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commentrySouth American travel


By February 19, 20082 Comments

In a continent gone loco, a universe crawling with itinerant nutters, Charles undoubtedly saw himself as a long standing pillar of sanity. I met him one evening, on the stoep of a hostel in the coffee region of Solento, Columbia. Through the clenched teeth inhalation of a joint he had cautioned me against the epidemic of whack jobs currently plaguing our globe.
“The what?”
“Whack jobs” he repeated, his fingers sifting through a tangled clump of marijuana he had removed from a zip lock bag.
“God damn South Americans” he grunted, picking through and tossing out stalks and seeds. “Why don’t they clean this shit up! That’s what we pay for isn’t it?”
Charles I discover is easily distracted, prone to loosing his chain of thought, a short term memory deficiency common to most die- hard dope smokers.
“Tell me about the whack jobs?” I encourage him.
“Oh yeah the Whack jobs, the whack jobs you gotta look out for these guys.”
“Well because they’re loonies, nutters, raging god-damn lunatics, that’s why!”
I watch as he sprinkles a pinchful of green dust onto the rolling paper while raising a cautionary brow over the rim of his glasses.
“They’re everywhere man, just everywhere. People who travel because the folks back home can no longer put up with them. So you know what they do? They pack their bags for them, even pay their air ticket, inflict them on someone else for a while. I read a book this one time” he continued , “about the turn of the century mental patients, who ordinarily would have been locked up in loony bins. Crazies who the sane population, the normal folks like you and I didn’t know what the heck to do with. Back then they didn’t have the psychology or medicine, the means to diagnose them. So you know what they did?”
I shook my head politely.
“They bundled them into Galleons, set them adrift on the open ocean. Eventually these ships of cuckoos would beach on some foreign shore, say Australia and the nutters would pour out, terrorize the natives and start their own nutter populations.”
I remark that it sounds like a pretty concise definition of colonialism but Charles is too focused manoeuvring his tongue along the edge of the rolling paper, to hear.
”˜Things haven’t changed man, that’s how these Third world hostels become asylums for the unwanted whacko’s of the West. When they over stay their welcome, or at least stay long enough for everyone to realize the true extent of their instability, they just put on their back-packs and move somewhere else. You know, go and find a new bunch of locals to terrorize, god damn loonies! Oh I’ve met some prize winners in my time, prize winners!’
Back in the States, Charles told me that he worked in construction over the summer. He had no home, just a temporary trailer he’d rent over the months of his employment. He’d been doing this for several years and as a result had managed to travel the world extensively. Throughout his desultory roaming he claimed to have encountered enough whack jobs to consider himself an expert on the cause.
When construction work was hard to come by, Charles would take odd jobs as an extra on film sets down in Baha Mexico. It was on these shoots that he claimed to have met some world class whack jobs. Usually unsuspecting crack pots, plucked from homeless shelters and plonked in period costumes, enticed by the promise of free catering.
“That’s Hollywood for you. One big corrupt soup kitchen .Cheap disposable labour they can throw off sinking ships without having to worry about life insurance or law suits.”
He was quick to inform me that his crowning celluloid achievement was as the ill fated fiddler in the blockbuster ”˜Titanic. He urged me to revisit the film (which I half heartedly assured him I would) pause it at two hours and forty ”“five minutes and look for the guy on the life- raft with his back turned to the camera. “Swear to god that’s me, you can tell by my ears.”
I watched as he rolled his joint with the ease and commitment of a hardened stoner- a stoner who later confessed to feigning terminal illness back home for the benefits that come in the form of the gratis high-grade.
“Israelis” he huffs, “Look no further. They say it’s the two years of compulsory military service that does that to them. By the time it’s all over, they’re in need of a little down time, a vacation, so unlucky for us, they head out into the third world in their droves. Wherever the drugs and falafels are cheapest. When and if they get round to going back home, it’s usually gift wrapped in a straight jacket. Peru, oh man Peru, more Jews then Jerusalem. Loco fuckers too.”
He twisted his finger in circles beside his temple for emphasis, then sparked up his second spliff.
“Running through the Amazon Jungle in nothing but their underwear, over dosing on whatever mind- mangling jungle vine or mushroom they can get their hands on. It’s a lethal combination, causes hellish flash-backs from their army days. When I was down in the Amazon, by the Columbian Peruvian border, this Israeli dude licked the back of a hallucinogenic frog outside the hostel I was staying at. The locals had warned him, told him it was a trip reserved for the most potent of shaman. Did he listen?”
I shrug.
“You bet he didn’t!’ He yells, thumping his hands on the table. ”˜Lost the plot, ended up stabbing himself in the neck, ten times, with a piece of glass he had recovered from the same window he had just head butted.”
Charles I gather is in his early sixties. On his right arm, I can just make out a series of faded tattoos, ink stain vestiges of his more reckless years: scantily clad girls and skulls. He wears a tie dyed shirt, a pair of seventies shades and red bandana. I can’t quite decide if his handlebar moustache ,groomed to perfection, reminds me more of a member of the Village People or decrepit Harleys Angel. He brims with a ”˜know it all nostalgia’ the sort of Yanky conviction that leaves little room for objection let alone input.
“Now the French, oh the French” he sighs, a heady mist of smoke escaping from his lips, “Now there my Amigo is an entire nation of Whack jobs. I’m yet to meet one that isn’t certifiable. Rude fuckers too, wouldn’t piss on you if you were burning. Don’t want to be stuck at the dinner table with them after the tenth bottle of wine having to listen to their misinformed politics and whackjob philosophies.”
