Inside The Croatian Museum Of Naive Art

This art museum was one of the highlights of my trip to Zagreb. Naive Art as an art form was very fashionable during the 1960s and 1970s. Personally I don’t like the term very much as I think it degrades art and implies that it’s not very good. Some art of that genre can be very kitsch but it can also be very brilliant, full of heart and soul. The best work of this genre is up there with many of the greatest works from the Art Brut movement where artists, with no formal art education, created work, often of a very raw nature, outside of the confines of the ‘Art World’ and other established institutions.

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Self-Portrait (1975) by Ivan Generalić

Most of the work on display at this museum is by noted Croatian artists of the Hlebine School. Hebline is a small village in the north of Croatia which from the 1920s was the place where a small group of self taught peasants began to develop a new style of painting. The artist Ivan Generalić (1914-1992) was the father of this movement. When I enter the first room of the museum, his Self-Portrait (1975) painting is the first painting to catch my eye. The prominent blue background of the painting is unmissable and I am immediately reminded of the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait Of Doge Leonardo Loredan.

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Harvest (1938) by Mirko Virius 

In the same room, there are also paintings by another artist of the first generation of Hebline school artists called Mirko Virius (1889-1943) who’s paintings are of traditional rural people. His painting Harvest (1938) reminds me of the rural paintings of everyday peasant life by the pre Impressionist French painter Jean-Francois Millet. Millet was also a huge influence on Vincent Van Gogh who at the beginning of his painting career wanted to paint rural peasant life in its purest form from the source. Many of Van Gogh’s early paintings and drawings capture this very beautifully.

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The Evangelists On Calvary (1996) by Ivan Večenaj

Then there is another painting in that same called The Evangelists On Calvary (1996) by one of the second generation of Hlebine School artists called Ivan Večenaj (1920-2013). This is probably the most powerful painting in the room. The intricate mess of destruction, decay and dehumanisation makes me hark back to the most nightmarish paintings by the legendary and light-years-ahead-of-his-time Dutch colossus Hieronymus Bosch. Out of all the art works in the museum, it is those paintings by Večenaj, which resonate most deeply with me. Another painting of his entitled Gaitery Juna (1962) features a peasant lady with a deformed face. A third painting depicts Moses by the Red Sea.

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Martin Mehkek

In another room, a series of portraits by Martin Mehkek (1936-2014) stop me in my tracks. The portraits are very human and Mehkek seems to have a unique ability to empathise with his subjects and put himself in their shoes. He paints his subjects in a way which executes their emotions and traits. And many of his subjects seem to be local villagers and they appear to be painted in a way where all their quirks, bizarreness and insularity are masterfully captured.

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Emerik Feješ

The paintings of Emerik Feješ (1904-1969) are of colourful, childlike, ethereal and joyful buildings in a style that is his own. Like ornate Venetian buildings turned into multi coloured, energetic Mississippi and New Orleans juke joints. Observing his paintings fill me with hope and positivity, which is very vital in a pungent age of anxiety.

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Luxary Ship (1974) by Drago Jurak

The final piece of work in the museum to make an impression on me is a painting by Drago Jurak (1911-1994) called Luxary Ship (1974). It is a extraordinary painting and I immediately think of the impossibly insane Swiss artist Adolf Wölfi, a key artist from the Art Brut movement. His paintings are of an overly complex, obsessive and deranged nature. Like a shockingly talented Persian miniature painter on acid. Some artists are just happy to knock up bland landscape pastiches. Yet painters like Jurak and Wölfi are forever hellbent on rocking the boat and driving the square community mad.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FLOATING IN SPACE IN ZAGREB: Review of the Subspace Hostel

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Most hostels have the same standard model of rooms with bunkbeds of varying degrees of quality. I am a private person and rarely tend to stay in dormitory rooms. Yet in some cities which are prohibitively expensive, they are still the best way to save money. Dorm guests stumbling intoxicated into the rooms during the small hours of the night, sometimes turning on the lights, and rummaging noisily through plastic bags are some of the common complaints of staying in a dorm room.

The ingenious hostel setup at the Subspace Hostel in the Croatian capital of Zagreb is inspired by the model used in various hostels throughout Japan and China, which comprise of having ‘space capsules’ for guests to sleep in rather than standard dorm bunks. In a way it doesn’t matter whether a room has 4 or 40 of these space pods, since one has their own space (pun most intended!!). I simply climbed up into my intergalactic pod and was able to completely shut the door and fully withdraw inside. I felt I had almost the same level of privacy that I would have had by having my own room in a hotel or guesthouse and at an affordable price. Yet hotels and guest houses, unlike hostels, are not best places to be if you want to meet other travellers.

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Whilst inside, there was a TV screen with multiple channels, a couple of remote controls, four lights, a safe, plug and USB sockets, a small ventilation pocket and even a fire extinguisher. My bed was very comfortable and my pod also came with an additional head rest. In these increasingly virtual times, where the chasm between the physical and virtual worlds is forever shrinking, it is just too easy to get lost in virtual bliss and forget that there is a historically interesting city to be physically exploring and getting under the skin of.

