my doctor’s reluctant blessing to leave.

Now I look down at where my leg used to be and I see a stump, bandaged and swollen. I’m not sad or afraid or disgusted by what I see when I look down. This was a fear of mine. But I said goodbye to my leg and I knew this was going to happen. In a way I’m kind of excited to get to know my new stump and get to know myself again. My new self. So it’s with a handshake and a smile that I bid you farewell, Hospital. Thanks for having me and looking after me so well.

Goodbye

It took me a while to put this together under the cloud of medication, so by the time you read this, I’ll be long gone.

TLH

X

Hey Left Leg… we need to talk

Hi mate. Hey buddy.. Gosh, this isn’t easy for me to say. Leg, I need to let you go. I feel like I’ve been told that my dog has cancer and I need to put him to sleep. Except not my dog.. my leg.

And not put to sleep.. amputate.

It’s such a harsh word. It still makes me a bit uncomfortable to say it out loud. Amputation. It’s shocking. I can’t even imagine how you feel about everything.

I’m going to avoid trivializing your existence with cliches or puns about being ‘hopping mad’ or ‘one foot in the grave’ or ‘getting back on my feet’ because in all seriousness, you’ve been a fantastic leg. Perhaps not as good at sports as my right leg, perhaps not as coordinated or strong, but you’ve never let that hold you back. You’ve always gone step for step with old Righty and never complained.

These past few years I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t noticed that something was wrong though. You’ve been in pain. So much so that I’ve been compensating for you with my other leg. You’ve lost a considerable amount of muscle definition which is now visible to the naked eye. I can’t help but feel like I could have done more for you, and that makes me a bit sad.

IMG_1466 IMG_1468

It’s not like I didn’t try though. After a few years of pain coming and going I saw an osteopath and got treatment which seemed to work for a while. A year or 2 later I self prescribed high strength Guatemalan anti-inflammatories which dulled the pain for a bit. Another year passed and I went to my GP who ordered an MRI of your knee. We thought there was a small cartilage tear and a cyst so we saw a knee surgeon. That’s when things went a bit downhill though.

You see, Leg, when the knee surgeon got inside your knee it didn’t look like it was supposed to. It wasn’t a cyst. He took a sample, closed you up and sent it off to investigate. That was on the 16th of September. The thing is, that the results came back inconclusive. It was time to see a new doctor and this time there was no messing about. We went straight to the Head or Orthopedics at St Vincents Hospital, Professor Peter Choong. He specializes in knee and hip replacement, in salvaging limbs.. and in cancer.

I was scared. Professor Choong ordered a thallium scan, which involves injecting a radio active liquid into my blood stream and taking heaps of internal pictures, head to toe, to track where cancer is active in my body. He ordered a CT scan of my chest to check if there were any tumors in my organs. And he ordered another MRI of your knee to really accurately see what was going on in there. And while I was getting these tests done he was going to personally look at the sample taken from your knee and tell me what it was.

I thought I was going to die. It’s hard not to think like that when you’re being dragged around a hospital having tests done. I was so scared and so sad. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see my daughter grow up. I would close my eyes as tight as I could and try to imagine what Sofía is going to look like when she is 5 years old, when she is 16, when she is 30, but I just couldn’t picture it. I planned on writing her letters to open on the birthdays that I wasn’t going to be there for. I wanted Valerie to learn how to cook my favourite dishes so that Sofía would know what my cooking tasted like. I thought I wouldn’t be able to marry the woman that I love. I thought that my 2 grandmothers were going to outlive me. I thought about how the faces of my friends and family would look at my funeral. I thought about the possibility of dying having never seen StKilda win a premiership (this last one is still a bit of a concern to be honest).

My life had finally started to make sense to me and it was about to be taken away. I finally have my own little family, we couldn’t be happier, and now this? How cruel is that?

IMG_1365

When I met with Professor Choong again on the 25th of September to receive the test results I knew that there were 3 possibilities. 1; that it was all a big misunderstanding 2; that it was cancer, but it was treatable 3; that I was going to die. I prepared myself for the first 2 possible outcomes and I told myself that whatever happens, as long as I will live, I will be happy. Just please don’t let me die. Please.

