Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hidden World

December 25 – Portsmouth, RI
The first thing to do when constructing your 20-something cliché is to equate your friends to a family. You can take cues from RENT or Reality Bites if it’s not immediately clear how to do this.

There is a burnt turkey or a flimsy Christmas tree and you’re all broke and happy.

So its Christmas day in Portsmouth, RI, USA and several elements of the narrative are falling short. There is no broken family or gaggle of bohemian friends. Just cousins and uncles and lots of food.

But when one cliché fails you can always look to another, and every returning backpacker will utter a variation of this sentence when discussing their return home: “The first week is great. You see all your friends and family, its good to be home. But then after a week…”

So yesterday was a week and Christmas is day eight, and now visions of Winona Ryder or Mark Cohen dance in my head. In my little cousin’s smile I’m strangely reminded of a Dutch girl in Rome, who hasn’t written back in a few days. In the bottles of red wine I’m nostalgic for French friends. But as Benny insists at the end of Act One, “Bohemia is dead.”

I’m unsure if it makes things sadder or less sad, but I’m aware there is no backpacking Bohemia for me to return to. Not mine anyway. The Dutch girl isn’t in Rome anymore…the Canadian isn’t in Spain…the German isn’t in Australia. No plane can take me back to the places I remember, because the people were the places.

I imagine the world now as a lonely place. I think of empty hostels and unfriendly bus stations. I think I picture it like people who haven’t traveled alone do: I imagine it being lonely because the people I know are gone.

I landed in Sydney on January 10, 2005. It was a sunny Tuesday but really it was Saturday. And every day for the next 26 countries and $20,000 was Saturday too. It was Saturday, December 17, 2005 when I returned. But the calendar was done playing games then and the next day church bells rang, and the day after that was a working Monday. So that world I discovered is hidden from me now. But in that false bohemian picture I see myself peaking in like a ghost, watching someone else still learning the straps on their backpack, watching them get comfortable in a hostel lobby, watching them step out of the week I’ve returned to and settle into their Saturday and smile at their first sight of this hidden world.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Twenty-Six Countries in 26 Pictures



















SCOTLAND (don't tell them its not a country)








In Argentina, It Sounds Like Home and Looks Like England

November 16 – flight from Buenos Aires to Atlanta
It starts in an airport very far away. The flight leaves from Argentina but goes to Atlanta and the American voices flow towards me like a stiffening breeze in the Passport Control line.

They sound strange, almost like foreign accents. In the unfamiliarity of the American voices it feels I’ve been gone much much longer than a year. They sound familiar the way a relative’s face might look familiar if you were suffering from amnesia.

Its slow in hitting me still. When I left the hostel I felt nothing. When I spent my final hours with the Danish girls at their apartment I still felt little. I knew—I know—that I’m not comprehending what’s happening. I don’t get it yet. I’m on a plane in seat 20A and that’s what I do. It’s the 29th flight of my year. Number 30 from Atlanta to New York will be next. But they’re just names, they’re just more places to go because what I do is go to places.

There was a pleasant symmetry in my last day. Just before I went to the airport Lonnie and Tania set up a stool in their kitchen and started cutting my hair. Neither had ever done such a thing and it was indeed an adventure.

Before I left New York I got my hair cut at Bumble and Bumble and happily paid $130 for the honor. I paid the money because I wanted to and I could. And today I got my hair hacked up by a couple smiling Danes because I wanted to and I could. My point isn’t that its better to get free hair cuts from cute girls than to waste your money. I wasn’t wasting my money because it was something I wanted to do. But the pleasure of today’s cut—patchy and uneven but pretty decent for a first effort—was strangely similar to the fancy salon: I knew I was doing something vaguely irresponsible (in one case blowing money, in the other risking embarrassment) but that was kind of the point.

Tania decided she’d give me something of a David Beckham cut. Beckham may be the world’s most famous athlete but no one in America has heard of him. So they won’t get the reference implicit in the Nuevo-Mohawk, or recognize it as the quintessential young-Brit style.

On this flight to Atlanta when I accidentally kicked my seatmate’s bag, he told me “It’s okay.” I’m used to hearing “No worries.”

I’m used to hearing foreign accents and languages, of eating different food and crossing strange streets.

