All posts by Thomas Takes On....

An avid ambassador of the word 'yes', I am a life traveler and experiencer that winds up in all kinds of mischievous and somewhat hairy situations. When I am not gallivanting or doing ridiculous things around the world, I am a super responsible high school chemistry, science and mathematics teacher. I am also a singer/songwriter who released an EP, Yours For The Keeping, in 2006. Delivering performances in many places around the world, one of my favourite places to perform was with the drag queens of Toronto's Church St in 2010/2011. These days I just chill with my ukulele, does the odd cover gig for fun and writing ridiculous jingles. Other favourite activities are Crossfit, boxing training, cooking a million and one different varieties of pie, growing vegetables, International Spy Missions and hiking. Oh and travel. But I consider that a lifestyle, not a hobby! So Follow me through life as I take on the world and whatever challenges are thrown my way!!

Lost On The Road: How To Find Direction When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing Anymore

I won’t lie. In the last couple of weeks I have started to feel a little lost. It is something that happens to all of us when we spend such a long time travelling. For me, I will have been on the move for fourteen months now and I still have three more to go.

The idea of getting up in the morning and having to pack my bag is exhausting. Having to go through the same monotonous “get to know you” conversation with everyone you meet is boring. Doing the same activities day in day out and spending half of your waking hours on the bus is tiring just thinking about it. So what do you do? Pack up? Go home? Forget the dream and pack it in? Or keep going in the hope that something will ignite in your soul and give you the fire back.

For me it took having a rest. I went to a small little community in the hills of Ecuador, checked in for five days, did yoga every morning, sat in a hammock and read, had an afternoon nap, and had a massage every other day. And I didn’t much speak to people. I read about mindfulness and neuroplasticity and tried to apply some of these principles to my everyday life. One of the quotes I read greatly resonated with me:

“Being lost is greatly underrated. It can mean you are in a place of unknowing where the rational mind cannot go. In the way that we need darkness to see the stars, we need unknowing to become a beginner again and engage with the mystery and wonder of it all.”

And so I took from this that it was ok to feel lost. It was ok to feel like I was floundering. Because somewhere underneath the struggle, there was something to learn that I do not yet know about.

But as always and in the meantime, as I figure out what these things I am supposed to learn are, there are things that I can do to make life a little more interesting. And as they say, change is as good as a holiday from your holiday.

1. Take a detour

If all you are seeing right now are cities, go to the mountains or the beach. If you spend all your time looking at churches, go to a museum. Templed out? Go see something different. Doing the same thing repetitively isn’t exactly inspiring after a while. So change it up.

2. Treat yourself

We forget as backpackers on the road to do things for ourselves because we are so hellbent on saving cash every single place we turn. Take some time for you. Go out for a really good meal for one at a restaurant and savour every bite. Have a massage. Go to a yoga class and stretch your body. Have a manicure. Do something that makes you feel like you’re investing in yourself.

3. Ask different questions

One of the most mundane parts of meeting people is the same bloody questions and answers over and over again. So develop an arsenal of different questions that enable you to crack through the surface of people quickly to see what they really are about. It will be more interesting than the “where are you going?/where are you from?” bullshit that you encounter everywhere you go and will allow you to make better connections.

4. Pay attention

People miss the small things in life. Sometimes it is nice to sit back and really take in what is happening around us. Attune your ears to all of the sounds about you. Observe the different colours and activities of people around you. Observe your own body moving through these environments and how you react with them. It will create a peace and a feeling of being one with where you are and will help with feeling lost and detached by rooting you in your environment.

5. Slow down

Sometimes the pure pace of travel will wear you out and drain you of your enthusiasm for things. If it is a luxury you can afford, slow down. Stay in one place a little longer and get to know the place and the people a little better than normal. Remember that it is ok to take a day to do nothing and just sleep, read or rest. We all need to be grounded and centred in one place at times to get the rest and recuperation that we need to move on.

