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Mike's Random Thoughts From The Road #5
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how about a few stories from the road? not good enough for the updates so they ooze down into the drain and then to here, the sewer? not at all. these are my favorites e-mails to send, they are the cream of the crop, they are for the special people who seek them out on my website: they are my random thoughts from the road. names remain the same to persecute the guilty. all stories are true and the main character, me, is an actual person.
1. i woke up in portrush, northern ireland with a big day planned: touring the bushmills whiskey distillery, seeing the giant's causeway, walking over the carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and then cycling as much of the remaining distance to belfast as possible. i got started in the morning, riding 5 miles through the drizzle to the town of bushmills, northern ireland. i toured the factory with 6 others and, at the end, participated in the whiskey taste test; i sampled 9 different whiskies having to choose my favorite amongst the disguised bourbons, scotches, and irish whiskies - i picked irish.

i don't like whiskey, by the way.

i got back on my bike (with a decent buzz), and rode to the giant's causeway. i marveled at the thousands of hexagonal stone columns which formed naturally on the northern ireland coast but look man-made. i cycled uphill from the ocean and headed for carrick-a-rede to climb over the rope bridge that fishermen erect every year to access the farthest island where the best salmon fishing is. i paid the 3 pounds and hiked out to it. the bridge was incredible. it dangles 30 meters (100 feet) above the sea, stretching from one small green island to the next. it was thrilling to walk over as the wind rocked it from side-to-side. afterwards, i got back on my bike and headed for belfast knowing i wouldn't make it that day, especially with the rain and all that i had already done that day. i was tired.

i rode south along the northeast coast of northern ireland, a mostly deserted area - save for a few farms - that rises and falls from hill to valley with steep roads crawling across it. tough biking, especially when you drank 4 shots of whiskey at 9:00 in the morning. i cycled into a small town named cushendall and followed signs toward a youth hostel. it was closed down after all, but i did find a campground which i pulled into. i was happy to learn it only cost 3 pounds (about $6.)

i was about to find out why.

i looked around as i fished my tent out of the bag and noticed that the campground was more like a trailerpark. there were rows of rusty trailers lining the field high above the coast (of course i had to ride up a hill to get to the place.) oh well, whatever. i was very hungry and very thirsty - all i wanted to do was set up my tent before it started raining much harder, buy some food downtown, eat in my tent, and go to bed. however, that wasn't going to happen.

two little girls, aged 8 and 11, watched me from the nearby swingset. they were ripe with curiosity. could we set up your tent mister? they asked. uh, sure, i said. it was easy enough. i showed them how and within 10 minutes it was ready for me to climb in. i thought the experience was so nice; two cute little girls were thrilled with the simple chore, and i had fun helping them learn something new.

but extreme ugliness was about to enter the scene.

kids started pouring out of the trailers like the rain from the sky. they were all curious about the new camper - and his bike. can i ride it? they asked. i let one kid do so. he whipped around the trailers for a couple minutes before i asked for the bike back so i could ride to buy some dinner. i climbed on my ride and looked back uneasily as at least a dozen kids swarmed the playground around my tent.

i returned later with a feast and headed right past the kids into my tent for a nice meal of hot chicken and soda bread. i was so hungry i was about to start hallucinating. they wanted to ride my bike some more. i said no since i couldn't supervise them while i was eating in my tent. they seemed to understand, but things aren't always what they seem.

it started raining harder but, unfortunately, the kids stayed outside. they started playing football (soccer) in the area surrounding my tent. the ball smashed into the side of my tent. once. twice. three times. hey! be careful, would you? two young boys grabbed the outside zipper of my tent and ripped open the door. whatcha doing mister? they asked as they poked their heads into my tent. i didn't appreciate the intrusion and their brashness. i am trying to eat i said. they just looked in at me, staring with mischevious looks on their faces. one of them started kicking the line that ties down my rainfly - i got upset since this tent was often my only home. hey! knock it off i said. i was trying hard to keep my cool but he kicked it again and i lost it. what do you think you are doing? i yelled. whadda ya think you are doing? the brat mocked. where are your parents? i asked. where are your parents? he repeated.

