Compartir es Amar July 26th, 2006: West Grey, Ontario Home. Even though it is probably one of the most clichéd phrases in the English language, I think that Judy Garland had it right while tapping those ruby red slippers together in full technicolor, repeating over and over again that there really is no place like it. And this sentiment is coming from a guy who is currently without what most people might refer to as a home, having essentially continued the backpacking expedition here in Canada by using my car to house my most dire necessities (clothes, toiletries, and the disgusting hockey equipment whose odor routinely fogs the windows), while spending most of my nights on the couches of Ronnie, Foley, Dan, and Skeeter, and a few more on fold out beds in the basements of my Grandmother and Unkle Mike, as well as a couple of memorable evenings in a borrowed tent atop a buried septic tank somewhere on the outskirts of Hanover. Yep, it's great to be back. But I have to say that even though most of my meager worldly belongings continue to collect dust in a basement reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs; and despite the fact that it's hard to believe that what might amount to the best four months of my life have already come and passed, there really is no way to express the feeling of triumphant jubilation and utter relief upon arriving back home again... even when you're completely broke and homeless. Especially when you're completely broke and homeless. Because the way I see it, if you have to be broke and homeless (I would advise doing your best to avoid these circumstances), there really is no better place to be so than back here at home. This current lack of a permanent address, to say nothing of an internet connection, is the reason behind the delay in getting this last little installment out. And for that I apologize. Our last twelve days in South America went something like this: As I was hiding away in a hot and sticky internet cafe in the sandy little beach town of Montanita, Ecuador (a town that has accurately been described as resembling a Hollywood set of what a beach town is supposed to look like) while typing the last email I sent out (which feels like a year ago), a pair of English girls with whom Sandra and I had hung out for about two weeks in Bolivia happened to scream my name as they passed by on the street, immediately prompting a night of unparalleled debauchery where, after sucking back monstrously powerful Pina Coladas and Caipirinhas from the streetside alcohol vendors who line up like the Hot Dog guys on a Nathan Phillips Square lunch hour do, we headed to a bar on the beach called Cana where they had sand on the ground and a bonfire ablaze, the perfect compliment to the decent little makeshift reggae outfit who ably demonstrated that you really only need a drummer, base player, and cowbell to make up a band, the rest of the interchangeable parts being adequately filled by backpacking beach bums with half-broken instruments who need do nothing more than hammer back frosty beverages and try to keep up. These guys essentially worked their way through the entire Legend album, interspersing the Marley love-in with a raucous rendition of La Bamba, and a Latin-American infused version of the Liverpudlian classic "Tweest en Showt", the grand finale eventually involving a bunch of stray dogs running around up on stage and our stumbling back to the beachfront hostel where we happily listened to the people in the room above us, separated by nothing more than a ceiling that you could have read a newspaper through, as they made their way through a veritable symphony of grunting, panting, and serious skin-slapping noises in their version of the fabrication of the South American two- backed-beast, a not altogether endangered species from what I could hear. I can tell you that this form of sleep- inducement certainly beats counting sheep. The next day we woke up early and walked the 10 seconds into town to sit outside on the main street where every establishment, including the tiendas (convenience stores) and bakeries, had a brand spanking new flatscreen set up for the World Cup, thereby affording everyone in town the chance to watch, regardless of whether or not they had the wherewithal to buy anything. And it was out on this dusty little street, filled with painstakingly anxious oldtimers and optimistically excitable kids happy to celebrate the fact that they were tied 0-0 at the half, that we caught the Ecuador/England game in which David Beckham managed to break the collective hearts of an entire nation with a goal that only David Beckham could have scored. There's a line in a Tom Waits song that says, "All ya can be is thirsty in a town with no cheer", and never were truer words spoken. That entire place was ready to explode into a ridiculous tirade of liver abuse that would have lasted all day and night and