I’m writing this book instead of my best friend, Oliver. He always gets told to write a book, but he’s a talker not a writer. Writing is ‘work’ and he doesn’t like work. Besides, (his words) he’s too much in the present to think or even remember the past. Writing is for hard working, overthinking people that are so behind time they think people still read in this age of highly edited fast moving digital screens. That’s why I, the ‘overthinker’, am taking up the task for all the eager people (that do like to read) waiting for him to write the book, that will never (otherwise) come.
Although there is no way I can do justice to the original man and his stories, I can tell you some stories from my perspective and of the time I spent with him, which is about 5 years. And oh yeah, I will try to make it long but will probably keep it short, because my writing style is way too condensed to turn anything into something as long as a book.
Introduction – Life as a Duck
I remember bicycling through the park on my way to school one day during the very dark and stressful time of my seemingly endless final high school exam period. There I noticed the ducks (that had always been there) in the little ponds. As I watched them while rushing to the exam hall, with 5 geography books stored somewhere in the short-term memory of my brain, I thought ‘If only I were a duck’. Ducks don’t need to go to school, work, take exams, or any of that. They can just swim, walk or fly around. Their food and water is free. They don’t need to worry about anything. They’ve got their duck friends with them, just playing in the park all day, doing whatever the duck they want. …I so want to be a duck!
At the time I thought it was impossible to live like a duck. I thought the only way for me to survive was to get a university degree and then work hard at getting, having and keeping a ‘good’ job. In my experience money was scarce and hard to get. It took much to earn and little to spend. I had not seen any other way of living, so I naturally assumed the rest of my life would be filled with slave jobs to pay for monthly bills in order to barely survive until I die (or retire). If the job is ‘good’ enough, maybe even with a nice house and kids and some yearly vacation to look forward to. Only to escape this cloudy, cold, dull, sobering country for a few weeks.
Fortunately, a few years later, I was lucky enough to meet Oliver and was shown the possibility of a whole new way of living life… Life as a Duck.
Chapter 1 – Meeting Oliver, master of ducking
I met the extraordinary Mr. Happy, as Oliver’s t-shirt suggests, in the summer of 2009.
I went to Thailand for 3 months after finishing a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Wageningen, the lamest university town in the Netherlands.
On the 9th day of my travels I wondered the streets of Chiang Mai in search of a hostel after I had abandoned the tourist crowd, organizing trips at the agency our night bus had taken us from Ayutthaya at 5 o’clock in the morning.
The streets were empty. I took out a map from my backpack and tried to pin down my location. All of a sudden a scooter with a curly haired guy in a green t-shirt with a monkey cartoon on it, passed me by and stopped. ‘ What are you looking for?!’ he asked in a playful voice. ‘Uhm, Julie Guesthouse…’ I replied. (I was suggested this popular hostel in Chiang Mai by a few notes of other travellers which was all I had to sort of know what I was doing.) ‘Oh, I know where that is! Hop on!’ he said as he pointed to the empty space at the back of his scooter. ‘…Uh ok, thanks.’
This is how I met Oliver.
Chapter 2 – Getting together with Oliver
Two days later I saw Oliver again. He was running around and talking to everyone sitting in the garden restaurant of Julie Guesthouse.
‘Hey Laura! Michael and I are going to look for elephants, wanna come?’ Again I said: ‘uh, ok!’
I learned later that I was the only one of many asked before, who had said yes.
Until then I had learned that Oliver never stopped talking and was a bit of an attention loving clown, which is not a bad first impression. He was energetic, helpful and fun. Much better than most travelers I had met so far. But that day on the scooter I found out something I didn’t expect. The more we talked, the more I realized exactly how similar we were. I had never in my entire life met someone even slightly like-minded and remember thinking: omg there ARE other people like me! If I can meet a random Hungarian/Canadian in Thailand who thinks just like me, imagine how many more people there must be like me, thank god. I must have just been living in the wrong place all this time! …Later I learned that had probably just been wishful thinking because I have actually not met anyone like myself again since then.
The next day I got an email from Pascal, a Belgian boy my age I had met in Ayutthaya before I got on the bus. He was now also in Chiang Mai and wanted to meet up. I said: oh ok!
