Waking up with a spider in your mouth

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Yesterday, I ate chocolate so rich, so deep, so goddam SEXUAL, it felt like I was eating something’s soul. Only with the best meat have I felt so sated. If only there was an animal made of chocolate around here, I’d gladly dropkick it’s delicious head off for another hit of cacao goodness. Having googled it, I can report with much regret that it is the only animal that doesn’t exist around here.

Central America is a massive zoo without bars, keepers or closing hours. In Honduras, hordes of little kids held up huge, dragon-like iguanas to the windows of our shuttle-bus, making ‘delicious’ gestures with their free hands. Butterflies, of which I am justifiably terrified (irregular flight patterns are not be trusted), fluttered through Guatemalan glades as silver squirrels and monkeys sniggered from on high. Pumas lurk deep in the shadows, waiting for their moment.

In the jungle that surrounds my Nicaraguan Spanish school, there are reportedly 7 types of tarantula. Not 7 tarantulas, but 7 TYPES. Let’s say conservatively that there are ten of each type. That’s 70 of the scuttly little bastards that could very easily climb into my mouth as I sleep. No-one deserves that many tarantulas in their mouth, not even the person who used my toothbrush to unblock a poo-packed toilet in Guatemala. But even more bizarrely, the surrounding countryside is also apparently riddled with transvestites, following the Mayor’s closure of Nicaragua’s premier lakeside transvestite bar after one of them accidentally tried chatting him up. Just think what could end up in your sleeping mouth if that tale were true.

There are also Boa Constrictors (yes, the unfeeling ropes of solid muscle that crush their prey to death), Howler Monkeys that think they are Lions at 4.30 in the morning, rampaging, razor-tusked wild boar and thorned trees patrolled by ranks of kamikaze army ants. Touch one of these trees and you’re pretty much done. Having already seen a lizard being murdered and dismembered by ants one night in El Salvador, I have absolute confidence that they’d be able to finish off a pasty Scotsman without breaking a sweat, or whatever it is ants do instead of sweating.

According to the guy who runs the school, most of the bees around here are ‘Africanised’. Among other things, this means they’re really good at gang-stinging humans to death if they feel threatened. His advice was very clear – if you try and kill one, make sure you finish the job, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself wearing a bee onesie, en route to the hospital. And to think I was scared of the machete-wielding locals. Turns out the smaller the organism, the bigger the problem.

Case in point – the local scorpions, which cockily assume squatter’s rights deep in your rucksack, boots or pants, then go all ‘Ricky Lake’ on you if they feel like they’re being evicted. They won’t kill you, but you’ll probably look like a balloon for a wee while. Then of course, there are the myriad mosquitos, bed bugs and ‘don’t-see-em’s’ – invisible little fuckers who pepper your derma with cluster bombs of itchy napalm for the duration of your trip. Worse, and smaller still, are the kinds of bacteria that only the most twisted God could concoct. These microscopic horrors will magically spirit themselves into your gut and own you from the inside out, despite any medicine you may take. On day 7 of my latest bout of tectonic-plate-shifting-shits, I would have gladly walked naked through a rainforest-full of mozzies to stop the bum-rot. Luckily, just as I was about to do that, the bum Gods showed mercy. El Allah is great indeed. Let’s hope he steps in a bit earlier when I catch THE PLAGUE in South America. That’d make a believer of me, at least until I woke up with a tarantula in my mouthimage

The Unbearable lightness of pooing

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‘I suffer, therefore I am’

