Based on a True Story of Adventure
eastwind memoirs 7b
By Bernie V. Lopez,
This is an excerpt from the book WINGS AND WANDERLUST on the adventures of a Filipino drifter, covering 25,000 kilometers through 18 European and North African countries for three years. The book is more than a travelogue. It goes deeper into the art of discovering one’s inner self, appropriate for those who are searching for themselves or a career or meaning in their lives.
do not look for happiness
happiness is elusive
do not flee from pain
pain is inevitable
rather seek love, for in love
happiness is assured
and pain is bearable
After two days across the Sahara, I took a boat to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, with a dozen other backpackers. In Las Palmas, we freaks mingled with Northerners fleeing the harsh European winter – affluent Germans, Finns, Swedes. The wild days in Las Palmas were a walk on razor’s edge, which is a story I will defer for now. For I was exacting every drop of pleasure in my despair for meaning, but it just did not work. I decided to move on. I longed for a quiet place. I heard about drifters living in caves in another island called Lanzarote. That was my target.
Hitching had a way of destroying plans. On my way to Lanzarote, I ended up in a place whose name I have forgotten, a plush tourist beach with a tall five-star hotel reaching for the sky. I waited at the edge of the beach until all the tourists had retired to their hotel rooms. At dusk, the beach was empty. The place was all mine. I sneaked in. 
Serendipity had a way of catching up with a drifter like me. From up above the clouds, I was not aware that a damsel in distress was watching all my moves. Olga (not her real name), a Swede, was watching me from her hotel suite in the dying twilight. She watched how I eluded the big tractor cleaning up the beach. She watched me go inside one of the beach sheds, which had a roof and a wall only on one side. No need to pitch my tent.
I went through the backpacker’s ‘bedroom ritual’. I lit up a candle and put an improvised paper wind-breaker. Candles are always better than flashlights, if you can conquer the wind. I laid out the plastic sheet. I did not unpack the foam as the sand was much softer. Then I set my sleeping bag that could stand arctic snow. I set my portable gas burner against the wall and used a cardboard as a wind breaker. I warmed some milk, and sipped it as I sat down on the sleeping bag, drinking in the cool quiet evening and the sound of rhythmic waves.
From Olga’s view, I was the size of an ant, but she could see every­thing in detail as a nearby lamp post illuminated me. As I wiggled into my backpack to sleep, like an angel, Olga descended upon me from the heavens. She startled me at first. I thought she was the hotel security. I wiggled out of my sleeping bag. Her hair was as golden as the dying sunset, her smile as wide as the beach. I was enthralled. 
OLGA – Hello.
ME – Hi.
OLGA – I was watching you from up there (she pointed to the tall hotel). I saw you make coffee.
ME – Hot milk.
OLGA – Oh, okay, hot milk. I saw you make your bed. I envy you.
ME – Why?
OLGA – You don’t even have a hotel. Life is so much simpler for some. For me, it is so complicated.
ME – Why?
OLGA – Well, I had to arrange for my trip, get reservations, fly a stupid plane (There was anger in her voice). Then my friend backed out. I didn’t want to go alone. But what would I do in my scheduled vacation? So here I am, totally depressed.
ME – Pack your sadness away, my dear. Your in paradise. What do you have there?
OLGA – Oh this. (Raising a paper bag.) My companion Johnny.
ME – Johnny?
OLGA – Walker.
ME – (Trying to hide my excitement). Oh. Please introduce me.
OLGA – (Laughing aloud and showing her inner self). Do you think milk would go with Johnny.
ME – Shhh, not so loud. Without doubt. Like husband and wife.
She took out a hotel glass from one pocket of her jacket and another from the other pocket. From a small bag which she opened, came out ice cubes wrapped in a towel. The angel prepared five-star Scotch on the rocks. There we were, raising our glasses to the stratosphere. 
