Years ago, during another adventure, I ended up on the island of Grand Cayman just South of Cuba in the Caribbean. I had just finished hitch hiking a few thousand miles from California to Florida, with a couple detours in between. Now it was time to leave the USA. Sitting in the Miami airport, I watched the marque displaying airline departures and wondered how far South I could get for as little money as I had on me. After a few question at the ticket counter, I was on my way to Grand Cayman.
After arriving in Grand Cayman, you must go through customs. I was a little naive at this time and did not know then, what I know now. The customs official asks you questions such as, how long will you be staying? And at what resort are you staying at? It’s obvious now that the purpose of these questions is to make sure you have sufficient funds to stay in their country, and that you will contribute to the local economy instead of become a drain on it.
Well, being stupid and very naive at the time, I told the customs official I had no reservations in a hotel, and that I would figure out my lodging options upon arrival. Of course, that did not go over well and was very unacceptable to the customs agent. He gave me a 3-day visa, and told me that would be enough time to arrange for my immediate departure!
That night, I spent the night under a bridge. I arrived in the afternoon, and hadn’t had enough time check out the local scene yet. The next day I headed toward the beach. The famous 7 Mile Beach on Grand Cayman. This is where all the rich people stay in their fabulous all inclusive resorts. If you walk past all the hotels, the end of the beach is (was) desolate. Perfect! This would be my home. There was a huge Sea Grape tree that I would call home for the next 10 days or so while I figured out what to do.
I had a hammock, and actually lived “in” the tree. Just like Robinson Crusoe. In the day, I would swim offshore and find conch hidden in the eel grass for food. Then I would sell the shells to tourist to get a little extra cash. And since my clothes where getting pretty ragged from my travels, I would visit the resorts at night, and find lost shirts and pants left on the beach by tourists that still lived in the world of excess.
After exploring the island and avoiding deportation, my goal became to leave the island without jail time. There are two ways off an island, by plane and by boat. A boat seemed like the obvious choice.
After hanging out at the marina, I found a 47′ Ketch that was sailing for Roatan, Honduras. I had no idea where that was, but I knew it was better than staying here. A couple days later, I was free of Grand Cayman and sailing South to a little know island of Roatan, part of the Bay Islands in Honduras.
The first mate was a nice guy, but a strange character. He had the forward cabin and was an avid HAM radio operator. He had no license to operate, so he would just “borrow” a license and call sign from different people depending on the day. I also think he was ex-military too.
If you have ever spent time on a boat doing blue water sailing, you will know that you have a lot of time of your hands. So the people you are with become your best friends and you share, and talk about anything and everything. This guy, was one of those people. And he had some great stories to tell. He is how I found out about Bolivia.
Whether his stories were true or not really didn’t matter. They were great stories just the same. He spent much time in South America before he started crewing on this boat. I would listen to his stories for countless hours and dream of a life like the one he painted.
He was a pure capitalist, and saw opportunities in everything everywhere. The details are fuzzy, but his stories entailed exporting (smuggling) uncut emeralds out of Colombia. And importing (smuggling) arms to freedom fighters in different locations in Latin America.
He was a helicopter pilot, probably trained by the US government and practiced combat in Vietnam. Supposably he made pretty good money doing this for a couple years. But the adrenaline rush and adventure of it all was the true reason he kept doing it. That was until he was ambushed and almost caught one time. He had to ditch his helicopter and hike out of the jungle on foot to avoid capture.
He always said, that when he had the time, he would go back to Bolivia where he had ditched the helicopter and hidden it in the jungle, fly it out, and start doing it all over again! And of course, I was invited to come with him.
Well, that was many years ago. Whether any of the story is true, or whether he ever went back and got his helicopter I will never know. But the seed was planted. Adventure, espionage, all the makings of a great movie. And all I had to do, was get to Bolivia. Well finally, I’m on my way…