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  • hardie karges 8:38 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Beirut, Damascus, Lebanon, Mideast, Syria   

    Beirut Runaround & Road To Damascus: Will That Be Visa? 

    Sunrise over Damascus

    Sunrise over Damascus

    November 2009

    …catch flight from Cairo to Beirut, not cheap at $240 OW, but if I can get the visa to Syria for pocket change, then that’ll save me $100 or so… made hotel reservation for Beirut without clear directions to where it was… turns out Jal el Dib is way north of town on the road to Tripoli…great.  After blowing off the hacks, I get some info from the tourist office on how to get there by bus… complicated, but better than a fifty dollar taxi ride…

    Third time’s a charm.  After two botched attempts and a long ride up the Christian casino coast—Slavic go-go dancers and whores I hear—I finally get off at the right place… $7 total from the airport, and the last $4 was optional if I’d wanted to walk the hill… real hotel, too, full-fledge, though the room is a “standard” one in the “annex,” sounds ominous… (More …)

  • hardie karges 3:11 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cairo, Egypt, Sphinx, pyramids   

    Chaos In Cairo: A Comedy Of Errors & Assorted Pyramid Schemes         

    Egypt in happier times

    Egypt in happier times

    November 2009

    …four days of bad coffee … Wheat-a-Bix… no Wi-Fi,… good to be moving on from London.  The verdict is still out on Cairo, but at least a room will be cheaper…

    The Blue Bird (Hotel) has no Wi-Fi, of course.  But they DO have a twenty-five-foot hard line… I start making onward plans… need to get to both Sudan and Eritrea…

    … Eritrean embassy says that they can’t give me a visa, since I’m not an Egyptian resident… guess I’m Caught-22, but I’ll inquire again in Yemen…

    … Cairo at midnight is something to behold, something like Halogen heaven.  If you shine bright enough lights on anything, I guess it’ll look good … not unlike Mexico City or one of the older sections of Bangkok… (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 3:52 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I can hardly comprehend all your travels from place to place – and how you have such expertise!!

  • hardie karges 4:36 pm on December 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Austin, Hoiuston, La Grange, Schulenberg,   

    Texas: Auto-retrato in rear-view mirrors, Auto-da-fe in Houston 

    Karges self-portrait 2014

    Karges self-portrait 2014

    Houston has always pretty much encapsulated for me everything that’s wrong with America, sprawls and malls and oversized redneck balls, up yours and in yo’ face, politeness and good manners preventing me from using the four-letter words that most easily come to mind. And southern Texas is basically an hijo de puta in general, somehow defining the term, iridescent oil slicks in shallow tide pools, earthly vents flaring gas, cops looking for someone to do and beastly bovines baring ass.

    It all started in Schulenberg for me, back in 1977, halfway between San Antonio and Houston, somewhere on the outskirts of the outback and nowhere near the infield of her in-skirts, home plate looming large like a bulls-eye home run, where I’d prefer to be, in her arms if not her legs, lapping at liquids and overlapping symbols, mixing metaphors and martinis, gasping for air if not grasping at truths, preferably screaming for more, and not bloody murder…

    Eternal Flame: Texas Oil Fields

    Eternal Flame: Texas Oil Fields

    But no one is there to help me when the nice policeman drops me off on the edge of town, down on my luck and down to my last buck, with instructions to think hard and pray even harder, gotta’ have a ton of faith when the only ride I got hitch-hiking in the last six hours was a ride in a police car after handing over $21 of my last $24 for unspecified crimes and misdemeanors; oh, right! I was littering, I remember now, as if it were yesterday…

    I got dropped there on the exit ramp and waited for hours, back in the days when backpacks were rucksacks and backpackers wore them religiously, with sometimes even a tent and sleeping bag attached for good measure, and budget accommodations, but it’s hard to walk around when you walk into town, even harder to pick up the Coke can once you stand up and gear up after sitting down and taking a look around and checking out the bus schedule to see how far $24 will take you…

    But I walked away rather than gear down just to bend down to pick up that now-empty cursed can of formerly fizzy liquids, now rendered inert inside me and seeking a path to the sea at the closest sign of a little boys’ room. WHEE-OO!! The sirens sound out on cue and I’m apprehended like the common litterer that I really am, and hauled before the local JP and ordered to pay a $21 fine and lectured on the dangers of Mexico to boot, nothing about the dangers of America or the abuses of Arizona or the crimes of Paris, Texas, due to hit the big screen in only a few years’ time…

