Friday, August 24th, day 1 of the chapter of my life I am calling  --Notes From Antares, reasons for which will soon become evident, I find myself at my girlfriend Lisa's, parent's place in Bonnet Shores, RI, USA.

Lisa and I spent most of the day insuring and registering a 1984 Honda Accord we bought in Los Angeles, California and drove all the way across country to Bonnet Shores, Rhode Island.

That across country drive was the final leg in -- Lisa and Joel's Excellent Adventure -- a 416 day, 24 country and 5 continent spanning, around the world odyssey.  Now the plan is to drive from our present local, the northeast corner of the US, to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, in Mexico.  I figure it should take about 5 days of straight drive time. 

After getting the legal aspects of our wheels in order, Lisa and I joined Lisa's family (mom, dad, brother, and sister in law) for dinner in Newport, RI at a place called Scales and Shells.  The seafood was excellent and after dinner the two couples of the younger generation walked along the waterfront before calling it a night.

Saturday, August 25th, day 2 of Notes From Antares, Mathew (Lisa's brother), Joanne (Lisa's sister in law) and Lisa and I, meet Lesile and Jeff (Lesile is Lisa's friend through there mothers and Jeff is her "significant other") on Jeff's boat for drinks and a short  cruise in Newport Harbor.  We all got a little tipsy, but not so trashed that we couldn't make it back to Bonnet for dinner with "the rents".

Sunday, August 26th, day 3, we packed up the car and took off heading west at 1:00 EST.  We ended up driving from Bonnet Shores, RI to Newport Beach, CA in one straight shot.  Along the way we only stopped to refuel, grab a coffee and switch drivers (we set it up so one of us could sleep in the back while the other drove).  It ended up taking us 49 and 1 half hours to cover 3,020 miles.

The drive went without any mishaps, besides a bullshit speeding ticket in a place called -- The Middle Of Nowhere, New Mexico.  A speed trap was setup by sticking a short 65 mph zone between two 75 mph zones.  I was locked in at 76 mph, just cruising in the hushed blackness of the night sky and bam! -- a jerk off cop comes up on my ass, out of nowhere and nabs me.  To add insult to injury, he wrote 76 in a 55, instead of 76 in a 65, probably so he could charge me more.  The whole thing really pissed me off.  What is the US turning into, a police state.

We drove to Newport Beach so we could break up the drive by staying with our friend Iryne (a woman Lisa and I meet while traveling in Hong Kong).  She is actually the one who introduced us to Laura, the woman we are house sitting for in Baja. 

Laura has a place on Rancho Antares, an old cattle ranch, almost at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, on The Sea of Cortez side.  She was looking for someone to look after her place, since she only visits it about 4 times a year, for about a weeks visit each time.  After Iryne introduced us, she showed us an amateur video she had made of the place and it looked incredible.  It seems to be a real tropical paradise.  Adding to it's sense of majesty is it's apparent isolation.  It is hard to say what it will really be like until I get down there, but my expectations are high -- very high. 

After spending the night of Wednesday, August 29th, day 6 at Iryne's ( days 4 and 5 dissolved in the Jack Kerouac sense -- On The Road), we jumped back in the car, at about 9:00 AM PST, and headed south on Highway 1.  Just before we reached the Mexican border we stopped in Chula Vista.  It ended up being an expensive stop.  Six hundred dollars later we had a new brake job and a generator.  (There is no electricity at Rancho Antares.)

We ended up stopping, once it got dark, at Motel Chavez, in San Quinton, Mexico.  Good thing too, after we stopped we realized we only have one headlight.

Thursday, August 30th, day 7 of Notes From Antares, we drove and drove and drove.  The landscape of Baja is incredible.  Huge boulder fields that looks like the playground of giants or the gods.  How to the boulders get arranged in huge piles like that?  Catus fields spread out before you in all the grandeur the Goddess of Nature can muster -- and the isolation, by god.  It's incredible.  Desolate vistas spanned out before us in a seemingly never-ending plate of majesty.

Thursday night we stayed in Ciudad Constiticion at Hotel Conchita.  We blasted the AC and cranked the overhead fan at collapse into dreams of expectations.