6. Reflect

Especially on long bus rides with nothing to do, it is nice to just stare out the window and reflect. What is it that you are feeling and where you think those feelings are coming from. Having an inner awareness of self allows us to process and find the solutions that we are looking for. It allows us to think, feel and then grow. And as mentioned in the quote above, you cannot see the bright and beautiful stars in the sky if not for the darkness. Sometimes it is good to not know everything. Sometimes it is good to not even know where we are going. It is even better if you can learn to let go of needing to control these things and go with it. The world will often take you to where it is that you need to be to learn the lessons that you need to learn.

So have faith and trust. Feeling lost is yet another type of speed bump in the emotional roller coaster of life. But if you are good and kind to yourself, try new things to stimulate your brain and remember to rest, everything else will eventually become clear. You will find your purpose and direction again, and when you do, you’ll never have to question it, because you’ll have worked hard on the process towards knowing.

 

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The Backpacker’s “Fuck no!!”

As a follow up to the Backpacker’s “Fuck yes!!” I decided we would then explore the other side of the fence with those moments of travel where you are thinking to yourself ‘you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!’ also known as “Fuck no!”

  • Waking up in the morning with explosive diarrhoea when you have a flight to take or a full day on a bus. Yeah, this is going to be fun, time to go get myself an adult diaper and hope that I don’t manage to shit myself in front of a whole bunch of people in the process….. “Fuck no!”
  • When you don’t make a reservation for a hostel and roll into town to discover that everywhere is booked out and you wind up sleeping at the bus station or on the floor of a random hostel that is kind enough to let you have floor space. “Fuck no!”
  • When you get your money and credit cards stolen. “Fuck fuck fuck! NO!”
  • Better yet, when you get your passport stolen. “Seriously? Fuck no!”
  • When you smash your camera or your phone. Guess that means no more pictures. “For fucks sake! No fucking way!”
  • When you get to the bus station to take the last bus for the day and they tell you that it is full and there is no more space…. “Fuck…. no……”
  • When some arsehole decides to turn the light on and noisily pack their bag at four am to leave without consideration for those who are sleeping. “Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously, fuck no!”
  • When you get stuck sleeping in a room with someone who either smells. Can you please not invade my sense of smell and leech your horrendous body odour into all of mine and everyone else’s stuff. Go have a shower filthmonger! “Fucking hell no!”
  • When you meet some arrogant fucker who wants to tell you how good they are and they keep following you around when you’re trying to escape. “Fuck no!”
  • When someone you don’t like tells you they are coming to spend the day with you….. Can’t I just run away? “Fuck no!”
  • When the bus leaves you on the side of the road in the middle of the night because this is the final destination. Where the fuck am I and how am I supposed to get anywhere from here? “Fuck no!”
  • When the travel agents try and extort more money out of you for shit that you have already paid for. “No fucking way! Fuck no!”
  • When your legs get mauled by insects and they wind up getting infected so you walk around for a month looking like you’ve got measles from the waist down. “Fuck no!”
  • When a rat chews a hole through one of your bras…. not your average thing that happens to normal people but it happened to me and what did I yell? “Fuck no! Are you fucking kidding me!?”
  • When you accidentally leave half a pizza or other really good food in the hostel fridge and are half way down the highway before you remember. “Fuck no!”

For anyone who has travelled, I am sure you can relate. Chuck us a line if you think of anything else x

The Backpacker’s “Fuck Yes!!”

As a long term backpacker, life is very different from the ordinary life. There are different things that we learn to appreciate that people in ordinary, everyday life wouldn’t generally get excited over. So here is a non-conclusive list of “Fuck Yes!” moments in the life of a backpacker. Feel free to add your own “Fuck Yes!” moments in the comments below if I have missed any.