    Downtown Houston

    Downtown Houston

    But at least I had three dollars left and was by then on the other side of town, with things looking up, and no margin for error, only five hundred miles to home and enough money for a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, so I should be good, and I was, made it back with pennies to spare and a pair of clean underwear, older but wiser, emboldened and unrepentant…

    Well I’m nothing if not one to press my luck, so I came back the next year 1978 crossing the border at Matamoros and Brownsville instead of Laredo, that’ll show ‘em, with the big idea to take then-newbie Southwest Airlines’ cheapie flight from Harlingen to Houston, for exactly that same $24 that was so hard to part with the year before; only one problem: what to do when I got there, airports not exactly configured for hitch-hiking, still I persevered walking around cloverleafs and loop-the-loops, somehow emerging from it all and pointing in the right direction: Mississippi or bust! Got a ride from there to my driveway, all in one piece, and ready to…

    Die. Ready to die. Coming down with hepatitis and ready to die. Musta’ been the icy waters down in Tampico, the kind you drink, not swim in, and all too often made with non-sanitary ice and whatever fruit happens to be in season, hard to resist when the temps are climbing high, and it’s a long bus ride to the border. It was nasty, seeing yellow crapping chalky and pissing Pepsi, but somehow I survived, supposedly inoculated for life…

    Houston on the horizon

    Houston on the horizon

    Fast forward to 1989 and I’m boarding the plane for Panama from Houston. There’s a table set up on the jet ramp, and manned by Customs officers, but I’ve never seen such, and pay it no mind. They call me over, time for inspection—okay, whatever. I’ve got nothing to hide. They give my baggage the once-over, then go for my wallet, counting my money and going for broke. The limit’s $10K to declare, which I know well, $9129 in pocket and ready to do my biz in crafts down south. That should be the end of it, but it’s not.

    “I want to know what that bulge in your pants is,” he says, and no, I don’t make this sh*t up.

    So off we go, down the ramp, and into the cockpit, no pun intended, where I proceed to pull down my pants to satisfy the man’s interests, no comment, without getting his hands dirty, should last him the rest of the day and most of the night, if I figure rightly, calculating the algebra of desire against the urge to merge, and the demands for privacy when plumbing one’s privies; it ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done…

    Now here I am in 2014, older but no wiser, wending my way through oil fields and suburbs, on my pilgrimage through the modern-day monster, Houston, also older no wiser, thinly veiled behind fly-overs and underpasses, the Houston tollway, Crockett tollway, LBJ tollway, Rayburn tollway, Ann Richards tollway, George W. Bush tollway, George H.W. Bush tollway, Jeb Bush tollway; you get the idea: eight lanes in each direction and nobody’s going anywhere, EZ pass required but no guarantees, mix-master freeways, concrete-and-steel fruit loops, the epitaph already writ large, just like the Romans: ‘they made good roads’.

    Texas Quilt Museum

    Texas Quilt Museum

    Welcome to Houston. ‘Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you here, and that goes for you, too, long-haired white boy.’ No sir, I won’t; you can bet on that, connect straight to Austin, via La Grange, small town America with no apologies repentances or refunds, ZZ Top and the circus big top, peaches and cream and everything in between, all in prelude to Austin, Emerald City, an island of civility in an ocean of oil-field rednecks, university and all, country swing and that wild silly thing they sing; almost feels like home. I’m good.

    • Esther Fabbricante 7:26 pm on December 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      And my nephew, R. A. “Bob” Mitchell, Jr., lives in Houston. I’ve never been to the place which you describe so well.

  • hardie karges 3:37 pm on November 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , McAllen, , Reynosa, ,   

    Perry-Troopers in Laredo, Mexican Military Mafia & Mothers in Matamoros 

    Mexcian Politics

    Mexcian Politics

    So the border crossing at Piedras Negras, Mexico into Eagle Pass, TX, went without a hitch, no problema, nada nadita, this after repeated problems in Arizona and absolutely zero in California, so I’m advancing my thesis about the abuses of Arizona; but I’ll need a few more examples to confirm it. Of course I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been to every border post along the 2000 mile US-Mexico border, but that quickly becomes a problem of definition: cities or actual crossings, since many cities have multiple crossings, and some are hardly pedestrian friendly. That’s me: Mr. Pedestrian. Hi.