Friday, August 31st, day 8 we finished off the drive at finally reached Rancho Antares at about 2:30 PM local time. (The southern state of Baja is on MST.)  The drive from Irenye's to to our final destination covered 1,180 miles and took 64 and 1 half-hours (including our stop in Chula Vista).  So all told we were one the road 114 hours and covered almost exactly 4,200 miles.  Amazing that a 1984 Honda Accord, that we have decided to call Cherry due to it's red color, which we purchased for $900.00 made it the entire way without any problems.  We did have to get the brake job done, but it was due for new brakes anyway. 

It was funny, on the way down through Baja, at one of the many Pemex gas stations we stopped at on the way, we meet a couple surfers who were heading down to a place called Scorpion Bay, on the Pacific side (the only good surfing in Baja is on the Pacific side).  The looked us up and down and then stared at our car and said; "Did you guys really drive that thing  all the way from Rhode Island."  (Due to the Rhode Island plates adorning Cherry.)  What do they mean -- that thing?  Cherry is a great car.

Once we did finally arrive, Laura greeted us with a hardy welcome.  She is a very interesting lady, a true maverick.  Hardy, rugged, and self-reliant.  Just like Rancho Antares, she is one of kind. 

Laura has a very nice local women who works for here when she comes down.  Pilar cooked us a fabulous dinner (and lunch the next day).  We spent Friday night talking about what we should expect out here being all by ourselves.  As the night wore on the magic of this place began to sink in.  Sleeping outside under the majesty of the stars, as the waves crash into the shore, providing a soothing auditory backdrop, is something I will never grow tried off. 

Saturday, September 1st, day 9 of Notes From Antares. I got my first real taste of open sea sport fishing -- and I loved it!

Laura took Lisa and I out for an action packed 3 hours on the open sea.  Skip-Jacks were practically flying into the boat, one after another and I hooked into a 30 pound Dorado (which I lost right at the boat), but I did bag a 15 pounder.  It was amazing and so much fun.  As an extra bonus we got to see a couple whales about 100 feet off the boat.

After Laura and Pilar left us on our own the isolation of this place really began to work it's way into our consciousness.  We really are all on our own out here.  I love it.  I have always had a dream to do something like this and know it is coming true.  I am convinced that all my dreams come true, it just sometimes takes longer for them to happen then I would like and when they do come to foliation they don't always turn out exactly as I had planned.  That's exciting though, if you always got what you wanted, in exactly the way you wanted it, life would be pretty boring.

Sunday, September 2nd, day 10, we adjusted more to fitting into our new world.  After putting our things away and getting our new pad to our liking, we went for a swim in the ocean and ran some sprints on the beach.  Later disaster struck -- well I'm being a bit melodramatic, but a huge potential bummer occurred.  The generator we brought with doesn't work and I'm pissed.  This may throw a damper on a lot of things, including Notes From Antares.  So, you may or may not hear from me again.

It is Monday, September 3rd, day 11 of Notes From Antares, and I'm back, however marginally.  Still no generator, but for some reason the batteries are working on the laptop so I'm writing.  Only time will tell to what result.  Today I kayaked on The Sea of Cortez and ran some sprints in the sand (that's three days in a row -- not bad). 

Later, Lisa and I brought our (piece of shit) generator over the caretaker of Rancho Antares, Juan, to see if he could fix this hunk of crap.  He said he would give it a try, but he would have to bring it into a mechanic in town  Well actually I'm not sure if that's exactly what he said, since I am handicapped by not being able to speak Spanish.  I guess I can either cast blame on unenlightened parents or take the bull by the horns and try to learn. 

Juan and Irma's (Juan's wife) daughter Mira is very cute.  The family lives in relative squalor, compared to the plush surroundings of the invading gringos (myself included) so it doesn't feel so bad giving Juan some extra work.  He only makes $65.00 US per month.  Laura pays Irma $45.00 a month to water the plants around her place.

It is extremely hot here.  The caliente (hot in Spanish) conditions combined with my first efforts at physical conditioning have created a trance like effect that finds me sleeping in a drug like state for hours at a time.  Hopefully I will begin to adjust to my surrounds so I can thrive in this environment as I plan to do.