  • Finding free food in the free food bin at the hostel! Now I have free pasta for dinner and I don’t even have to go outside or contemplate what the cheapest thing for me to eat today without dying of a heart attack is. A huge thank you to whoever left it there! “Fuck yes!”
  • Finding a half bottle of awesome shampoo that has been left in the shower when you’ve just run out of shampoo. Nuff said! “Fuck yes!”
  • Getting to the bus station five minutes before the next bus leaves when there is a four hour wait until the next one. And getting a good seat. “Fuck yes!”
  • When you have been hunting that animal you really want to see in the wild across an entire continent and it has evaded you for months and then suddenly…. Whoop! There it is! “Fuck yes!”
  • When you are in a bar dancing about sober as a judge because there isn’t enough money for drinking in the budget this week and a local person you’ve never met hands you a shot of rum or whatever other hard liquor they are passing around and then adopt you as their friend. “Fuck yes!”
  • When the taxi driver gives you a fair price straight off the bat and you don’t have to argue with them for half an hour about what is a fair price. “Fuck yes!”
  • When you find money in the street. In anyone’s world, this is a “Fuck yes!”
  • Meeting really awesome people that you hit it off with immediately. Friends for life biatches! “Fuck yes!”
  • Checking into a hostel to find that the bed is the most comfortable, fluffy and awesome cocoon that you’ve ever slept in. “Fuck yeah!”
  • Hot water when there usually isn’t any to be found anywhere. “Fucking awesome! Yeah…..”
  • Sleeping in a room on your own. Nobody else has checked in…. looks like I’m sleeping naked tonight! “Fuck yes!”
  • Going to the public toilet to find that there is actually toilet paper in the cubicle. Even better, finding it clean! “Fuck yeah!”
  • When everyone else eats in the restaurant and you eat dirty street food and everyone else gets sick but you. Arsehole, I know, but “Fuck yes!”
  • When people give you directions and they are actually the right directions. Sometimes, especially in the Americas and Asia, if they don’t know they make it up so as to not look ignorant. You can literally wind up anywhere. So if the directions are good…. “Fuck yes!”
  • When free breakfast is included in your stay and it’s full on massive buffet! “Fuck yes!”
  • When the museum or attraction entrance is free… “Fuck yeah!”
  • When you go home looking so dishevelled that your mum shout’s you a free haircut! “Fuck yes! Look at me I’m a human again!”

Such an easily excitable breed us travellers….. until the next!

Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2

In a follow up to Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 1, most of which was fairly ridiculous, I would like to touch on some other interesting shit that is not so ridiculous in the funny sense (and then maybe round it out with some more ridiculous in the funny sense).

Politics

  • According to the last census the country had in 2010, Ecuador consists of 70% mixed race populations (Spanish and indigenous mixes), 7% indigenous, 4% Chinese and 2% white people.
  • Ecuador prospered under their president, Rafael Correa, who put a lot of money into the development of roads, hospitals and other social programs in Ecuador. But then, like all good politicians, he realised, “Oops, I fucked up and spent too much money… what am I going to do to get it back?”
  • The method for making back the money was to then kick all of the indigenous people off their land so that the government could then go in and mine it for oil and minerals…….
  • The country had a referendum and decided that as a country they did not want this because Ecuador is known for its biodiversity and they don’t want the government going about fucking shit up for everyone and kicking people off their land because they are greedy bastards looking for the easy option.
Some jungle that will fail to exist if the powers that be start digging

Indigenous Tidbits

  • The indigenous community of the Otavalos in the north believe that hair contains their energy. Cutting the end of your hair off is bad news, whether you’re a man or a woman. Looks like when I go home I will just tell my mum I’ve become Otavalan to avoid a haircut. Though it does tend to break a lot…. I wonder if that means bad energy for me.
  • The reason that many of the indigenous communities here have such fabulous fabrics is because the Spanish used them as slaves to weave fabrics.
The Nizag people of Alausi doing traditional dance
  • They teach the Quechuan language in schools to help maintain the native language here. It is the native language of the Incans though there are different dialects throughout. Some Quechuan words that I learned are:
    • Mama – mum
    • Wawa – baby
    • Achachai – how cold
    • Ararai – how hot
    • Chichaqui – hungover

Random rituals

  • So it comes to be in a random shaman’s office in Quito that I am introduced to what my guide calls “the shrunky head” or more officially known as a tzantza. So, in the Amazon, it was a rite of passage to sever off your enemy’s head, peel all of the skin off, chuck it in a pot with some herbs and other shit to shrink the skin, then carefully remould the facial features so you can put your new little totem on a stick and carry him around with you everywhere. Not joking. Apparently carrying such heads of enemies with you is good luck and shrinking them means the soul can’t escape and wrought revenge upon you……
A fake ‘shrunky head’
  • On New Years Eve there are loads of different rituals that people partake in for different reasons. If they want more money, they wear yellow underpants. If they want to find true love, of course, red underpants. If you want to travel then you pack your suitcase and cut laps around the block with it to bring in the new year. Oh and you make twelve wishes by stuffing twelve grapes in your mouth, making each wish as you jam it in there.