    Anyway, given the dozens of crossings along the border, and my limited time, I decide to not even bother with Laredo, since I’ve been there many times before. So the next major crossing down the road southward is at Roma. The American town looks interesting, a historic town overlooking the bluffs of the river. And there’s a bridge right there in town, connecting to an equally interesting-looking town on the other side. But it’s still early, since I left at daybreak. It’s cold, too. Hardly anything will be open at this time of day. I’ll be back, later in the day. I continue on down the border.

    Roma, Texas

    Roma, Texas

    There seems to be a bridge at Rio Grande city, but no real city there, so I pass on by. Then there’s a sign pointing the way to a ferry, near Sullivan City, so that sounds interesting. It is, a long winding road to a long winding border along a long winding river. The border itself is not much more than a stop sign and a few derelict buildings. The border post looks modern, but I don’t see the boat. I don’t see anything on the other side, either. That’s crucial. Crossings to nowhere don’t interest me. I go back.

    By now the highway down south is getting thick with police—state troopers, cheaper by the dozen, apparently. I guess this is part of Governor Rick Perry’s border crackdown. They don’t seem to be doing much, though, just parked by the side of the road, mostly, or parked double-wide and deep in chat, looking bad and breaking bread, doughnuts, that is…

    Border Flea Market at Hidalgo

    Border Flea Market at Hidalgo

    The suburbs are getting thick, too, the United States of Generica, life at the speed of an automobile, going in fourth gear down a crowded freeway, frontage roads crowded with signs like little China-towns all, Whataburger Jiffy-Lube Best Buy Wells Fargo Kmart Circle K and countless other refugees from downtown all competing for attention, multicolor flashing signs all shouting the same thing: More! More! Bigger! Bigger! There’s everything but the Starbucks; apparently Arabica has yet to reach the lower forty, still steeped slowly in ignorance, como agua para Nescafe…

    Finally I get to the greater McAllen area, knowing not much more but there’s a bridge there somewhere, a vague picture of Google Maps in my mind, so I switch on my internal GPS and proceed by cruise control. I find a bridge soon enough, but from nowhere to nowhere best as I can tell, so I continue on to a smaller town called Hidalgo—jackpot. This is not only THE border crossing to the large city of Reynosa, but also home to one of the largest flea markets in the world. Comparisons to Talat Rong Kleua along the border with Kampuchea spring to mind. Welcome to Thailand.

    Border-town Bars in Reynosa

    Border-town Bars in Reynosa

    Reynosa, twin city to Matamoros, is one of the places where the Mexican uncivil war is taking place, just like Ciudad Juarez farther north; that much is clear. The tone is subdued, and the cause is more than the chilly weather. There is a strong military presence around the central plaza, and I’m not sure I’d want to be around after sundown. The road to democracy is long and hard and frequently violent, and too easy to say, “it’s just the drugs.” Still it’s got more life than the average American city, by far, and it’s almost worth the extra military presence just to accomplish it—almost.

    The crossing back is slightly more stressful than the day before at Eagle Pass, but only slightly. The only time I got the glare, the ICE glare, was when the man asked me what I was doing in Afghanistan, like I could almost see him counting heartbeats. I smile a lot. We’re good. Brownsville is even farther down the road south, but I’ve already been there, and the sun is on the wane, so I high-tail it back to Roma, this time counting state troopers. It’ll total up to at least twenty along this stretch of asphalt.

    Flower District in Cd. Miguel Aleman

    Flower District in Cd. Miguel Aleman

    Ciudad Miguel Aleman is the city across the river from Roma, TX, though I didn’t know that until it was almost time to cross back. It always helps to know the name of the place where you are, though not absolutely necessary. It’s also nice to know your own name, or so the ICE man seems to think. I hand him my passport.

    “What’s your name?”

    I’ve got a live one. I just handed him my passport, so he knows my name. He wants to make sure that I know it. People with false ones frequently don’t. So I tell him. But that is not enough to satisfy. He’s got a stiffy, and he intends it poke it in my face. I tell him all about myself.

    “Who do you sell your books to, the highest bidder?”

    Now there’s a novel idea, but I don’t really believe he’s trying to be helpful. I believe he’s trying to be an a$$hole.

    “Empty your pockets.”

    Okay, here we go, the old once-over. So I empty my pockets (as if I were a smuggler I’d carry my illegal goods right there in my front pocket). He even brings another ICE man in to glare at me, just to see if I get nervous, I guess. But that’s that. I can go. No trip to the back room, nothing. Still I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead. It’s getting dark. It’s been a long day. I think I’ve seen enough of the border to last me a while.