He came to Julie Guesthouse and we waited for Oliver and some girl he was going to meet. Her name was Trisha, she had just come from Canada, was in her 30s and was recommended to meet Oliver by a mutual friend back in Toronto. She was very into Oliver from the first moment they met, and didn’t really interact with me or Pascal. Together we set off to Chiang Rai and Pai. Pascal and I talked about nearly everything on the 4 hour bus ride, since he was from the Flemish part of Belgium we talked in Dutch. He was studying medicine and was a normal nice good guy. What more can a girl ask for nowadays? A few seats behind us were Oliver and Trisha, all over each other.
That night I shared a double room with Pascal while Oliver and Trisha shared the other double room available in the guesthouse in Chiang Rai.
I slept like a baby, but the others had been through different experiences, I slowly found out the next morning. Trisha was clearly upset and grumpy. ‘Oliver is such an asshole’ was all I got from her. I was unsure about the reason for her sudden turn around towards Oliver, but it must have been because of something that had happened during the night. Pascal seemed also a bit grumpy, he complained he hadn’t slept much because of all the noises coming from Trisha and Oliver’s room. According to him Trisha had experienced multiple orgasms and hadn’t expressed them quietly. Oliver on the other hand was still as always in an uplifting funny mood.
I decided not to ask and to spend as much time away from bad moods, so this time I sat next to Oliver in the bus. We went to some markets at the golden triangle, the border with Burma and Laos, and Trisha was getting more and more annoyed with Oliver during the day. Especially while waiting for him to come back from a border crossing into Myanmar to look for the cheapest laptop in the world. By the time we got back to the guesthouse Trisha and Pascal had decided they did not want to go on travelling with Oliver and would leave at 7am the next day. I did not share their problem with Oliver and as Pascal was trying to convince me to come with them he started crying and then told me he’s in love with me. the whole thing was confusing.
That night I shared the room with Oliver since Trisha got her own room and Pascal was acting weird. We practiced massage techniques on each other before Oliver moved to his thermarest on the floor. The next morning Pascal and Trisha were gone. So now it was just me and Oliver going to Pai.
This is how I got together with Oliver.
Chapter 3 – Burning man
I already knew that Oliver was going to America soon, because he was going to go to Burning Man, a festival in the Nevada desert I hadn’t heard of before, but according to Oliver, who had been ones before, the ‘best most amazing festival ever’.
In yet another attempt of Oliver explaining the awesomeness of burning man to a random traveler, the idea came up for the first time: ‘Laura, why don’t you come with me?!’
Yes again, after a slightly longer ‘uhm…’ came ‘ok!’
So here I was on a plane to San Francisco after only 3 weeks in Thailand instead of 3 months. Thinking: how am I going to explain this to my mother?
“Mum, I’m in America! No, not in Thailand anymore. I met a 38 year old guy, he’s really cool and nice, he invited me to burning man. Don’t worry, if I don’t like it here I will go back and catch my return flight to Amsterdam in November.”
Turned out I did not catch that flight, something my little sister still holds against me. I did however get back to Amsterdam on another flight, 1 year later.
So yes, burning man was A-mazing and did fulfill all its expectations and more. The best part of it all was sneaking in. This is always the best part of anything to me, no matter how great the event itself. Unfortunately I’ve sworn never to tell anyone exactly what we did, but I can tell you this much. This particular sneak in was different from the normal ‘full frontal technique’, which is basically the technique Oliver had tried the year previous with his friend Ray: running in through the desert like mad men. They almost succeeded, but not quite and it became apparent this strategy is close to impossible with all the security, infrared cameras, laser sensors and patrolling trucks all around the area. So when they told me about their failed attempt last time, I got an idea. And with 3 criminal minds on my side it was easy to figure out the rest and the idea became a well thought out plan, which involved calling 911 and more importantly, worked!