Somebody must have been listening because I got a result that I was looking for. I do have cancer, but it is treatable. I have a rare type of cancer called synovial sarcoma. In the words of Prof Choong, “it’s not good. It’s bad. In fact, it’s really, really bad”. Turns out that the chances of me getting this crazy rare cancer are like winning the lottery. So I guess I won the cancer lottery (although I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to buy a ticket). Lucky for me, the tests showed that it had not spread anywhere else in my body other than to you and your knee. It usually heads straight to the lungs, hence the CT scan of my chest, but like I said – no cancer there.

There are only 2 treatment options presented to me.

One is to remove everything that was affected by the cancer. This includes bone, tissue, ligaments, muscle, cartilage… I would basically need a bionic knee. Followed by extensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other nasty business that could leave me sterile and cut years off my life. The risk of the cancer returning after this sort of treatment is considered very high. It would almost certainly come back and it would come back with a vengeance.

The other type of treatment is to remove, you, the leg, from between the knee and hip. It’s called a transfemoral amputation. Since the cancer hasn’t spread anywhere else, if the leg is removed above where the cancer is, then there is virtually no chance of it ever coming back. No chemotherapy. No radiotherapy. Just lots of check ups over the next 8 years to be safe. Synovial sarcoma is not genetic. That means that I can’t pass it down to Sofía. It also means that I am not predisposed to getting it again. If we remove this cancer now in a drastic way, then I will never, ever have to worry about it coming back.

I’m sorry that my decision came so quickly and without considering you or your feelings, but for me there was just no choice. You have to go. I’m sorry if my reaction to the news of losing you came across differently to what you might have expected, but I told Prof Choong with a smile on my face that I wanted to amputate. I certainly don’t blame you and I will absolutely miss you each and every day of my life without you, but Valerie needs a husband, and Sofí needs a dad. Not everybody gets a second chance at life. I’m taking mine with both hands (sorry, that’s not supposed to be a joke about only having one leg).

I don’t want you to worry about me though. I know it’s not going to be easy going on with out you, but I’m ready for it. When faced with death we can do some pretty amazing things. I’m going to race Sofía to see who can learn (or re-learn) how to walk first. It will be quite embarrassing if I get beaten my a baby but she has two legs so, if it happens, it happens.

I’m heading to surgery soon. It’s an emotional time. I will miss you like a brother and I will never forget you. I love you Left Leg. I’m so sorry that it has to end this way. I want you to know that I will dedicate the rest of my life to your memory and live it fully and happily, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you for being there for me. And thank you for letting me go on without you.

By the time you read this… You’ll probably be gone.

TLH

x

You know who you are Cancun.

I know who you are.

You need no introduction.

But hey Cancun… we really need to talk.

It’s not even so much that we need to talk, Cancun. It’s a lot more like, you need to listen.

You’ve stifled my creativity. You’ve left me uninspired and adrift in a sea (albeit a beautifully warm turquoise sea) of stubborn complacency. You’ve thrown me a curveball. You’ve done various other cliched things to me because that’s what you are… one big, fat, greasy, loud, Americanized, bright, tacky, overpriced and underaged cliche.

I loathe you.

I know it’s not the first time that we’ve met and perhaps I’m being a tad harsh but you and I are simply not suited to be in each others company.

This time I thought that trying a different angle could produce a different result. A different set of experiences and the formation of new positive connections in the brain. Let’s do everything opposite.

Last time I was with a girlfriend. This time I am with my mate. Last time I was on my way home after a long trip. This time I am just at the beginning. Last time I stayed in a hostel…

This time we go all out and splurge on an all inclusive 5 star resort.

Big Pimpin'

Hell yeah.

Last time I was with you it was mid August 2007. This time we came smack bang in the middle of SPRING BREAK 2012!

This perhaps proved to have been a slight error in judgement on our part.

