New Career, New Life
It just wouldn’t seem right to stick to a career for too long, so after my last post I decided to become a furniture maker. My brother had a “slab couch” at his place that he and his girlfriend made a while back and we thought the “slab” style may make some money. We already had a field full of huge pine logs and a mill to slab out the logs, AND a shop with all the tools to build them.
The mortise and tenon joints were pretty easy to figure out and the design was very simple so within a couple days I had a prototype ready to sell. I posted it on Craigslist and the first call I got was from a guy opening a shop in downtown Ithaca. He wanted to furnish the shop with slab benches and desks and shelves. I spent the next two months building furniture with the help of my brother. It was tough going from an 8 month vacation to working 50 hours a week.
Last week marked the end of the job. The store is open and I am relieved, though the store owner would also like to sell my furniture, so I may be keeping busy with furniture for the foreseeable future. After a couple days of music making I began working for my parents, tearing down one of our old rotting barns. It’s tough, dangerous work, but I enjoy the instant gratification and obvious goal.
I’ve joined a band which is just starting and we’re hoping to do an acoustic dance/ reggae sort of thing. Playing with other people is very new to me but I really enjoy the feedback and I’m more critical of my playing than when I make music by myself. I’m really excited to perform and get feedback from an audience! Hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate my drum into the band.
Putting down roots is scary and exciting. My interactions with people feel more fulfilling and genuine because I know I’ll see them again. I have always struggled with the idea of never seeing someone again. My friends all over the world that I’ve shared such wonderful moments with are now barely a part of my life.
So it’s settled. I’m settled… except for the one and a half month trip coming up next month. I’m really trying to settle down. I was invited to deliver a racing sailboat from Hawai’i to California, the same boat and trip I did two years ago. I plan to spend a couple weeks visiting friends and family in Hawai’i, sail for two weeks, and then visit friends in L.A. for another two weeks.
Sorry for such a short and dry post, but the details of the last two months escape me, and seeing how they’re not travel details, it doesn’t really seem appropriate to include them.
It’s been 12 days since my last post, and I have been more busy in the past two weeks than ever before. My first order of business was making music. Glorious uninterrupted hours and days of music making. I dragged an old desk from college out of storage and set it up. I didn’t even bother to clean off the mold and cobwebs, just set up my computer and stole the stereo from the living room. I got out my keyboard, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar, ukulele, microphone, mic stand, and headphones and made a makeshift studio.
I was pulling my hair out trying to keep my guitars from banging into each other while keeping them all close enough to my desk to grab, so I went out to the shop and made a wooden guitar rack. I had never spent much time with carpentry but really enjoyed creating an item I needed for almost no cost. It was also really nice to have all of the tools I needed at my finger tips, thanks to my father and brothers obsessive tool collecting!
After a few days of watching the snow fall I decided to suffer with my brother and father and venture out into the bitter cold. My brother Branden has a full blown maple syrup setup and I was eager to learn about the process of making syrup. He tapped 150 sugar maple trees on my parents property and ran hoses from each one to a 175 gallon holding tank. From there the sap get’s taken to a stainless steel evaporator pan , which is about 4 square feet. The pan sits atop a furnace that Branden designed, fabricated, and welded himself.
The furnace is stoked with off-cuts from his saw mill operation ( here’s the video for his saw mill in case you haven’t seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVOYwIKnFyY) and the flame is accelerated with a blower, which blasts fresh air into the furnace. To give an example of the awesomeness of this thing, it can get 30 gallons of water boiling in about a minute! When the sugar content of the boiled down sap gets to a certain amount, it’s pulled off and boiled in a smaller pot so that there’s greater control over temperature.
The process was really interesting, and I was again pleased to see a useful (and delicious) product being created for almost nothing. I decided that I wanted to make a hand drum and Branden and his girlfriend Nikki offered up a deer hyde that Nikki’s father had given them off of a deer he had hunted. I envisioned an adze being handy so I found a chunk of metal and shaped the head with acetylene torch, welder, and grinder, and then fashioned a handle for it. It took almost an entire day, but I felt great about my accomplishment.
The next step was choosing a log so as the sun disappeared behind the trees I drove a tractor back to the mountain of trash wood from last summers logging project and picked a white pine trunk that was bigger than me and weighed close to a half ton! Like usual, I was getting carried away with a project. I picked up the log with the tractor and hauled it up to the sugar shack. I stripped the bark with the adze and scratched my head as I tried to figure out how to stand it on end. It took three grown men and a tractor to stand it up.