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The showers and toilets, instead of being in separate rooms, are constructed within the rooms as funky neon-turquoise cylinder cubicles. The only cumbersome thing about the toilets and showers is that they lack proper locks. They can only be locked via a dangling thin piece of metal where the end is inserted through a circular metal hole, which is often located a little too far out. That would not cut the mustard on Apollo 11! But I am being a pedantic jackass here.

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Artwork by Tomislav Buntak

As well as this wonderful hostel set up, the other thing that makes this hostel unique is the exquisite artwork on all the walls and ceilings created by a gifted notable local artist called Tomislav Buntak. There is a large hardback book with many photographs of his work by the reception, which I highly recommend you have a look at.

The last time I stayed in an equally special place was at the Santos Express Lodge in Mossel Bay, South Africa. You can read my review of it here

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

How 3D Printing Could Be The Biggest Thing To Affect Our Lives Since The Internet

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I’ve been very interested in 3D Printing for a few years now. What fascinates me the most about this technology is the awesome and unlimited potential it has. Currently it is still at a very embryonic stage in terms of its development but, like the internet before it, its potential is enormous. 3D Printing has the power to transform and effect many different industries. I am listing a few of these industries below.

 

The Manufacturing Industry

This is the industry which I think will be most affected by 3D Printing. Already large segments of the global mass manufacturing industry are automated via Robotics and AI. As 3D Printing develops and evolves more and more, it will be able to greatly increase the productivity of this industry and even contribute towards automating it to even greater levels than robotics. In fact, 3D Printing may even have the power to completely disrupt the entire mass manufacturing industry. This is especially true after this technology has become truly mainstream and every home not just has a basic 3D printer, but one that is capable of printing almost any kind of 3D object imaginable using just the basic raw materials. Once 3D Printing has got to this stage of development and has matured as an important consumer technology, then one could say that every household is a factory. People would be able to create and customise any physical good they want through simply taking the designs of the products and applying them to the 3D printer. This could severely disrupt businesses whose business model is based mostly on manufacturing goods, especially at the mass level.

 

The Construction Industry

The construction industry is the next obvious industry to be affected by 3D Printing after the manufacturing industry. As with the manufacturing industry, it has the potential to increase efficiency and productivity as well as save costs and time. The construction industry is also a potentially dangerous industry for human labour and any building physically constructed by humans will always be vulnerable to flaws and errors. Yet 3D Printing with a double dose of robotics and strong AI has the potential to create buildings more robust and in less time than humans can and without the labour costs involved. And as these technologies develop further, it will be possible to 3D print entire cities. And why stop at building on dry land? Perhaps one day in the distant future when these technologies are at a level far greater than our comprehension, it may even be possible to 3D print domed cities under water. A crazy notion but with out of this world technology anything is possible.

 

The Medical Industry

The medical industry and our lives and health have the power to be greatly augmented by 3D printing. Already the technology has the ability to print prosthetic arms and legs. Yet 3D printed bones and organs are a real possibility. 3D printed organs will already reduce the enormous waiting list of patients waiting for organ transplants, especially for kidneys and livers. And what if the 3D printed organs were more developed and healthy than the healthiest of donated organs? 3D Printing combined with other groundbreaking emerging technologies in the biotech sector like stem cell technology, genetic engineering and nanotechnology have the power to achieve this.

 

I am looking forward to experiencing how 3D Printing will further develop and more importantly how it will greatly assist and make our lives easier as well as being an amazing resource to make our lives more efficient and aid us in reaching greater heights. Already there are a number of growing 3D Printing start ups and businesses all trying to further develop this amazing technology.

What is becoming increasingly clear with the way emerging technologies are developing, and will develop, is that our ideas and creativity will be our greatest assets. These technologies will help us expand our ideas and creativity and realise them to the greatest levels possible.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

Greetings From Delhi

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Back in Delhi

Last Monday night, I flew from London Heathrow to Delhi via Jet Airways. I took a random punt on this airline and it was a pretty lackluster experience. The aircraft was quite old and backdated. I had an aisle seat in the middle aisle row of seats. The two seats of the four in the middle were vacant. On the other end of my row was an old Sikh who got very drunk and disorderly and later incurred the wrath of the airline staff who refused to serve him more whisky. There sadly was nothing entertaining, charming or witty about him and he was a constant pain and drone for most of the flight. I spent the majority of my flight either taking advantage of the in-flight entertainment system or listening to my iPod.

Delhi was just as I had envisaged it to be when the plane landed at Delhi airport. The entire landscape from the runway was blurred by thick blinding smog. As everybody began to disembark from the plane, I realized that I couldn’t find my navy blue retro cotton scarf. Amongst the mess of used airline blankets and headphones, I couldn’t see it. I again looked in my bag. No luck. I broached this to the airline staff but it was a futile quest. Ah fuck it, I concluded. Lets get out of here.