I think of Spring Break as thousands of pretty, young, drunk American girls partying hard before heading back to their prestigious universities and colleges and resuming their academic journey. I envisage them as educated and cultured people who, after toiling away for much of the year, heads buried in books, get to let their hair down and party for a few short weeks. Fun, I thought. Interesting, I thought. An experience, I thought.

Well, an experience, yes. The other things? Nooooooooooo.

You see how many superfluous O’s I used there? Yeah. They actually aren’t superfluous. They are necessary to convey how serious that ‘NO’ is. I don’t want you thinking “oh, he’s probably just saying that”. No. Nooooooooo. I’m not.

Perhaps the first clue lies in the name of the establishment: ‘Krystal’ with a K. It screams tacky. Then it probably screams SPRING BREAK, chugs a light beer, high fives Chad and Taylor before promptly crushing a beer can on it’s head. We coined the term ‘Man-cun’ after realizing that the cute, cultured and educated girls that I spoke of above must have thought better than to waste their time in the disgrace town of an otherwise impeccably cool country, Mexico. 10:1 ratio of stupid, young American guys to stupid, young American female counterparts.

The ‘famous’ nightclubs were a shitshow to say the least. Sardines would burst into fits of laughter if they were to view how packed these ridiculous nightclubs are. All drinks included in the price of entry sounds great until you try to get a drink and can’t get served unless you are willing to wait half an hour with your face pressed against the sweaty back of a stranger who looks like an extra out of Jersey Shore and then tip the barmen some ludicrous amount of money, in US Dollars no less, for a watered down drink because American kids can’t hold their alcohol and don’t notice the difference anyway because they can’t even legally drink in their own backwards country.

It made me want to shoot myself in the face repeatedly.

BANG! BANGBANGBANGBANGBANG!

I did meet a couple of cool people though, I guess…

In reality I did meet some really cool people and it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that. Not all Americans are idiots, nor are they all the stereotypical dropkicks that we are all guilty of imagining. It wasn’t all Americans either. Brazilians, Kiwis and a cool German guy were also in the mix to party with, along with a couple more Aussies scattered about the place for good measure.

I don’t want to rag on the whole Cancun experience that you offer either, because if it were truly as bad as I paint it then it wouldn’t be so popular each and every year. It just isn’t for me. I look at the cool places I’ve seen and I just can’t put you in the same sentence without cheapening them.

Maybe I’m just asking for trouble every time I come to visit you? Last time I was saying goodbye to a girl and then returning home with mixed emotions, and this time I’m saying goodbye to my mate and commencing the ‘by myself’ portion of my trip. It’s a lot to deal with!

Plus I broke my sunnies.

(that means ‘sunglasses’ for anybody who is Australian-language challenged)

I know it’s irrational and unfair, but I wholeheartedy blame you for that. And yes, I do have awesome orange and black striped backup sunnies, but it’s besides the point. You got me drunk and made me stand on my sunnies and it’s your fault.

Everything is your fault, whether it’s your fault or not. That’s why we can never be together.

And you know what else? I wasn’t going to mention this but it’s been really bugging me. Here is a picture of Nicko with a snake -

You know what I didn’t take a photo of? The tranq’d out baby lion cubs. You can pay to have your photo taken with a giant snake and it doesn’t really seem to bother the animal too much. Or you can manhandle a heavily sedated rag-doll child of the ‘king of the jungle’. Yeah, let’s dope up Simba and hoar him out to tourists to make some cash off him. And you know the worst part is? People actually loved it. People lined up to have their picture taken. I haven’t sworn in any of my letters to date but you really have a knack for bringing out the worst in me…

FUCK THAT SHIT CANCUN!

These horrible people would probably eat baby lion if it was offered to them – ‘makes you feel like a big man’.

Spring Break in Cancun. Tick. Scribble that off my bucket list with vigorous maniacal strokes that leave deep marks in the wooden table beneath.

Beat a bunch of American marines at beer pong. Twice. Tick that off the old bucket list too while I’m there.

