|Christy with more senior hobo, Frisco Jack|
Like Trader Horn, Christy was an adventurer rather than a tramp, and, as I also commented on Horn, it is Christy's inveterate wanderlust and contradictory view of the world that makes his inclusion in this philosophy indispensable. Another similarity between the two vagabond philosophers is Christy's irritation with dates; as the older one says:
'Dates? ... Excuse me sounding impatient, but I'd say my books are built on facts, not dates. ... When you're here there and everywhere for seventy years you can't be as neat as a lawyer's ledger. A man's got to choose between being a bit o' nature and being chained to the office calendar.'
As Christy nears his seventieth year, and given that he's covered half the globe and back several times over, not to mention being a far more prolific writer than Horn, it is entirely reasonable that his brain should be kept free for memories rather than straightjacketed by dates. As he wrote to me following a request to get his early foreign adventures into some some kind of progression, 'a Seventies chronology is impossible! Who needs linear thinking, anyway.' A sentiment also acknowledged by Horn when he declared, 'Iv'e never burdened me memory with dates. A brains given you for thoughts, not dates.' But in my role as a researcher I do get obsessed by chronology and, just as Ethelreda Lewis did with Trader Horn, I'm in the process of slowly drawing out from Jim Christy fragments of facts and memories to weave together into the biographical narrative that I'm obsessed with collecting. That is, of course, apart from the tales that this arch-storyteller has not already committed to print himself in his thirty plus volumes.
A cursory glance at the list of Christy's peregrinations below, demonstrates why holding a clear chronology of them in his head would not only be impossible, but painful. However, with patience and persistence, no doubt aided by reference to old passport visas, Christy has recalled pretty much the entire extent of his global ramblings. As Christy is a storyteller (as well as an artist, sculptor, landscape gardener, journalist, private-eye, and much much more) rather than an archivist, he has left it to me to present his travels in this format before I go on to recount in Parts 4 and 5 of his history, just some of the adventures that resulted.
In addition to the countless destinations that Christy has tramped and hitch hiked to across the USA, Canada, Mexico and Guatemala, and continues to do so—albeit by more convenient modes of transport—below is a list of destinations further afield:
Australia (1989, 2003/4, 2008)
Belgium (1970, 1980, 1982)
Brazil (5 trips between 1975 and 1981)
Cambodia (2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010)
Colombia (1973, 1976, 1979, 2005, 2007)
Cuba (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014)
Germany (1970, 2009, 2010, 2012)
France (1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1983 x 2, 1990, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2010, 2012)
Germany (1970, 2009, 2010)
Hong Kong (1990)
India (2010, 2012)
Italy (1970, 1997, 2012)
Luxembourg and Lichtenstein (1970)
Netherlands (1970, 1996, 2011, 2013)
Netherlands Antilles (1976)
New Zealand (1989, 2003/4, 2008)
Panama Islands (1977)
South Africa (1978)
Spain (1970, 1913)
St. Maartens (1983)
Switzerland (1970, 1980, 1983, 2007)
Trinidad (1978 & 1990)
U.K. (1970, 1983, 1987)
Venezuela (1979, 1981, 1990)
Vietnam (5 trips between 2000 and 2008)
It is a hallmark of the true adventurer that they must go further than even the most intrepid sightseer and, furthermore, by way of the remote and the undistinguished. Not for them the grand locations described in the tourist brochures. I understand this sense of wanting to be part of the everyday rather than the celebrated when in foreign places, even though one often stands out more vividly as a tourist as a result. That is the paradox of being Caucasian in exotic locations; however much you might want to blend in you remain conspicuously conspicuous. Though no real adventurer myself, I derived a kind of perverse pleasure in avoiding a trip to the Victoria Falls (conveniently situated near the capital of Lusaka) during my two year sojourn in Zambia. Even on arrival in capital cities, I flee the tourist centres for the ramshackle back streets where the food is authentic and cheap—all the time fully aware that I am a complete fraudster in my efforts to blend in. It is, in any case, a fantasy to believe that any unspoilt places, easily accessible by humans on this planet, any longer exist. We corrupt by virtue of being there at all. Perhaps the new and the novel today is to be found in the corruption itself, the 'undiscovered' treasures in our own backyards.
Christy's freewheeling took place in the dying decades of tramping when novelty still existed. He took his own wanderlust to bizarre extremes, risking life and limb in the process. Not the kind of risks that mountaineers or extreme sport fanatics expose themselves to, even though Christy has faced such dangers of nature too. Christy's perils came in human form, as is shown in some of the stories that follow. When taken to the extremes enjoyed and suffered by Christy, the curse of wanderlust is that the world grows smaller the more one mines it's secrets. Our ability to appreciate the rare and the exotic is diminished by our constant exposure to it. But any period of abstinence from wondering, be it from infirmity or other causes, reawakens the impulse to set off once more, either for a 'lurk' (those special hidden places that a tramp is compelled to return to), or in search of the elusive 'heart of the world':
THE HEART OF THE WORLD
|Driftwood sculpture by Christy who, though|
a poet himself, is yet able to ridicule
the narcissism of the poetry reader.