But the American voices are coming like a flood and the hair is already growing out. They're the voices of my friends and it is after all a Mohawk, so these might be things to celebrate. Skol? Brosht? Salud?

No. Cheers.

Friday, December 16, 2005

All the Way

There is no metaphor because it is the metaphor. If you decide to dance, you can't dance half way. It's better not to dance at all than to dance a little. I've spent my life dancing a little--I mean this literally not metaphorically--until tonight.

If you told me in January that I would spend the last night of my trip either A) Smoking crack, B) Hooking up with a guy, or C) Dancing well past dawn in the middle of a Buenos Aires night club, I'm not sure which I would have gone with.

People think I took this trip so I wouldn't be tormented in old age by not having done it. I never really had that thought. But in the many danceless moments I've spent at the edge of the dance floor, I have imagined myself as a very old man wishing I could be young. I always think how that old version of myself would do anything to have a chance to dance late into the night. So for that old man I've tried many times to dance, but at best made it half way.

But there I was 45 minutes ago, alone near the middle of the crowd bouncing around as if I know how to dance. I was alone there the way I would be if it were a movie and the camera slowly pulled away to show me joyfully dancing by myself. There was no one else on the last night. There was everyone but there was no one. The Danish girls and Brazilian guys and Canadian girls and half of Milhouse Hostel were there. But really there will be no one to miss when I get on the plane tonight and after not long there was no one I knew left at the club.

In the story of me dancing on the last night of my trip we can thank a Californian named Lauren. It was 4am and I'd been there for two hours not dancing even a little. But she asked me to dance while she waited for her friend and I knew that meant we would make out on the dance floor so I said 'yes.' We have to thank Lauren too for checking out of Milhouse this morning and not being able to go back to the hostel with me. So she went home to her friend's apartment. "You should stay," she said. "Its your last night."

So I did. And soon the sweat was dripping and my legs were sore. Girls were asking me for cigarettes. I can't give dance lessons but I can tell you what I did. First I realized I couldn't dance halfway, then I decided I wasn't dancing to try to meet girls, then I paid attention to the bass line and that was about it.

Its 8am now and breakfast is being served. I'm too tired to even read this over and see if it makes sense. Tonight I fly home and I wonder how much I'll sleep, the night after I'll meet some of you in New York and I wonder how much I'll sleep then too.

There were other thoughts in the cab ride home. There were other metaphors and decisions and revelations. But I'm too tired now. Its after 8am and I haven't been to bed. I'll try to remember the logo for the movie that occured to me in the cab, I'll try to get some sleep. I'll try to remember how to dance. I guess that's the metaphor actually...that when you learn not to dance halfway you have to hope you don't forget how.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I Know This Much...

There’s that old graduation day joke: “What did you learn at college?” “My social security number.”

Well what do you learn in a year around the world? Your passport number.

In addition to those nine digits I’ve come up with this list of newfound knowledge:

I’ve learned…
…when you toast with someone you must make eye contact or suffer seven years bad sex.

…the “s” in Laos is silent.

…in Australia (and the UK) the word “Quay” is pronounced “key” and city bus drivers are happy to laugh at you for messing it up.

I've learned to identify the accent of most westerners and though I don’t understand their languages, I can almost always hear the difference between Swedish, Dutch, and Danish.

…to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilos to pounds to stones, kilometers to miles, liters to gallons.

…to enjoy bus/train/plane travel so much that I always wish the trip would last a little longer. I really do. It’s just so relaxing in that seat.

…Holland and The Netherlands are the same place. People who come from there are Dutch.

…the rules of cricket (more or less) and the difference between Rugby Union and Rugby League.

…why some sports are popular in the U.S. but others are popular elsewhere: American sports fan prefers quick bursts of action that can then be replayed (football, baseball)…Foreigners prefer sustained action regardless of frequent scoring (soccer, rugby).

…about ten words of ten different languages, though I’ve forgotten more than I’d like to admit. For now my Spanish and Portuguese are actually pretty decent.

…to be happy doing pretty much anything alone.

…to sense the right “path” just by looking at the environment. I can usually tell where the train station must be or where the taxi stand is; there’s a universal logic to those things that you’re able to recognize after a while.

…to start a conversation really easily.

Maybe most importantly, I’ve learned that everything always works out. It’s the reason people are so often happy with their choices (traveling and otherwise); because whatever path you choose, it always turns out to be a good one.