Some people say sneaking in is the same as stealing, but I don’t feel that way. By sneaking in (or out) you don’t hurt or take away from another, as with stealing. Life is too easy simply paying your way into everything. The best things in life are free and the lower your budget the higher your chance for adventures. Sneaking into places breaks conventional behaviour and thought patterns. It could one day save your life. Every sneak in is different and you never know how it’s going to be done before hand. You have to be creative and act in the moment. The only thing you need is to know is that there is always a way. Even if I have tickets, if I’m in the mood, I still sneak in. I’ve snuck into festivals, cinemas, concerts, swinger clubs, zoos, theme parks, clubs, ferries, trains (on the outside), buffets and more. Oliver even snuck on a plane; admirable! ;)
Burning man was filled with art, love, inspiration, expression and freedom. Besides all the good experiences I had my first doubts about Oliver. He broke my heart before I knew he could and I knew for the first time I was emotionally attached and thus in for trouble…
Chapter 4 - $300 car
I soon learned about Oliver’s rules, or rather, philosophical ideas. There was for example the ‘five year rule’. It meant that he would not under any circumstance be in a relationship with a girl for more than five years. Why? Because there was nothing more to gain or learn from each other after that point. Five years seemed so far away to me that I didn’t mind this rule. We naturally lived ‘one day at a time’. I joked that I have a similar rule called the ‘4 years and 11 months rule’. A few other of Oliver’s ideas were: having 9 wives, having only one plan: to have no plans… The best way to make money is to save money, and his motto: ‘never give up!’
I learned about the working of this motto pretty early on. Not long after Burning Man we were looking to buy a car. At the time we were couchsurfing with Victor, a Russian, vegetarian, nudist, scientologist, Jewish control freak, with interesting rules about leaving the bathroom door open while showering and separating the forks and spoons in the dishwasher. Which I was not used to being yelled at for. We had an interesting time and had made several trips. I remember getting lost in the Redwood forest at night, getting boiled in one pool and frozen in another at the Harbin hot springs, almost throwing up at an S&M party in San Francisco, flashing my bra next to Monica’s (another couchsurfer also hosted by Victor) boobs over the highway and learning ‘auditing’ to clear my ‘engrams’ in the church of Scientology. Despite all the fun, we were ready to move on.
Then, one day we went to the beach in Santa Cruz and there it was, the perfect car, exactly what we’d been looking for, with a ‘for sale $300’ sign on it.
I started calling the number that was written on the rear window. No answer. I tried again. No answer. ‘Keep calling,’ Oliver reassured me. I kept on ringing. An hour or so later someone finally answered. ‘I’m calling about the car…’ I explained. ‘Yes, I guessed so,’ a slightly annoyed voice told me. ‘I don’t have time now. I’m busy with my son. Call again later, bye!’ He hung up on me! ‘Call again,’ Oliver said firmly, ‘tell him we are only here for the day and have the cash right here with us.’ I rang again and hustled. He had all kinds of reasons not to sell the car today. ‘I’m out with my son, the car is barely working, it can break down any day.’ I told him it’s OK for us if it just lasts a couple of weeks, we are tourist wanting to make a US road trip and don’t care if we break down half way. He finally agreed to meet us and with 300 dollars in the pocket the sale was made in less than minutes. To our surprise, he thanked us for being so persistent on the phone, literally thousands of people had been calling him but he had been putting it off, not wanting to deal with it. ‘I was lazy, but you guys, you just WOULDN’T GIVE UP!’ Oliver looked at me with a wink. ;)
Two days later we were on our way to LA with 2 ride-sharers from craigslist and a car packed so full there was hardly room for air. Our guests were Dory and Bill. Dory was a 40 year old hot dominatrix with cowboy boots under a small black leather skirt and corset, topped with big breasts, a face of makeup and long blonde hair. Bill was her submissive wannabe partner. The car was filled with mostly Dory’s suitcases, packed with costumes, whips, handcuffs, wigs, dildos and more. She had no money to pay for gas but assured us she could pay in Los Angeles, because she had a job that night. On the way we really started to notice the danger and problem with our Saturn 1996. It was almost impossible to change gear, especially from neutral to 1^^st^^ was a battle.
I had passed for my driver’s license exam just one day before I left for Thailand. Now I was cruising on the highway, in my own car, for the first time, in AMERICA. I felt so happy.
After dropping off Bill we headed over to Dory’s customer, an address in Beverly Hills, Mulholland drive, one of the most famous and expensive neighbourhoods in LA. The villa overlooking the city was a huge luxurious playboy mansion, often rented for porn shoots. Oliver being an ex porn producer himself was asking all the right questions and quickly became friends with the owner who let us stay for the night. As we enjoyed the lit up swimming pool and the even more lit up city (under our feet), Dory was working hard at whipping a police officer, who paid $450 for being insulted by mistress Angelica, as Dory called herself.
