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Thursday, April 17, 2014

I LIKE YOU, BUT I DON'T WANT TO ROCK THE BOAT. or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 14

by Mykel Board


ENTRY FOUR-
TEEN
Nov 15, 2013- Nov. 23, 2013

I LIKE YOU, BUT I DON'T WANT TO ROCK THE BOAT.

[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York, smooth flight to Miami, promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport” for the whole trip. $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) Miami goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem was a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets were rivers. There were waves in the pool. I got wet. Very wet.

Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport and take me around drinkin'. Then, I move South to San Fernando T'dad... have some fun adventures, meet a Goddess... er... Empress... of a girl. Go back to the airport and fly to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150US. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is literally (741 feet) a high point.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana were adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rained. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! I'll be a roadie! Mykel tours with a band... again. Yowsah! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. (A drummer problem? Hard to imagine, huh?) Two drummers had agreed to tour with them. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. (A punkrocker bailing? Hard to imagine, huh?) The now former-friend does not answer emails. I cannot play drums. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. They cook for me every day. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get the poor son, Jose, to chauffeur me around; as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band, ADHD. I can see he hopes for rain... It's an excuse to stay home. Often, there is rain.

Then it's on to French Guyana. There, the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. His name is Florian

I take a small boat across the river that separates F.G. from Suriname. The captain lets me choose “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. Once landed at immigration, I annoy the white immigration officer by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and hustle me away. I'm as hungry as shit and don't know where I am.

What happens? My hostess Marie meets me on the road, helps me negotiate a ride with a French Guianan truck driver, and gets me to her place. Smooth as a baby's ass. The first morning is a crepe breakfast. Then a dip in the pool, then I donno. Everything is spot on... except that it's raining.

My first days in French Guyana are fun-filled, and distress free... unless you count the bottom paddling I got from my friends' spare bicycle. It's now the eve of the big canoe trip. Through the Amazon swamp... just me and Florian.]

Here's a map of our canoe trip through the most dangerous swamp in South America? Check this out:




The night before the trip, I peruse the internet.

Ah, here's a story about The Toothpick Fish found in the freshwater areas around the Amazon. It's not really a fish, but an... er... interesting parasite.
The Toothpick Fish

It likes to swim up human urethras and lodge itself inside. Using the tooth-like suckers, it fixes itself deep in the flesh tube. Getting rid of it requires a delicate and painful operation. I don't think I'll be going into the water, thanks.

That night, I try to fall asleep. Thoughts of the Toothpick Fish keep me awake... as does the reality of continually barking dogs. They're a fixture in the Caribbean. Night is when the dogs bark. Vicious sounding to me, to the natives, I guess, it's the smooth hum of protection. Like police sirens in Manhattan.

Somehow it becomes morning.

A rooster does not crow. If it did, that's when we'd be getting up. Dawn has not cracked... but only slivered over the horizon.

Are you ready for the trip?” calls Florian from downstairs.

Msasdfsdta,” I answer.

He laughs.

Don't forget your bathing suit,” he yells up at me. “Unless you want to go naked.”

I don't think I'll be getting into the water,” I yell back at him.

Quickly, I dress and head downstairs to the garage where the boat awaits. Florian is preparing for the trip. He has a large plastic jar... like a giant pickle jar-- except it's white.

We can keep clothes in here... when we go swimming,” he says.

I don't think I'll be going in the water,” I tell him again. “It's not that my urethra is so special. But it's the only one I have.”

He doesn't get it.

Well,” he continues, “we'll need the bucket to keep shoes in... and it'll float in case the boat tips over.”

The boat might tip over?” I ask, feeling a sudden tightness between my legs.

Florian smiles.

Reaching upwards to a shelf I haven't seen, he grabs something about as big as my forearm. It's a machete.

Why didn't I think of that? Bring a machete on a trip in an inflatable boat. Of course. Go into the jungle... bring a machete... it's an axiom.

AND... the boat is not ALL inflatable. The bottom is some plastic material, heavy as steel. Can this thing float? And how far do we have to skid it to get it to the swamp?

We don't skid it, Mykel,” says Florian. “We carry it.”

Carry it?” I ask. “It's like... like... like a boat. How do you carry a boat?”

You just lift it over your head, and walk,” answers Florian. “No problem. Maybe I should take the front.”

Being more of a pitcher than a catcher, I nod in my assent to bring up the rear.

The sun is just rising over the horizon.

With the boat resting on 4 hands and two heads, we head to where the swamp meets the land. It is not close.

In fact, to get there, we have to pass a fenced-in yard-- home to the dogs of last night. There they are, half climbing the fence, snarling, barking, drooling saliva. I've never been so grateful for a padlock. I just hope it holds.

One of the dogs wears a plastic medical collar. It looks like a lampshade. The collar-- not the dog. Dogs wear them around their necks, so they don't bite at stitched-up wounds. From the looks of this mean German Shepard, I'd hate to see the other dog.

Can we rest?” I ask, as soon as the dogs are safely behind us. “My head hurts and my pants are slipping down.

Mykel,” says Florian, “we haven't been gone five minutes. If we rest every five minutes we'll never reach the water.”

We rest.... then pick up the boat again.