Tuesday, September 4th, day 12 and the laptop still has a little battery left.  Juan returned with the generator reporting that there was a "problemo".  Apparently the carborator needs to be fixed and he couldn't do it.  We are going to bring it into San Jose tomorrow, to try to get it fixed.  If we can't we might try to buy another one.  I really like writing on this laptop.  I could always hand write but will count on getting a new generator for now. 

Today Lisa and I took the kayaks out for a spin.  I thought I saw a shark, but now I think it was a manta ray or a stingray.  I saw something in the water ahead of me that at first I thought was a dyeing bird floating upside down in the water.  The closer I got to it the more it appeared to be two dorsal type fins kind of flopping in the water ahead of me.  As I approached them they turned perpendicular to the water and zoomed at me, just like a shark fins would.  Then it went under the kayak and disappeared for the time being.  When Lisa caught up to me, I pointed them out to her.  She was also slightly scared.  What the hell was it.  A double finned shark, or two sharks right next to each other.  Why was it or them just hanging out on the surface? 

We decided to turn back leaving the mystery creature or creatures behind, but on the way back to the beach our questions were apparently answered.  A huge manta ray or sting ray jumped high out of the water right in front of the kayaks and did a flop right on it's back.  When it was in the air you could see how the tips of it's two wings would look like doral fins if t was lying on it's back in the water.  By the time we reached the beach two more had also had a go at a huge jump.  Where they showing off for us?

I just got the signal that the battery is almost fried, so I am going to finish up here for today.  Hopefully we fix or generator or get a new one tomorrow.  I am getting the itch to really give this writing thing a try and start digging into the book I want to write about Lisa and my around the world adventure -- tentatively titled Once Around.

The kayak ride was a pretty good upper body workout and I did stretching and a shadow boxing routine.  I might even run or something tonight.  I need to get into shape.  So far I am chipping away at it. 

My life has and is going to continue to really change here.  It's so different then traveling -- but still challenging, in a different way.

Juan is the man!  Wednesday, September 5th, day 13 of Notes From Antares, Juan fixed or generator.  We had planned on going into San Jose today, in an attempt to get it fixed.  We slept in (couldn't get our lazy asses out of bed) and didn't go.  Good thing to, as Juan just showed up and said he was going to give fixing the generator another try.  (Actually I have no clue what he really said as we basically just used had signals to communicate that him taking the generator was alright with me.)

So, Notes From Antares lives to see another day.  Besides rejoicing in "seeing the light" (getting electricity), Lisa and I ran sprints on the beach, read (I'm reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road) and basically just hung out.  I did start Once Around, but I doubt I will even us what I wrote today.  I'm just playing around and getting my feet wet, so to speak. 

Thursday, September 6th, day 14 of Notes From Antares, I melted in the heat of the sun, just like the Wicked Witch of The West, when she got wet.  No seriously, here's what happened (some of it anyway).  We drove into San Jose.  The gravel roads in Baja are insane.  They are so bumpy and dusty and it was so frickin hot.  The entire way Lisa was yelling at me to slow down, but my instincts were driving me to push down on the peddle, in an attempt to smooth out the washboard roads and getting this ride from hell over with as soon as possible. 

When we finally got into town we changed some US dollars into Mexican Pesos.  The exchange rate is 9.1 to 1.  Then we did some internet and bought some groceries and a few sparkplugs (for the generator) and filled our jerry cans with "gasolina". 

When we finally got back to good old Rancho Antares, I ran some 40's and then we just hung out and read.

Friday, September 7th, day 15, I finally really got started on the book.  I have scrapped the title Once Around for the time being at least, and am going with Around The World In 416 Days.  The impetus behind getting started was the basic understanding that I simply have a story to tell and all I have to do is sit down and tell it.  That's all.  Just get the story down and then I can fix it up later on, but first I need that shell to work with.  So that is what I am doing.  I am sitting down and telling the story of how Lisa and I meet and we decided to travel around the world together and what happened along the way.  It's that simple.  It feels good to finally get rolling on it. 