Adios Cancun… I probably speak better Spanish than you at this point, so just in case you don’t understand that, I said goodbye.

I’m not gonna be here when you read this, but I hope that you do read it. No hard feelings.

TLH

X

Hey Everyone… we need to catch up

Not in the sense of like, “hey I haven’t seen you in ages and we need to catch up,” even though that is probably the case. Nah, I mean like, “hey I’ve been super slack with writing, and too busy enjoying myself in cool places to bother putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and I really need to catch up with that stuff”.

I don’t want you guys to feel like you’ve been ‘missing out’ or ‘going without’ because I haven’t been writing anything lately. I’ve recently experienced these sensations of ‘going without’ and feeling like I’m ‘missing out’ and I haven’t enjoyed it all that much.

You see, excess consumption over the last few months (or years) has led me down the path of going without. Going without alcohol, that is. I cut it out. 11 Days now. What that means is that instead of waking up without memories I wake up without a hangover. Unfortunately, I’m so used to going to bed intoxicated that going without alcohol also means that I am going without sleep. Waking up without hangover, without sleep, goes without benefits. Without a doubt there are benefits of going without, that goes without saying, but when out and about and going without I find myself without a clue of what to do.

What’s that about? And when going without, why do I feel like I’m missing out?

Going without makes me feel like I’m missing out on going out. I miss out on going out whilst going without because I don’t feel like going out without. I’d rather just give it a miss. I’m slowly finding out that going without is hard. Sure, I can cure this with hard liquor, but then that might blowout and I might blackout… and that’d just be a copout. Plus, I might then find out that I was not in fact missing out on anything whilst going without. I may even begin to miss missing out and going without!

Suffice to say I started to freak out. But now’s not the time to freak out. Now it the time to push on without a backwards glance, without batting an eye, without missing a beat. For there is no pleasure without pain, no rose without thorn, no omelet is made without cracking a few eggs.

Alcohol is something that I can live without.

But then you might say, ‘hey mister, we miss hearing about you going out and how about you fill us in on what you’ve been up to?”

And to that I would reply, ‘sure’.

It is quite possible that I’ve lost the plot entirely since taking a break from the booze, evident in the incomprehensible ramblings above, but at least I am motivated enough to start writing again, and boy do I have a lot of catching up to do…

Don’t worry, I’ll be back on the sauce again in no time and back to normal. Watch this space and you will hear all about what I’ve been up to over the last few months.

By the time you read this I’ll probably be drunk.

TLH

X

Hey Caye Caulker… we need to talk

It’s not often that 2 words can describe a place. Caye Caulker, you are beautiful, fun, picturesque, hot, tropical, exciting, interesting, rah rah rah…. but none of these are the 2 words that perfectly describe you. I need not mention any adjectives and still I can describe you perfectly.

“Go slow”

Only in Belize can you wake up from a mid afternoon nap in one of the plentiful hammocks, take a few lazy steps to the bar, take a beer back to your hammock, light a joint and be told by the locals, in all seriousness, to “go slow!”

Or be staggering down the street hungover, shuffling about 1meter per minute with your eyes half shut and be told by the locals to “slow down, man!”

“Mate, if I go any slower I think my heart’s gonna stop”

Or, my personal favourite, whilst being offered cocaine, and this actually happened, be told to “go slow”. Um, buddy, you’re not filling me with supreme confidence in your product if you’re telling me that I am already too hyperactive in my current, sober state.

Firstly, what exactly are you trying to sell me? Valium or cocaine?

And secondly, “Noooooooooooooooooooo!”

Slow enough for ya, pal?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to paint you as a drug pushing alcoholic island where nobody gets anything done. I’m just using extreme examples to emphasize the alien concept of “go slow”.

In my world of big cities and 9-5 work, deadlines and speeding tickets, weekends that slip by in the blink of an eye and other things that I simply don’t have time to think of, I find it hard to make time for sleeping and eating, let alone the luxury of going slower. So, in reality what I’m saying to you Caye Caulker, is that even though it seems alien to me, I enjoy being encouraged to stop and smell the roses by your cheerful people.