Here Charles launches into a feeble but impassioned imitation: “The Faheeeeests this and the feeeekking feeeeesheeeets that! Nuff to do your head in. Did I mention the Jap whack jobs?”
“Not yet.” I groan internally.
“Good, cause these my friend are what we call travelling pestilences, the now ya see em now ya don’t annoyances. Whirlwinds of gobbledegook and technology, ravaging the ruins and vistas with their obscene lenses and half baked curiosity. A billowing wake of their tour bus dust the only trace that they ever came at all.”
He exhales a trail of dissipating smoke for effect.
“And the Germans, now if you ask me being a Whack job is bad enough but whack jobs with out a sense of humour, well that’s just inexcusable. When it come to the Brits, it’s the Chav chicks you gotta keep an eye on, loony as hell not to mention about as common and attractive as cockroaches. Mostly they travel on the doll, either that or make part time livings jigging their sequenced ”˜surgery enhanced’ titties on cruise line cabarets. Ever tried to share a dorm with these Nypho whackettes?”
I shook my head because I hadn’t yet had that misfortune.
“Oh man you don’t want to be awake when they come stumbling in during the early hours of the morning, coked outta their brains from some down- town Salsa club, and you certainly don’t want to be on the bottom bunk when they going at it in the saggy mattress above you.”
“Going at it?”
“You know, banging! Usually some beer tanked Ozzie bloke whose lucky enough to have his ticket booked on the early bus so he doesn’t have to stick around to see what she looks like in the less than complimentary light of morning. Christ these chicks must be aborting Whack job half breeds from every corner of the globe. Now there’s a scary thought. And the Dutch, take note my esteemed amigo that is what happens when you spend your entire life in a country that’s the size of a small-holding and whose principal industry is dope and tulips. No two ways about it–live in the Netherlands, come out a whack job-period!”
Charles must of gone on for another two hours: the missionary whack jobs–Christ’s noble crusaders, bible belting the decimated tribes who barely have an Amazon bush left to hide behind. The flora and fauna Whack jobs: “Try talk to them about anything other than botany and butterflies and you screwed.” The Astrology Whack jobs, congregating around the ancient sites and Machu Picchu and Nazca in the belief they’re extra terrestrial landing pads awaiting a second coming.
The suburban sicko Whack jobs: “Now these are an interesting species altogether– usually of Swiss or Austrian origin, driven to insanity by the impeccable order of their first world nutshells. Back where they come from, folks commit Hari kiri when the train happens to be five minutes late. These ”˜head cases’, Nietzsche freaks, toss themselves into war zones, humanitarian nightmares for the same reason skydivers leap from aero planes. Sick kicks, cheap thrills, anything to feel more”¦more, god dammit whats the word I’m looking for here?”
“Um Alive?”
“Exactamundo! Met an Austrian male nurse who took his yearly vacations in places like Kashmir, Baghdad, Palestine and the Sudan. His reasoning? Said it was cheaper and there were no tourists. His most prized souvenir from all his travels was an Afghan bullet wedged in his left butt cheek. Wore it like a trophy.”
Furthermore, during my comprehensive induction into the Whack jobs’ hall of shame, I learnt about hick whack jobs, jock whack jobs, anthro, historical, journo, Homo, Paedo’ whack jobs. What Charles fondly and aptly titled – a united nations of nutters.
“The saddest thing man” he sighed, taking a final concentrated pull of his spliff so that the roach now scaled his fingers, “is these Whacko’s of the world are terrible ambassadors for their countries, for all us travellers in fact. You gotta pity these South American locals who run these hostels and tour agencies, the folks who have to put up with these deranged weirdo’s twenty ”“four- seven. You can’t blame them for thinking we’re all like that and I object — it’s giving us ”˜normal’ folks a bad rep.”
Normal? I wondered or rather shuddered to imagine what Charles, chain smoking spliffs in garish Hunter S Thompsonesque attire, considered normal. What warped definition he might come up with if I dared to ask. I refrained from showing further interest, said goodnight– the glaring ironies of his monologue too much to endure.
How could I sit a minute longer listening to a man ranting on about the collective insanity of the world, ranting as if he were the solution when quite evidently he was the champion, the president, the international ambassador to the Whack job wonderer’s iniquitous cause.


  • dunkers says:

    Why do we do it?
    I guess your answer is that it gives you interesting material for a column.
    But I mean in general why, when we are travelling, do we lose huge amounts of time listening to some person that we neither respect, agree with nor (in most cases) want to give more than a friendly greeting to. After 6 months in South American I seem to suffer from a similar curiosity as yourself. I have sat there and listened to the ranting of people very similar to Charles, my sarastic comments going unnoticed. It is like a moth to a flame.
    Nice read I enjoyed it immensely.

  • ryan says:

    Hi Neil–
    I liked Charles a lot after I spoke with him for a bit. He surely was a wack job but that is part (a large part) of why I dug him. He was interesting and genuine (in his own way) and his stories fun to listen to. So many of the folks you meet traveling just sound like the last person you met. We meet so many people without the madness that guys like Charles keep us interested and listening to the next person to walk up and say hi.
    Sad to say but I laughed at his expense as Ronin took the piss with his sarcastic comments that final night in Solento. I was the only one up early the next morning when he left. He knew we had been laughing at him. I felt even worse as he gave me the last of the joints from the night to “share with the boys”.
    He’s out there somewhere.

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