Days pass. Weeks. Months. By now the sun is almost a complete disk... low in the sky.

Around that bend,” says Florian. “We're almost there... but wait! Stop!”

He nearly drops his end of the boat. I put mine down.

Look,” he shouts, pointing among the trees.

What is it?” I ask. “An anaconda?”

He runs into the jungle and comes back holding... a coconut.

He brings it to our path, jumps into the boat and retrieves the machete.

BLAO! He smashes the machete into the coconut. Not much of a dent there. BLAO again. Still nothing. BLAO! BLAO! BLAO! The coconut gives... like a head in a horror movie. We share the sweet whiteness.

Is that what you brought the machete for?” I ask.

Sure,” he says. “That and... well...”

He keeps me hanging.

To take care of any... unforeseen problems.” Even with his cute French accent unforeseen problems does not sound sexy.

But we've reached the shore. The time has come. We need to take off our shoes (my boots, of course), stow them in the plastic pickle jar, and shove off to adventures in the swamp.

We'll push the boat to the edge of the water,” he explains. “Then I'll get in front. You can enter the rear.”

Usually that's a phrase I love to hear, but now I'm not so sure.

Here is the boat at the edge of the swamp. Ready to be launched... with us... into the jungle.

And we're off.... one oar each... into the swamp, twisting around the trees. It's another world... silent... neither barking dogs nor copcar sirens... just the sound of the two paddles...SPLASHSPLASH... SPLASHSPLASH...SPLASHSPLASH... Florian's in front and mine in back... slowly getting the rhythm... moving together... through trees... like a maze... dead end... moving again...

It's like nothing I've ever seen before. Just beautiful... in a scary jungle sort of way. It doesn't look like movie pictures of jungle swamps... it doesn't look real... or pretend real... or... well, take a look and then imagine this EVERYWHERE!
>
Suddenly, there's a tree directly across the route ahead... no way around it... we're blocked... trapped... we'll die here.

(Note: it does not occur to me that if we're blocked on three sides we can always go back the way we came. Ahead seems the only way to go.)

What're we going to do now?” I whine.

Florian laughs.

We get out of the boat, stand on that tree and lift it over,” he says.

What if I... er... we... fall in the water while we're lifting?” I ask.

We'll get wet,” he says.

Wiseguy.

Florian crawls out of the canoe, putting one bare foot on the visible part of a tree root. I put one foot on the canoe edge to join him. The boat tips dangerously.

Mykel,” says Florian, “maybe you'd better stay in the boat. You can help by using an oar to push us over the log. I'll lift and pull from this side. You push.”

I kneel in the boat and push the oar down on the log, lifting us as much as possible. Florian grabs the front and pulls. We move forward an inch... another... a couple inches... and then SPLURSH! We're free and on the other side. Florian gets back in the boat.

More paddling... more trees... the squawk of birds I can't see... a few of those insects that dance on the surface of water... we've moved to a wider space. A dead tree branch pokes up through the scummy water, like a drowning man's hand. Florian stops the boat.

He begins to undress.

A joke flashes through my head:

Q. Why is Budweiser like sex in a canoe?
A. Because it's fucking close to water.

Now, I like Florian... and he's not bad looking... BUT! I didn't bring condoms... and it's a canoe! Don't rock the boat, baby. We'll end up in the water with BOTH our urethras exposed to the first toothpick fish that comes along!

Look,” I tell him, “I'm not going to ask about you and your girlfriend. That's none of my business. But, this boat is just kind of rocky, and...”

SPLASH! He's over the side. In the water... under the water... swimming around like there's no tomorrow... or toothpick fish. His head appears... disappears... bobs like a duck decoy...
Mykel!” he shouts, “Come on in. It's cool and nicer than the swimming pool.”

Thanks,” I shout back. “You enjoy yourself. I'll just stay here with the oar and beat away the anacondas.”

His laugh fades as he dives under the water again. After some time, he hooks his hands around the edge of the boat and pulls himself back into it.

Shaking his head like a wet dog, he tsks me.

Mykel,” he says. “That was great. You should have come in... enjoyed it a bit.”

I wait for him to grab his crotch in pain. He doesn't.

From the swim stop we paddle onward. Florian in front. Me in back. A blister nudges itself out on my paddle hand... between my thumb and forefinger. I keep going... enjoying the pain... like muscle pain after a day at the gym. It says: I DID SOMETHING.

After a half hour, I decide to be more adventurous.

Let me lead,” I say. “You've been in front the whole time. Let me steer for once.”

Florian shrugs and crawls to the back of the boat. I crawl ahead and take the paddle to start off. It's at this point that it occurs to me I don't know where I'm going.

I start paddling, pretending like I know what I'm doing.

Always right! Always right!” shouts Florian from behind me.

Now I have a problem. Does he mean:

A. I should always bear right to keep to the path that I hope he knows.

B. I'm doing a good job and I'm ALWAYS choosing the RIGHT path.

C. He's translating from the French where tout droit word-for-word means “always right” but actually means STRAIGHT AHEAD.

PLAUW! It doesn't matter. The boat is caught among tree roots. We can go neither right nor straight ahead, and my rowing is certainly NOT always right.