I waited over an hour just to change £30 into Indian Rupees at the Thomas Cook bureau de change at Delhi airport. The recent demonetization events in the country involving the sudden withdrawal of all R500 and R1000 notes, representing over 80% of the country’s money supply, compounded with the tough restrictions on how much money one could withdraw or exchange meant that one was by law not supposed to exchange more than R5000 a week. I was with a group of other fellow travelers including a group of Peruvian tourists who’d just flown in from Hyderabad and they were equally dejected by the whole thing.

I decided to take the modern metro airport express direct to New Delhi station instead of haggling with a cab driver. At the entrance to the station there was a security check with austere Indian police in charge. The express train blazed through vacant and baron swathes of outer Delhi. The heavy smog made all the surrounding scenery translucent and vague. Many trees were either dead, dying or suffocating by the smog, pleading desperately with the gods in vain for rain. They would have to wait until at least June next year. At the top of the smogged skyline was the sun, heavily veiled to resemble one of those glowing white coated energy saving lightbulbs rather than a piercing brilliant white hot glow. People had to have lungs of steel to live in this city.

Arriving at and exiting New Delhi metro station gave me my first official taste of India since the last time I arrived here almost 10 years ago. All the famed filth and fury slowly began to unravel and reveal itself to me. As I made my way towards the entrance of the main bazaar thoroughfare of the legendary tourist ghetto of the Paharganj district via the hectic and high pressure New Delhi Railway station, I bump into two long-term travelling backpackers. Both look like they’ve allowed India to get under their skin and truly connect and flow with the rhythms and current of this fascinating, multi-faceted, mind blowing, full power wild soup. Peter is from Germany and his partner Olga is from Russia. They both met in Rishikesh. Peter had in fact traveled to India by bicycle from Germany. In Iran he was involved in a road accident and this delayed his trip as he recovered in a Tehran hospital.

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The Paharganj district of Delhi

We all walk together through the mess of the main Paharganj bazaar as Peter tries to find a Post Office and I try to find the Hotel Vivek. Not much has changed along this main thoroughfare of mayhem since I last graced this road as a fresh faced 23 year old backpacker. Back then I foolishly didn’t book accommodation for my first night. Furthermore, I got overcharged by my taxi driver from the airport with hardly any past travel experience under my belt. I had thrown myself in the proverbial deep end. Arriving in the Paharganj all those years ago was like arriving in the middle of some bombed out extra-terrestrial mess on another planet in another galaxy. I was always getting harassed by unsavory touts and constantly trying to avoid being hit by a passing motorbike or rickshaw. I carried my heavy backpack with no reservation, not knowing which hotels to enter or avoid. I remember settling on a veritable fleabag of a place which had these soulless dirty busted rooms for around the R200 mark a night. My current room at the Vivek is no great shakes and the mattress is pancake-thin but this is like the Best Western compared to that place. Before I check into the Vivek, I say goodbye to Peter and Olga. Perhaps I’ll bump into them next at a temple somewhere in Sri Lanka? Who knows.

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Back in the Paharganj after an almost 10 year absence 

Instead of going to bed, I dump my things in my room and re-enter the Main Bazaar. I walk back towards New Delhi station and onward towards Connaught Place. It is here where I discover a marvelous open air secondhand book stall. Mountains of books are piled on top of each other like mini towers of Babel. By now I find myself feeling the undesirable effects of Delhi’s air pollution. Its not only my mouth which feels like one great field of ash and dust. My eyes are stinging like I am walking through clouds of sulfuric acid. I need a bottle of water sharpish and some vitamin C tablets to phase out the carcinogenic mess of free radicals manifesting inside of me. What I’d give for an incubator of premium quality South Pacific air!

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A great secondhand bookstall by Connaught Place 

As I trudge around Connaught Place, the sun has already gone down. There are impossibly long lines of people outside every functioning ATM hoping to withdraw some limited Rupees. It doesn’t matter that the current daily limit has recently been increased from R2000 to R2500, I can see more chance of pigs flying than achieving a successful and hassle-free ATM withdrawal. Yet I fortunately have another option for getting cash in the form of my scarce supply of hard currency. I genuinely feel sorry for the locals who have been affected by this.

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People queuing up outside an ATM in Connaught Place hoping to withdraw some scarce Rupees 

I look for a street vendor selling bottled water. I find one offering me R20 for a liter bottle. He even says that he has change for a R2000 note as he palms me nineteen R100 notes along with the rest of my change. I am extremely grateful to him. For the most part, carrying around one of the recently issued R2000 notes is like carrying around a King Cobra. I can’t take it everywhere.

I chat to some random locals in Connaught Place. The people I speak to genuinely want to chat and the conversations never turn to money. For dinner I pay a visit to Hotel Saravana Bhavan for some delicious South Indian food. There are already people waiting outside with their names on the waiting list. I sign myself up and wait around 20 minutes before I am allocated a seat. I am seated opposite a middle aged Delhiite. When the time comes to order I go for the Thali Special. All this glorious food hits the spot. Afterwards I take a rickshaw back to my hotel to rejuvenate.

