La Bamba

October 31st, 2010

Jeepney in the Philippines

As an alternative to Thailand a few us of would occasionally travel to the Philippines to party and SCUBA dive. Before the unlikely named Cardinal Sin and Mayor Lim closed down Ermita, Manila was a great place to spend a couple of days, tons of bars that rivaled the top bars in Bangkok, lots of good looking girls and good beer.

Chad

October 30th, 2010

National Day in ChadAfrica is interesting, the wildlife, the people, but it can be interesting in the bad sense of the word as well. A lot of bad things happen in Africa and it doesn’t take a lot to be involved in those bad things. I worked in Chad for a full year in 1990, upon landing one of the first remarks I made to a friend that picked me up was “what a shit hole”, and I meant it. At the time there was 23 miles of paved road in the country, no electricity grid and most people I saw lived in huts that were interchangeable with their barns. We of course had our standard, self contained mobile village like most seismic crews but that didn’t protect us from the malarial mosquito that flew around hoping to spread its joy. In fact half of the expats I was working with in Chad came down with malaria, a fun disease that is with you for life.

There was a good thing about working in Chad, the food was crap and I was on a mission to lose weight. The year I worked there I first started to run, plugging in the B-52’s and running down dirt trails. Something cool about listening to “Roam” as you jog a red clay African trail passing by native women carrying water on their head. I later brought back a Nordic Track as Exxon didn’t want us out away from camp without armed guards, it was Africa after all, kidnapping happened too often.

It was getting close to Christmas when a civil war turned nasty, Debe had his forces invade from Sudan, but as we were working north of the capital near Lake Chad, the prevailing wisdom  didn’t think we would be in danger. Not being military strategists we of course were wrong, even though we weren’t in the direct path of the battles the losing government army evacuated through the area where we were working. At first it was OK, we give the soldiers a little food, a little money and they moved on, we were able to get the Twin Otter in to evacuate 16 of my fellow doodlebuggers leaving 12 of us more experienced for the next flight. Unfortunately the pilot of the first flight reported that he was shot at while taking off and wouldn’t come back to retrieve the “dirty dozen” as we eventually started calling ourselves.

As we ran out of money and food to give to the soldiers that got their butt kicked. Eventually they started to turn a bit nasty, some pushing and shoving, a bit of gun pointing and yelling. We decided it was best to go out into the desert to hide and await rescue. Interesting thing about the desert at night in Africa, it can get COLD! I had a leather jacket on and jeans and it still was uncomfortable cold lying down on the sub-Sahara sand at night. Two days without food and water was running a bit low, the Muslim soldiers did leave the beer and ice which was happily drank after the French military found us and flew us out by helicopter.

 

We were flown by the French to N’Djamena and then off to Cameroon were Exxon chartered a 737 to take us to Amsterdam. When it looked as if the army would leave us nothing  but maybe the cloths on our back a few of us put our valuables in a pickup truck and had a driver  take it to a ravine and throw  branches on it  to hopefully keep it out of the hands of the military. Not 3 minutes after sending the truck to the ravine we see it coming back our way full of soldiers.  Thinking maybe they would let me have my stuff back I started walking towards them, they pointed their guns at me and I decided the possessions they had of mine weren’t that important. I had my passport in my pocket, who needs 80 cd’s, a stereo, gold chains, diamond rings, credit cards and a couple of thousand in cash?  That is how I found myself in Amsterdam with absolutely not a dime on me, no credit cards and no way to get any money, weird feeling that, being totally penny less thousands of miles from home.

We were met in Amsterdam by the Chad country manager who of course as very glad to see that all of us had made it out unscathed, he happened to be on break when all of this went down, coincidence? The first thing I asked him was did he bring any money so I could get a pay advance? He looked a bit perplexed at first then had a great idea, asking us to come with him he introduced me to a nice man from the US Embassy. JT, this is such and such from the US Embassy, such and such this is JT a US citizen; he is destitute, can you help him out? 

Flying

October 30th, 2010

Sitting on the airplane thinking about why I enjoy travel so much. It’s not just seeing different places and experiences although that is an important part. But I feel very relaxed on an airplane, on the ground I have a million things to do, never ending responsibilities, commitments, and task lists. On an airplane those things disappear, doesn’t matter what I NEED to get done, sitting in this aluminum tube flying at 530 mph all I CAN do is read, watch a movie or listen to one of my favorite albums. I’m at peace.

This sounds weird to me (and probably to you) but I fall asleep almost every time the airplane takes off. Here we are screaming down the runway at several hundred miles an hour and I almost always pass out and wake up about 10 minutes in the air. Is that weird or what? Might be a defense mechanism from when I flew Turkish Air a lot and was certain I was going to die in a ball of fire on their airplane someday, but I am not sure.

My favorite flying music is not “normal” I suppose. I listen a lot to Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading and Tanita Tikarum. You probably won’t find them in your local records store! I became a fan watching the UK’s Top of the Pops in the 80’s and for some reason when I get on airplane they seem to be the perfect choice for my play list.

Bouncing around the globe since ’84 and still loving it!

My first break

October 30th, 2010

Oman

The Sultanate of Oman was the very first foreign country I lived in outside of the United States, in fact besides a short layover in London on the way to Oman it is the first country outside of the US I had ever visited.

Thailand

I was working in Oman but of course starting to plan for my very first break! Where to go? I had been certified as a SCUBA diver this year and had heard amazing stories of the Red Sea in Egypt, that sounded great, it’s didn’t look too far from Oman on the map, I could go up there for a break. I started discussing this with my co-workers who all looked at me like I was talking about visiting the moon. You have to #1 realize that these guys had been in the Middle East for years and had no desire to spend any more time around Arabs than they had to and #2 were not SCUBA divers so had reason to sit beside the Red Sea.

A group of them were going to Thailand the same time I was going and asked if I wanted to tag along. I looked at the map and scratched my head thinking why in the hell would I want to fly all the way over there for break.  But, the thought of traveling with a group of guys that knew their way around instead of going it alone to a new country was appealing and the pictures they showed me of their Thai girlfriends tended to sway me as well. After all I had just turned 25 and my girlfriend wasn’t exactly close in two senses of the word.

My first break

We drove to Muscat to our staff house to sleep a bit and catch the early morning Thai flight via Pakistan to Don Muang airport in Bangkok. I remember I drank a bit too much in Muscat and felt like hell getting on that Thai flight the next morning, fortunately it wasn’t that full and I was able to stretch out and get some sleep. I barely remember touching down in Karachi and was woke up for breakfast an hour or so out of Bangkok. One of the first things that you notice about Bangkok is the smell, a tropical smell that is unique to Bangkok I believe, some people hate it, I love it, always have.

We got a taxi to the Honey Hotel, a Vietnam era hotel built to handle the R&R of those that were unlucky enough to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Now it mainly handled oil field guys that came to Bangkok for the same reason the GI’s had, rest and relaxation. 

On a side note the breakfast on Thai Air did not agree with me, I spent a good portion of that morning sitting on the toilet violently getting rid of most of my bodily fluids out of two orifices. The first time this had happened to me, years later I had another incident, also in Thailand but cannot be blamed on Thai Air!