Manifest Fantasy

Bananas for breakfast on the morning reality collided with a daydream.

Who on social media hasn’t seen the edited photos of stunning foreign landscapes? The ones filtered until the colors glow unrealistically. The trees radiate neon green. The water shimmers an electric blue. All around the terrain is power washed. And the sun is always shining with perfect radiance. It’s the travel photographer’s equivalent of false advertising. It’s the perfectly layered burger, or the cheese-stretching slice of pizza, of travel. Those photos are mockeries of reality.

Carlos had grown tired of those false depictions ever since he began to realize the great enrichment of Truth.

Reality is enough for him. He’ll take the choppy, dark grey-blue ocean. He’ll settle into mute colors under an overcast sky. He’ll reflect the unsmiling faces in the dull moments between exhilarations. He’ll add his tired eyes to the imperfect smiles, bug bitten legs, and matted hair of Truth. Give him reality, or go away.

Carlos is tired of being lied to. And he’s tired of everyone’s tacit acceptance of being lied to.

It wasn’t always the case, reality being enough. Carlos saw the photos of the Gulf of Thailand. Tall grey spires topped with lush green foliage rising out of crystal clear water. And people hanging precariously from an overhung section; hanging heroically, defiantly spurning gravity, with smiles on their pretty faces. He was enchanted.

Carlos saw travel as a perfect escape from the drudgery of the ‘real’ world. The big twist was, that when he went travelling, it became the vibrant diversity of reality that rescued him from his the escapist fantasies while enduring the ‘real’ world.

Back home, viewing this planet through a 15″ screen, Carlos did the typical thing. He promised himself he’d one day climb those spires. Swears, promises, bucket list clutter; these are the shredded newspapers at the bottom of a dingy cage. They do nothing but comfort the imprisoned. When one does escape, he hardly remembers them.

Carlos didn’t venture to Tonsai looking to deep-water solo. He merely wound up there, and the spires called like Sirens from the horizon.

On principle Carlos deplores guided tours. All the flavor of adventure is nullified by the aloof presence of the guides. Their bored eyes make it plainly obvious how routine whatever the thing is. Authoritative rules choke out the intrigue of spontaneity. Excessive safety snuffs the excitement of uncertainty. And tepid politeness is the necessary, lowest-common-denominator etiquette that can safely apply to a grab-bag of strangers. He almost always finds himself ruminating in a sealed bubble, mechanically participating in the contrived activities of the day. And all the while, in the back of his mind, he wonders if he paid too much for his ticket to ride.

But every so often, as on Tonsai, Carlos feels compelled to spring for a day-trip. So he did.

And he had a great time. The roster is what made the difference. Instead of a bunch of randoms, there was a solid crew of five friends; two Texan lesbians, a German PhD Physicist, Portuguese Peeps, and Carlos. With the right people, the strained, implicit adventure charade could take a backseat to the more organic atmosphere of five friends hanging out on a boat.

So the boat plunged over the ocean, splashing, spitting spray. It vibrated idly alongside an island monolith, and everyone strapped on tattered shoes and climbed like children onto a limestone playground.

What could he say? The experience tasted nothing like Carlos’ usual fare. Nonetheless he enjoyed the contrived challenge, pitting his forearms against fingertip skin to see what would break first. Higher and higher he climbed, to the brink of Fear, where instinct conjured gruesome imaginings to dissuade his further endangerment. To pull him back. Just another voice casting grim predictions on his dear endeavors.

So Carlos ignored them, and climbed higher still. And there, above all, perched on a tiny ledge, he sighed at ease into his adrenal high. A shard of Fear, faced and conquered, dissolved in a field of calm. Then he leaped from the tall tall height, and plunged into the cool embrace below.

Afterwards the boat brought the party to a sandy shoal; an isolated platform of pure white grains in the middle of the ocean. Time didn’t just stand still there: Time didn’t exist there.

Floating in the warm, shallow water, Carlos got to know Nans, the Texan lesbian; black coffee incarnate. He had never encountered anyone so seemingly dark, invitingly warm, and happiness inducing. In another life he’d bicycle across continents beside her. Texans that travel are a rare breed, and she represented the demographic well.

There’s a threshold that earns you the title of traveler. It is crossed when travel stops becoming the exceptional venture, and becomes the default mode. Life back home, ‘normal life,’ becomes a means to resume planet wandering. Nans wandered the planet with style, with passion, with wavy black hair and a camel on her foot.

As it goes Nans departed soon thereafter, as did Bernard the Physicist, as did Peeps, as did everyone. Each departure tore away a layer of purpose, exposing Carlos to the cold shallowness all around. It wasn’t long before Carlos had to get out, so he jumped a boat to the mainland and started hitching North to Chiang Mai.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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