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Outside Hotel Saravana Bhavan

 

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The Thali Special at Hotel Saravana Bhavan

The next day I wake up at 11am after over 12 hours of sleep. I exit the hotel just before noon. A secondhand book shop catches my eye in the Paharganj. The owner even has another larger shop around the back bursting with books. I conclude that this must be the best stocked book shop at least here in the Paharganj. I purchase a secondhand copy of a book of teachings by the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi.

For me the heart and soul of Delhi is its old city around the high pressure Chandhi Chowk. I took a metro train over there. It is a monumental sight, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. When I was last here, it was a mind-blowing and overwhelming experience. As soon as I exit Chandhi Chowk metro station, a bicycle rickshaw driver decides to stick himself to me like glue. He becomes a magnificent liability. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve missed this chaos. I finally manage to break free of him by very diligently crossing the carnage of Chandi Chowk traffic where there is something resembling a pavement on the other side. I spot a peanut wallah and purchase a small bag for 10 Rupees.

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Chandhi Chowk

At the end of the main Chandhi Chowk thoroughfare is the monumental Red Fort. This exotic clay-red juggernaut of a fort was constructed during the height of the Mughal period. I enter the outside grounds but I do not go inside as I’d already visited the fort during my last trip to Delhi. Soon I get chatting with an affable local named Satish and we have our photo taken together by the entrance.

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In Chandhi Chowk

 

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With Satish outside the Red Fort

Chandi Chowk may be hectic but for an even more glorious, full powered and disheveled experience, nothing beats the labyrinth of bazaars, streets and hidden alleyways around the nearby Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.

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Old Delhi street scene 

Like the Red Fort (and the Taj Mahaj in Agra), it was designed by Shah Jahan, a famous Mughal emperor whose reign was often said to be the golden age of Mughal architecture.

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The magnificent Jama Masjid

The streets and bazaars around this jewel of a mosque are special to me. We may be living in the digital age, but walking these streets I feel very much connected to the past lives, energy and spirits of this part of the city. This is ancient Delhi at its finest.

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One of the streets surrounding the Jama Masjid

One particular memory of this area which never escapes me are the reams and reams of black electricity wires tangled and coiled like snakes everywhere and hanging by the most fragile of threads. Seeing these wires so naked and exposed is like seeing my body with much of my skin removed and all my arteries transporting blood around my body for all to see; I am still alive and going but mess around or damage them in any shape or form, and it’s curtains.

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Notice the mess of electricity wires

I spend a long time sat down on the steps at the top of the Jama Masjid watching this fascinating maze of life. I simply observe it and don’t attempt to make any sense of it. I am so happy to be here and the longer I sit here watching it all unfold in front of my eyes, is the moment I know that I am truly in India. It’s marvelous to be back.

 

By Nicholas Peart

12th December 2016

(All rights reserved)

Dicing With Danger In Fortaleza

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Fortaleza: Not all a beach

 

The following article is an excerpt taken from my 2013-14 travel diary ‘Travel Journal Of A Lost Soul’

 

29th March 2014

Today the aeroplane crashed into the mountain. What happened today was perhaps the most frightening and dangerous position I ever found myself in so far in all my travelling life. Getting mugged on the streets of Caracas five years ago was small beer compared to this.

In the morning I took a local ômnibus to Fortaleza’s international airport to buy my plane ticket to the Cape Verde islands and also to have some clarity over a few Cape Verdean related immigration queries. I was also carrying my rucksack containing my iPad so that I could take advantage of the wireless internet in the airport. When I arrived at the airport, the TACV (local Cape Verde airline company) desk for flights to Cape Verde was closed. There was nothing I could do so I took an ômnibus from the airport to the city centre of Fortaleza. I had planned to take some photos and make some short films discreetly. So far tudo bem. I take my photos and films, have two cups of agua de coco, and explore a large portion of the city untroubled.

Later in the afternoon I look for an ômnibus going to the suburb of Iracema where my guesthouse is located. A big tough ol’ fat lady weighing at least 300 pounds tries to guide me to my bus. After some time she becomes very aggressive and starts demanding money. I board a random ômnibus about to depart and she gets on it too and begins to lunge at me. Immediately she grabs at my shirt and trouser pants and tries to punch me several times WWE style. I naturally cry for help but unbelievably no one on the bus comes to my rescue. At this moment I am absolutely terrified and in a panic I empty my wallet containing 15 Reis. She snatches the 15 Reis out of my hand and demands that I give her more money. When I am unable to give her more money, she rips my fake pair of Ray Bans off my face and crunches them up to debris in one of her enormous hands like a crusher at a scrap metal plant. Right now she’s a combination of Medusa and Big Mama Thornton on crack. Five policemen enter the bus. Three of them try to restrain her. My Brazilian Portuguese is maybe only half a step up from standard Gringo level and most of the time I barely decipher what she’s saying as it jets out of her mouth at 90 times the speed of sound. Only a little later does it become clear that she tried to unscrupulously frame me by claiming that I bought cocaine from her. And not only that…that I refused to pay for it! Even if this house of cards allegation were true, by admitting that you are a drug dealer surely creates ramifications for yourself, does it not? The police officers turn me and my rucksack upside down in pursuit of the smallest nano particle of blow. When they eventually realise that I am in possession of no drugs let alone cocaine, they simply bark something at this rare disgrace and let her go. The pathetic absence of justice and incompetence on the part of the local police, whilst it didn’t surprise me, left me feeling vulnerable, insecure and full of fear. Yet in their defence they did do one caring thing for me by driving me back to my pousada on Rua Dom Manuel in Iracema.