But maybe I took the whole “go slow” thing a little too far.

There are so many cool things to do here! Kite boarding, scuba diving the Blue Whole, 3 day sailing trips, fishing tours, and swimming with sharks, turtles and dolphins.

I didn’t do any of these things.

There’s always the less exciting/cop out option of snorkeling, which is both cheap and effortless.

I didn’t do that either.

I know, I know, this sounds familiar to you because I did the same thing last time I was here, but at least I had an excuse last time. Remember? As soon as I arrived last time, my mate and I checked in to a crummy hotel because the hostel that we wanted was booked out. When I got back from dinner and went to get my camera the padlock on the door fell off in my hand. “Awesome quality here” I thought. Opened the door to a bombsite and thought “man, we’re messy. I don’t even remember unpacking”. Looked in the drawer where we had put all of our valuables and none of them were there.

tick… tick… tick…

“Damn! We’ve been robbed!”

I still can’t believe it took me that long to figure it out. I must not be the most perceptive person. We lost 2 mobile phones, an ipod (with 18 months worth of travel photos backed up on it), 2 cameras, a bunch of cash and a few other bits and pieces. Luckily we still had our bank cards and passports.

Anyway, we spent the rest of our time moving to a different hostel, making a police report, going to the near by island of San Pedro to make our ‘official’ report and then hassling the local cops to do something about it (to no avail). We also added a few other items to the list of what we’d lost because we both had insurance and figured that we deserved a little bit extra for the inconvenience of the whole ordeal.

On our last day on your shores, as we sat around the hostel having a few beers, a couple of kids, no older than 10 years of age, came in and started having a chat to us. One of them was playing with a phone.

My phone.

“Hey buddy, can I take a look at your phone?”

As he handed it to me without hesitation I doubted whether or not this generic Nokia was really mine. I looked through it and as I couldn’t find anything that could readily identify it as my own, I handed it back. Then he asked me if a wanted to hear something cool.

“Sure”

He then proceeds to play a (super embarrassing) recording of me beatboxing into the mic on my phone!

We dragged that kid and his mate to the nearby police station by their ears and demanded our stuff back. Within half an hour we had everything back. Well, everything except for the nonexistent items that we’d made up. I actually felt bad watching these kids getting yelled at by the police.

“Where is the watch you stole?! Where is the video camera?! Where is the laptop computer?!”

But I guess they learned their lesson.

So did my mate. They wiped the memory off his ipod and he lost 18 months worth of travel photos. That’s pretty rough. It is super important to back up your photos.

Or do as I do and just forget to take any. You can’t lose photo’s that you don’t have!

Sure, I could stay here for ever, Caye Caulker, but I just wouldn’t get anything done. And plus, it’s kinda expensive. I paid 20 Belizean Dollars for a sandwich. It was a great sandwich but not $10USD-great.

In short, Caye Caulker… I’m leaving. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure I leave very slowly. And of course I’ll be back. One day I may even go scuba diving or sailing or… yeah, probably not. I might take few more photos next time though, because you really are beautiful.

By the time you get around to reading this I reckon I’ll be gone.

TLH

X

Hey Flores… we need to talk

I love you Flores but seriously… we really need to have ourselves a little chat.

We have a couple of sayings in Australia, which basically mean the same thing. I feel as though they are relevant and hopefully constructive criticisms that will help you going forward, so I’m going to tell you a few of them.

Flores, you couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery.

Flores, you couldn’t tee up a root in a brothel.

Flores, you couldn’t find your own arse with both hands.

Do you get what I’m saying, Flores? You are disorganized. It’s kind of a big issue.

My first order of business upon arriving on your beautiful island town was to produce my reservation slip at the hostel only to be told that they had not honoured our reservation and had given our beds away. Fair play, I’ve worked in hostels before and that’s fairly common practice. After a bit of deliberation the manager managed (which is what all good managers do) to find us a couple of beds that they usually don’t let out to people because they are so terrible.