What Descartes might have said if he’d been to El Salvador
There was this smart cookie a few years back who proved his own existence (harder than it sounds) by uttering the breathtakingly elegant words: ‘I think, therefore I am’. The implication being that there must be some ‘thing’ doing the thinking, which he took to be the self, the ‘I’. When I first came across this borderline-sexual nugget of logic, I breathed a sigh of relief, picked up my books and repaid the lecturer by never coming back, instead sleeping for the majority of the next four years. Why go back? What else was there to learn? The main problem had already been solved – I existed. I wasn’t dreaming, or part of someone else’s dream. Goddamit, even if the Matrix was true (which it definitely is, like God) there was still a ‘something’ that was being duped. Fuck you Agent Smith, right in your squeaky clean pixel-balls. The detail didn’t really bother me. All that mattered was that I was here, part of the great ‘something’ for 12 hours of every day, only to return to the great ‘nothing’ for my nightly, weed-induced, 12-hour coma. A greater comfort there was not.
After a wee while though, all that comfort started to catch in my mind-throat. Deep in my subconscious, something was stirring (the conscious part had long had its hands full with the meaty tasks of getting to and from the bowling alley, acquiring food and White Russians, and avoiding and/or insulting ladies). What exactly was I doing with my life? Was I ‘living’ or merely existing, moving around like a wind-up soldier within a pre-determined geographical bubble? It certainly felt that way. And the more I looked around, the more it seemed that everyone else was doing it too, scurrying around in their bubbles, kept numb and dumb and lacking fun by the fear of future unemployment, sexual inadequacy and not having the latest i-thing. True, I was essentially a homeless person who happened to have access to a flat, and the others were responsible adults with dreams, hopes and access to other people who consented to intercourse with them, but could any of us honestly claim to be living? Try it yourself. Go into an urban environment at rush-hour and check the eyes. How ‘alive’ do they seem to you?
Fast forward ten years, and the little niggle had developed into a tumour-like thought-bastard, bulging through the little black holes in my bloodshot eyes. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake this hunch that we were all mindlessly edging towards the void, rarely, if ever going beyond mere existing, to the holy grail of living. I tried various tactics to get some of this elusive ‘life’ into my veins, very few of them particularly advisable – buying fancy waistcoats, spending offensive amounts on exotic, french-made fragrances, sniffing illicit substances off grotty toilet-tops, mistreating women, marinading in a self-poured ocean of booze. The usual. But whatever I put in or on by night was gone by the morning. The feeling of living wouldn’t stick. What to do? I mean, apart from crack, what to do? I mean, apart from hookers and crack and Big Macs and upping my broadband data limit, what to do?
Fast forward 2 more years and I’m frantically eyeing an infected cut on my foot, sweating like a rapist (or a rape-ee – the jury’s out on who typically sweats more). As I tried to lazer the puss away with superman eyes, was I worried about whether I was living or just existing? Was I fuck. I was more worried about how I’d continue doing yoga with only one foot. Maybe it was a good thing. The springboard to the next me. Maybe I’d start a new yoga movement – the Melrose Method, an inspiration to the limbed and limbless the world over. Maybe I’d even get on Richard and Judy. Perhaps even Oprah? Me and Lance – the hero and the villain. I could be his redeemer. I’d let him cry on my shoulder for free bikes. The potential was infinite. Christ, I could release a single. Open a theme-park. People would cut off their feet just to be part of it. The only way to know would be to walk (hop) the path. The foot had to go. The Gibson method was too important not to happen.
Such is the power of suffering, real or imagined. In this case, most of the suffering was imagined, a result of an overactive imagination, a self-enforced booze drought and a melodramatic need for attention from anyone, myself included, but still – I was at last, in the moment. Sure, it was a shit moment, one that lasted for 6 days and sapped enough strength to lay the foundations for a further 7-day bout of life-affirming diarrhea, but still, there I was, dead centre in it.  They harp on about this ‘being in the moment’ chat a lot in yoga and I’d never really understood what it meant, not least because metaphysically, the concept of surrendering to ‘the moment’ is a bit of a mind-bender. A ‘moment’ is now. And now. And now. There isn’t one moment, but a succession of them, machine-gunning through your consciousness (or your consciousness through them). So even if you manage to successfully ‘be’ in THIS moment, you’ve got to start it all over again to get into this one. And this one. And this one. Seems nigh on impossible, and hardly relaxing. But maybe I’m thinking too much – something that yoga gently but firmly discourages with its clear-as-mud, chakra-babble.
Days later, as my white-knuckle diarrhea ride to hell and back entered its 5th day, and I swallowed yet another scream, I found myself back in that strange thing they call the moment. Maybe it was the 4-day fast, or the 7 days dry, or not talking to anyone apart from the doctor for 6, but in the split seconds between spasms, the mind-clouds parted and pure sunshine poured through, exactly like the moment in ‘The Perfect Storm’ where the clouds parted and pure sunshine poured through. When I looked in the mirror, I was George Clooney. I was George Clooney and I was alive, and I was going to beat this shit storm, or die trying. So, as I squirmed around on this sweaty, plastic toilet seat, under blinking strip lights thousands of miles from home, I glimpsed what it was to be alive for just long enough to smile before
the perfect storm of bacteria in my gut resumed it’s dark and humbling lessons.