I am still trembling from this rare hi-octane episode of barbery that I spend the rest of the day and night in my room. I only venture out once in the early evening to buy bottled water and have a simple dinner at one of the adjacent restaurants.

When I finally manage to calm down, I discard my emotions and purchase my flight ticket to the city of Praia in the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa. Tomorrow morning I vow to exit this city and go to the small and tranquil beach village of Canoa Quebrada.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(All rights reserved)

image source: http://www.expedia.com

Blazing To Panama City In Time For New Years Eve

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Panama City at night

 

The following article is an excerpt taken from my 2013-14 travel diary ‘Travel Journal Of A Lost Soul’

 

 

28th December 2013

I am sitting in the armchair in the corner of my spartan guesthouse room in the city of San José, Costa Rica. In front of me is a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi on the wall with the words, ‘ the only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear’. Last night in my uber tired and messed up state I really pondered over these words. Now after at least seven hours of sleep, my body and mind are calmer and I am able to look at things more rationally.

My bus arrived in San José from the town of Estelí in Nicaragua at 11.30pm last night. It was originally scheduled to arrive at 8pm. I waited in Estelí for over two hours before the Tica Bus finally arrived.

This afternoon I purchased my bus ticket to the Panamanian city of David for tomorrow. From there I’ll continue on to Panama City.

 

 

29th December 2013

Today the pressure was high. I am now in my hotel room in David as I write this. I am falling apart from relentless travelling. Tomorrow will most likely be another eight hour journey as I make my way to Panama City.

The bus from San José to David was rather basic. At the Panamanian border, the officials demanded that I provide proof of onward travel out of Panama. This came quite unexpectedly. I certainly didn’t have a flight ticket out of Panama. There was one way I could get out of this. If I could show the officials a bank statement with funds of over $500, then they would stamp my passport and let me through. Fortunately there was a small ramshackle internet café nearby. I logged onto my bank account on this very dodgy computer with half the letters missing on the keyboard. Thankfully the connection was quite fast. My current account showed funds of less than £100. So I transferred £400 from my savings account onto my current account before printing off a statement of my newly topped up current account. I diligently sign off and revisit my bank account page to make sure I definitely WAS signed off. Interestingly, when I finally did present the statement to the officials they barely gave it a glance before my stamping my passport with a Panama entry stamp.

Here in my basic hotel room in David, it’s either too hot or too cold. There is an old AC unit with missing dials meaning I am unable to modify the Arctic temperature whenever I turn on the unit. In hindsight a room with just a simple fan would’ve been better but the crippling humidity in this part of the world makes me game for AC.

There is a noisy bar directly adjacent to my room. It’s 1am and the party is still going. Perhaps I should’ve anchored myself in San Marcos La Laguna instead of embarking on this batshit insane voyage.

 

 
30th December 2013

I woke at 9am. I don’t know how I feel. I feel numb. At one point in the night I woke up and thought I was in an unheated room in Puno. I turned off the AC and went back to sleep. I can’t see myself arriving in Panama City at a sensible time now.

I travel on a surprisingly comfortable and luxurious bus from David to Panama City. For $15 it was incredibly cheap for what it was worth. When I arrived at the bus terminal, I took a shared taxi to the Casco Viejo district. The taxista drove like a devil across the different highway intersections of the city to get to my destination. As we approached the outskirts of the Casco Viejo I almost forgot how rundown certain parts are. The section with all the tourist hotels and hostels is the more spruced up and nicer part. When I arrived at the big Santa Ana plaza I tried to find the cheap hotel I stayed at when I was last in this city some years back. After a few minutes of surveying the different corners of the plaza I finally found it; Hotel Caracas. Even though it feels like a tropical borstal, I remember when I last stayed here I had a basic but clean and spotless room with a fan for $10 a night. I asked to see a room. The first room I was shown looked nothing like the room I stayed at before. There were exposed live wires, marks on the walls and doors. Hell, even the bed sheets were a mess. The state of the shower looked like the aftermath of someone who’d blown their brains out with a shotgun during a game of Russian Roulette after an intense cocaine binge. The last time I’d seen a room as uniquely disgusting as this one was when I was in Beira, Mozambique. I kindly ask if I could see another room? I think we must have gone through about six rooms before finally settling on one for just one night – like choosing between six different formations of shit to eat. I choose the only one which had a window not facing an external wall. Yet when I did open the window it was directly facing onto an enormous heap of trash on the pavement of one of the more down at heel streets; a cocktail of death, decay and Kurt Schwitters. Yet even in my bombed out state of mind, there is something strangely fascinating about all this. I mentioned death but these streets are full of life. A raw and unsanitized liveliness. Isn’t this what I am always looking for? Well, now it’s there if I want it.