if looked around for a bottomless pit i could throw him into.

i zipped my tent door closed and they started screwing with my bike. i put on my shoes and rode it up to the house where the guy running the campground lived. can i keep it in here? i asked. i put it in the garage and headed back down to my tent through the increasingly strong rain. i was tired and still hungry. there were no showers at the campground either so i was uncomfortably sweaty and would continue to be until i got to belfast the next night. tired, sweaty, and hungry, camping in the rain surrounded by satan's children. fuck.

activity continued to swirl around my tent despite the bad weather. don't these kids have parents? i wondered. they probably did but their parents apparently didn't mind if their kids got pnuemonia and died - i completely understood why. the demons played football, chased each other, and argued all around my tent, not anywhere else in the massive yard. little fuckers. the football slammed into the side of my tent a few more times as i chewed my bread. mayonaisse spilled onto my sleeping bag, the rain came down, my anger swelled.

"you in there you fucking bitch?"

holy shit. a 6 year old old kid just yelled that at me outside my tent. a 6 year old kid just called me a fucking bitch. he repeated his question.

"you in there you FUCKING BITCH?!?!"

i was ready to show him i was. i exploded out of my tent filled with a burning rage. they knew how to swear already so they weren't about to hear anything new from me.

"GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!! YOU ARE BUGGING ME!! WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOUR PARENTS?!?!? IF YOU DON'T GET AWAY FROM ME I AM GOING TO FIND THEM AND GET YOU IN TROUBLE!!!"

the little assholes lurched away from me a bit but regained their smiles after i stopped yelling. i came after them and they crapped their pants. i chased them for a few meters and they ran. everyone could see i was serious. i was about as mad as i can get. i threw open my tent door and went back in zipping it shut with fury behind me.

15 minutes later i heard a flick, flick, flick outside my tent. what in hell is that? i thought. flick, flick, flick. jesus, that's not, no, it couldn't be. could it? flick, flick, flick. oh my god it is, i concluded with total disbelief.

a kid had a lighter and was trying to set my tent on fire.

the rain and the fireproof fabric prevented it from going up in flames but that little bastard tried several times to set me alight. their only possible father was the devil himself. outside, as i was getting ready to leap from my tent again, the 8 year old girl who set up my tent was shouting "you fucking asshole, you fucking asshole" over and over again at no one in particular. my stomach turned sour. hearing little kids talk like that was simply shocking. i sprang from my tent, chased the satanic cretins off, and headed up to the house to get my money back.

i actually ended up staying the night there after all because it was dark outside and i had nowhere else to go, but the campground's owner and i moved my tent as far away from the kids as possible between two trailers where the hellions were not allowed to play.

i finally finished my meal and went to bed, but i tell you, it wasn't the most peaceful sleep i've ever had. god damn, i'd hate to see/be their parents.
2. "god, thank you for the strong heart and calm spirit you instilled in me; it makes me able to handle the unbelievable stuff that happens to me, like that situation just now."
-michael kivisto at about 3:00 in the morning in room #2033 of the mariella, a viking line ferry from stockholm, sweden to helsinki, finland, on 8.25.2004.

i quietly opened the door so i wouldn't wake my 2 roommates. i crept into the room, navigating by the light from the hallway. i looked up to my right to the second bunk, # 2033D, where i had earlier set my food and glasses case. someone was lying in it. 3 hours into the journey, #2033C, the upper bunk on the left, was empty but now there was someone in there too. the guy who was sleeping in #2033A, directly below my bunk, was gone but had the sheets turned aside like he was off preparing for bed; i knew he was coming back. so who was this guy in my bed?

"hey man," i said. "you are in my bed."

"oh, sorry, uhhhh, iii....," he said in broken english.

"is this your bed?" i asked, pointing to bunk B, the other ground level bed. he nodded.

"well i'll just sleep here and you can sleep in my bed."