Florian, ever the hero, now plays Tarzan. He swings out of the boat on a low-hanging vine. Dropping onto the tangled roots, he uses his hands and feet to free us from the entanglement. I make a feeble gesture of help. Sure, I'll climb out of the boat too. Is there anything I can do... not that I'd know what I was doing... and besides you need me to keep the boat from running off... use my paddle, right?

Mykel,” he says, reading my mind, “you can stay in the boat.”

Florian lowers his ass onto the tree roots, gripping the roots with his hands, he pushes both feet against the side of the boat and pushes. I put my oar between his feet and push against the tangle. The boat rocks, tips, budges... just budges. Florian brings his ass closer to his heels. Pushes again. I again press the oar against the tangled roots, shaking us slightly. An inch, another... we're free. Florian climbs back in the boat. He takes the front again. So much for my captainship.

As with most stories, the pain and the folly make for better reading. The silent scenery, the birds, the insects I've never seen before, the serenity, the escape from the swamp to the giant river that separates French Guyana from Suriname. These peak experiences... they are the joy of the trip. Good visuals, but bad copy.

Click on the small picture below for more trip photos.



By now you've guessed that the head-hunters and tchotchka salesmen are bogus. Anaconda, lost in the jungle, sold into slavery. Yep, that too. The blister is real.

In fact, that trip is the zenith of my stay in French Guiana. One of the peaks of the entire Guyanese adventure... a beautiful day under beautiful sky. It doesn't even rain!

If the sights of that trip were built into a human... and the joy of that adventure were transformed into the erotic... I'd have a 6 hour erection.

And Florian, in all this, manages to get us back where we started.

PROBLEM: how are we going to get the canoe home? I'm luxuriously tired. It's been one of the most beautiful days of my journey, but now the hand blister and the long march back to Florian's house... I'll die.

Up goes the canoe. On our heads, wobbly, pressing against my blistered... er... (I don't know what they call that space... that stretched skin area between thumb and forefinger... where you're supposed to press to get rid of a headache... medical comments are welcome.)

Florian walks. I stagger, barely holding up the rear. Through the path from the swamp to Florian's house. Past the cocoanut grove. Over the dusty path.

The evil dogs bark in the distance. Somehow they seem not so distant. There they are, on the path... ahead of us. Circling like bloodhounds closing in on Jack the Ripper. Snarling... woofing... yapping... stirring up the dust... getting closer.

There's the one with the plastic collar. The meanest of the bunch... headed right toward me... his teeth thigh level... upper thigh. He attacks... open mouthed... canines bared for action. Pounce! The plastic collar hit's my leg... I stumble under the weight of the boat. BUT, that collar saves my ass... or at least my leg. It's just enough to keep those teeth from grabbing. Just enough to keep me from being Purina for this Rin Tin Tin... I'm halfway to breathing relief, when another dog appears. This one without a plastic collar.

We're gonners...

A bas! A bas!” comes a voice. A pretty French woman walks behind the dog and grabs it by the neckfolds.

Je suis désolé,” she says, pulling the dogs away from us and safely locking them behind the fence.

We set the canoe down. Florian and the woman talk a bit. He introduces me. The woman shakes my blister. She's got a macho grip.

After some conversation-- a welcome rest-- we bid her adieu and pick up the boat again, and somehow make it home.

I go to bed, sleep well, deep... unbothered by the sound of barking dogs.

Are we done with our trip to French Guiana? You bet your urethra we're not.

How 'bout a lesson in Nenge Tongo? A mudbath carnival? A jailcell where Papillion languished, carving his penname into the concrete? A Hmong village? A marketplace with fruit that looks like body parts?

Stay tuned for the details.

-end-

[You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the RSS link at the bottom or by joining the Yahoo group for readers of Mykel Board's rants

You might also want to check the blog of Mykel Board's Columns .

WARNING: The Column Blog is neither PC nor PG. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should stay away. You have been warned.

Finally, in an ultimately useless effort to rid myself of apartment junk, I'm giving away CDs, cassettes, VHS videos and more. Just pay postage (sorry US addresses only). The offer is  here. ]



Monday, March 10, 2014

IT CRAWLS UP YOUR WHAT? or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 13

by Mykel Board


ENTRY THIRTEEN
Nov 15, 2013- Nov. 23, 2013

AND THEY CRAWL UP YOUR WHAT?

[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York, smooth flight to Miami, promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport” for the whole trip. $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) The Miami trip goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem was a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets were rivers. There were waves in the pool. I got wet. Very wet.

Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport, take me around drinkin'. Then, I move South to San Fernando T'dad... have some fun adventures, meet a Goddess... er... Empress of a girl. Go back to the airport and fly to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150US. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is literally (741 feet) a high point.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana were adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rained. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! I'll be a roadie! Mykel tours with a band... again. Yowsah! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. (Hard to imagine, huh?) Two drummers had agreed to tour with them. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. (A punkrocker baling? Hard to imagine, huh?) The now former-friend does not answer emails. I cannot play drums. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get the poor son, Jose, to chauffeur me around, as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band, ADHD. I can see he hopes for rain... It's an excuse to stay home. Often, there is rain.

Then it's on to French Guyana. There, Florian, the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie.