This evening I went to a hole in the wall bar right next to my hotel. I was the only Gringo there. I started as a barfly and pretty soon I was dancing salsa in my very rudimentary way with some enormous butterball of a lady from the Dominican Republic. I thought about staying out longer but I want to have some energy for tomorrow. For the next two nights I’ll be staying at the notorious backpacker hostel, Luna’s Castle.

 

 
31st December 2013

I slept erratically last night. This hotel room is like something out of a William S Burroughs book. I was woken up at 7.30 am by an insanely loud rubbish collection vehicle. Not even the V8 engine of the AC unit in my room could drown out this Earth shattering noise from outside.

After transferring all my things from Hotel Caracas to Luna’s Castle, I took a taxi to Albrook Airport to sort out my onward travel to Colombia. Although Panama borders Colombia, neither countries are connected by road. The PanAmerican higher abruptly ceases at some point between Panama City and the border. All that separates these two countries is an impenetrable stretch of jungle called The Darien Gap. Some courageous souls have successfully navigated it yet the risks far outweigh the rewards and for the handful of travellers who crossed it successfully many more have perished. There are at least three feasible ways to get to Colombia from Panama. One is to fly from Panama City to any major Colombian city. The second is to take a 4/5 day boat trip via the San Blas islands and the third option is to take a small domestic plane from Panama City to a small isolated Panamanian village called Puerto Obaldía on the Panama/Colombia border from where it is possible to catch a motorboat to the Colombian village of Carpuganá. From there you take another motorboat towards the city of Turbo which has land connections to other parts of Colombia. I embarked on the third option on my last trip across Latin America.

When I arrived at Albrook airport and enquire about purchasing a ticket to Puerto Obaldia departing in six days time, I was told that all flights to Puerto Obaldia were booked solid for the next three weeks. I was truly disappointed at this discovery. On the other hand, it was a tad shortsighted of me to have left the booking so late, especially since the plane is tiny and the fact there are not many flights. Yet three weeks is a staggering amount of time to wait until the next available flight and I for one am not going to languish in Panama City for that duration of time. I refuse to do the 4/5 day sailboat trip. Everybody seems to be doing that trip and I can already foresee a lot of problems and boredom from doing such a trip. With the third and second options ruled out, the next logical step seemed to be a direct flight from Panama City to the Colombian cities of Cartagena or Medellín. I was shocked to discover that the cheapest flight going was $350. That is a ridiculous sum of money for a one hour flight. Fortunately I soon discovered one more way to get to Colombia. A kind local lady who worked at Luna’s Castle hostel explain it all to me. It involved travelling in a 4×4 vehicle from the city to a small coastal town called Cartí. From Cartí I would then travel by speedboat for something crazy like 9-10 hours to Puerto Obaldía and finally Carpuganá. Like a concentration camp version of the third option.

As I write this from my hostel dormitory, I am now only two hours away from the New Year and the rumba is already in full swing. I will raise my last bottle of Balboa beer of the year towards much luck for the remainder of my trip and that I finally do manage to get to West Africa from Brazil – whether by boat, plane etc – it doesn’t matter.

 

 

1st January 2014

Last night the party at the hostel was enourmous. I was thrashing the rum and cokes. The party went on until sunset. I passed out at around 4am. Today has been a coma’d day. I spent most of it inside the hostel. Around mid afternoon I went for a stroll on Avenida Central off the Casco Viejo. Amongst the rare silence today on New Years Day, I got talking with an old Panamanian lady who, surrounded by masses of pigeons, sold bags of pigeon food. I bought a bag and suddenly became swarmed by dozens of them every time I threw a handful of grains on the floor. Most of the restaurants were closed bar a small low lighted budget Chinese restaurant where I had a very ordinary meal of fried rice and chicken. There are many Chinese here in Panama City and most of the ones I encounter (although certainly not all) are reserved and indifferent.

Since yesterday afternoon I befriended a middle aged Turkish/German man. He speaks almost no English but speaks Spanish very well having travelled in Latin America for a considerable amount of time. Although he is very intelligent and head and shoulders more interesting to talk to than many of the other guests staying at the hostel, he is also very intense and unstable. He is the kind of person that would burn down cities if things didn’t go his way. As a consequence I feel a little uneasy around him. It’s quite interesting how sometimes the most alive and riveting people are also the most unhinged. I often rage against mediocrity and dull people but for the most part I cherish stability. I don’t want my life to be a nonstop proverbial rollercoaster ride. I don’t want it. I would rather have a boring and stable life rather than a life full of tension. Oh boy, what am I talking about? If only I could become more aware of all my glaring contradictions.