Football as the Clock Ticks Down

November 11 – Buenos Aires
Here’s the scene at 9:40pm on the fifth to last night of my trip: I’m in the TV lounge of the Milhouse Hostel in Buenos Aires. Of the nearly 100 hostels I’ve stayed in this is the most raucous party-hostel and below the balcony the disco ball is spinning, the music is blaring, the hostel bar is doing good business. In an hour I’m set to grab a drink with the Norwegian girl I just met in my room, whose name I don’t yet know but whose cobalt blue eyes I’ve memorized. If I want time to shower I best write quickly…

It made sense not to come home last night because it was after 4am when the Danish girls and I got in the cab. (These are the Danish girls—Tania and Lonnie—I met in Rio when the effort to not write about girls in South America still seemed to matter). They have an apartment here in Buenos Aires now and in the morning (read: early afternoon) we would all go to the football match. So it made sense to crash at their place. Their couch is short so I put a chair at the edge of it so my legs wouldn’t dangle off. Since backpacker fantasies go only so far I needed to use my backpacking sleeping skills and make the couch work.

So now lets get to the football.

Americans call it soccer and sometimes I do too. Tania is the biggest football fan I think I’ve ever met and she explained some particulars of the Boca-Independiente match as we strolled around the stadium looking for tickets. The game was in the Argentine National league and if Boca won and some other team lost their game, Boca would be league champs.

Lonnie agreed to join Tania at the game if I came along. It wasn’t safe for foreign girls to go to the game, they were told, especially in the 14 peso general admission seats. And walking around the streets outside the stadium that was believable. “Beautiful,” guys would say as they passed us with the gravelly snarl of a bad guy in a movie. The crowd was more than 95% male and Lonnie was one of two blondes I saw in the crowd of 50,000.

“This place is great for my self confidence,” Lonnie said. “In Denmark I can hardly get looks, here its like ‘ahhhh.’” She stuck her tongue out like a dog in imitation of the flattering Argentine men.

We bargained the scalper down to $14 (40 pesos) from $35 (100 pesos) and headed in.

It took us three tries to find the right gate (three times the frisking!) and at one point we were somehow in line with the opposing fans who are channeled through twelve-foot high metal gates from the outskirts of the neighborhood to a special entrance where they sit in their special section away from the home fans.

Unfortunately for us, our seats (or at least the space we found to stand behind the south goal) was directly below the opposing Independiente fans. Before we start scaring you with soccer-riot talk lets mention the positives.

International football fans put American rooters to shame. It’s almost embarrassing to think of Fenway Park or Madison Square Garden and people saying things like “playoff atmosphere.” The level of passion and enthusiasm I saw today far exceeded any assembly I’ve witnessed for sports, music, politics, anything.

There was more singing and dancing than at any concert I’ve been to. The ability of 20,000 people to sing and bounce in unison for a half hour is something to behold. Even now as I sit here at 10pm the program on the TV is a long montage of crazed fans greeting the team as they arrived at the stadium.

The dark side of this passion is a sometimes violent antagonism between the fans. It’s clear in the barbed wire fence around the field, the water guns perched above the stadium, and the hundreds of cops in riot gear. As soon as we found a place to stand (the only sitting was during half time) we had to start scattering. The opposing fans above were throwing giant water balloons on us. A one-gallon water balloon after a 150-foot drop is a weapon and so is a broom stick (previously used to wave a flag) and a rock (previous use unknown). Spit isn’t a weapon exactly but it flowed freely from above and on a warm afternoon I worried a bit that all the spitters would suffer some dehydration.

At halftime we all scrambled to find a place to sit and then we scrambled some more when a big firecracker fell from above and exploded in the crowd. “Puto! Puto!” the crowd below yelled at the crowd above. Homo, homo. Almost every other word screamed this afternoon (at the other fans, at the referee, at the opposing team) was “puto.”

The folks in our section spent halftime looking up at the other fans, waiting for something to run from. Everyone around me suddenly sprinted away so I look up but didn’t see anything falling. “Nada,” I said coolly. Then I saw there was already a smoking cylinder on the now-empty steps. Then a young girl came walking up through the empty space. The cylinder smoked red and then…then nothing. It was just a smoke bomb in Independiente’s color.