The ‘Guate’ Spa

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I recently had the extremely dubious pleasure of my first ‘Gutemalan Spa Experience’, aka ‘Travelling alone, made essentially dumb, deaf, mute and blind by your inability to understand the language of the country you are in’.

So why choose a Guatemalan Spa Experience?

Glad you asked. The G.S.E. works by targetting various emotional and physical weak spots to slowly yet surely chip away at your being until there is nothing left but the soft centre of what you used to call ‘you’.

Sounds amazing. How do I get some of this?

It couldn’t be easier. Just set your alarm for 6AM and relax while you still can. Spiritual, physical and emotional disarray is just round the corner.

How to prepare for your Guatemalan Spa:

1. Spend 32 years not learning Spanish
2. Continue, resolutely, to not learn Spanish for your first 4 weeks in Guatemala.
3. Arrange to go from San Marcos, Lake Atitlan to El Paredon, solo, on public transport.
4. Keep not learning Spanish. It is is vital that you have no way to communicate your suffering to others.
5. You are now ready for your experience!

So, what can I expect?

1. The Guatemalan bum massage.

Hitting various perrineal and buttock-al pressure points, the rock-solid seats of the juddering wreck of a machine they call a ‘chicken bus’ will take you slowly yet surely to the middle of nowhere, both spiritually and geographically. Not to be missed, even if you could.

2. The Guatemalan neck and shoulder massage.

Discreetly delivered by a small child sitting immediately behind you, the Guatemalan neck and shoulder massage acts like an invigorating machine-gun to the soul. Simply by angling the point of his or her elbow forward into your spine, the child utilises the natural vibrations of the bus clattering over pot-holes to create knots that would not be possible with any other Spa Experience. And if you want it harder, simply push back – they relish the chance to work you deeper!

3. The Guatemalan Colonic.

Provided by deceptively innocent-looking young girls, the Guatemalan Colonic comes in the form of 3 deep-fried, semi-circular, corn-based envelopes filled with some kind of vegetable matter, topped with additional shredded, pickled vegetable matter and a concoction of specially formulated germs guaranteed to unlock the mysteries of your digestive tract. If you are lucky, this will happen in transit, but if not, don’t worry – it will happen sooner or later! (This is available as a one-off, walk-up treatment at any Guatemalan street-food stall).

4. The Guatemalan Dog confrontation.

Hand-picked for their infected eyes and festering holes in their head, several vicious dogs will be released towards you from various angles. The ensuing spike of adrenalin coupled with a sense of total vulnerability purifies the mind, cleansing it of such unhelpful emotions like feeling safe, secure, and relaxed.

5. The Silent treatment.

As outlined above, the corner stone of the Guatemalan Spa experience is to feel totally alone – to find yourself you need to be by yourself. If locals try to engage in English, immediately relocate to a more bewildering environment, clutch at your pockets and whine like a child lost in a supermarket.

6. The Guatemalan mis-direction

The cherry on the Guatemalan Spa Experience, this part starts well before the treatment. By simply telling you that a 9-hour trip will take 5 hours, the manager of the hostel you are going to screws you from the start. Learning to square what she told you with what is actually happening gives you an opportunity to face your anger and eventually let it go. By the time you arrive at your destination, rage will have been replaced with meek gratitude, a confident gait with a nervous shuffle, and a functioning digestive system replaced with an inflamed tunnel through which food and water passes unhindered.

Now all you have to do is lie back, not relax and be kept up all night by the sound of pounding surf, the prospect of being ‘Steve Irwine’d’ by unseasonally early stingrays, and tangle yourself in sweat-sodden sheets and mosquito nets with holes big enough for small puppies to get through. And all this for 10 dollars less than it would be to get a private shuttle-bus in half the time.