The next day Dory unnecessarily begged us to drive her around some more and of course we absolutely didn’t mind, since it was our plan to have no plans and thus had nothing else to do. We slept in an underground parking lot in the heart of LA where Dory’s crush worked as a guard. He asked to borrow the car one day and we warned him about the gear shift. When he returned the car he asked us for 10 bucks… How come? Well, he was a hobby mechanic and couldn’t stand driving the car in its condition, so had a look under the hood. He pulled out some tree leafs and filled up the clutch with $10 worth of clutch fluid. The car was now working perfectly! We did not mind reimbursing those 10 dollars. (Especially since the previous owner had warned us with his false belief that it would be 4000 dollars to repair…)
[* Chapter 5 - Vegas *]
About a week and many crazy experiences later, Dory booked a hotel room by mistake on Priceline (online auction). ‘I made an offer I didn’t think would be accepted, but it did and now I have to go, but I can’t’ she explained. ‘You go instead of me.’
So that night we stayed in the Sahara, a big fancy hotel/casino in Las Vegas. Driving through flashing lights in all colours, I felt like we were in Disneyland. I remember great shows, toilets, clubs, roller coasters on top of skyscrapers and of course casinos. We didn’t pay for any of it though. We gambled with leftover cents in the slot machines. Once we turned cents into dollars we doubled it on the Russian roulette table and cashed out. We got into crazy rides and scary free falls by making friends with a man in the elevator of the hotel, who happened to be the boss. We snuck into the clubs which all had long waiting lines, exclusive guest lists and strict dress codes. Now let me explain the toilet thing. Oliver has this thing for toilets and I’ve noticed a lot of guys share this strange passion. They can talk for hours about their best toilet experiences and all the standards a great toilet should meet. Girls may think this is a joke, but it’s not. It’s serious business! So we were in this particular shopping mall called The Venetian and Oliver had to go… Instead of looking for the toilet sign, he asked someone working in the mall ‘excuse me, I’m looking for the best toilet in the Venetian…’ To my surprise he actually seemed to know about this ‘best toilet’. Was this an actual thing? At the other end of the mall we asked again for directions. ‘Oh, follow me! I’m going there too. It’s my favourite washroom!’ Oh dear God, another toilet fanatic. Finally we arrived at this famous, #1 award winning bathroom, yes really, there is such a thing and I’m not an expert but according to the boys it had deserved its trophy.
Chapter 6 – Swinger club
One of Oliver’s nicknames is Oli-orgy, for the obvious reason that he loves orgies. Not just orgies of course, he loves life, people, sex, games, play, love and everything that’s free and for free. Nothing wrong with that. He had told me this from the start and I liked his honesty and open mindedness, it sounded fun and who doesn’t want to have fun? So, although I had my first vague feeling of doubt at burning man, I went along with it and soon found myself in a swinger club for the first time. It was a club just outside of LA called Freedom Acres, the place to be, since all other such clubs in the area had recently closed due to new regulations. I was quite pleasantly surprised. There was a dance floor, a stage, an all you can eat buffet, which I love and many different rooms with romantic set ups and lighting in some and more kinky accessories in others. The people were very friendly, intelligent, inclusive and interesting. I understood that for couples, this is a much more enjoyable place to go to on a Saturday night, than some loud, smoky club full of drunk singles. Here you can have a good time, even sex, with others and not worry about ‘losing’ your partner, since everybody already has a partner. And even though I understood all this, and was as a good looking 21 year old quite popular and able to do anything and anyone, I did not want any of it. I didn’t have the need or desire to touch and be touched by people I barely knew. Maybe some people are born monogamists, I don’t know. Or maybe my physical pain issues (later diagnosed as vestibulodynia) were the main reason for me not wanting it. Whatever my reason, what it came down to was that Oliver did want it and I didn’t. Hence the reason for our break up, four years later. I’m jumping ahead. Let’s go back to that night. The owner announced a ‘Mister Freedom Acres’ contest. Oliver signed up and when his song ‘lollipop’ started playing, his funny and charming improvised act unfolded and ended with a grand final hand-standed leg dance. The crowd cheered and Oliver won. I was proud and he was excited, not only about being Mr. Freedom Acres, but also because it meant we got two free entry tickets. Which meant we would be back a month later for the craziest Halloween night of my life, yet.