I decided to burn out the center, since it seemed like a good skill to learn. I borrowed a big hot coal from the maple syrup evaporator and built a fire in the center of the log. It became clear that I needed my own blower so the next day I built an elaborate/ ghetto blower setup which worked pretty well. It ended up taking two and a half days to burn all the way through the log, but it led to a great deal of knowledge, satisfaction, and singed hair. Branden made maple syrup while I burned a hole in a log.
I pulled the deer skin out of the freezer and let it thaw for a day, then made a stretching frame and stretched the hyde for cleaning. Yesterday was a good day because I finished burning out the log and cleaned all of the meat and fat off of the inside of the hyde and stuck it in a solution to soak. I’m hoping that the solution will loosen the hair and allow me to just pull/ scrape it all out. Once the skin is clean I have to stretch it over the drum. I’ve never made a drum or dealt with an animal hyde so this is all a learning experience for me, and it’s trial and error because I didn’t do any research.
Being here has totally changed my priorities and made me want to not go anywhere. The simplicity and freedom feels amazing. The concept of utilizing the land for all of my needs and detaching myself from the global economy and consumer mentality is so enticing and exciting. To be able to create everything in my existence from scratch seems beautiful. To see where my resources come from would make me a completely responsible consumer. Ithaca has some good people with great ideas. I want so badly to set up relationships to trade for food and all of the other items and services that I can’t or don’t want to produce.
It’s good for me to come back to here at this time in my life, and this time in history. After seeing a billion people clambering up the ladder to get what Americans have, it’s very clear that the gravy train can’t keep rolling. After all, consciousness is a burden; not only to acknowledge one’s own existence, but to act based on that understanding. Now that I’ve seen, it would be immoral for me to ignore. It’s because of all of these inner developments that my future is very uncertain.
The reality is that all of this traveling has put me in the hole and I have to get a job to pay my debt back. I can’t make the decision to be a bum anymore, so I think it’s back to sailing. Today as I was returning from town I saw a touring cyclist, so I invited him for a coffee. He was a 20 year old Swedish guy riding from New York to California. He admitted that he may have jumped the gun on his starting date, it being winter weather still, but was quite optimistic considering. I excitedly gave him as much advice as I could about what to see in America and how to do it on a bike.
Not much other news, but I’ll do my best to keep the blog going and will posta song made with my massive drum-of-war when I finish it!
It’s snowing outside. Their is the slightest evidence of the coming of a new day visible through the window. I’m in my parents home in Spencer, New York. It was without much hesitation that I booked a flight, packed my bags, said hasty good-bye’s, and flew back to the states.
I’m still trying to piece together what went wrong in my mind, and why I gave up on the documentary. The beginning of the end took place in Kolkata. The other Americans told me as we were getting visas that one of them had to leave for a job and wouldn’t be going down the river. They decided they would build a smaller boat from scratch. They also wanted to leave sooner, being sick of Dibrugarh, so they intended to just slap a boat together.
It was a shock to me, but I had blind determination to make the film so I agreed to continue on. After a week of being away from them, I was re-introduced to their lack of respect for the locals and impatient intolerance for non-english speakers. It made me cringe to see their interactions, and caused me to be distant from them from the beginning. I was depressed and torn in Kolkata, and had a few idle days while I waited for my return flight to Dibrugarh to consider the entire situation.
At this point there would be no admirable craftsmanship, no connection between them and the people of India, and no intimate interaction between the camera and the characters. It was far from my vision, which was probably a big part of the problem. I had gone into this project blindly and already knew what I wanted the film to be. In fact, I even wrote out a rough outline. So now I had before me a story of three guys building a death trap to sail blindly down a complexly braided river without navigation, while begrudgingly interacting with the locals. There would certainly be action, adventure, and drama, but how could I create a film about such uncommendable people?
I was still determined to make the film and pushed negative thoughts out of my mind, but couldn’t shake my melancholy. The first day of boat building back in Dibrugarh I met them at the site and set everything up for filming, silently. I would have been happy not talking to anyone. I took a stance in front of the guys, who were working and talking, and hit record. Within a second or two I was overtaken by emotion and turned off the camera.
I had a singular thought that had previously not existed in my mind. “I should give up”. I sat in the dirt, and stared blankly at my journal. Some locals came over and curiously started trying to read what had me so captivated. I needed privacy to make a decision, so I pedaled back to the hotel sullenly. I spent the rest of the day in my head. At night I went to the internet cafe and researched flights.