“We’ll take ‘em!”

You are such a cool place that I don’t mind sleeping in a terrible bed. You are a tiny island on a cool lake in central Guatemala. I feel petty complaining about sleeping arrangements. So let’s go ahead and move on.

Second order of business was to get my laundry done. Could I do it myself? Sure I could, but I chose not to, OK? I’m the type of guy who takes the most convenient option. At least, I try to.

“When will I get it back?”

“First thing in the morning”

Brilliant.

So when the morning rolls around I ask about my laundry. Surprise, surprise… It isn’t ready. Not only is it not ready, they haven’t even started washing it yet.

“When will it be ready?”

“It’ll be ready by this afternoon”

Ok. No problem. I can deal with that.

So when I come back at 4 o’clock in the afternoon to collect my laundry, it’s definitely ready, yeah?

Nah.

They haven’t started yet.

“When will it be ready?”

“First thing in the morning”

Sound familiar?

So when the next morning rolls around, again I ask about my laundry. When they tell me that they haven’t started it yet I am super tempted to take it back and do it myself but my faith in my fellow man/laziness urges me to give them one last chance. I tell them to start washing my clothes immediately and have them ready by the afternoon otherwise I will be upset. Perhaps I should have said this from the beginning because sure enough, by about 7pm my clothes were cleanish and almost dry.

Again, this is not a big deal, Flores. Both of these things are minor annoyances. But they add up. They add up quickly.

My favourite restaurant in Flores is a cute little Japanese place that manages to sell fresh and authentic sushi despite being 5 hours from the nearest ocean. I was looking forward to eating there but I couldn’t find it. I asked around and apparently it is now only open once a week and on no specific day.

Disorganized!

Our 40Q ‘all-inclusive’ boat trip to the zoo didn’t include the 40Q entry fee to the zoo. That is not all inclusive. The waterslide at the zoo had no water in it. THAT MEANS IT ISN’T A WATERSLIDE. It is just a dirty concrete ramp.

Disorganized!

Our 4:30am trip to Tikal to see the sunrise collected us at 4:45am and then proceeded to play 3 card monte with passengers, shuffling us around seemingly at random before taking us all to the exact same place. We missed the sunrise. We didn’t leave Flores until 6:30am. I could have used the extra 2 hours sleep.

Disorganized!

You couldn’t even organize decent weather. Your sunsets are amazing because the water gets lit up by the giant orange sun as it drops down below the skyline. But not when it’s cloudy and rainy.

Dis-bloody-organized Flores!

And you want to know the worst part? It’s contagious. I don’t even have any decent photos of you because I became too disorganized! Maybe if I wasn’t chasing laundry, sleeping in a crappy bed, looking for phantom Japanese restaurants, waking up for delayed tours and over paying at zoos I would have spent more time with my camera in hand! But no. I barely have a decent photo to show for my time with you. Take a look my zoo trip…

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was the saving grace? Well Flores, I have to admit that my trip to the Tikal ruins was pretty awesome. I mean, sure we missed the sunrise, but to be honest, I’ve been to Tikal 3 times and I’ve seen the sunrise before. This trip to Tikal was different for 2 reasons. Firstly there was a girl who had no shoes on. She had lost them one week ago and she hadn’t organized a new pair yet (maybe she’d caught your disease). Why is that worthy of being mentioned? Because her last name was, without a word of a lie, wait for it….. Her last name was Barefoot! The girl with no shoes… her last name was Barefoot. You can’t make that stuff up!

That immediately put me in a great mood. Secondly, I discovered that there was something that I didn’t experience in my previous trips to Tikal.

Zip lining.

There’s something about flying through the treetops in the jungle attached to a metal cord that just makes everything feel a little bit better.