  • hardie karges 12:45 am on November 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Del Rio, Eagle Pass, , , Piedras Negras, ,   

    Texas Nexus: Borderlands Here, Too, Y’all 

    Mexico-US boundary post

    Mexico-US boundary post

    So here’s the deal: I’m becoming obsessed with this border between the US and Mexico, this line that defines so much while accomplishing so little, worshiped as a line in the sand, a bulwark of democracy, a first line of defense against those who would abuse the privileges of America without paying the full price of admission, those entering the amusement park without paying the cover charge, violators subject to a revenge equal to and exceeding the pulling of eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth.

    Here’s my thesis: that the Arizona border region—aka Brewer’s Gulch—is the most abusive of all the involved states, and likely for a reason: because of the current anti-immigrant climate in that state as best exemplified by SB 1070, and including various other neglects, slights and omissions committed upon people of Mexican ancestry by law enforcement agencies and the broader society of ‘real’ (white) Americans as a whole.

    Ironically these slights and omissions have been inflicted even upon myself while reentering the USA recently along the Mexican border, three times (out of five) in Arizona, and not once in California. There seems to be a pattern forming here. With such my mandate and mantra I set out upon the continuance of my journey of discovery in Texas, the USA’s longest border, and the only one with a river running through it. (More …)

    • Leigh 2:57 am on November 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      For three years running I had trips right down at the US-Mexico border. I even found a hole in the fence in Coronado National Memorial. In Big Bend NP the border was only a few feet across the Rio Grande. It feels like your every move is being watched – and it probably is.

      • hardie karges 3:15 am on November 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Probably more so than before, yes. I remember Big Bend 30+ years ago felt pretty loose, but I doubt that is the case now. Business there has suffered accordingly…

  • hardie karges 12:42 am on November 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Talking Time Travel Border Bashin’ Blues 1983 

    Karges in Guatemala 1983 buying huipiles

    Karges in Guatemala 1983 buying huipiles

    April, 1983 Tecate, MX: We’re sitting on a remote border between the USA and Mexico, waiting on midnight, waiting for the night shift to come on at US Customs up the hill. I’ve got a pickup load full of stuff, handicraft stuff, mostly textiles, from Guatemala, and Oaxaca, far to the south in Mexico, not as far as Chiapas, but almost. Lu and I went there, too, San Cristobal de las Casas mostly, and all over Oaxaca, including Huautla, home of the famous shaman Maria Sabina, and the psychedelic mushroom capital of Mexico, or so I hear.

    This was after spending a full month in Guatemala itself, including the remote war zone of Nebaj, part of the ‘Ixil Triangle’, where much of the fighting in the Guatemalan civil war took place. Of course we didn’t know many details of that at the time, most of which came out later, over the next decade. We knew it was weird, though. You just gotta’ chill, not my partner Lu’s specialty. (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 1:05 am on November 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      A couple of knockout pictures of you – like 30 years ago? You have a knack with words and I look forward to your posts – and am reading you book. Sorry, I need cataract surgery – so enjoy the posts on line since I can enlarge the print. Keep up the good work and take care of yourself.

  • hardie karges 1:35 am on November 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algodones, , Calexico, , Mexicali, , Tecate,   

    4:20 from Yuma: 3 Borders, 2 Countries, 1 Day 

    Border at Algodones, Mexico

    Border at Algodones, Mexico

    8 a.m. I check out of my motel in Yuma, AZ, feeling bad. Yesterday had the pleasure of witnessing a German shepherd—under ICE commands—sniffing up a woman’s private parts for suspected infractions of unspecified rules and multifarious regulations, while itself committing gross violations of human dignity and self-determination. Yuk.

    8:30 a.m. I find Yuma’s ‘Old Town’, much nicer than I imagined, considering the border’s Nazi-like presence. The area is well-defined, with shops, a brewery (yes!) and the Golden Roadrunners Ballroom, like time travel, from the annals of my memory. I wish I’d discovered it last night—downtown, not the road-runners—but might’ve been a challenge, given the distance and lack of direction; and maybe a brew or two. I hear there’s a dispensary—meh. (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 2:25 am on November 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Reading this was an education! I’m glad you are home, though.