I went back to the hotel and the guys were there so I talked to one of them about my thoughts and ended up getting lectured on how to make a film, and while most of what he was saying was true, it didn’t motivate me to continue the project. I slept on it and in the morning had even more determination to quit, especially when I envisioned home. In fact, I couldn’t get the feeling of home out of my head and became at ease, even happy about giving up.
I booked a ticket Sunday morning for Tuesday afternoon. I spent Monday saying my goodbyes to friends. Monday night I saw the guys in the hall and told them my decision, which came as a surprise to them. It was difficult for me to explain my motivation for quitting the project and put it as lightly as possible. They took it well and apologized for their actions, which confused me a bit. They took me out to dinner and we had a nice time. It created mixed feelings about the situation for me and I began to question wether I had misjudged them.
They are certainly not monsters and always treated me with respect, but my subconscious judges character and controls my interactions with people based on it’s judgements, so I believe my decision was right. Anyways, There was tons of flying and security checks, and lines, and discomfort, but I made it back to New York and surprised my brother, who was cooking down a batch of maple sap. I hadn’t told my family that I was coming home so it was a total surprise to them.
It’s so nice to be home, and even though I have failed to complete a major project, I have enthusiastically made many plans for more film/ music/ art/ sailing adventures and projects. Though I spent thousands of dollars and months of my life on this project, I consider it to be anything but a failure. Everything I gained from the trip is worth far more than money could buy. When I’m 80, I can guarantee I won’t be dwelling on all of that money I could have saved in 2013 when I tried to be a travel documentarian.
I plan to take the next month easy. Not spend any money. Enjoy my family and friends. Make music and enjoy everything that up state has to offer. Next month I’ll be attempting to be a responsible adult… sort of. I’ll look for sailing gigs to have steady income and pay back my debt. I’m afraid to say that Trev’s Travels doesn’t have many prospects in the near future, but I suppose Ithaca is as big an adventure as any, so I’ll try to keep the blog going.
Note: I have no intention of offending or bad mouthing anyone and try to tell the story as straight as possible, through my eyes of course. I wouldn’t have included negative personal information about anyone, accept that omitting it would damage my own reputation and image unnecessarily.
India Days 35-38
I missed my train for Kolkata on Saturday. When I booked it at the station, they printed the ticket for Friday and I never noticed the incorrect date. I saw Paplu Saturday morning as I was walking back to the hotel after breakfast. I explained that I was leaving later in the day for Kolkata and showed him the ticket. He noticed the date and we spent the next couple of hours going around town trying to get it straightened out.
I never did get a refund and the next few days of departures were booked up so getting a new ticket wasn’t an option. After snapping out of my lugubrious state I was able to step back and consider some alternatives. I found a flight for $180, and figured while it was 3 times more expensive than a train, it would save 69 hour of my life for something, anything other than sitting on a train, so I booked it. My anxiety lifted immediately.
I flew out on Monday and while waiting in the airport, I saw Rajveer, whom I had met a week before. He worked at the airport and helped me with the whole process. When he got off of work he came and sat next to me and we had an enjoyable conversation.
The flight was short and sweet. To my disappointment there was no view because of the endless see of haze that hung over the land, stagnant and visually impenetrable. When we made our descent into Kolkata the sun was low in the sky and choked out by the smog which we broached before touching down. It was cool to be able to look at the sun. a big red orange disk, with the naked eye, but otherwise the pollution in the air was disgusting.
I was prepared for mass confusion and energized crowds as we got off the plane, but things were fairly well organized and I had no problem retrieving my checked bag and finding a cab.
I should have smelled trouble when I got into an argument with my cabby about where he would take me and how much it would cost, but I’m new to the Indian big city thing and I let him convince me of what I wanted and how much I wanted to pay. I thought he was going to take me closer to the Bangladesh embassy, but he assured me that there were no hotels near there and any that were in the area were far too expensive.
He drove me a stones throw from the airport and showed me a “cheap” hotel. It was probably his buddy’s and the cabby would probably get a cut if I stayed there. The room was tiny. right next to the main road, and filled with mosquitoes. They wanted 900 rupees which is exactly 5 times as expensive as the nice room I had in Dibrugarh. Location was not the reason either as the area was a long drive to the city.I said it was too much and got more lecturing from the cab driver before he took me to see another hotel around the corner. I took a room in this hotel which was the same price, but removed from the main road, more spacious, lacking the cloud of vampires, and most importantly, not what the pushy driver wanted me to do.