Chapter 7 – Baja California
In the meantime, we didn’t sit still. We drove all the way down to Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico. Along the way we hit Joshua Tree (National Park), by chance. As I was navigating our way south with the help of our GPS system (Tomtom) ‘borrowed’ from Walmart, I discovered a national park along the way and we decided to park there for the night and set up our (also ‘borrowed’ from Walmart) tent. When we arrived it was already dark which also meant we escaped the entry fee. When we woke up and crawled out of the tent the next morning we were in awe of the beautiful landscape. The rocks, colors, hills, flowers, squirrels and of course the trees, it was unlike any other place I’d ever seen. Most of the other campers were rock climbers and we quickly learned the sight was famous for UFO activity. Ever since then I’ve been keeping an eye out, but still haven’t seen any.
At 30km/h we drove down the long Mexican coast on a sandy rocky road, passing many big expensive 4wheel drives with flat tires, but our treasured Saturn ran smoothly. Finally it was our turn to pick up some hitchhikers. Back in the US we had tried to get rides a couple of times to no avail. The whole nation seemed to be in fear of terrorism. One time, after standing next to a busy road with slow driving traffic for 3 hours, police officers came to check on us. This time not to see if we were terrorists but because there had been several calls by people claiming to have seen a man hitch hiking with a potentially kidnapped 15 year old girl…
After the three French dreadlocked hippies, who could use a shower or at least deodorant, left our car. We picked up a couple that rode along with us for a couple of days. By the time we reached the end of the strip, a weather alarm was announced, a hurricane storm was approaching and tourists were fleeting. We were so excited and decided to stay. The waves of the Pacific were huge and Oliver couldn’t get enough of body surfing and jumping over and through the massive waves like a happy dolphin. Unfortunately (or maybe it’s for the better) the storm did not quite hit as the hurricane bent down.
Chapter 8 – Across the USA
Back in California we were facing our first ‘what now?’ moment. We were considering the option of me going back to Thailand. We had just come back from our 2^^nd^^ visit in Freedom Acres and although we had a great time, met some great couples and had a lot of fun, we had no sex with anyone. I think we were both starting to see that this world of swinging is not for me and it was Oliver who said it would be better if I went back to Thailand and caught my flight home. This made me feel sad, because I thought that we had something more important than that, but was wrong. As we were looking for a flight for me to Bangkok. I mentioned that I had always wanted to go to Argentina. Oliver looked up in surprise ‘me too!’ Really? I smiled. And learn Tango? ‘Yes!’
While by now I was looking for flight to south America, a light bulb went off in Oliver’s head. ‘Vacationstogo.com! I have to check this website for cruises someone once told me about.’ Two seconds later ‘omg, $199 to Panama, I’m calling!’ 1 minute later Oliver booked us an eight day cruise from Miami to Panama, leaving November 28, four weeks from now.
So in case you were wondering why we stayed together for so long when we already saw the end coming early on, this is part of the reason. We set on staying together at least till reaching Argentina, perhaps not realizing how large south America is and that we may never even make it there.
We set off to the East coast and again to share gas we had a ride-sharer coming along. A man from Chile who had been illegally in the US for 10 years, yet didn’t speak English. It was a mystery to me. It was explained in the ad that we would go slow and do some sightseeing along the way. Our new friend Carlos did not mind anything. Aside from his size, taking up quite a lot of precious space in the overflowing car, he was the perfect, easy going travel companion. Not ones did he complain. He slept in the front seat of the car, while we slept in the tent. He shared our love for McDonald’s dollar-menu (sorry, this was before I was educated on food) and was very happy to visit the Grand Canyon, and wait for us while we visited universities in Houston and the federal parliament/ congress in Austin (where Oliver was hoping to meet his hero Ron Paul). Even when we picked up another ride-sharer he did not budge. The worst of all things was that almost every morning around 6am, we were woken up by the cops, checking to make sure we’re no terrorists. Since Carlos had no official papers, he was terrified every time. It was amazing how they managed to find us every time, even when we were off road in the most remote places you can imagine. One officer informed us, there are satellites scanning around the whole of America keeping track of any ‘suspicious’ activity.
A couple of other things we did were sleeping in an abandoned by Katrina house in New Orleans, audition for a catwalk show, visit the JF Kennedy space center and scientology churches. After dropping off our ride-sharers, we couch surfed in the center of Miami, went to Bliss parties and Key West, spent Thanksgiving at a homeless shelter and in the end we sold the car, for $600 at the port in front of the ship. Ready for a new adventure.