easily on into Monday morning, and then in the blink of on of Posh Spice's superfluously clown-painted eyes, there was nothing but anguish. Walking through town in the late afternoon, I saw the place littered with grown men, most of them still wearing their yellow Ecuador jerseys, sitting around on plastic chairs and staring blurry-eyed and vacant into their Pilseners, looking for an answer as to what they were supposed to do with themselves for the next four years. If Dr. G. had somehow managed to continue ruling the noontime airwaves, that Montanita street scene would have been a shoe-in for Stellick-Tricity's coveted Lunch Bag Letdown midday prize pack. It was one of the most disheartening things I've ever seen. In order to cheer myself up, I awoke the next morning and decided to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams by moving to Port Credit and becoming a Garbage Man... Wait, wrong lifelong dream. For the time being, learning how to surf would have to suffice. Now, I have to tell you that I was more than just a little intimidated by the prospect of getting out there in the ocean with a bunch of chiseled young dudes who could effortlessly carve wave after wave without so much as flexing one of their massive pecs. Because the truth is, if you're a surfer, you're cool, and it's tough to compete when you're a 28 years old, not-exactly-in-the-best-shape-of-his-life-Torontonian-who-happens-to-be- sporting-the-pale-hairy-white-guy-with-love-handles-and-no-idea-what-the-fuck-he's-in-for look while an 18 year old Ecuadorian kid draws the outline of a surfboard in the sand, thereby giving me the opportunity for further humiliation as I practice doing pushups in the futile hope that I might actually get the chance to stand up out there... Let's just say that I wasn't exactly being scouted for the remake of Endless Summer. But with the help of one of the easiest riding long boards on the planet and Dick Dale and his Deltones running a loop in my head, I was eventually able to begin gliding atop the waves in a manner which might have actually been misconstrued or misinterpreted by the untrained eye (ie, Sandra strumming her broken guitar on the beach) as engaging in the act of surfing. "Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world". Brian Wilson said it, and I can't imagine it being put any better. The feeling was so good in fact, that I spent the next week pretending to be cool in my skintight and stolen Quicksilver surfing shirt and shaggy, salt mangled hair, getting the greatest upper body workout of my life while living out the dream of having finally become a surf bum. After two more days of surfing and playing with the stray dogs in Montanita, we headed further up the Ecuadorian coast to the town of Canoa. To give you an idea of how effective the transportation system is in that fine country, the trip from Montanita to Canoa isn't much more than 200 kms, but it took us more than 10 hours to get to Bahia (a beautiful beach resort with towering hotels rising majestically from a sand spit jetting out into the Pacific, but a town that has essentially become the Asbury Park of South America, having lost almost all of its tourism after a massive earthquake in 1998, leaving most of the big beautiful buildings empty to this day), where we spent the night in a motel room that had approximately 1 gallon of piss on the toilet seat from the previous night's inhabitant, before crossing the Rio Muchacho and driving the last 10 kms to Canoa. We stayed about 2 kms outside of Canoa at this totally amazing hotel on the beach called The Sundown Inn, where they gave us their family tent and a couple of mattresses to use so we could camp out in the sand for our last three nights. They also gave us a room to keep our stuff in, a fantastic outdoor secret garden shower with which to wash away the day's worth of accumulated sea salt, and a bunch of Rum and Cokes one Friday night before the group of us all headed into town for the annual San Pedro/San Pablo festivities. When I offered to give our host, the eloquent and philosophical Juan Carlos (who not only ran the hotel but also the Spanish school), some money for the beverages (we were only being charged $3.50 a night for front row seats on the deserted sunset beach, so I figured it was the least I could do), he just shook his head and told me: "compartir es amar". To share is to love. I have to tell you that this little phrase really struck a chord with me. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that JC and his family were really encapsulating what so many others on the trip had done before them: expressing their love for us (for people in general, really) by sharing - their culture, their history, their stories; a drink here, a place to stay there, some advice on where we might want or want not to wander. And it's strange because you look objectively at these people that live this completely different life from the one you're accustomed to; a life where everything seems so laid back and stress free, where sometimes you work and sometimes you don't, the result of which is a shit-poor economy and the fact that it takes you 10 hours to get somewhere it should only take you two; and for the most part, we look at these people with their foreign way of life, and we only see what they don't have - so many of the material things that we tend to place such value in. And then this total stranger takes you into his home, sits you down with his family, and willingly shares with you everything he has to offer, and not because he has a great deal of material things to offer, but because what he does have to offer is a love for other human beings. It really makes you wonder about whether or not we've gotten away from what it really means to live with one another in this place, what it really means to be human, and what it really means to be happy. Am I reading too much into some guy giving me a few rum and cokes while his 6 year old daughter continuously led us in their culture's customary cheers ("Arriba. Abajo. El Centro. El Entro")? Maybe. But for me, being finally able to understand and put into words what was meant by all of this goodwill we'd been experiencing (to go along with some of the not-so-good-will we'd experienced, to be fair), was one of the most touching and amazing moments for me on this entire trip. Anyway, the group of us went into the town of Canoa for the big San Pedro/San Pablo festival which is held every year in the courtyard of the public grade school. We sat outside one of the little tiendas and drank $1 Pilseners on the curb (the great thing about Canoa is that, no matter where you go - restaurant, bar, hotel, corner store - there is only one price for beer: $1. And you can drink it anywhere. Fantastic) while listening to the three bars on the adjacent corners battling for sonic supremacy with their endless barrage of Raggaetone (a horrible mix of fake raggae and repetitive dance beat infused with periodic Spanish rapping) and Roxette (making a huge comeback South of the Equator), before heading to the local school for the big town bender. There were two teams involved in this little shindig; one dressed in all black, and one all in white, each presumably representing one of the two Saints sharing the holiday; and the long standing rivals spent the entire night battling it out for some kind of Saint supremacy in various Saint-sanctioned events such as a dance competition, a beauty pageant, and a good old fashioned sword fight. There might have also been some kind of a competition to see who could sell alcohol to the youngest child because I shit you not, I stood in line behind two 11 year olds buying dollar Pilseners from the same classroom they were learning their times-tables in the day before. Good times all around. We spent Canada day surfing and eating Ceviche (a beautiful raw seafood dish marinated in lime and onion, the best of which was inexplicably found at a place called Pizzeria d'Wilson; go figure), and that night had a big ol' bonfire with the waves crashing behind us. It lacked the Sheenboro dump-truck parade's level of patriotism, but if you have to spend your nation's birthday out of town, it's a decent way to do so. The following day we got on a bus for Quito, but before boarding I was genuinely molested by the girl patting us down (the only security frisking we experienced on the entire trip) as she took the liberty of full on grabbing my junk, giving it a couple of hearty squeezes, and then gently ticking the boys with her fingertips... you know, just to make sure I didn't have a machete down there. She didn't even ask me my name first. I felt entirely used, if not a little flattered, by the thoroughness of her inspection, and we spent the next five hours, as our driver mistook the 20 year old jalopy he was driving for an Italian sports car, swerving dangerously through the Andes, with me trying to decide whether or not I should press charges or ask the security girl to give me a prostate exam. We spent our last full day in Quito shopping for souvenirs, and ended up staying up all night drinking coffee and watching movies so we wouldn't miss our cab for the airport at 4:30 in the morning. A hop skip and a jump later, and there we were, back on Canadian soil, being greeted by two first class ladies: my mom and my grandma. What more could a good Canadian lad ask for? (besides a job and maybe a place to live). Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write us while we were away, and especially thanks to those who actually took the time to go through these little marathons every couple of weeks. My inability to keep a proper journal means that I probably wouldn't be able to remember half of what happened or half-enjoy most of everything else if I weren't able to share it.