There was a guy with a bloody towel wrapped around his head who walked past us in the second half. There was water and spit splattered liberally on all of us. There was the consideration of a fractured skull. But there was no real damage done so now we can claim it was all part of the fun.

Lets talk about what was happening down on the field for a minute because this was my first professional soccer game. Sorry, football.

Football is one of those sports—people like to say—that you have to see in person to appreciate. They say this about hockey and racecar driving too. You can’t appreciate the speed on television.

In my opinion television conveys the speed of these sports but not in the right way. Football coverage is forced to use two types of shots: extreme wide shots and close ups. In wide shots the players look like blips on a computer screen; in close up you can’t tell what’s happening in the game. (I think football and hockey would both benefit from a lower angled wide shot similar to what the NBA has adopted in recent years.)

What you see much better in person is the tidal flow of the action. Americans complain of a lack of scoring but scoring isn’t really the point. The point is an evolving series of little battles for field position. In that way it’s a faster version of American football, which is also a battle for field position. Goals—or touchdowns—are the eventual product of winning a series of small battles.

Or you can compare the ebb and flow to basketball. While the scoring in basketball is constant, games are won or lost in a series of small increments: by making a defensive stop and then scoring, by missing a free throw.

So when the uninitiated see 40 minutes without “scoring,” fans see force being exerted in one direction or another. In that way it’s like boxing, where a novice is blind to tactical advantages as they mount. But eventually the pressure reaches a breaking point and a knockdown—or a goal—results.

Watching one game in person doesn’t make me an authority on the sport but it makes clearer how entertaining the game can be regardless of balls going in the net.

What you can see too is the way play changes from casual to intense (and dirty) as the ball moves closer to the goal.

When the ball finally finds a home in the net—in the opponents net—the response can best be compared to an orgasm or friendly riot. If you’re a Yankee fan think of Brett Boone’s homer, if you’re a Sox fan think of David Ortiz’s two homers (isn’t it nice to have more to think about than Yankee fans?). That’s the level of ecstasy I witnessed this afternoon in the middle minutes of an intra-national soccer match. I’m telling you they put us to shame.

There’s so much screaming and hair pulling over every poor pass and questionable call that I couldn’t help but think about next year’s World Cup. If the sport can mean this much on this level, it’s hard to fathom the hysteria of a World Cup.

After the game there were more broomsticks and water (we’re sticking with the belief it was water). There was cheering and singing well past the final whistle and finally an announcement that the right team had lost their game and Boca was league champs. There was much to remember about the afternoon of football but now the night has come—there are just five left—and I need a name for Norway.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Argentina (with dad) in Photos

Iguacu Falls may be the world´s most impressive spill...

Dinner at the end of the line...

The big cube of Perito Moreno...

Training in Patagonia

December 6 – flight from El Calafate to Bariloche
You can see it in the chapped lips and scaly skin; in the fading tan and the thickening layers of cloths. Training for a New England winter is under weigh, and its happening in the southern hemisphere spring.

Mark Twain insisted “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I doubt he spent a summer in Patagonia, because down here in El Calafate, Argentina where my dad and I hiked a glacier yesterday, the snowflakes are still large and occasionally plentiful.

El Calafate is only as far south as London is north, but on the hip of the Andes that doesn’t matter much. Less than a week after flirting with the Equator the climate takes some getting used to. What’s most unusual is that despite the cool temps—the weather is similar to New England at the moment—the days are long, with light lingering until 11pm each night.

Folks come to El Calafate mainly for the giant glaciers. “This will be a once in a lifetime thing,” dad said when we booked the Big Ice glacier hike. “Or I guess twice in a lifetime for you.”

I hiked a glacier in New Zealand seven months and twenty-five countries ago, but the Franz Joseph ice over there doesn’t compare to the big cube of Perito Moreno here in Patagonia. Much larger and entertaining (though less dynamic to walk on), Moreno terminates in the Lago Argentino and all day long chunks of ice crash into the water, echoing through the National Park and firing little waves across the chilly lake. (Beyond the presence of glaciers Argentina and New Zealand have some other similarities, but generally speaking the main attractions of Argentina (Iguaçu falls, the glaciers) are more spectacular, while New Zealand’s overall landscape is much more beautiful).