 

 

 

By Nicholas Peart

(All rights reserved)

image source: http://www.pinterest.com

 

Fear And Loathing In Guatemala City

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Guatemala City: only the strongest motherf***ers survive

 

The following article is an excerpt taken from my 2013-14 travel diary ‘Travel Journal Of A Lost Soul’

 

December 13th 2013

I woke up feeling heavy, hot and nervous. As I was surfing the internet on my iPad in my small guesthouse room in the pretty Guatemalan tourist town of Antigua, I had a change of heart. It was almost 10am and I had an hour before check out. On a whim I decided to go to Guatemala City. I wanted to check out a few of the contemporary art galleries and spaces dotted around the city. The most important ones are Proyectos Ultravioletas (which is supposed to be the hub of the Guatemalan contemporary art scene) and NuMu (which currently has a retrospective of the work of the celebrated and fearless Guatemalan performance artist Regina José Galindo).

So this afternoon I dragged myself and my things to the ramshackle chicken bus terminal behind the mercado principal. Oh yes, I was all for the hard life again. For nine Guatemalan Quetzales a green and orange psychedelic chicken bus would whisk me all the way to the Zona 3 district of the city. The bus journey was quite an eventful 90 minutes. I held onto the iron bars tightly for every abrupt swerve on the mountain highway. At one interval, we were all serenaded by a flamboyant and lively duo in face paint. They were a stellar act and I gave them a few of my Quetzales.

Arriving in the Zona 3 district of the city was like landing in some out of bounds skid row district of Los Angeles. If a shifty hoody type approached me now he’d most likely square me up and say, ‘Come here again and I’ll kill you’. There was not a chance in hell I was going to consider walking even half a block in this part of town on my own. Fortunately I was accosted by a taxista as soon as I disembarked from the bus. He wanted 50 Quetzales which I thought was a tad on the steep side considering that the central Zona 1 district I wanted to go to bordered this district. We agreed on 40. I told him I wanted to go to the Hotel Fénix. He knew where it was. As I looked out of the window for the duration of the ride, I realised how grateful I was to be inside. I felt happy to shortly be arriving at my destination. Only there was one problem. It appeared that the Hotel Fénix did not exist any more. This is now Murphy’s Law tripping me down a long flight of stairs. Ok, think man. I have a glut of other contacts from the Kindle version of my Lonely Planet Guide to Central America on my iPad, but I’d rather not brandish it in front of the taxista. Yet I remember reading something on the internet recently about another hotel close by called Hotel Spring. The taxista was adamant to take me to some place I’d never heard of many blocks away from the centre. I held very firm with him and told him I wanted to go to the Hotel Spring. I even offered to pay him the original price of 50 Quetzales just to not argue with him and get this all done and dusted.

I arrive at the Hotel Spring, located in a an old decrepit colonial building with quite a spectacular internal courtyard. The rooms however are basic and more costly than anywhere else in the country. Guate (as many refer to this city) is probably the second most unsafe city I’ve ever visited after Caracas in Venezuela. The former central business district of Johannesburg comes a firm third place. I am a total dipstick for shunning beautiful and serene Antigua for this. Yet on the other hand, sometimes I need a drop of danger and tension in my life.

After checking into my room, I go for a mid afternoon stroll on Sexta Avenida, which is the main pedestrian drag in the centre of the city. Leave that drag and you are back in Mogadishu. A Guatemalan lady approaches me speaking fluent American English. Yet what she tells me isn’t pretty. She relays many a horror story involving deportation from the USA, rape, and being physically abused by her violent partner. She lost her papers and can’t return to California. Now she has no money and sleeps on the streets. She even points to the place where she sleeps behind an old building. Whether her stories were true or not, I give her all the coins I have in my right pocket.

Many of the restaurants on Sexta Avenida are a little pricy. The global fast food joints are always a last resort. After a while I find a nondescript hole in the wall place where I ate the worst and blandest meal on my trip so far of burnt chicken and macaroni cheese. I was a fool to eat it. Afterwards, I visited a large shopping centre called Centro Capital. Once inside, beauty parlours and arcades dominate. Yet my main reason for coming was to visit the Proyectos Ultravioletas art space. Unfortunately it was closed when I arrived. I later got chatting with a friendly security guard who told me he lived in the city of Washington for eight years. Judging by the ability of his English, I imagined he always stayed in one familiar community. His English was so substandard (not that my Spanish is faultless) I lost patience and spoke with him in his language. Observing him more, he looks like a member of a Calabrian mafia family.

Just as darkness was about to fall, I duly returned to my hotel room. At night I feel trapped and now I have a great urge to leave this city. Visiting this city just to see a few esoteric contemporary art spaces, regardless of how interesting they may be is simply not worth the heartache, back and brain damage. Wherever I go I will always be a Gringo. No matter how fluent my Spanish is or how much I assimilate myself into the culture and make friends, I will always be a Gringo. Later in the evening I chat with my sister Caroline via Skype and we speak for almost an hour. I subsequently felt glad and happy since for most of the day I was heading south with the realisation of the colossal error I made in coming here coupled with the even greater realisation of just how much of a grade A shithole this city really is. A mug is me.