I paid for the room and then paid the cab driver. He had the nerve to ask for 10 rupees for tea which I flatly refused being fed up with him. As I wandered around the area exploring it sunk in that I got took and needed to be aware of situations like that. I was really impressed by the town. Houses constructed out of anything and everything and painted all sorts of colors were stacked in what seemed like the most precarious ways. The stacks of homes and buildings were intersected by dirt pathways that zigged and zagged and often led nowhere.
There is a surreal sort of stillness and tranquility in the backyard of a city. People move through the darkness in contemplative silence. Pass each other with hardly a glance. It’s as if we are naturally subdued by darkness.
I eventually found an internet shop despite people’s bogus directions. I sent an email to the guys to let them know that I had arrived and would go to the embassy in the morning. They were coming from Kumbh Mela and we had talked about meeting in Kolkata on Monday before we parted ways. I left the shop and walked back to the hotel. I laid down to in bed to rest my ailing knees and noticed that it was far too early to call it a night. I relaxed for a bit and then gathered the energy and gumption to go back out with my camera and tripod.
I was nervous being seen with all of my expensive gear in a new, unknown place, but I felt comfortable with what I had seen of the area so far. I got the same curious friendly inquiries as in Dibrugarh. “Where you are coming from?”, “What is your name?”. There are many plots of land submerged in water which makes for good photos because of the reflections they create, especially at night. It was nice to be devoting time to photography. I was drawn towards drums and light and found that it was emanating from a family block party in an empty lot. There were Christmas lights strung across palm trees and Bengali men, women, and children dancing to the energetic rhythm made by three drummers dressed i traditional garb.
I set up my camera in the shadows beyond the property next to some onlookers and began filming nervously. The partiers began noticing me and pointing me out to others. Before long I was being ushered in to get a good vantage for shooting. They brought me a chair and began directing people to get a good shot. One of the men talked with me throughout my filming of the event and decided to help me find a cheaper hotel. After the party he took me into a very cool market close to his home and found a hotel for 650. I thanked him for his help and wished him a good night and then headed back to my hotel.
I woke up early the next morning, packed up my stuff, and woke up the hotel employees so that I could check out. I walked down the busy road and eventually found a cab that could take me to the embassy for 250. When he realized how far it was we renegotiated for 300 which was still ok since it was a long distance. He took me to a market and said there’s the embassy. I told him to drop me off AT the embassy but again I was swindled and convinced that it was there. He asked for 400 and after failing to talk him down I collected my things and walked away astonished at how easily they get me.
An old man spotted me and approached me claiming to know of a hotel that I could stay in for 450 so I followed him through the amazing and to a small hotel. The room and price were agreeable and he took 70 rupees commission. He walked me back out to the street and got me a cab that would take me to the embassy and back for 250 rupees. I agreed and was off to the embassy, which was a 15 minute drive from my hotel. Yes, scammed again.
As we drove by the embassy I spotted Sam’s big hair and then saw Daniel. Both were in a crowd of people waiting for the embassy to open. The driver parked and said he would wait for me. When I met up with them they informed me of some game changing developments (but I’ve got to save something for the doc!). We went to an internet cafe and discussed our options as we researched things on the web. We eventually decided to continue with our plans to get our visas. On the way back I got my passport copied and bought a visa form from a guy selling them on the street (same dude later got into a heated argument with some other guys and had a brawl on the street). We submitted paperwork and they gave us an appointment to be interviewed at 11:30 the same day.
We wandered around and ate some lunch, then returned for our interview. The high commissioner spoke in front of 6 of us foreigners in his office. He told us of the unrest in Bangladesh and that we should avoid the big city of Dhaka. He explained all of the issues of his country before taking us individually and asking basic questions about our travel intentions. We passed our interviews, paid our 7500 rupees (“because you Americans have lots of money hahaha”- high commissioner) and were told to return for our visas at 5:00 pm the next day.
I was waiting for Sam and Daniel and decided to head back to my hotel when the cabby spotted me. I had completely forgotten forgotten that he had been waiting and 4 hours had passed. He lectured me angrily and I knew I would be paying a premium for this ride. When he dropped me off he asked for over 1000 but I talked him down to 500.
I went back to my room and relaxed, took a nap, and contemplated the ever shifting path and obstacles of a traveler. I went out and caught the Bizar in magic hour lighting with my camera. More curious onlookers. After about an hour I found an internet shop, so here I sit. I think a nice dinner is in order. All of the variety of food, which didn’t exist in Dibrugarh is exciting so I’ll do my best to try something new.