Friday night we watched a movie.  It's a pain in the ass to fill the generator with gas and get it going just to do anything that requires electricity.  Then the generator runs out of gas right at the climatic scene of the movie -- figures.

Saturday, September 8th, day 16, the generator broke done again.  I worked on the damn thing for about 3 hours, to no avail.  Juan wasted around so we had no power today.  About the only productive thing I did was walk to the big boulders to the south on the beach and then I ran all the way back without stopping.

Sunday, September, 9th, day 17, Juan came over and we got the generator running again.  The thing is a real piece of shit.  As I am typing here I keep getting power surges and the computer shuts off.  I end up losing everything I have written since the last save.  You definitely need to save often with this set up.

I am leaning towards yet another title for the book -- The World Through My Eyes.  What do you think?  Who I am asking?

Monday, September 10th, day 18 of Notes From Antares, I yet again had to do some work on the generator in order to us the laptop.  What a pain in the ass.  Did some writing, did some reading, played some smash-ball.  What a life.

Tuesday, September 11th, day 19, we woke up surrounded by high winds.  Looks like there is a big storm brewing off shore.  All the fishing boats are making a mad dash back in much earlier then they normally would.  There is an ominous feel in the air. 

Wednesday, September 12th, day 20 -- CHUBASCO! 

It hit last night at about 1:00 AM -- a chubasco, the Spanish word for violent storm.  All day yesterday there was an ominous feel in the air.  First, our normally pleasant night's sleep, on our bed overlooking the ocean, on the exposed terrace was abruptly ended by extremely high winds blowing from the south.  Then, all day, the glorious blue skies we have grown accustomed to were covered with a foreboding gray haze.  Midday we were surprised by what looked like a mad dash by all the fishing boats.  They were flying across the Sea of Cortez, coming from the south, returning much earlier than the usual late afternoon reappearance at the fish camp at the north end of the beach.  Something was brewing.  When night fell we went to bed, reluctantly, but soon we were in a deep slumber. 

I shot up like a dart.  Once the transition from the world of dreams to the real world was complete and I realized where I was my senses locked in on my surroundings. 

Something was wrong.  I could feel it.  I was literally covered in sweat surrounded in pitch black and there wasn't a breath of air -- dead calm.  The palm trees, usually casually swaying with the breeze, were frozen still.  The air was so motionless and so moist it was difficult to breath.  There wasn't a speck of light to be seen.  Most nights the moon provides a beacon of light in the dark abyss.  Tonight there was nothing but pitch-blackness -- dead calm.

Plus, where were the sounds of the night?  Where were the tones of the birds or the bats that sometimes flew over head?  Even the insects were totally silent.  There was no sound -- dead calm.

I sat up, bent at the waist staring out into the abyss.  I was frozen with impeding fear.  My heartbeat began to increase in frequency and I was literally choking for breath.  I didn't want to face this alone.  "Lisa, wake up.  Wake up baby, something's wrong." 

Lisa groggily wiped the crust from her slumber and joined me in my fear.  "What's going on? Why is it so quite?  Jesus it's hot.  I'm covered in sweat."  Before she could finish her thought a subtle but consistent change started taking place.  The wind picked up again, straight out of the south.  But there was something strikingly different about this wind.  What started as a soft breeze, quickly and consistently began building in velocity.  Within minutes it was obvious we were in trouble.

"Grab everything you can and get it inside!" I barked over the increasingly deafening roar.  We both scurried like scared mice cornered by the cat, trying to grab everything that wasn't bolted down.  Once we got most of the vulnerable items into the house we bolted the doors and windows and drew within the comfort of each other's arms and prepared to wait out.

It was damn scary -- simple as that.  The wind howled with a bold ferocity.  At one point, after dosing off for a second, I awoke within a dream that we were riding inside a jet plane engine.  Banging and clanging noises filled the night.  Everything that remained outside that wasn't bolted down was getting thrown around like a ball inside a pinball machine. 

After a few hours of riding on the fringe of pure terror, the winds gradually began to die down.  When they finally stopped, we put off going outside to survey the damage and instead collapsed into a few hours of much needed deep sleep.  The constant adrenaline rush had left us crumbling into our dreams.