 
14th December 2013

Last night I stayed all night in my hotel since as soon as I go outside I feel like an endangered species. The morning when I woke up and took a look in the mirror (the narcissistic fool that I am) I felt like I’d added 40 years to my age since yesterday. I got hardly any sleep last night. Some of the people in this hotel are rich in stupidity and insensitivity. There was constant noise. Loud talking and drunken laughter all night. A veritable frathouse. This unpleasant experience has scrapped all my plans to explore the galleries and visit the lovely couple I met in San Pedro Laguna. I now will pay whatever it costs to get out of this stew and move to my next destination. I feel like a sleep starved sack of shit. I have no energy and I am furious about last night. Yet I have to say that these last 18 hours since I touched down in Guate have given me a magnificent glimpse of Hell.

I took a walk through the streets of central Guate to find a bus company with transport to the Guatemala/Honduras border. As I walked I bumped into a middle aged Guatemalan man named Héctor. He spoke to me in very good and clean American English telling me that he lived in California until 1985. He knew of a couple of bus companies with transport to the border. We walked many blocks through the city. The city is a shambles and completely off limits and impossible to navigate if you are and look like a Gringo; depressing, dilapidated and out of date homogenous grey concrete blocks, lethal potholes, and second to none air pollution (most of which appears in generous portions of big black smoke from the many clapped out overworked chicken buses ploughing the busy city streets). Even during the day I can’t relax and I am on my guard to the maximum degree. It is not just the very real possibility of someone jumping on me without warning. Crossing the streets here is an art which requires some serious and seasoned skill and concentration.

During most of our walk through the city I let Héctor do most of the talking. He told me he was a teacher and earned 1600 Quetzales per month paid fortnightly. Today he was going to go to the rural village of Quiche to visit his parents and sisters. We visited two bus companies many blocks apart. Both had transport in some shape or form to the Honduran border but to get the bus I had to take a taxi to the North Terminal wherever the hell it was. On our walk back towards my hotel we both agreed to have a drink at a cafeteria close to the hotel. Once inside I ordered an orange juice. Héctor told me he didn’t have much money. I offered to buy him a drink. Instead he asked me whether I would give him some money? He asked for 100 Quetzales. I asked him what he needed the money for? He told me to buy meat to take with him to his parents village. I suggested we go to a meat vendor together and I would purchase what I thought was a reasonable amount at the local rates. He refused and demanded that I give him the money. I was a little disappointed by his behaviour. Immediately his tone changed and I didn’t feel comfortable around him. Then apropos of nothing, he got up, shouted something in rapid Spanish about the Guatemalan civil war and stormed out of the cafeteria. For about five minutes I felt very shaken. Moreover, I was tired and depressed. The site of Guate, even under a pristine brilliant blue sky, further exacerbated my depression. On a whim I returned to my hotel, grabbed all my things and got a taxi to Zona 3 to catch a chicken bus back to Antigua.

There was heavy traffic on the road back to Antigua. Some time later during the bus journey, a Christian Gringo missionary got on the bus at some random location. In haste, he began approaching random locals on the bus in fluent Spanish to get them to come along to his meetings and church services. He later approached me. I was in a foul mood yet I allowed him to ask me the following…

Was I going to spend a long time in Antigua?
No

Where are you going to after Antigua?
Have you heard of Lao Tzu pal?

No
He was a very wise Chinese sage. He once said that if you want to make God laugh, you tell him your plans and that includes where I am going to next.

Oh. But how long are you travelling for?
Don’t make God laugh

Where do you live?
England

Could we come to England to visit you in your home?
You gotta be fucking joking mate

I immediately retracted what I said. This is what Guate living does to gentle sensitive souls. I apologised profusely for my obnoxious behaviour. I kindly declined and told him I needed to rest. He was surprisingly good natured and moved on to the next random person on the bus.

When we finally arrived in Antigua, I returned to my old guesthouse like I’d just returned from an epic expedition through the DRC. The dueña told me that my old room was still available. I rejoice to the heavens. I spent most of the afternoon at the Toko Bar run by a wonderful Dutch/Indonesian guy called Eduardo. This place makes Antigua for me. It has been one of the highlights of my trip. Not just the delicious and generous portions of tasty Indonesian and global dishes, but the vibes, Eduardo’s stories and all the different and random people I keep meeting. Antigua is quite seductive in this respect even if it is very far from a slice of the ‘real’ Guatemala (whatever that means). These last two days have been a rough and gruelling fill of the real Guatemala so I am more than happy to recover in Antigua. In the evening I had plans to go to the Rainbow Café but after all I’d been through I had to pass.

 

 

By Nicholas Peart

(All rights reserved)

image source: https://www.porternovelli.com