"you sure? oh, ok," he said as his head fell back on the pillow.

i looked around for my stuff. on the table, i found the food and glasses case that i had set on my pillow. why would that guy want to stay in my bunk having to move all my stuff? and why would he leave all his stuff in his bunk? and who was he? i hadn't seem him at all until that point into the journey. i was very suspicious - it seemed to me that there were people in our room that did not belong there.

i looked at bunk B - all the guy's stuff was lying on it. i carefully took it off the bed and set it on the floor, pushing it under the bed. i noticed a money belt under the pillow, thinking it was crazy for someone to leave that sitting there instead of having it on him. i pushed it under the bunk as well. i took off my clothes, set my laptop and camera next to the pillow, folded my pants - with my wallet and passport in a zipped pocket - and stuffed them under the laptop; ever since getting robbed in portugal, i was very paranoid about my valuables. i put on my eyeshade and earplugs and laid my head on the pillow. while doing this, the guy who had bunk A for the night returned, undressed, and got in bed. he turned out his bedlight and the room went dark. i felt quite uneasy about the unknowns in the room so i wrapped the straps to my laptop and my camera cases tightly around my arm.

as i pulled my eyeshade down, i saw the door open - very strange given that the room was now full - there should not have been anyone else with a key. a blond guy walked in, grabbed a plastic bag from the floor, and then started walking out.

"hey!" i loudly whispered at him. "what are you doing?"

"huh?" he said.

"who are you? what are you doing in here?" i asked.

"i could ask you the same fucking thing," he said.

i was puzzled. some guy just walked into my room, picked something up, and started to walk out, but didn't expect a reaction?

"well you just walk into my room and take something, i think i should know what you are doing," i said.

"who the fuck do you think you are? who the fuck are you anyway? what the fuck are you doing in here?" he asked venomously. "i could ask you the same thing," he said again.

not good. not good at all. this was a situation.

"dude, why are you talking to me like that? i simply asked you who you are. i am lying here in a full room when someone walks in, takes something, and tries to leave - it just makes me uneasy given that the room is already full," i said.

all the lights came on at that point and another guy, a middle-eastern man, barged in.

"what the fuck are you doing in my bed? get out of my bed," he yelled at me.

"this is your bed?" i asked. "that is my bed," i said, pointing to bunk D. "he told me this bunk was his and that he wanted to switch with me," i said, referring to the guy sleeping in my bunk.

"you've been going through my shit," the middle-eastern guy said. he thought that my arm was wrapped around his bag rather than mine. he grabbed me and turned me around, but didn't see his stuff, so he snatched his bag from the floor and rifled through it to see what i stole from it. i was sitting up at that point with my eyeshade pushed up onto my forehead not believing what the fuck was going on. the english guy came over and sat or crouched to my right yelling "wait, you are a fucking american aren't you?" i immediately knew what he was getting at and i said "that has nothing to do with it."

"bullshit it doesn't. you are a fucking arrogant agressive american that is going to get his ass kicked talking to people like that. you think the world revolves around you, you fucking americans," he said.

i just sat there trying to remain calm. the situation was potentially disastrous. the two guys in front of me were very threatening.

"you know, you are in europe man. it's safe. it's not like america. people are not going to steal from you, they aren't going to break into your room and steal your stuff. they aren't aggressive," the english guy lectured. this coming from a guy who just threatened to kill me. i could smell the sour stench of alcohol on his breath. the guy in the lower bunk across from me started asking me something in finnish.

"he doesn't speak finnish, of course. he's a fucking american," said my english pal.

"come up with me. we are going to reception to fix this," said the middle-eastern guy who was sitting directly across from me. "they obviously put too many people in this room." i reached into my pants to get my ticket that said #2033 D on it.

"i don't see why i need to go to reception," i said as i waved my ticket. "i have a ticket that clearly says the room and bunk on it." i showed my ticket to him but he wouldn't look at it. the middle-eastern guy stood up and started talking to the guys in the top bunks.