Today we picked up the pieces.  There really wasn't any damage done.  We had gotten everything susceptible to destruction inside.  As we swept up the debris, in a miraculous gesture of good faith, the sun came out, shining down the hope and renewal of a new day.

Thursday, September 13th, day 21, we took the three wheeler into La Rivera.  We went to a small cyber cafe and when we logged on we were stunned and shocked to here about the tragic terrorist attack back in the states.  It was unreal.  It was hard to believe it was real.  Shock turned to sadness and then sadness to anger. 
I don't know if I have ever felt so isolated in my life.  The fact that we didn't hear about what happened for over 48 hours really struck me.  I felt a strange sense of guilt.  Is my self-imposed exile was in some way selfish?  Should I should be back home sharing in all the emotion of this tragedy. 

On thing I gained, or better said -- strengthen on our around the world trip was a sense of pride in being American.  I feel as if I need to do something, that I should return home and somehow help my fellow Americans get through this terrible time.

Friday, September 14th, day 22, we returned, yet again on the three wheeler, to La Rivera.  We tried to call Laura, the owner of the home we are care taking, three times, but we couldn't get through.  We ended up leaving a message and an email that we would not be able to stay down here for 6 months and that we were returning home tomorrow.  I realize this is a sudden move, but the failure to have electricity, which dramatically hampers writing combined with the terrible tragedy back home makes it the right thing to do.  Even before the terrorist attack and even if I committed to hand writing I have had a nagging feeling that I am wasting time down here.  It's not that I bored, I'm never bored, it's more like a sense that there are real important things that I need to accomplish and it's time to get started. I can and while still write the book, but there are other things I want to accomplish at the same time. 

Saturday, September 15th, day 23 of the suddenly shortening, Notes From Antares, we "strapped it up" one more time and hit the road.

We drove for almost 12 hours, discussing the terrorist attack most of the time and made it to Santa Rosolia.  We checked into a Hotel Del Real (AC, two big beds, private bath) for $28.00 US per night.

Sunday, September 16th, day 24, we wanted to check out a really cool church that is supposed to be in Santa Rosolia.  It was built by the French architect Eiffel and shipped over here from France.  I guess we didn't want to see it that bad.  All of the streets in town were blocked off for a parade, so when we couldn't get there in the car we quickly gave up and got back on Mex 1.  We do have a hell of a long way to go, so maybe we were justified, or maybe we are losing that traveler spirit.  When I think about, besides sporadically enjoying Antares, we really haven't done anything in the true travelers spirit since we visited the Grand Canyon on the way across country at the end of Lisa and Joel's Excellent Adventure. 

It seems like after that everything has been -- let's just drive straight through and get there, instead of taking time to smell the roses along the way.  Something to think about anyway.

We drove north on Mex-1 all day on Sunday.  Driving on Mex-1 is winding in and out of the hot rocky cliffs, coasting through the dusty highway villages and putting the petal to the mental on the long straight away into the distance perspective as far as the eye can see.

We reached the border late Sunday night.  The traffic jam packed up, trying to snake it's way through the gateway into the land of freedom.  It took us over two hours to crawl the last mile. 

When we finally got through we finished off the days journey by driving to our surrogate grandmother, Ireyne.  She left us a key in our usual spot and we crashed in our separate single rooms.

Monday, September 17th, day 25 of Notes of Antares (when will this journal, this slice of my life, end in light of our shortened self imposed exile), we spent most of the day glued to the television.  Digesting as much information about the tragedy as possible could only fill the isolation we have experienced and left a void that was impossible to fill. 

The markets tanked, as I predicted, but at least they are up and running and some analysts are putting a positive spin on the future outlook.  We will see.  This downward spiral keeps getting deeper and deeper and every time we say it can't get any lower it plunges again.  These are very uncertain times in many respects.

Monday night we returned the piece of shit generator (How different would our lives be and have been if that generator would have worked?) and had grilled hamburgers with Ireyne.

Tuesday, September 18th, day 26 we strapped it up yet again and headed north and west towards Minnesota.  We drove all day through Vegas, and Utah and Colorado.  The endless road stretch out before us, beckoning us forward, always forward, towards the unattainable and unreachable goal. 

