Amsterdam wasn’t just coffeeshops and bikes to me. For me, Amsterdam was where I felt like I really joined the Revolution.
This revolution – it’s not in the history books yet, but we live in a momentous time. The world is changing faster than ever before, and we, the human race, are facing challenges the likes of which have never before threatened our survival. Global warming, peak oil – yes, these are the ones on our TV sets, but there are other ecological issues, as well as socio-political crises. Make no mistake, “the turn of the millenium” will be a hot coin-phrase in the anthropology journals of 2222.
I was inspired there, in that mythical city once called Amsteldam. Challenge; anarchy; responsibility, awareness and sustainability – these were my growth, my mirror and my prism. I have never been much of an activist, and I still prefer providing a passive example to shouting and marching; but at Casa Robino, surrounded by the warm, organic flow of illuminating perspectives between those humble walls, I changed.
Don’t worry – I’m still a dirty vagabond, I still love beer, and I will still never turn down free food. But now I feel like I really own my opinions. My confidence, when say, discussing car culture, for example, has solidified into something more educated, more righteous, yet still even more humble. My choice to travel by bicycle now seems even more significant; for my own internal pilgrimage, and for my external impact on the world. The range of social responsibility and ecological awareness with which I live my life has been broadened substantially.
I continued to grow after A’dam of course, and in no small part because of Lily.
We were a dynamic duo, in a literal sense; always challenging each other, always thinking on the edge, eager and energetic to save the world, one pedal stroke at a time. It was a time to be alive; headed to Paris, la ville d’amour, with fire in our bellies and wings on our hearts. Choice by choice, we made our difference, and it truly felt like living history in the making. We were part of “The Great R-love-ution of ’09,” inspiring others through being ourselves, and seeking our own inspirations in the dusky cobbled streets and earthy hidden dens of Europe. We depended on luck, or call it the generosity of strangers, or the dumpster fairy, or cosmic serendipity, keeping our faith in ourselves and in each other, and tuned our harmony to the Universe.
The Earth, somewhere along with Love, was at the forefront of our agenda.
We questioned every decision we made, and though we didn’t of course achieve 100% sustainability, we lived with awareness, and thought for ourselves, instead of succumbing to the ease and convenience of following society down destructive paths.
Citizens of the world, think for yourselves.
Ours was of course a “VÃ©lo-rution” — by bike, always by bike. Bikes can heal the planet, and all we have to do is saddle up. Bikes represent a perspective of temperance and compassion in a savage world of violent road rage and automatic car door locks. Bikes are human speed to put you at ease. Bikes are simple and efficient technology, and bikes don’t pollute. Bikes rock, bikes roll. Bikes are healthy and fun!
Lily and I became the core recruiters of a traveling pan-European bike gang without even trying. (Yes we made a bike gang, this is easy to do, it’s a happy non-violent dumpster-diving bike gang, no we didn’t ever name it, but yes we have a special handshake.) You see, riding bikes is contagious — the closer people get to understanding bikes and bikers, the more they seem to want to push down on pedals. When you yourselves are saying, “Nah thanks, we don’t need a ride, our bikes are right outside!” or “I can teach you how to fix that, no problem!” – you tend to attract more bikes. You can see lights come on in people’s heads, and soon they’re eager leave the car at home and join you. Suddenly bikes are coming out of closets evoking a “I didn’t know you had a bike in there!” from roommates. They emerge from the garage, covered in dust, reminding people how easy it is to use an air pump, and that it’s cooler in the heat with bike-breeze in their hair, or warmer in the cold with bike-blood in their veins. Bikes come ingrained with muscle memory and pleasant childhood memories. They come home from the rummage sales or rental shop, they come on loan from the neighbors’ house. They come for the workout, they come for the free repair, they come for the freedom.
Bikes – the principal weapons of this peaceful revolution. There is simply no better way to go – even if you’re blind, or filthy rich, or missing both your legs – bicycles are the best. Think about it!
Food was our fuel, and freedom was everywhere. We were part of the traffic, not against it, though we never took a bus or a taxi or a ride from a friend. We inspired a lot of people, I think. Sometimes there was someone who just needed a little push over the verge into biking. Sometimes they were just curious; sometimes they wanted to argue about the feasibility of bikes. But people took notice, everywhere we went. This choice we made for transport, travel’s number one vote, was the most powerful action we made. This was our foundation, a base of sustainability that branched upwards into all aspects of life.
“More methane, less smog!”
The need to eat is one of those happy side-effects of riding bikes, a pleasure to endure. Especially in Europe. It wasn’t always easy to obtain food that was produced sustainably, but we never went hungry, I can tell you that. We ate a lot, we had to; mountains of carbohydrates and huge stews of vegetables and sauces disappeared every day, and consuming this energy put a smile on our faces. It’s all good: food happens to be a renewable resource. But only if you do it right.
