Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kat: giant squids, painted schoolbuses and the quest for Microwave.

One of my models of modern travelers was Kinga Freespirit, a Polish hitch-hiker that for 5 years travelled the whole world. During the first half of 2006, I had followed his African adventure on his website There I learnt that Kinga had met another three girls, two of the hardcore hitch-hikers, and the other travelling with a truck. I am talking about Kati, Rebeka and Aknes (the French girl with the truck). In his stories about the trip through Mauritania and Burkina Faso, Kinga had presented them as such lovely beings, that I wanted to meet this girls in real life. I had met Kinga in Poland in 2005, in the beginning of this trip, t I wouldn’t see her again. She would unexpectedely die from malaria in Ghana in June of 2006. Now, also unexpectedely, Kati, one of the girls, had found my website and we were in touch. Aknes and her were in Thailand! Since the three of us had met Kinga, we decided that we had to meet.

To be faithful to true events, the arrival of Kati was also anxiously awaited by the Cyclowns, as a sort of Santa Claus. The reason was that Kati wass bringing a load of circus costumes from New York, ols stafff that he wanted to dispose off. And what better than presenting it to a circus? Raffi even stopped playing the violin to peep what was inside the magic bag that Kat had dropped in the clobbledstone pavement of Tha Pae Gate. In the bag, everybody found something interesting, as in a scavenger hunt. There were tuxedo tail jackets, clown shoes, velvet pants embroidered with butterflies, all sorts of staff. And even a pair of pois that I had specially requested her from NY, the ones that change colours. Now I must learn to spin them… And there was also Aknes, the girl that hd traveled Africa with her truck. Not a VW van or mini bus, but a real size Mercedes truck. In the back, she carried a large inflatable castle that she had stolen from a McDonalds in Europe.She thought it would make its job better in Africa than in Europe, where kids are overspoiled and already have more toys than they could play with. And we were proud of her. Suddenly, the girls became aware that they had met each other exactly a year before, in a music festival in Mali. That night I was grateful for having met Kati and Aknes in real life.

The first matter for conversation was naturally Kinga, her sensibility, the love he professed for all the being she met on her way, her tolerance. Kat told the story of Kinga to Manu Chao, whom she knows to some extaint, after a concert, in the lobby of a luxurious hotel. Moved by the story, Manu Chao spilled some of his red wine over the carpet, as though offering it to Pachamama, and said: “For Kinga!”. Kat has always been living on the road. Having started to talk about Kinga, now I only wanted to listen to her stories. (Btw you can check them out yourself at

On the road since 15 years ago, Kat can afford to include in her biografy some charming facts, as having toured the US with the Grateful Dead and met Ken Kesey, and having owned her own school bus, painted according to the canons of psicodelic art, which he bought for $500, painted to fit her taste, and sold it on the E-bay for $10.000. The buyer had been the wife of the president of Coca Cola, with whom they are now friends. Kat speaks perfect Spanish, which she learnt in South America (She claims Banios, Ecuador as her second home). She has hitch-hiked in more countries than she remembers, and has a specific taste for exotic destinations that suits her nicely.

Some people would understandably rate Thailand as an exotic destination, but for Kat and me was the closest to the West we had seen in a while, full of tourists, and far too easy to travel to provoke any phantasy. We spent the whole time talking about Mauritania, Ecuador and Afghanistan. For the road’s sake, however, we decided to leave Chiang Mai with any destination. I had already been in Chiang Mai for months and needed to go back to my element. We were soon on the road, sharing the road, which is not something that happens often. It’s easy to ahev a travel aompanion, but having the sameperpective of the road is all together another thing. Then Kat told me about giant squids. It seems that there is a rare species of squids whose existence was until recent rgarded as a myth. They can be as big as a house and live more than a hundred years. These squids can travel for decades in the depth of the ocean without crossing paths with another specimen of the opposite sex. Being so rare, when this happens, evolution forces them to notice each other…

We were less than motivated by the map of Thailand, but we randomly started traveling westwards, to the Burmese border. We then spotted a village on the map with a more than curious name. It was called “Microwave”. We started to discuss hypothesis of why a town could be named after a kitchen appliance…. And decided to go there and check it out. On the way we were given a ride and hosted by an Israelian Buddhist monk who had been living in Thailand for years. We stayed overnight in comfortable bungalows. On the following morning, when we said goodbye, Yudi (so his name) was explaining a disciple that the breakfast table was not only a table, but it was the whole cosmos. Yudi seemed to us a very talkative monk, too talkative to embody the spirit of Buddhist wisdom…but a really great guy! We finally reached Microwave, which owned its name to a nearby telecommunication tower. As the local Mong people wereless than inviting and didn’t even acknowledge our presence we left for the main road and eventually arrived to Pai, where Lonely Planet backpackers outnumber locals in the streets. A little depressing…

In Pai we understood the irony of having met in Thailand. What a shame! –said Kat And she was right. With all its pleasures and facilities, it was really a boring place for two lovers of adventure. We could only wish to be tele-transported to Yemen, Ethiopia or at least Marrocco. But we were in Thailand and we tried to accept it. Lying on the hammack, Kat laughed at the book she was reading, a compilation in which young female authors narrated how they had bought medicines without prescriptions in India, and expected their stories to be thrillers… “I prefer to meet people that don’t travel that people who believe they travel” –said Kat, and I had to agree.


Dani Bora said...

Hey Juan, nice to hear from you! We met in Luang Prabang back in January while you were selling your books, and we had a really interesting conversation. I was, and still am, fascinated by your traveling, I wonder if you one day I'll be brave enough to do something similar.

My name is Dani by the, where are you now? And what's next on your journey?

Best wishes,


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its always a pleasure to read your writing.


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Nina Nooit said...

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