Wednesday, September 19th, day 27 was filled with more driving.  The rest of Colorado zoomed by our outstretched arms, filled with the rushing air and our ears filled with the engines roar.  We left Nebraska and Iowa in the dust and finally, at 8:00 PM CST, we finally arrived in Frontenac, MN, almost 2,000 miles later, since we left Ireynes. 

Thursday, September 20th, day 28, which will mark the last day of Notes From Antares, I felt compelled to write a letter to the editor of my boyhood, home-town newspaper, the Red Wing Republican Eagle about the ever-present and ever-pressing tradegic events of September 11th.  Here is how it read in the paper:


Pressing On -- by Joel A. Sward

In response to the tragic events that took place in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, I express my deepest sympathies to the families and victims of this disaster.  I also applaud the entire nation and the world for coming together during these uncertain times to form a circle of united hope for the future. 

I feel as if I am viewing the events swirling around these barbaric acts from a unique perspective.  I didn’t even hear about what happened until 54 hours after the first plane hit. 

As many of you know, my girlfriend Lisa and I were on a self imposed exile on the Eastern Cape of Baja, Mexico, where I was getting a start on a book about our recently completed 14 month around the world adventure.  My sense of detachment and isolation from the rest of the world could not have been more strongly felt than after completing the once every seven days, three hour round trip drive on a three wheel ATV, using a awful Mexican gravel road, to the nearest village for internet access and gasoline.  When I logged on to check my email, I was shocked and horrified to find out what the rest of the world had painfully been living through for days.

I must admit I felt a sense of guilt for not being part of what was happening.  How could I just go back to the beach, no matter how beautiful and peaceful it may seem, knowing what was happening back home?  I couldn’t.  Lisa and I decided to return home.

Adding to my sense of solitary perspective is the recent lengthy absence from my home country.  Since August 1st of 2000, I have spent less the 40 days on American soil.  I traveled through numerous foreign lands, surrounding myself with diverse peoples every step of the way.  Some of those I encountered where openly hostile toward Americans.  I was scared into leaving Indonesia early due to the “sweeps” of hotels by Islamic extremists, acting to rid their country of “the American presence”.  I was lectured by a cab driver in Syria about the “evil done by America” in supporting the Israeli aggression against Palestine.  When he told me that “America is our number one enemy, not Israel,” it simply struck me as an interesting side bar in my around the world collection of opinions contrasting my own.  Now it means so much more. 

When I watch the never ending media coverage and see that suspected terrorist cells exist in the same streets I walked while in Nairobi, Kenya, or Damascus, Syria it strikes me close to the heart.  I find myself looking at world maps and seeing how close I really was to the Pakistani and Afghan borders.  It’s amazing that such a short time ago I was naively circumnavigating the globe, simply trying to take in all I could.  I didn’t shy away from difference. I embraced it – and now this.

Has everything changed?  Will the world really never be the same?  Maybe, but it would be a shameful dishonor to those who died to lose the one thing the rest of the world either envies or jealously hates about America – our open minded acceptance of all people regardless of sex, race, color or creed.  The people who launched this vicious attack are extremists.  They do not represent the whole.  To try to lump them together into one religion, philosophy or region is wrong.  Yes, they must be weeded out so justice can be done, but not at the expense of the personal freedoms of innocent people. 

The trip I took around the world was the most enriching experience of my life.  Learning about different cultures has expanded my awareness in immeasurable ways.  Through it all my sense of patriotism for my home country has grown immensely.  In spite of all our problems here in America, there is still no better place on the entire planet to call home than right here, right now.  Let’s make sure we strive to do everything we can to keep it that way.      

In spite of all that has happened, the strength of Americans has been shown by their ability to get back to work and play.  Terrorists can only win if they bring terror that permanently disrupts our daily lives.  For that reason I have gotten back to writing and I am still going to do the newsletter I set out to do before this fateful event.  Please join me in pressing on.


Friday, September 21st, was the first day of the rest of my life. . .

Notes from Antares
by Joel A. Sward
(Friday, August 24th, 2001 to Thursday, September 20th, 2001)