 

Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 1

It has been a while since I learned some shit that is entertaining for others to read. Don’t get me wrong, lots of learning has been happening, some of it life changing. But as I moved my way in and out of the glorious streets of Quito with a fabulous guide by the name of Stefani, I was certainly educated on some interesting things in the Ecuadorean cultural sense. Here is what I learned…..

Cuy

The word in this region for guinea pig. Also considered a delicacy that I am yet to try. I just cannot seem to eat the face of my childhood pet, Muffy, that my sister and I used to shampoo and then blowdry in the sink much to the horror of my mother who thought we would kill it. That and a typical garnish is a tomato helmet. I just can’t even….. Anyway, here is what I learned about them.

Tasty snacks and energy healing weapons running around the floor of an indigenous house
  • The name ‘cuy’ comes from the sound that they make “coi, coi, coi, coi’.
  • They are sacred animals and used to live in the houses with the indigenous people.
  • They are not only considered sacred, but are used in ritual cleansing of the body. Not even kidding. Here’s how you do it.
    1. Start feeling unwell and think ‘hmmm…. something is wrong with me. I know, the guinea pig will tell me what is wrong’
    2. Grab the guinea pig like a body wash sponge that you would use in the shower and rub that squirming little animal all over your body. The animal will apparently extract the bad energy and give indications as to what is wrong with you in autopsy. (PS. I am sure from the shock of having to see and touch your naked body, this will cause the guinea pig a horrific and terrible death in which it will die of extreme shock).
    3. Guinea pig autopsy. Cut the thing open and examine all of its organs. Whatever appears to be wrong with the guinea pig is what is said to be wrong with you. Our guide said that she had a parasite and after rubbing the guinea pig on her stomach that when they autopsied the dead pig that shit was wriggling around in its stomach. Ewww…..
    4. Four. Eat the meat of the guinea pig I suppose unless there is some muscular problem and get on with your day, now well and purged of illness and bad energy.

Bones

Bones are considered to be a protective force in the culture of the Ecuadorean indigenous. They would use the vertebra of dead humans and sometimes cows hooves to decorate the entrances of the houses to ward off the evil spirits and for good luck. Oh and to ward off the evilness of people who don’t believe in Jesus….. yeah I know?? Hmmm…..To the point where people started digging up bodies in the cemeteries so that they could keep human bones in their houses. Sometimes they keep a single bone of a loved one that they have buried in the house as that is also thought to be a form of protection for the house and people who live in it.

Human vertebra and stone floor in an entrance way to a house. Didn’t stop my non-Jesus-believing self from entering. Clearly doesn’t work.

Encebollado and bones

So the most famous soup of Ecuador is called Encebollado and it is literally everywhere. They tell me that it is a mix of all of the ingredients that would normally go into a ceviche but with a different type of fish. There was one dude in Quito who had what was considered the best encebollado in the entire country and people would come far and wide to sample it. People were scrambling for the recipe and to figure out what he did that made it so special.

What was the secret ingredient you ask? Well the man, superstitiously for the last seventy years had been stirring his fabulous broth with a femur. Not just any femur though, a human femur. An actual real fucking human femur. I say no more.

Other tidbits

  • All of the roses used in the British Royal wedding were from Ecuador. They also used roses from Ecuador to film The Beauty and the Beast. When the last petal fell, it was from a cursed Ecuadorean rose.
  • Don’t fuck with Ecuadorean artists. One of them was commissioned to do the trimmings on a house in the old town but they refused to pay him the last instalment. As an ode to ‘fuck you’ to both the owners of the house and of course to the Catholic church, he endowed one of the lovely cherubs with the most giant penis you’ve ever seen on a cherub, waving its engorged salute to the church directly over the road.
Check out the schlong on that thing!
  • Ecuador first started to export chocolate in the 1820’s and thank god for that. I am pretty sure that since arriving here I have become about 70% cacao.