So it's off to FRENCH GUIANA. I take a small boat there. The captain lets me choose “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. Once landed at immigrtion, I annoy the white immigration officer by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and try to hustle me away. I'm as hungry as shit and don't know where I am.

What happens? My hostess Marie meets me on the road, helps me negotiate a ride with a French Guianan truck driver, and gets me to her place. Smooth as a baby's ass. The first morning is a crepe breakfast. Then a dip in the pool, then I donno. Everything is spot on... except that it's raining.]


I forgot to mention, THE CURSE. I knew it was coming. This is, after all, the life of MYKEL BOARD... Things cannot go well. And too much has gone well to start with. It's like that trip to the countryside in Mongolia. Everything arranged... free even (a trade for English lessons). A day of Gobi Desert/Altai mountain horseback riding-- Mongolian style-- then a night in a real Mongolian ger.

What an adventure it will be! Then I find out the Mongols use wooden saddles. I can't walk right for a week.

FLASH TO 2013: The ORIGINAL plan was for Florian and Marie to meet me at the boat terminal and drive me to their house. But... THE CURSE! The car broke down just before I got there. That's why I had to walk to my hosts' house. But, I DIDN'T have to walk. I was saved. Driven on a truck by one of the fine natives of French Guiana. Oh no! When is it going to hit?

My first breakfast in St. Laurent du Maroni: That morning (as will be the usual case) breakfast at home: crepes today.

What should I put in them?” I ask Marie.

Whatever you like,” comes the answer.

I don't know how to make them,” I say. “You tell me.”

Whatever you like,” comes the answer.

So I put in some jam, some fruit preserves some chicken bits, some pork. And the laughing starts.

Marie laughs. Laughs harder. “You put pork and jam together?”

You said put in what ever you like,” I answer.

Florian!” she yells. “Mykel made a crepe with pork, chicken and jam!” Then she laughs more.

Florian laughs. “Jam and pork and chicken!!!” He says and laughs, nearly spitting.

It's my religion,” I lie. “It requires meat whenever we have something sweet. It's called שקר של החזיר. If I don't do it, G-d (actually I say GEE-DASH-DEE) will send his Angel of Death® to punish me.”

That shuts them up. The crepes are delicious.

After breakfast, the pair has to leave to go teach. I'm on my own for the day.

Mykel,” says Marie. “Florian has left already. We need two of our bicycles, but there is an extra one. Here is the key to the lock.”

She hands me a keychain with three keys on it.

One key is for the bicycle lock. One key is for the back door. And one key is for the front door,” she says. “I have to leave now, but I think you'll be able to figure it out.”

I thank her as she leaves. Then I remember that I haven't ridden a bicyle in 10 years.

Fuck it,” I think. “It's all in muscle memory. Riding a bicycle is like... like... like riding a bicycle. Just get on, it'll all come back.

I do. It does.

It is an ordeal getting out of the neighborhood. That construction site, for example. Right in front of the little development. But after that, the road into town is one straight shot.. a breeze, right? I turn the corner.

Hmmm, this seat is a bit tough. Not like a usual bicycle seat, more like... I donno, I'll think of it in a minute.

It's a mountain bike, with more gears than a Spirograph. The problem? They don't work. So I'm stuck in third. Kinda tough uphill. Downhill's a breeze. (Wouldn't ANY gear be a breeze downhill?) The trip to town is mostly uphill.

It's about 2 miles. After the first, it hits me. And then hits me again. It's the Mongolian horse! This bicycle is the Mongolian horse. The same wooden seat. The same slapping. The same pain... it only gets worse.

By the time I reach town, I can't take it anymore. Actually, I can't take it anymore way BEFORE I reach town... but I have no choice. Once inside, I dismount and walk... in the rain.

The town is interesting, but seems devoid of restaurants... or at least cafes or snacking places. Come on! This is France! I should be able to get my pan with foie gras. Ou est ma petite boulangerie? And it's raining.

RULE Number 32 for International Travel:

When in a strange city, and it's

1. Raining
and
2. Afternoon or later

Stop into a bar, ask the locals what to drink, and make some new friends.

There are no bars. Maybe I'm just in the wrong part of town.

Actually, I like the town. It's interesting, laid out with the ocean on one side the river-border with Suriname on the other. Some of the buildings are old colonial-looking, but with Caribbean colors. A beautiful mix.

There are a couple parks by the ocean. By the river is what looks like a penal colony... a huge area fenced in with a thick metal fence. Near it is a tourist center. I pick up some free stuff, and a bottle of something alcoholic. Then, it's off to the Shopping Mall... the only place I know I can eat. I have a sandwich and buy some beer for the house.

The walking gives me some relief from the anal agony. I've moved from torturous down to simple torment. Ah, what a relief!

I stop in a bookstore. “Vous avez quelque chose en anglais?” I ask.

The proprietor, a gray-haired man who looks like a fat nice professor, shakes his head, shrugs and says Je suis désolé. That, I can understand.

The sun lowers in the sky. I'm taking the crew out to dinner tonight, so I have to get back. Get back! Oh no! It means riding that bicycle again.

The pain! THE PAIN!! I don't think I can make it. The trip to town was all uphill. The trip BACK is also all uphill. How is that possible????