It should come as no surprise to you that I’m leaving, Flores. I love you. You are awesome. I’ll be back, Flores, you can count on it. I just hope that you take my criticisms in the manner in which they are intended. I’m not trying to be mean or harsh, I’m just telling it like it is. You boast some impressive stuff but I feel like you’ve gotten lazy in your presentation and delivery of your assets. Please don’t rely on your looks alone. You don’t want to be like a dumb supermodel. Please don’t rely on the assets that you were born with. You don’t have to be a trust fund baby. Put in some effort and present yourself as the best Flores that you can possibly be and I’m sure that you’ll be a lot happier, as will the droves of people that come to visit you.

Oh, and next time I come back can you please try to turn up the heat and switch off the rain for me?

Damn, I’m out of time… Disorganization really is contagious!

I’m off to Belize now. By the time you read this I’ll already be gone.

TLH

X

Hey Lanquin… we need to talk

My dear friend, Lanquin, arriving in your tiny, mountainous, jungle village is a bittersweet feeling. On one hand you’re the place I’ve been looking forward to returning to the most. Even the most deliberately chosen words cannot define your beauty. Photos cannot capture you. You are magic. You are the best place that I’ve ever been in my entire life and I will die a happy man if I never find a place more special than you.

On the other hand, we parted company with a dear friend and partner in crime who had been traveling with us for quite some time and this is never an easy thing to do. Ingrid proved to us (in case we didn’t already know) that Dutch girls can drink like us, party like us, travel like us, laugh like us and most importantly put up with us and all of our nonsense. As she hopped of the ‘bus’ (aka some blokes minivan) in the remote village of Tactic all by herself, ready to embark on a week of volunteer work with a desperately poor community, she proved to us one final time that she is a pretty special person.

We’ll miss you Ingrid (and you have cool shoes).

Lanquin, you play host to my favourite hostel – El Retiro. My favourite hostel anywhere in the world. I still talk about El Retiro being a paradise that juggles party, relaxation, eco friendly & sustainable operation, good food, beautiful scenery, cool staff… the complete package. When I heard that a new hostel had taken over the title as ‘the best hostel in Lanquin’ I was a little taken aback. Not possible I thought.

Enter Zephyr Lodge.

Enter possibilities.

Wow.

I just need to take a moment here.

I Just Need To Take A Moment

Wow.

Seriously.

Perched on the top of a large hill and surrounded by a valley, Zephyr Lodge boasts close to a 360degree view. Amazement. It sounds silly to follow how good the view is by mentioning the shower, but bear with me. The shower is mental. Thanks to the remoteness of your town, Lanquin, the shower at Zephyr looks out towards the vast nothingness. I mean, it literally looks out over the valley and to the sweeping hills opposite. I mean, literally, through a huge open air window from waist height to ceiling, it looks out at this stunning view. This was the first time in my life that I needed sunglasses in the shower. Inhibitions quickly evaporate and float away with the steam as you realize that it’s just you (and whoever you’re showering with *wink*) and nature.

But even in this beautiful place I just couldn’t shake that sad feeling. I guess we were still a little dejected about losing our friend, even if it was to a noble cause. Goddamn noble causes… Always stealing my friends away from me. What about me, huh? Uh oh… is that the old me creeping back into the picture? Unfortunately, yes… yes it is.

Fancy a drink? Yes… yes I do.

I can’t really explain the next 2 days in great detail as it’s still a little hazy. They were the sort of days where you wake up with various bodily pains and head down to the bar/common area and hear, “how are you feeling today?!”

And then you pound a couple beers while you wait for your breakfast to arrive.

The second morning that I woke up I realized that my foot was a little tender. Then I saw the blood soaked bandages. After some pretty intense concentration and meditation I figured out what had happened – something that I didn’t remember what it was. I decided to go and investigate.

So it turns out that I accidentally smashed a few glasses at various stages over the day/night and felt bad about the staff cleaning up after me. When I broke the last glass I decided that the best idea was for me to clean it up. So I stood up… and that’s kinda where it went wrong. I stood up, onto the pile of broken glass, that I had just broken, with no shoes on.

Genius.