"what's your ticket say?" he asked them (very nicely.) there was a lot of fumbling around, a lot of stalling, and then the guy in my bunk finally admitted that he didn't have a ticket. he jumped down while pulling on his pants and gathered all his stuff. the finnish guy suddenly jumped up and started yelling: "no ticket!!!! NO TICKET!!!!" he had to be restrained to not punch the guy out.

"don't be so aggressive," the english guy said.

this situation was unreal. i sat there dumbfounded, remaining calm more because i couldn't comprehend what was going and less because i was cool with things. i just couldn't lose my cool because there were two angry drunk guys in front of me looking to fight. i was out-numbered.

"you got a problem with my friend?" asked the middle-eastern guy at one point while driving his finger into my shoulder.

"no," i said. "i just can't understand why he is talking to me like that. i come into the room, the guy tells me he wants to switch bunks, i switch with him like a nice guy, and now you guys want to kill me. i am not being aggressive at all, he is," i said, indicating the english prick with my head.

(it is a bit hard for me to narrate the events of the evening because it was all so chaotic, all so quick.)

for some reason, when the guy with no ticket jumped out of the bed and headed for the door, the middle-eastern guy felt sorry for him - the one who caused the whole situation.

"well where are you going to sleep now?" he asked. i could not for the life of me understand why he gave a fuck. for a minute, the guy in the other upper bunk, who had not said a word to this point, discussed having his friend share the bed with him. the truth was finally out: apparently they were buddies, the one without a room just came to sleep in his buddy's room. i actually should have been pissed because the guy in my bunk just came in, chucked all my stuff off my bed - my food, my eyeglasses case, my ear plugs - and made himself comfortable. he didn't care that he was stealing my bed, leaving me without one. there was too much for me to be pissed at to get pissed. i just patiently, calmly, sat and weathered the storm.

after the guy who stole my bunk left, the middle-eastern guy came over to me and offered his hand.

"i am sorry my friend," he said. "i didn't know." i took his hand and said it was ok but i just wanted it to end. i didn't understand at all. the guy threatened my life just seconds earlier, fueled on at least in part because of my nationality. the english guy continually jawed at me the whole time, spewing negativity.

"you just sleep in my bunk and i'll sleep in yours," he said.

"you sure? i can move," i said.

"no, no. you just stay there and i'll sleep up there," he said, pointing to my bunk. as he left, he saw me folding my pants up.

"what are you doing? where are you going?" he now was concerned that i was leaving.

"just folding my pants dude," i said. i was uneasily getting settled again for some sleep.

"do you smoke?" he asked from the half-open door, indicating with a hand-gesture that he meant hash or pot.

it was the last thing on earth i would do. i never wanted to see the guy again. even if he offered me bags of gold - if it meant spending 2 more seconds with him - i'd have said no.

"no thanks man. i don't smoke." then, as the door shut, the english guy had one final insult for me.

"maybe you should start so you could improve your attitude."

"i can't believe you think i have a bad attitude," i said. "i remained calm the whole time, having done nothing wrong."

the door shut behind them and the english guy banged on the door, yelling "that was a joke, THAT WAS A JOKE!!!!"

i didn't find it funny.

i laid my head on the pillow at last, pulled the eyeshade down over my eyes, hooked my arms around the straps of my camera and laptop cases, and shut my eyes, wondering if i'd wake up with a knife in my chest.

i woke up the next morning and checked my watch, half-expecting that it, and everything else of mine, would be gone. it was 9:15. the boat would dock in helsinki in 40 minutes. the guy across from me was gone, the guy who had been sleeping above me was wheeling his bag out the door. the guy in my bunk, my life-threatening friend, was snoring.

"i hope you sleep through the landing and are taken all the way back to stockholm," i thought as i got out of bed. i quickly gathered my stuff, brushed my teeth, skipped a shower, and bolted out the door, very glad to be out of there, very glad to be alive.
3. if stuff like #1 and #2 didn't happen to me, i wouldn't recognize my own life. those kinds of things have happened frequently in my life, making me believe that it's my duty to write them down to share the stories with others. i am, i hope, destined to be a writer. god knows i never run out of material.
keep on keepin' on,
mike
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