We compared notes. I talked about my adventures in Tetouan in Morocco, where I met a British guy who was raped. I warned him never to hitch in Morocco. He pooh-poohed my concern. I did not ran out of stories. She laughed and was totally fascinated.
She talked about Stockholm as one of the most expensive places on Earth. Her one month salary would probably pay for eight months of my travel. Lonely Swedish girls often picked up handsome Spanish guys, but not Olga. I could discern she was not like that.
ME – Let’s compare pains. You start.
OLGA – I am an executive secretary in a big firm in Stockholm.
ME – What firm?
OLGA – Is that important?
ME – I guess not. Is it a nice job?
OLGA – I get a high salary.
ME – You didn’t answer my question.
OLGA – I hate it, okay? I tried to kill myself three times, you know? (In a trembling voice). I am sorry I’m telling you all this. You must be tired and want to sleep.
ME – My turn. I was a computer consultant in New York. My salary was probably double of yours. But that’s not important. I had a protracted depression. I hated my job. New York was a spiritual desert. I felt absurd. So I came to Europe not for adventure but to run away from myself.
OLGA – How nice that you have your kitchen with you anytime.
ME – And my bedroom too.
We talked for about four hours. Johnny shrank and finally vanished. We were both whoozy. I was hoping the pink dawn would come. But it did not. Very gently, she placed her head on my shoulders and, without tears, unravelled a world so full of pain. I touched her golden hair which had the aroma of flowers. I could feel her chest trembling. 
OLGA – Can we pray for each other?
ME – Sure.
OLGA – In silence, please.
I thought in silence, “Dear Lord, take care of Olga and the thousands more like her, like me. We grope in the dark, but we know, no matter what, You are there, for all paths lead to You, the Light”. 
When we were exhausted from talk, she gave me a long lingering kiss and stood up and said goodbye. I thought we would end up in her plush bedroom or in my not-so-plush sleeping bag. But nothing like that happened. That would have been a bad ending for such an evening full of spiritual pain unraveled. It was good enough that it ended that way. I was alone to meet the dawn and she went back to her world. I felt very sad for her.
Why was there so much pain in affluence? It was the same in Amsterdam and Geneva and Copenhagen. I would meet so many people in pain. One would think such afflu­ence bred a paradise of comfort and luxury, but no. Under­neath the well-ordered cor­porate life, underneath the comfort and luxury, there was chaos of the spirit. So I was right about New York. And the pain back home in the Philippines was more physical poverty. The pain in the West was worse – spiritual poverty. 
Olga left as suddenly as she came. I was alone again but I could not sleep. My mind churned. Thoughts came like a tornado, whipping up a violent eastwind. I ended up sleeping for about two hours until the first pink light of dawn revealed a fantastic empty beach. I had to pack up because the children and security guards, the early birds, would come down soon. I hid my backpack in an inconspicuous place and took a walk. I ran fast in a sprint and fell on the sand after about a hundred meters. That felt good.
The sea was like a mirror, placid as my soul. Not a sound. No waves. I was happy that I was free, that I had wings like them, yet I was sad for Olga. A seagull hovered above me, gliding effortlessly, uttering a sound as if asking me how I was doing. I screamed at the seagull. I did not care if the guards heard me. 
ME – I’m fine. I’m fine. But I am so sad for Olga. How about you, Jonathan?
Three more seagulls joined Jonathan. They floated motionless in the winter wind just above me, listening to my screams, asking perhaps who this lunatic was. 
ME – Time to move on, guys. (They left instantly.) Lanzarote here I come.
It was always like that. When I felt sad, wings were the medicine for pain and loneliness. The next day I hitched to Lanzorate where I lived in a cave for a month, reading about Buddha and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There were many caves and many of us freaks. But that’s another story. (Read that book excerpt – === ).
after a few months on the road
i discovered that
the key to discovering yourself
was not to look for enchanting places
but enchanting people
for people are mirrors
where you see yourself
in all your beauty and horror
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