Chapter 9 – Cruising
The Royal Caribbean cruise was our absolute paradise. Especially after sleeping either in the car or on a little mat in a small tent for 3 months. Our 5 star cabin upgraded to include a window, not only had a real BED, it also had 24 hour room service and housekeeping twice a day! The whole ship was a playground, with non-stop buffets, fitness center, spa, cinema, swimming pools, casino, theater shows, presentations from scientists, artists, writers and comedians, clubs, ballroom/gala nights, restaurants, even tango classes. There was literally too much to do, I was having serious FOMO while sleeping.
Cruises might be full of old people, they are not boring. Those retired people know what they’re doing, they’ve seen and done it all, they know what’s best. Most of them are well off due to successful careers. They choose to travel in style, comfort and entertainment, that’s wisdom. Besides it’s cheaper to live on a cruise than in an old age home nowadays plus it has better medical care. Apart from the smart and interesting retired folks there were a few younger couples we quickly befriended. On the onshore days we spend time with them mud-bathing in Colombia and zip lining in Costa Rica. In Jamaica we hitch hiked to the other side of the island to get a tour of the famous Hedonism Resort.
One night at 4am Oliver started feeling a little bit of room freeing up inside his stomach. He quickly called the alarm number. ‘Room service, how may I help you?’ a friendly voice on the other side of the line said. ‘Yes, uhm, I would like a dessert, what do you have?’ ‘Yes sir, we have cheesecake, apple strudel, carrot cake, cherry mousse, chocolate strudel and chocolate covered strawberries.’ ‘Oh, they all sound good, can I have three of each please,’ ‘Of course, sir. Anything else?’ ‘Uh, and a caesar salad to balance it out, thanks.’ Two minutes later there was a knock on the door and the cakes were piled up left and right of the bed. It was a sweet party.
Chapter 10 – Chupacabra hunting
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. We were dropped in Colon with all the junk we had collected over time, that had been nicely wrapped into plastic bags and carried from the car into the cabin by the lovely staff. There we stood with no idea of where to go, other than Argentina. To be honest, I didn’t even really know where Panama was. Next to Columbia was all I knew. Maybe we’ll go there tomorrow, I was sort of thinking. We took a bus to Panama City and ended up at the most popular backpacker hostel located in the old town, Casco Viejo. There I quickly realized we were likely not going to Columbia tomorrow, simply because there is no way, no road, just jungle and drug wars. The only way to get there was by boat or plane. When we came back from a stroll around the neighbourhood in search of food, we noticed an old painted camper parked across the street opposite to the hostel. Two tall men with funny looking beards were sitting next to it on the sidewalk, with beers in their hand, chatting with a group of backpackers. As we watched in curiosity, they called us over. The bearded guys were Phil and John, two brothers from Texas. They had come all the way down here, in this ancient looking vehicle, and were also heading to Argentina, ‘to the end of the world!’ as they preferred to call it. They were now facing the same problem as us ‘how to get to Columbia’, they told us they were planning to walk there. This seemed to us like a great idea and we immediately joined in. The next day we moved in with them as they offered us the space above the nose of Breezy, yes the thing even had a name. On the hood, Breezy had a big painting of the face some kind of scary animal and in big letters was written ‘Casadores de Chupacabra’ which is Spanish for Chupacabra Hunters. If, like me, you never heard of the chupacabra before, it is a mythical animal famous in Central and South America. According to Phil and John it was used by the Mexican president to divert attention away from himself and his corrupt scandals and to bring fear into the minds of the people. Supposedly, chupacabras kill livestock by attacking and sucking the blood of animals such as goats. Phil and John were not only hunting this physical creature that many farmers claim to have seen with their own eyes. They also hunted corruption, lies and bullshit, the second meaning of the chupacabra. All this was filmed to shoot a documentary that would fund their ongoing trip. Unfortunately the two were not very well organized and disciplined. Perhaps they were having a bit too much fun. Drinking, sniffing cocaine and hanging out with the local gangs were a daily occurrence. Thomas, often joined them in these activities. He was an Englishman, but a local by now. If you saw him you’d think he was a total bum, homeless and penniless. But don’t let looks fool you, this man was actually a billionaire, but had left his business to be handled by his wife and spend most of his time in a workshop garage volunteering with kids to make beautiful art work and working on his high tech laser wall. Our days in Panama city, turned into weeks. Getting Breezy over to Columbia proofed difficult and despite Oliver’s efforts to help manage and direct the documentary, not much got done. Instead the guys were giving rides to the airport and harbour to tourist to earn a bit of money that then went towards drugs and alcohol. One day I was looking for my backpack but couldn’t find it. Oliver also slowly started to notice his stuff missing. It took a while before we realized both our backpacks full of everything we owned, were gone! It would take a detective with a ‘never give up’ mentality to figure out what had happened. Accidentally, Oliver exactly fits this description. In short, Phil and John had given a ride to a group of Israeli backpackers (they didn’t remember) and accidently offloaded our bags with theirs, which then ended up in the boat to Colombia with them. They ran off and the workers thought the left behind bags had been stolen. Scared of bad publicity, which Columbia had enough of already, they burned everything.