I learned a lot from Lily about food. I really started to think about things for the first time, and at her side was a great place to practice. Years ago, Lily became a vegan(excuse the label Lil), as a step toward the rainbow of 100% sustainable living, and it’s true: the food we eat is also an important choice. From where/when/who/what how does our food come? Think about it.
So we chose to avoid chain supermarkets and irresponsible producers. Coke products were like poison. We avoided mysterious additives and overly processed, overly packaged crap. Foreign language food labels were closely examined. We avoided restaurants, for the price and the slim vegetarian(zero vegan) selection. I really only ate meat when it was a gift, and though I didn’t make a full veg-conversion, it was a rare grocery stop when I even bought animal products, like cheese or milk chocolate.
More than a protest of animal rights or agri-politics, it’s a matter of energy: the caloric energy we need to survive, balanced against the least possible amount of energy needed to get this food to our mouths. Of course the optimal situation would be a vegetable patch out back, to grow your own food; but it’s a different thing altogether when you’re traveling. When you’re always on the move, when you don’t know where to find the local organic shop, or you arrive too late for the local produce market, or the only restaurant in town bases all its recipes on cheese and meat… it’s much harder to keep the costs down, financially of course, but also ecologically. For example, if an avocado came from more than two countries away, we didn’t buy it. A bit of kale or corn when passing the farmer’s field is okay, but garlic from China? We don’t need garlic that bad…. And oh, bananas! What could be more innocent than the banana, which is worshipped as premium bike tourist food around the world? Well listen — if it comes on huge trucks and freighters all the way from Costa Rica, the cost of that banana in oil and tears is pretty steep. Thank god there’s always local beer.
This is why the label “vegan” doesn’t exactly fit Lily — she really cares about food(one of the biggest human-race-connecting issues on the planet), cares enough to have thought a lot about it, critically and imaginatively, and she has arrived at her own conclusions about what’s okay to eat and what isn’t. To me that is way cooler than simply claiming vegan, and I was inspired. Now I might buy some cheese or some butter now and then, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to buy meat, much less remember how to cook it. I haven’t given up powdered milk for my tea, either, but every time I buy it, I am aware: this milk doesn’t come from a supermarket shelf, it comes from a cow.
“Home is the place where you hang your hat.”
Mostly of course, we stayed in a tent. Low-impact self-sustained camping, wherever we could find a spot at the end of the day. Not a drop of water wasted, as small a footprint as possible. How much damage does a campfire actually do…? We always took everything with us when we left, often including other people’s trash. I’m sure it’s a strange request at the tourist information office to ask “Could you direct me to the nearest recycling point?” Camping rough is really low on energy consumption – no shower, no electricity, just a little cookfire and a few liters of water we carried ourselves. We slept on the ground, and the woods was our toilet. Our hair was nappy and gnarled, my beard wild. We were two grubby smiles caked with sweat, our clothes patched and stained; but the only ones to be bothered by us out there, was us. And we were quite the opposite of bothered.
As much fun as we had together at camp, it was nice to reach a town and meet some people. It’s great to see a foreign country rolling by bike, but the real way to experience a travel, a tour, a vacation, or a wander, is through the friends you make. Can’t really camp in a city anyway, so when we passed through a place we wanted to check out, we usually signed on to CouchSurfing.com, and searched for people in the network we would jive with. Keyword “B-I-K-E.” Keyword “vegan.” Keywords “hitchhiking,” “filmmaking,” “sustainability,” “harmonica,” “fire poi.” The CS community is pretty amazing; it’s not just a million-member, world-wide exchange of accomodation, it’s an exchange of hospitality, of cooking and language, of culture. It’s an exchange of perspective. (It’s also a great source of information and contacts.) We stayed with locals, and enjoyed a genuine point of view from the place we were staying; stories and lives that no hotel concierge or tour guide is likely to impart. And we didn’t have to stay in any sterile motels or overpriced B&Bs either. Why does this industry exist when there is actually plenty of space for everyone? Think about it. Do we really need our own room when there are houses, already heated, all around? Do we really need the fear?
We understood that community can happen anywhere; and as long as we connected with the people around us, and kept their happiness in mind, then we were adding to the world. And having a blast in Europe at the same time!
“Have love, will travel”
We had food and water, we had shelter. We had transportation. What more could a human need in this world, save love?
Our love was perhaps the most inspiring thing about us. Not only were we out there livin’ it, but we were livin’ it together, lookin’ good and feeling like we could touch the sky. People would look at me or look at her, okay, that’s admirable, ecology blah blah… but when they realized we were doing it as a team, in love and getting lovlier, they went home dreaming.
Of course our love wasn’t there to be pimped for the environment, or to make a good story. For now, suffice to say that our bodies, minds, and spirits mixed, at times melted, together… sliding smokey smooth or igniting with blazing sparks… always dancing in the truest colors. I draw a breath and feel her in my lungs… I blink and see her behind my eyelids… I get up and sing, I give in and fall.
It just happened, and we ran with it. Or rather, we biked with it. Happy!