Given the sheer amount of shit that I have learned here over quite a large amount of time, stay tuned for Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2, coming to you next week!

From Broken to Whole: A Year On…

A year ago today I got on a bus in London and left my life in England for good. At the time I had been through so many different emotions I didn’t know whether I would ever feel like a whole human being ever again. I was so hurt and so broken that I didn’t know if there was any coming back from that. I felt like there was nothing left to tether me to my own happiness.

I arrived in Paris where I started the first part of what would be three months in Europe and then who knew what. On that fifth day in Paris my friend passed and I couldn’t even find it in me to cry. I stood empty in the shower trying to process my emotions and not knowing how. All that happened was a blood nose from the stress and the heat and as I watched my own blood flow over my body and down the shower drain I knew that at least my body was alive, even if I felt like there was no other part of me that was.

Those first three months in Europe were rough. I isolated myself from others for fear that they would judge and dislike me because they would be able to see through me to my inner struggle and would judge me for it. That is not a burden that other travellers want to carry and so I avoided other people. I moved from place to place and saw all of the things that I was supposed to see. Ticking boxes. At times, I managed to find small pleasures, like eating every amazing food in Italy and not giving a shit about getting fat because I already was. Like finding myself completely isolated in the world and at peace with myself just for being alone. By the time I made it to Greece I had started to open myself to a select few and make some more friends. I had started to find more of a balance and felt like I could breath a little more freely as opposed to the feeling of drowning that I felt when I left. I was sleeping more and I felt like my body chemicals were going back to a normal level. I no longer lived in a hyped up state of excessive adrenaline and cortisol.

I made my way to Turkey and then Egypt where I travelled with some very wise people that I opened up to and they helped me to process further. The temples in Egypt started to excite me and slowly but surely, I started to remember who I used to be.

The biggest change happened when I arrived in Colombia. Going to school and learning to speak another language made me another person. I didn’t know how to be myself in Spanish and facets of shy and cheeky crept through. I started making a load of friends at my school and we would go out dancing on Fridays. The culture was so sensual and sexual with its dancing that I started to reconnect with my body and my own sexuality, something that I hadn’t done in such a long time as it got buried under a pile of work and stress. It got buried under my grief and hostility.

What followed was a six week stint in Costa Rica and Panama which set me back. Six weeks and four deaths. I went back into my own shell and stopped wanting to speak to people. I had a run of bad luck with illness and allergies that saw me miserable and in the hospital and wanting to throw in the towel. But I continued to ride it out because that is what I did. Because I am Dano. And people keep on telling me that I am ‘the strongest person that they know’ and so who am I to question.

I went back to Medellin, moved into the school and continued for another three months learning Spanish, teaching kids English and organising events. I started writing a book about my life as encouraged by the people closest to me. I made friends with people who gave me confidence to put myself back out into the world because they made me feel valued like I hadn’t felt in a long time. I opened up about my life and confided things about myself to others, mostly in another language. Slowly I started to feel less numb and less angry. By the time my stint in Medellin was over, I had contemplated a job and a career change to stay but in the end decided to take the six months and go home. But what I left behind in that place changed my life forever. I will always be indebted to the people that I met there because without them knowing it, they pulled me out of the hole.

I travelled Colombia for two months. And it again challenged me. After another hospital visit from a stomach so bad it wouldn’t stop, I was really well and truly done. I wanted to go home. A feeling I hadn’t felt in years but one that helped me accept the fact that it was something I was going to do. I again persisted through these feelings to quit. I kept going. And I met some more amazing people that pushed me on. I started remembering what it was like to be calm, happy and fun. I started to embrace the parts of myself that had been buried for so long that were slowly resurfacing. I started reading books that would help me to rediscover who it is that I am and what it is that I want from my life. I started writing more music, playing more music and being more in touch with the creative side of me that is a large part of who I am and often gets hidden.