Preparing to be released back into captivity requires more than climate acclimation. So the visits from NYC Jason and now dad have provided a social reminder of what awaits in the States. It is a symphony of the familiar—common accents and interests, common experiences and beliefs. It’s the security—or banality—of knowing who you will spend your time with and what they will be like.

With ten days and just two cities left, there are considerations of what is already over. Have I trudged aimlessly through my last over-booked town? Have I taken my last twelve-hour bus ride? Am I done hooking up with strangers in dorm beds or turning strangers into new friends?

I’m nostalgic for dorm rooms; for communal kitchens and shared bathrooms. I’m settling into the knowledge that the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been are the sum of my trip. And in retrospect it all becomes much bigger or much smaller than it was at the time. The chance encounters that could have been with someone else were instead with Jens or Ella or Tania and in memory they are major people in my life.

Which brings up another question for the end of the trip: How was it? (Not was it good or bad, it was fantastic, of course…But how was it compared to how it might have otherwise been). If I took the trip 100 times each one would be different—though in certain fundamental ways not that different—and some would be better than others. On my trip I suffered no serious problems (medical, logistical, criminal) or remarkable good fortune (meeting a wife, stumbling into some new career). I think my trip fell into the giant middle class of long-term travel—few trips go badly or much better than all the rest.

Ten days. How many people never take a trip longer than that? How many times the rest of my life will I? Ten days isn’t such a short time to travel, but its short to me. Because it doesn’t feel like I’m going home in ten days; if you’ve ever gone home from a vacation this feels nothing like that. It feels like moving cities, like breaking up with someone you love, like quitting a job. It feels maybe like it did when I left to start the trip. But that big space of uncertainty that was filled with the excitement of things to come is empty now. There’s no giddiness that comes from moving back home in the dead of winter and being broke. There’s only the comparison the future suffers to the past. And I suspect Mr. Twain never spent a winter in New England after traveling around the world. I best train hard.

An Entry For Me

December 9 – Nahuel Huapi National Park
This is an entry for me about how I feel about the trip. Maybe those who have followed along with the year will find it interesting too, maybe not.

To define the trip, to define what it means to me, I try to think about how my thoughts have changed: my thoughts about myself, my future, the trip, the time after my trip.

The easiest thing to put my finger on now is the “thoughts about the time after my trip” category, because it is in the process of transitioning from the future to the present. What has changed recently is it seems less grand now. I envisioned my return—in the vague way you envision something that’s unlikely to happen—as a victory parade, a launching into a new exciting phase in my life, or perhaps a colossal disaster. Those dramatic outcomes seem increasingly unlikely as Arrival Day approaches. In the end—travelers like to point out—no one back home really cares about your trip, and a week after returning you’re no longer the cool guy traveling around the world. You’re just a guy with a full passport and an empty checking account who is eventually compelled to get a job like everyone else.

How have my feelings about the beginning of the trip changed? I know how I felt then: excited, nervous, challenged, high. When I look at the photos from that first day I look young. Maybe physically young, maybe otherwise. Maybe because you’re most often excited/nervous/challenged/high when you’re young. Naïveté and optimism are characteristics of the youthful so maybe that’s why.

There was a sense of endless possibility then. I started three movies and two books. It seemed publishing an article in a magazine or newspaper was as simple as carving a little time away from the film and book endeavors. I think a part of that was a carryover from my old pace of life. I’ve learned to slow down quite a bit; I still need to work to feel good, but not as much as I used to.

I think traveling is like a drug. You never get as high as you do at first but you do still get high and you remember what it was like at the beginning and it hurts to stop. So I look back fondly and enviously at those early times when the simple pleasures of backpacking were as fresh as your first line of coke. (It must be more uncomfortable to make these metaphors if you’ve done drugs but since I never have I don’t mind invoking cocaine. But don’t do it kids, okay?)

But eventually you have to slap yourself hard across the face and resolve to break the habit. I know that. I’ve reminded myself of that all year but now I’m shivering in the corner saying something like, “I can quit anytime I want. I just don’t want to now.” Am I ready to come home? Yes. Am I ready to stay home? I don’t think so.