    • hardie karges 5:13 pm on November 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Home? Now there’s a concept…

  • hardie karges 3:54 pm on November 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , San Luis,   

    Ethnic Cleansing, Arizona Style: Eyeless in Gadsden, Trial by ICE 

    IMG_0203I’m getting into the border, as an entity, like skin, an organ in itself, a living breathing self-sustaining organism, barbarous and cruel, unrelenting but forgiving—despite my two detentions. I can’t wait to unravel its mysteries, winding through four US states, two countries, several political parties, several languages, several geographic regions and dozens of micro-climates.

    The main mystery right now is whether I’m right that the Arizona border seems to be a cruel inhuman place. I’ve been to four out of six Arizona border posts, five if you count the Lukeville/Sonoita crossing that I’ve already crossed by vehicle several times within the last couple years, so that only leaves one: the San Luis crossing near Yuma. That’s where I’m going today. (More …)

    • annathrax 10:28 pm on November 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Really enjoyed this read, a great story!

      • hardie karges 10:34 pm on November 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks! Stay tuned for the happy ending…

        • annathrax 10:48 pm on November 4, 2014 Permalink

          Happy ending as in asian “happy ending”? Nothing would surprise me after this first episode! :-)

        • hardie karges 11:14 pm on November 4, 2014 Permalink

          Ha! No, nothing like that… :-)

    • Esther Fabbricante 2:01 am on November 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Oh, my goodness! Also, a great read, though. But I don’t envy you!!

    • April M. Williams 2:19 am on November 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Love traveling vicariously through you. What an adventure. Novice nod to Arlo.

      • hardie karges 4:34 am on November 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Arlo? Arlo who? Ha! Hey, it’s Thanksgiving, good time to recall Alice’s Restaurant…

    • Esther Fabbricante 11:07 pm on November 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I couldn’t find Ario on Google, but maybe this is it:

      • hardie karges 12:16 am on November 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Arlo Guthrie, of ‘Alice’s Restaurant” fame, son of Woody, I was using some of his routine in my piece, just for fun. Listen to it for Thanksgiving. Greg will know it, for sure…

    • Esther Fabbricante 5:24 pm on November 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Oh, that explains it. I was way off base.

  • hardie karges 4:33 pm on October 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    #Sasabe #Arivaca #Arizona #Mexico: BUSTED, down on I-19, just like Jerry, and George… 

    (continued from previous)

    Sasabe: the American Side

    Sasabe: the American Side

    Disclaimer: I like Mexicans. They’re some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’ve eaten their food. I’ve drunk their mezcal. I’ve bought and sold their handicrafts. I’ve marched through their streets carrying pictures of their patron saints. I’ve probably seen more of their country than I’ve seen of my own, and that’s a lot. I’m not Mexican, don’t care about being Mexican, and won’t go on romantically about mi gente, but still: I like them. They’re good people, for the most part…

    So when I see Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans, being abused and mistreated along that 2000 mile border, it really pisses me off, more than my own inconveniences, which are minor. I’ve been detained twice at the border in the last week, but they have all been detained more than that, and for less reason, presumably. I, after all, am a pretty sketchy character :-). I hope to get to the bottom of it, the whys and the wherefores. I persevere… (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 7:30 pm on October 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Misery peronified!!!

    • Esther Fabbricante 3:21 pm on November 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Nov. 1. Good morning. Brrrr.

    • Esther Fabbricante 1:57 am on November 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I find pleasure and entertainment in reading your book – makes for a nice Sunday when it is cold outside.

  • hardie karges 12:08 am on October 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    #Nogales #Arizona #Sonora: DETAINED, Suspected of Extensive Travel, and a Weird Accent 

    Main street Nogales Sonora, Mexico

    Main street Nogales Sonora, Mexico

    (continued from previous)

    So next day I go to the much larger border town of Nogales, which straddles the line between the USA and Mexico, literally bifurcating a city that predates it, similar to El Paso and Juarez, but without the river as a natural dividing line. This is easily the nicest and most natural of the three Arizona border towns I’ve been to in the last week.

    I’ve been here before, many times, in fact, mostly when I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, and when I was an importer of handicrafts from Mexico, especially Oaxaca, far to the south. I’d drive six hours to the border, and then go pick up a load of goods from the Nogales train station for a tiny fraction of the cost that it would take to send by air freight to Phoenix or Tucson; then drive back the same day. But that was long ago. Now there’s a wall, a big-ass wall. (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 1:34 am on October 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Your patience is commendable.

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