On the plus side, I went to bed after this, at 11pm, and managed to get a pretty decent rest/coma/unconscious period due to excessive blood loss. On the down side, my bar tab was higher than the rest of the hostel combined for that day/night (excluding Nicko’s which was 50 Quetzales less than mine).

4 pretty big, deep cuts on my foot now act as a reminder of how stupid I am (like I need a reminder).

So day 3 has to be a quiet day. Healthy breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and granola, plenty of water, planning the daytrip to Semuc Champey for the next day, maybe a quiet game of cards, a gentle rock in a hammock and a splash about in the river. But wait, who’s this walking towards the front desk with her backpack on? Kinda cute actually… Oh shit!

“INGRID! What are you doing here?”

“Ugh! I don’t want to talk about it. Can you get me a beer?”

“3 beers please!”

So a quiet day of cards was off the cards as our comrade had unexpectedly rejoined us. She regaled us with stories of no running water, filthy living quarters, the disorganized volunteer program that essentially had nothing for her to do and (my personal favourite) having to eat rat for dinner. I think that rat fajitas were the straw that broke the camels back… or rather the anvil that broke the rodents back.

Booze booze booze booze booze.

Day four at Zephyr is your free day! This means that you stay for free and only pay for drinks, food, tours etc. Today we’re making up for lost time and cramming as many crazy activities as we can into one short day.

Enter Semuc Champey.

After a quick breakfast, 17 of our nearest and dearest pile into the back of a pickup truck and commence the hour or so ride from the hostel to Semuc on one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I had parkinsons disease. Is that a little tasteless? Well, sorry… but it’s the old me, remember? I don’t mean to sound cruel, bitter and thoughtless, but I am, so that’s generally how it comes out.

Jump off a giant rope swing into a raging river? Check. Spend an hour being guided through a pitch black, water filled cave? Having to swim one handed in said cave, whilst holding your only light source, a candle, with the other hand? Climbing a waterfall in said cave? Jumping, blind, from high ledges into deep pools in said cave? Check, check, check & check.

Quite a busy morning. What more can we cram into this day?

Walk across a bridge? Hell no. Jump off it? You know it. 10 meter drop to the water? Check.

Hike for an hour (with a pretty tender foot) up to the mirador? Check. Best view in town? Check.

Hike back down? Check. Naturally formed waterfall/waterslides? Check. Fish cleaning my wounds? Check.

Jumping off the illegal, hush-hush, do it at your own risk and don’t tell anybody, 15 meter blind drop into raging river? Ok, I’ll admit that I actually didn’t do this. Not because I’m not crazy enough, brave enough, manly enough, cool enough, tough enough or because I was too scared (although they are all good reasons). No, I didn’t do it because at this stage I was struggling to walk with my self inflicted gammy foot and landing on it after a 15 meter plunge wasn’t super appetizing to me at this point, but many brave souls conquered the jump on this day. I prefer the smaller jumps.

I’m thankful for our extra days with our dear friend Ingrid and all of the lovely new friends that we made at Zephyr, but after 6 days in Lanquin, the time has come for us to go our separate ways. But I love you and you’re my favourite place, so why am I leaving?

I could never live here. Not permanently. You are special because you’re cut off from the world, high in the mountains surrounded by tropical jungle, but it is also this quality that renders you unsuitable as a permanent home. I’m a city boy. I like people and McDonalds and reliable internet and other stupid modern luxuries that I’ve grown accustomed to. Also, I don’t think that I would ever get used to your beauty, but if the impossible should occur and I do, then every other beautiful aspect of life would forever be tarnished because it will never be as beautiful as you.

Thank you for putting up with my antics again, Lanquin. I feel suitably refreshed and cleansed again. I enjoyed letting my curly hair down and giving the old me a chance to resurface for a little bit, but I think I’ll leave the old me behind as I head to Flores. He can be a bit of a jerk.

I won’t say goodbye to you because I know I’ll be back again one day. Instead I’ll say hasta la proxima – until next time. See Lanquin, I even learned a little spanish for you.

By the time you read this I’ll already be gone.

TLH

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