What’s mollified the backpacking emotions—loneliness and uselessness chief among them—is the work on the movie. And since this is an entry for me I’ll remind myself of something that is true but will certainly change with time: The movie is good but not great or bad. Eventually I’ll become convinced by others of its greatness or awfulness but its success shouldn’t validate me any more than its failure discredits me. You are free to remind me of this when the time comes. And I am free (this being an entry for me) to end by quoting Ani:

“They can call me crazy if I fail, all the chance that I need
Is one in a million and they can call me brilliant, if I succeed.
Gravity means nothing to me, moving at the speed of sound
I’m just gonna get my feet wet, until I drown.”

Trolling Inflation

Nahuel Huapi National Park – November 9
Four years ago Argentina went to hell and overnight no one had any money, the peso was relatively worthless, and the world’s best steak was about $6.

Its this last fact—lets just ignore the others—that has helped make Argentina a major tourist destination in the last few years.

“Before, the peso was held to be worth the same as the dollar, which was ridiculous for a country like Argentina” a vacationing Buenos Aires fly fisherman explained to me earlier this evening on the banks of Lago Mascardi. “We went to America and Europe because it was cheap. No one came here because it was so expensive. Now its just the opposite. We can’t afford to travel but everyone comes here because for you its cheap.”

Sometimes the steak is $5, sometimes its $8. Its always fantastic.

So it was with this background that my father and I cooked our own dinner in our El Bolson cabana last night, but managed to spend $100 (290 pesos) on it.

The first step in spending $100 on dinner is to decide to catch it yourself. Patagonia has some of the best fishing in the world, so we hired Jorge to take us out onto Lago Puelo that morning. Four hours of guided trolling cost $68 (200 pesos) and fishing licenses were another $21 (60 pesos). We’d have to catch a lot of fish to make this economical.

And at first it seemed we might because within ten minutes dad had hooked two good-sized trout and it all seemed much too easy. They were about two pounds each which in most parts of the world is a good catch but here isn’t anything to brag about.

After the mandatory look-at-me-holding-my-fish pictures we threw them overboard because you can only keep two fish per trip and we had three-plus hours left on the water. The first trout—blood dribbling from its mouth—floated motionless on the surface of the water when we threw it back. “No problema,” Jorge insisted. He guided the boat over to the fish and tapped it on the head with a spare rod. It woke up and sped away.

All the fish seemed to speed away and for the next hour there were no bites. When the sun went behind the clouds it was downright cold on the windy lake. Jorge poured hot water from a thermos into a mug packed with mate, the local tea. The giant wad of tea floats freely in the cup and is drank through a metal straw with tiny holes in the bottom that keep the tea leaves out when you take a sip.

“The next one is to eat,” Jorge said in Spanish when our dry spell neared two hours. We didn’t want to go home without dinner.

Finally, dad hooked another fish which he thought was a biggie but slipped off the line. Jorge dutifully inspected the hook and reported it was bent by the giant salmon. Then dad reeled in a two-pound trout which Jorge whacked hard on the head with a mallet. We had some dinner.

Pops proceeded to catch a couple more small trout but after more than two hours I was still fishless. A lack of luck and lack of skill were both clearly present. Trolling involves pulling tackle a couple hundred feet behind the slowly moving boat and waiting for a strike. But the water was always tugging at the line and I couldn’t tell when a fish was biting.

“La promixa pesca es para mi,” I promised. The next fish is for me.

“Esperamos,” Jorge said. We hope.

And finally I did reel one in, a good-sized salmon that turned out to be the biggest fish of the day. But we had another hour of trolling and the fish were starting to bite and we didn’t want to max out our catch too soon.

As our time ticked down we snagged another trout—okay, dad snagged another trout—and dinner was caught.

The accompanying vegetables were $.85 ($2.50 pesos) and the expensive bottle of wine was $10 ($28 pesos).

Dad hacked up the boney fish and cooked them in the oven. The TV had international cable so we watched BBC World as we picked through the trout, sipped the good wine, and enjoyed our most expensive—and most pleasurable—dinner in Argentina.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Back in the USSA

The bad news is my trip is ending. The good news is we can share a beer back in New York.

Saturday, December 17 at 9pm welcome me back to the city at Shades of Green (125 E 15th St) conveniently located near the Union Square subway station. I will have just gotten off the plane and will be counting on a few friendly faces to lesson the blow of real life. All are welcome so pass the word.