My lower cheeks are so raw it hurts to think about them. I try to stand and pedal, but the seat is too high. If I stand, I squash my gonads. If I sit, it's a bloody gluteus. I opt for the trade. GONADS-GONADS-GONADS-GLUTEUS-GLUTEUS-GLUTEUS-GONADS-GONADS-GLUTEUS-GLUTEUS-GONADS-GLUTEUS-GONADS-GLUTEUS... I'm gonna die!

I don't die.

As soon as I get back, I head for the shower. I crouch under the running water, on all fours, with the full cool flow trained on my tattered tush. I run cool water over my netherparts. It's isn't long (enough) before I hear

Mykel! Mykel! Are you here?”

I'll be right out!” I shout, standing up, shutting off the water, and wrapping a towel around my waist.

Marie is in the livingroom.

Are you okay, Mykel?” she asks. “It's a strange time to take a shower. I hope I didn't...” she searches for the word... “interromps ce que vous faisiez.”

For once I wasn't doing THAT!

FLASH AHEAD: To thank my hosts in my couch-surfing life, I like to take them out to eat. It's a way to get to know the local cuisine, and say thanks at the same time. I always allow them to chose the restaurant. Tonight there's going to be another guest, Alec, an interesting French guy who lived off the coast of Africa for 10 years. My kind of company.

Not only will Alec be our excellent dinner companion, he'll be giving us a car! I shit you not. He just lets us use his car for a few days to drive all over... experience French Guiana life... and what a life it will be. Of course I'll treat him to dinner too.

So we plan that second night's dinner. I can picture in my mind exactly what's going to happen.

Where should we go?” I'll ask.

Anywhere you want to go?” will come the response.

You live here!” I'll say, “I don't know what's around here. Where should we go?”

The shopping mall,” I'll say

There will be laughter.

I'll have to make something up.

I'm wrong.

They know exactly where to go. In my wildest imagination, I couldn't have created this place.

As we enter the main room, we're shown a nice table in the back, under a thatched roof. I sit on the bench in front of a table... and stand quickly.

Ouch!” THE PAIN!

I fold my jacket and put it on the bench beneath my battered buttocks.

Sitting gingerly, I check out the menu options. 

Oh yeah! My kind of restaurant. So much to choose from. A rat, an armadillo, an unnamable, a dog-pig, a wolf-pig or a chipmunk. So many rodents, so little time. The solution? We need to order one of everything and just share.

I'm sorry,” the waitress tells us, “we're out of Cochon Bwa.”

Shit, there goes the wolf-pig. The rest of us pick one each from the picture menu. Here's the Tatou, even better than it looks! Everything tastes terrific! Waddaya expect? It's FRENCH Guiana.

This is us at dinner. With Alec, the guy who loaned us his car!

Dinner is a fascinating combination of weird food, and stories about a decade off the coast of Africa and life now in French Guiana. I love these people. I could sit and listen to them all night... if I could only SIT.

After dinner, we plan to drop Alec at his house and head back to Florianville. We pile in the car. It's raining. I roll up the window. It doesn't roll. Marie turns on the wipers. They don't wipe. The car jerks along like it's got fewer gears than the bicycle.

But it's a car, and Alec gave it to us. And beggars can't blah blah. Okay, it's bad luck. But is it bad enough to relieve THE CURSE??? I don't think so. The people are too nice, and the car at least WORKS. Something BIG has got to happen.

You'd better get some sleep,” Florian tells me. “Tomorrow is the canoe trip. You'll need your full power.”

Thanks for the info,” I tell him. “I'm looking forward to it... Can I stand up in the canoe? I don't know if I'll be ready to sit.”

He smiles and shakes his head. “I don't think so,” he says, “but you will have a chance to get into the water. It's a better swim than our pool.”

I go upstairs and check out the internet. See what I can find out about our swamp adventure.

Ah, here's a story about The Toothpick Fish found in the freshwater areas around the Amazon. It's not really a fish, but an... er... interesting parasite.

The head and teeth of a TOOTHPICK FISH
It likes to swim up the urethra and lodge itself inside. Getting rid of it requires a delicate and painful operation. I don't think I'll be going into the water.

This is getting long (TNWSS). And there's so much to tell. Of all the countries on this trip, I spend the LEAST time in French Guiana... but I do the most!

How 'bout a lesson in Nenge Tongo? A mudbath carnival? A trip to the bush? A jailcell where Papillion languished, carving his penname into the concrete? A Hmong village? A marketplace with fruit that looks like body parts?

As for the canoe trip through the most dangerous swamp in South America? Take a look at this:

You'll just have to stay tuned for the details.

-end-

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

ENTERING FRENCH GUIANA FROM THE FRONT or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 12

by Mykel Board


ENTRY 12

Nov 12, 2013- 
Nov. 15, 2013

ENTERING FRENCH GUIANA FROM THE FRONT.

[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York, smooth flight to Miami, promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport” for the whole trip. $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) The Miami trip goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem was a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets were rivers. There were waves in the pool. I got wet. Very wet.

Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport, take me around drinkin'. Then, I move South to San Fernando T'dad, have some fun adventures, meet a Goddess... er... Empress of a girl. Go back to the airport and fly to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150US. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is literally (741 feet) a high point.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana were adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rained. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! I'll be a roadie! Mykel tours with a band... again. Yowsah! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. (Hard to imagine, huh?) Two drummers had agreed to tour with them. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend does not answer emails. I cannot play drums. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get the poor son, Jose, to chauffeur me around, as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band ADHD. I can see he hopes for rain... it's an excuse to stay home. Often, there is rain.

Then it's on to French Guyana. There, Florian, the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. Two blog entries ago, I'd just arrived in French Guiana.

BUT, there was a lot I left out of the Suriname adventure. I did a little back-tracking track last time: My Chinese Restaurant Lunch Terrorist Adventure©, and the general nastiness of my being A BAD GUEST. Suriname was great, except for the rain... the goddamn rain. Every day.

This isn't rainy season,” Jose assured me.

Yeah, right.

Dad tells me that Saint Lauren, my destination in French Guiana, is “very primitive. It's just dirt roads and mud huts. And crime... wow!” He says something in Dutch.

It means criminals up the wazoo,” translates Jose.

Sounds like my kind of place,” I tell him.

He laughs.

So it's off to FRENCH GUIANA. I take a small boat there. The captain lets me choose “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. Once landed at immigrtion, I annoy the white immigration officer by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and try to hustle me away. I'm as hungry as shit and don't know where I am.]

Usually, I can't get out of immigration fast enough. But today, I need their help. Usually, immigration officers want to chat, either to be friendly or to insinuate that I should be slipping them a few extra shekels before they'll release me to their proud homeland. Usually, they speak English because that's what the tourists speak. BUT, this is French Guiana! If there are tourists, they are French. The customs officers are also French --NOT French Guianans, but French French. You know, like white people.

[NOTE: Unlike England and Holland who release their colonies into independence, France absorbs its colonies. It makes them prefectures... like states. Giving the locals citizenship and forcing them to pay national taxes. It's similar to what the U.S. did to Hawaii, except the Hawaiians got to vote on it.]

I try my best with the immigration guys.

J'ai faim,” I say. “Où puis-je trouver un place pour manger?”

One of the officers looks skyward... like an American teen just about to say Whatever! He brushes his hand vaguely toward the street in front of the little customs hut.

Tout droit deux rues puis tournez à gauche...” he says, “ou à droite.”

So, back-packed and computer-cased, I walk tout droit through St. Lauren. The place looks like a full-fledged city. The roads are all paved. No mud huts. Buildings, stores... no bars to speak of. And so far no criminals wazoo or otherwise.

I count the rues and at deux I turn gauche. I walk among the buildings. No food shops of any kind. Just some wide streets with a bookshop on one side, what looks like an automobile parts store on the other. Again I walk tout droit. A shopping center... a mall... appears out of nowhere. I forget what it's called... some letter combination... C and J maybe.... It's a mass of bright yellow buildings, as ugly-- if a bit smaller-- as anything you'd see in New Jersey. I enter the complex and find a bakery/sandwich shop.

Inside, two black women take care of the counter. In their early 20s, they wait on a bearded young white man in his early 30s. Behind the counter sit a few refrigerators. Right outside the restaurant is a small enclosed courtyard for people to sit, eat and diddle around on the internet. I'll sit there after I buy my sandwich.

Vous avez Quel genre de sandwichs?” I ask.

She says something. The only words I can understand are O and avec fromage. To avoid ordering a dingleberry special, I say, “Je voudrais l'une avec fromage.”


That's when I notice the drink. It's in the freezer in a soft plastic pouch. It looks like a picture of a Durian on the front. The drink is called JACK'S FRUIT. Most of the label is in German! How can I pass up something like that?

I take my sandwich (in a bagu-ette, of course) and my Jack's Fruit drink (German edition) out to a table in the court- yard. I pull a chair up, open my computer, then suddenly notice the people around me. They're so white it hurts my eyes.

While there were mostly Caribbeans on the street-- Black, Indian, no Asians-- at every table here sits some white guy or girl... most in their late 20s to early 30s... all with a computer typing away. I haven't been with so many white people since I started this trip. What's up with that?

[NOTE: In the future, I'll ask my hosts about this. They'll tell me: Teachers, Doctors and Gendarme. Those are the white jobs in French Guiana. The French government pays French French (as opposed to Caribbean French) big bucks to go out to the colonies to teach, doctor or gendarme. That's why they're there.

There is no medical school in French Guiana. French is not the native language of most of the French Guianese. (That language is Nenge Tongo. More about that later.) So they need French French to teach it to them. And this is the Caribbean! You need authoritarian people to be gendarmes! Except for a few politicians in a few islands, Caribbean people do not have the energy or the personality to be cops. So you gotta import 'em!]

So here I am, in a den of imports, probably teachers, since the doctors probably have to work and these guys are too young and hirsute to be cops. In my pocket, along with a very primitive map to where I'M GOING, I have directions:

Prendre la route de Saint Jean, passer le pont de Balaté (le pont jaune) et rouler 200m. Prendre à droite l'entrée de la résidence des rivages et tout de suite à gauche dans l'allée de la résidence. La première maison est la bonne. (n°1)

At my table, I connect to the internet and try to Google my destination. No luck. I finish the sandwich, and Jack's Fruit®. (The drink is delicious-- just like Durian.) Then, I walk over to the bearded young man facebooking at the next table.