I now sit in Ecuador. I am calm. I am at relative peace. In the last few months, I’ve been challenged with more loss, with horrific situations, with short-lived romances, some of which gave me faith and others which made me lose it again. But regardless of what has been thrown at me, the one thing I have found in this year that I didn’t have a year ago was equilibrium and the ability to process those emotions and let go. To accept is one of the hardest things that you can do in this life. And as I continue through South America, if all I take away from this experience is the learned ability to accept graciously then so be it. Every person who I have met that I have become close to, I have met for a reason. They have either been a test or they have been a guide. And I know that for the next three and a half months I have more of those tests and more of these guides coming my way. And I will have more once I move back home. But whatever challenge comes my way from here on in, I know I can survive it, and I know I can do it with grace and strength. Because I have already lived at the lowest point, and I clawed my way back out.

A year ago today I was a body going through the motions. Today I am a human again. My soul is at peace. My heart is ready to love and give to others. I am ready to accept whatever challenges come my way with grace. I am ready to be more. And I will be.

 

Writing Book Is Frustrating

“It’s hard enough trying to write a book about my life where I don’t have to make shit up. Imagine being a fiction writer and having to actually make shit up. And then fact check it. Fuck that. Preps to those guys” – Dano, the other day while trying to reach her 2,000 words-a-day limit.

So many people have told me that I should ‘write a book’ about what I have done in my life because there are just so many stories that I have from travelling. As a singer-songwriter who has released albums, I have probably still had more people tell me to write a book than to write a music album.

But writing a book is frustrating. When I first sat down to start, my journalist friend told me that he read somewhere that Stephen King says you have to write at least 2,000 words a day to consider yourself a serious writer. “Oh yeah, righto,” I think to myself, I got this, that is like writing a university essay every single day that I don’t have to research. I used to do that shit all the time.” All I had to do was hit 80,000 words to have what is deemed to be an average and acceptable sized book and I could do that in forty days, or just over a month.

For my first time, I managed it easy. And the next day wasn’t so bad either. I managed ten days straight and then hit a wall.  Because this is like running a marathon, and I fucking hate running. The first part, easy. The last part, I assume is easy mentally because you don’t have far to go, but that middle part? That is what will kill off the dreams of the best of people. I am trudging and trudging through ideas, can’t remember what the fuck I did that time in Guatemala in a drunkenly fuelled state, figure I probably need to omit that story because people don’t want to really know about that stuff or its just too personal and confronting for me to want to put it out there to the world.  I write five hundred words here. Give up, find somewhere else to write five hundred words. Give up and then find somewhere else to write five hundred words.

What I have currently is a disjointed piece of rubbish that I have finished about three out of twenty chapters. Then there came that point where I found my journals from South East Asia. 44,000 words, it said. Half a book, I thought. I can just edit these. But the reality is, I can’t. The reality is, my journals are not entertaining, funny, or cohesive. I can work with them, but that would take time and be annoying and everything I have seemed to have written about is breakfast, lunch and dinner which isn’t overly entertaining because the general masses don’t care to know about all the different forms of curry I had for lunch in Thailand.

The other problem is structure. I don’t know what era of my life to discuss. I don’t know whether to start with the early days, which are a whole lot more boring than some of the other trips. A compilation of the best countries around the world that has no overall cohesion. Or is it better to pick another time in my life and start with that. Or should I just write until I have no more stories and make several different books worth of rubbish.

I don’t know. But what I do know is this. Writing a book is frustrating. And it is fucking hard. When people told me I should do this, I knew that it was going to be hard work. I knew that it was going to be a rough time. What I didn’t realise was how much of a mental battle this was going to be every single day I sit at a computer. I am used to fighting my way through pain and discomfort in a boxing ring or with other physical forms of torture and the mental game has always let me win. But this mental game goes for months. It is a whole other type of game. But eventually I will win. I will get 80,000 words together. And then I am going to have to confront the even more boring and even more arduous task of editing. But one thing at a time. I better go and get on it. 2,000 words of ridiculousness awaits.