Now travelling extra light, Oliver and I went on a little side trip to Nicaragua. When we returned Phil and John were even more ‘in’ with the gangs. John had accidentally been shot in the arm by a bullet that went straight through the camper van. The gang had successfully made up by inviting them to their Christmas party. There was also unlucky news. All the equipment used for the documentary had been stolen. We soon found out by who, but the leader of this gang was the son of a powerful politician. We had video footage of him threatening us which soon went viral. The police came to investigate and before we knew it we stood inside the studio of the Panama News Station to tell our story. We were on TV everywhere and becoming quite well known. This was cool but also dangerous, since the gangs in the presidential neighborhood all had guns and knew where we lived. One night they started shooting at each other all around us, while we were sleeping in Breezy. It was terrifying and we knew it was time to leave. Oliver and I hitch hiked towards the San Blas islands where we caught a merchant boat that was supplying the little indigenous islands with soda pop up to the Colombian border, where we hopped on another boat to get to Columbia. Phil, John and their team decided to drive back to Texas. Without equipment and money they could not continue their trip to the end of the world.
Chapter 11 – Bocas del Toro
Before I continue the story from here, I’d like to tell you a little bit of what happened on the D-tour to the north of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
So first of all, we left Casco Viejo to go up to Bocas del Toro (an island in the north of Panama) with Arlette, the camera woman, to help her shoot a paid video for a boat tour company. As a bonus we all (us and our new couchsurf hosting friends) got to go on a fun boat tour, while Arlette filmed. On the way there (and many times before and after) Oliver got asked a question he gets a lot as a PT (perpetual traveller) and that is ‘what do you do for a living?’ Most commonly Oliver would then tell you he is an independently wealthy dolphin experience trader. It’s not a bad job for a joke. Oliver undoubtedly has quite a few amazing dolphin experiences, he’d be happy to trade with yours. In fact, he takes his job so seriously that besides the possessions inside his (by now lost) backpack, Oliver travels with one other bag. It’s big and triangular shaped and covers his treasured dolphin fin or ‘monofin’. He’s been carrying around the globe this gigantic handmade fin ever since he bought it in Ukraine, 15 years ago. Obviously he has to take every opportunity to swim with it, especially if there are dolphins involved! That day, as we were sailing away from the island, we passed through a bay full of dolphins. Our tour guide warned us about jelly fish, so no one dared going in, except of course for Oliver who couldn’t restrain himself any longer. Before we even saw him put on his goggles and fin, he was off. Never have I seen anyone swim so fast, not towards the dolphins, but back to the boat. Like a mermaid in turbo speed, as soon as he had swum off, he launched himself back on board. Looking as if he’d just seen a ghost he said: all I could see was jelly fish, just jelly fish, everywhere. I’m never going back in, not even to play with dolphins.
Later when Arlette finished the shooting and went back to Phil and John, we decided to stay longer, because we heard there was a rainbow gathering going on on the island. Rainbow gatherings are a sort of gatherings by people who promote love, peace, freedom and drugs, in other word ‘hippies’. They usually come together for several weeks somewhere in a natural place. This time, on a remote beach on the other side of the island. Curious to see for ourselves what goes on at these rainbow ‘parties’ we set off to this pretty much secret location with our little tent and a dollars’ worth of bananas (that’s 25 pieces).