Ou est la route de Saint Jean?” I ask.

He gives me directions that include highway and ne pas loin d'ici. And that's all I understand. I ask him to dessiner une carte. He smiles, pulls out a pen and scribbles a map on a napkin.

[NOTE: I know the image of the French. The arrogant, xenophobic, annoying FROG. The unhelpful, insulting, brusque, cheese-eater. This image is RIGHT-- for about half the people of France. The rest are friendly, helpful, funny, down-to-earth. In French Guiana-- don't forget the locals too, are French-- the percentage is different. All the French, except the immigration officers, are great! There isn't one person I meet in the country... er... prefecture (except the immigration officers) who I wouldn't want as a next door neighbor.]

My new bearded white friend, gets up from behind his laptap, walks with me to the exit and points to the street I take to the route de Saint Jean.

I put away my own computer, pick up my backpack, thank my new friend, and walk... and walk. I go to the first street. Turn left. Then walk three very long blocks up to what looks like a main street. I turn right on the main street and look back at the map. On this street is an arrow that points... somewhere off the page.

I walk some more. Another long block. And another. Both the computer and the backpack gain weight with every step. My shoulders are in the clutches of a VULCAN DEATH GRIP.


I don't even know if I'm going in the right direction. I walk along the highway. Looking for someone to check with.

[NOTE: If I need proof of my oft-stated contention that I am NOT a man, but a myn... here it is. I ALWAYS ask directions. Not only once, but twice, thrice. Whenever I'm out of eyeshot of the previous askee... I ask again. So take note, you accusers of macho male-chauvinism or whatever it's called in the 21st century. I am NOT one!]

There is a guy down the road pasting up a sign, an advertisement for some kind of soap. He looks like a Caribbean beatnik, tanned, dark shaggy hair, a scruffy beard. He's wearing overalls and handles a large stick full of paste.

I show him my map and ask him, “Je vais le droit chemin?”

He puts down the stick, nods, points in the direction I was going, and then says something back to me. I know he's speaking French, but I have no idea what he's talking about.

I shrug.

He points to his truck.

Oui, beau camion,” I say.

He shakes his head. I thought I was giving him a compliment. Maybe I said something bad.

I shrug again.

Mykel! Mykel!” a voice comes to me like a dream. Uh oh, that Durian drink was spiked! Now, I'm hearing voices.

I turn to where “the voice” is coming from. There's an attractive white girl on a bike, riding up behind me.

Are you Mykel?” she asks.

She looks like neither a government official nor an American feminist, so I answer, “Yep, that's me.”

It's me, Marie,” she says getting off the bike.

I run up to her and give her a hug and a huge-but-chaste kiss on the cheek.

I've been trying to speak to this guy,” I tell her, “I have your directions here, but I just wanted to check.”

The guy says something to her. She laughs and then speaks to me. “You're about a kilometer away,” she says.

I look skyward, thinking about my pain.

But that man says he will take you in his truck” she continues. “You only have to wait until the poster is posted.”

She talks to him again. Then to me.

You can meet me in a shop right near where we live. He knows where it is.”

Great!” I say to her.

Merci beaucoup,” I say to the posterer, “very beaucoup.”

And before long we're in the truck and out on the small highway that is la route de Saint Jean.

It seems like miles before we turn off the road, drive through a construction site, and end up at a small shop near a traffic circle. I wonder if I should give the guy a tip... he's so nice. But he's French. Ask any New York waiter or waitress... the French don't know shit about tipping. They say tipping's an insult. The last thing I'd want to do is insult my new friend.

I just thank him again, shake hands, watch his truck fade into the distance and sit down in front of the store to wait.

She won't show up. I think completely irrationally, “I know she won't show up. It's all a trick to get rid of me.” After another 10 minutes of thinking this, the bike appears with Marie on it, wearing a smile as big as my backpack.

The house, as it turns out, is right around the corner from the store. A two story affair with a side entrance, a kitchen, living room, upstairs and with an extra bed, “office,” bedroom, back yard with a swimming pool! Though not the kind of pool you're likely to meet in say, California.

(this picture is from later in my stay-- first time I wore a bathing suit on the entire trip)  
Besides Florian, Marie shares the house with two cats and a tank of goldfish. My room, it turns out, is in an open space upstairs... a double mattress on a balcony, next to “the office.” Key benefit... MOSQUITO NETTING.

While Marie shows me the layout, I hear what sounds like pebbles on a tin roof... first a few... then louder, faster, harder.

It's the rain,” she says. “I don't understand it. It's every day. It shouldn't be. This isn't the rainy season.”

Florian is on his way back from work. Both he and Marie are teachers. Marie is in elementary school. Florian teaches the older kids. My connection?

Florian is the brother of Simon... If you read LAST YEAR'S AFRICA TRIP, you'll remember that Simon is one of the guys I visited in Strasbourg in 2012... and winner of Mykel's Best Friend Award for 2009... or was it 2008?

Besides being more fun than a coffee enema, Simon is a great cook, and took care of Marilyn and Jody in that capacity for a few weeks on Fire Island.