We arrived late in the afternoon. To Oliver’s surprise the people were dressed. To my surprise the people were dressed from head to toe. It was hot as hell, why was everyone dressed, with socks, gloves and all? It didn’t take long to find out. The entire beach was invaded by sand flies! These tiny jumping flies literally eat you alive. It was a nightmare. By the evening it got worse, mosquitos now joined the biting team. By night is got worse yet. Heavy rain started coming down and we quickly discovered our tent was not the slightest bit waterproof. Itchy, bloody and wet I yearned for the morning. I wanted to leave, but Oliver didn’t want to give up so quickly. The people were nice and didn’t really complain about the situation. They did the expected things, sit around fire at night, played instruments, talked about their latest mushroom experiences, shared food and skinny dipped in the Caribbean Sea at night (even despite the never resting bugs that were obviously bugging me). Thankfully it wasn’t hard to convince Oliver to leave the next day, itchy and tired we hitch hiked to Costa Rica.
Chapter 12 – Swedish Labourers
It was in a restaurant in Granada, Nicaragua, that we met Ebba and Hugo. They were absorbed in a competitive game of Rubik’s Cube and Oliver gladly informed them Mr. Rubik, the inventor of the cube, was a Hungarian. Beside their best times for solving the Rubik’s Cube, we learned that they are siblings and that Fin is still studying and just visiting for a few weeks. Ebba on the other hand has been travelling for a while and came all the way down from Canada where she picked cherries to save up some cash. The next day we hitch hiked to Ometepe together, a volcanic island in the middle of a big lake. There we found an eco-hostel with hammocks for $2.50 per night. Hugo and Ebba wanted to come here because there was opportunity to volunteer in return for a free hammock. They were determined to work and were willing to do anything and everything. When the owners reported to not be needing any more volunteers they were extremely disappointed. ‘Oh, but we really want to work! We can do anything, please!’ ‘Well,’ the owner said ‘we do need someone to carry rocks up and down the mountain…’ ‘Okay! We’ll do it!’ they replied passionately. Oliver and I looked at each other like ‘are these people crazy??’
‘Guys,’ Oliver said as we walked back to the hammocks; ‘…so you are going to work 4 hours per day carrying up rocks to save $2.50?’ ‘Yes! We just really want to do SOMETHING’ ‘Okay, well, I make you a better deal, you work for us 4 hours per day and we’ll give you $5 and much lighter tasks instead.’ They were so happy to take our offer and so eager to start working right away, it was funny but weird. So to make them happy, we put them to work. ‘Let’s start with a massage. After that, you’ll sew the hole in my shorts, do groceries and cook for us.’ With great enthusiasm they performed their tasks. The next day, we were struggling to find work for them, but we managed. They carried our bags on a long hike to a waterfall. In the evening we outsmarted ourselves. We found backpackers who would pay us $10 for an hour massage. Now we had employees that paid themselves off. So this is what it feels like to have people working for you on a fixed (low) wage. One day we went ‘rowing’ on the lake. We rented two old wooden canoes and as we pedalled away we saw a little island with a great big white tree on it. ‘Let’s go to that island with the beautiful white tree,’ we aimed. As we slowly came closer we noticed the tree was full of birds. Closer yet and we saw the tree wasn’t actually white. It was all the bird shit that had made it so! The smell was horrific. So we set out to another little island, meaning another hour of pedalling. The sun started to set by the time we arrived, so we decided to sleep there. Early the next morning I woke up by a great red ant colony. It would unfortunately be our final day with our Swedish friends. After pedalling back and opening some coconuts with our machete for breakfast, we hiked up the famous volcano. It was perhaps the toughest climb of my life. Hugo and Ebba seemed to have unlimited energy and were always taking the lead, pushing ahead persistently. We followed like donkeys after horses. By the end of the day, Oliver made Hugo pull me up by attaching a rope around his waist and mine. Ebba carried our water bottle. I really didn’t feel good about this, but Hugo insisted, so I lasted 10 minutes like this.
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In 'Duck Life!' Laura writes about her unusual life as the girlfriend of Oliver, a perpetual budget traveler. Laura meets Oliver on her first trip to Thailand. Soon she discovers Oliver is not the average guy. Spending very little money, they travel around the globe several times as they find themselves in the most unimaginable situations over and over again. This book gives an honest look inside the life of a young woman finding her way and her freedom in a world filled with opportunity. She encourages you to find your own inner 'duck' and think outside the normal. Writing style is light and funny, while the content is touching, informative, and has the power to transform. The photos bring the stories to life even more. A true story.