If you'd guess brothers would have similar personalities and cooking abilities, you'd guess right. Marie is Florian's girlfriend, a co-owner of this house. If you'd guess she, too, has cooking ability and a wicked sense of humor, you'd guess right.

[Aside: One of the many things I like about writing is the power it gives you. You can perform deeds impossible for other mortals. Want to see me swallow steel girders and shit the Eiffel Tower? POW! There it is! How'd you like that? Ok stockbroker, YOU try it! So, it's time to bring Florian into the picture. POW! There he is!]

Just now there is a rustling at the door. It's Florian, returning from school. (See how easy that was?)

I haven't seen the guy since he, Simon, sis, Mom and Dad were together in New York for a Drink Club orgy. No, that's wrong. In 2012, I was in Strasbourg having dinner at the Hebtigs house. It was there that Florian made the fatal mistake of telling me he was moving to French Guiana.

[WARNING: Never tell me you're moving anywhere! If you do, chances are I'll show up on your front porch-- in the rain.]

Now, Florian looks exactly the same as I remember him, only a bit wetter. Not bronzed as I expect, just this friendly white guy.

Hey Mykel,” he says in English. “You have any trouble getting here.”

Non,” I reply in my best French. “J'ai été très facile.”

He laughs.

I think you'd better speak English,” he says. “At least here. Otherwise you might embarrass yourself.”

What'd I say?” I wonder... but don't ask.

That night, Florian makes dinner... lots of fruits... everything fresh from the market. Fish just cooked at home... and it's a good thing I love seafood. I have it almost every one of my 7 days in the country... er... prefecture.

We talk about plans for my week in French Guyana. I'm going to take a canoe trip through the Amazon swamps, go to a huge festival sponsored by the school, take a class in Nenge Tongo-- the local language (a weird mix of African languages, Dutch and English... an escaped slave creole), and explore the exiled prisoners camp in the center of town.

Here we are, the prince with the king and queen of the castle.

But it's getting late, and I'm really tired. I thank my hosts and go up to my bed. I crawl under the mosquito netting and tuck it in after me. I fall asleep quickly but awaken to thunder and the pat-pat-pat-pat of falling rain on the roof. I fall asleep again. This time I'm awakened by an earthquake.

The mosquito netting is shaking. Waving back and forth. The mattress shakes with a thump. Then again. Then the netting shakes. Then a thump. I wonder if the house is going to tumble down around me. Should I put on my pants? I don't want to be discovered dead in my underwear. I don't... and I'm not.

It is not an earthquake. It's one of the cats. He loves the mosquito netting and jumps from the mattress to the netting... crawls up the side... then to the netting... then drops down on the mattress again. I push against the netting to dislodge the cat. He thinks I'm playing and digs his claws into my thumb.

I pull my bloody hand away and squeeze my body into a safe zone in the center of the bed. Next thing I know, it's morning. I'm awakened by the shuffling downstairs. Then a whirr. I crawl from beneath the netting, put on my pants and head downstairs.

The whir is the sound of blender blades turning a myriad of fresh fruits into fresh juice. Next to the blender is a teflon frypan, and a pitcher full of white batter.

I hope you hate crepes,” Florian tells me as he leaves the kitchen. “That's what we're having for breakfast.”

I laugh, trying to act like crepe-making is part of my normal breakfast routine. Actually, I love crepes, but have only ordered them from waiters with mustaches. I never actually made one.

After Florian is out of eyeshot, I confess my ignorance to Marie. She opens several packets of things... each wrapped in individual wax paper pouches.

Here are chicken pieces,” she says opening a packet. “And here is pork.”

One by one, she continues to open the packets and display the contents.

This one has cheese,” she continues. “This one has jam. And here are pieces of fruit: pineapples, apples, pears...” and something I didn't catch. It looks like cat fur. I don't ask.

First you spread out the flour on the frypan like this...” she pours the batter onto the pan. “Then you put in the ingredients,” she takes some jam and puts it in the center of the crepe.

Then you wait a minute, and finally roll up the crepe and put it in a plate.” She does it with perfection. “Now you try,” she tells me.

I pour the batter into the pan. It sizzles and bubbles but soon lies flat, very crepe-like.

Which ingredients should I put in?” I ask her.

Whatever you like?” she says.

So I throw in a few pieces of pork, some chicken bits, some pear slices, and cover the whole thing with jam.

Marie laughs. Laughs harder. “You put pork and jam together?”

You said put in what ever you like,” I answer.

Florian!” she yells. “Mykel made a crepe with pork, chicken and jam!” Then she laughs more.

It's supposed to be what I like, right?” I say, stubbornly trying to defend myself.

Florian comes out of the bedroom, looks at my crepe and also laughs out loud.

Wise guys.

Okay, they think they can laugh at my Poulet-Porc Avec de la Gelée. I'll show them... Here come my magic powers at the keyboard. Pow!

The rain comes... hard!

--end (more next month)

Oh yeah, besides my great hosts, I owe some special thanks to Assia Franz, my friend and French teacher in New York. I couldn't have managed even this without her.


[You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the RSS link at the bottom or by joining the Yahoo group for readers of Mykel Board's rants

You might also want to check the blog of Mykel Board's Columns .

WARNING: The Column Blog is neither PC nor PG. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should stay away. You have been warned.]