'I'm on my way, happy
to be going again. Coming back
maybe never. My passport pages
are filled with all these
pretty stamps and visas.
I've got no baggage
to check nor am I carrying on
I do have, however, more dreams
than can be stowed in the overhead
compartment or under
the seat in front of me. Oh, I
can go to Tiflis or, maybe,
Toronto; Hudson's Bay,
or Havana will do but what
I really want to find
is the place that's not
in the seat pocket by my knees
or on the map at the back
of the airline magazine.
Maybe the flight attendant
can be of assistance.
I press the button and the light
goes on: "Sir/madame
help me, please. I am
looking for the Heart
of the World.' Jim Christy
I recently asked Christy if there was anywhere in particular he never made it to but still wanted to:
'That's easy, first: the Island of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. To see the mysterious half-submerged civilization of Nan Madol. Second: I'd like to make the Trans-Siberian railroad trip. I was on my way in 2013 but in Russia my plastic all failed. Otherwise, I just want to walk out the door and keep going.'
Maybe Pohnpei is the heart of the world, for Christy at least, and I really do hope he gets to make it there and add a hotel receipt to all the others that have been tossed over the years into a battered old leather suitcase that serves as a repository for memories of random rooms where he has laid his head for a night:
'Last night, December 22, 2013, King
Edward Hotel, Toronto. Add receipt to
others in a leather suitcase, older
|The vagabond horticulturalist,|
One of Christy's first driftwood sculptures
some: Room 12, Lee Garden Guest House,
Hong Kong, 3-12-90; Room 1, Eagle’s
Nest Motel, Concrete, Washington; #16,
GST Guesthouse, sometime, somewhere in
India; #32, Venus Hotel, San Ignacio,
Belize, C.A, 16/03/98; #749, Imperial
Palace, Las Vegas, 1983; # 109, Lucky
Pacific – 28 Inn, New Hazleton, B.C.;
#272, Yukon Inn, Whitehorse, 1975;
#123 Koski’s Motel, Glasgow, Montana. #
26, Dewagga Hotel, Ubud, Bali, and so
on. Most forgotten but I turned 45 in
room 35, 23 years ago at the 4 Pines in
Lillooet, B.C. and paid $52.92 for “2
in party” but the other gone these past
11 years. And here’s a key attached
to yellow plastic, number 106. Where
was that? When? Do these rooms
and dates in an old suitcase add up
to anything? Maybe if I divide them
by years? What will be the number of the final
hotel, motel, guest house room? Will all the
numbers of all the rooms come back to me,
and I’ll recite them each and every
one from Manaus to Malacca? My
last words just some nomad’s
I must include this further poem because staving off hunger is one of the vagabond traveller's most basic preoccupations. As Tom Kromer observed when he was starving outside of a restaurant, mesmerised by the sight of a rich couple gazing at each other while picking at a chicken (well, it was actually the site of the plump chicken itself, oozing with gravy), 'that chicken was meant for a hungry man'. The following poem captures just such a moment but, more importantly, the poem is a delicious read—and ride.
THE PURLOINED MEAL
'The Ghost Town Diner in boardwalk
Laramie. I took a counter seat among
God-fearing locals, feeling like
A stranger in the family pew.
Famished but coffee and a sinker
was what I could have. The waitress
pegged me for a larrikin from
cement sidewalks, and probably
a Catholic. The lanky party
to my right unfolded himself
and departed in a hurry. Probably
had some branding to do. But he left
behind most of his meal, one porkchop
oozing goodness, green beans
like fallen trees at the foot
of a mashed potato mountain atop
which was a tarn of golden gravy,
and it looked more appealing than
any Reno showgirl. I pulled the plate
toward me. Was any secondhand grub
ever so desired? Two young waitresses
stared. An old one like a prison guard
appeared in a pale blue uniform
stretched tight with a white
apron. “Thief!” she cried,
resembling an airmail envelope
with a stamp from Iceland.
I swallowed while she called
for the owner. Looking on
was a group of old testament
types, semi-desert fathers on
pilgrimage from the Scetes
to the Shirleys. The owner
came through the kitchen
door, cleaver held high,
and fulminating. His apron
was spotted and streaked like
the work of a finger painter
With a limited palette. I headed
for the door and a group followed.
I rushed when they did. It was
like a stampede or a posse
comitas. By the door was a Becky
Thatcher girl with pig-tails, I
winked at her and she smiled.
They took off after me, boot
heels like hoof beats on
the board sidewalks. An old
Chrysler pulled over, door
open like a windbreak. The
red-haired driver laughed,
muttered Keystone Kops,
and off we went
Where are they all now? Still
at lunch? Skeletons in pearl
button shirts and pale blue
uniforms? Did the little girl
join the Peace Corps?
My carrot-topped saviour
register voters in Alabama? Did
the owner keel over fulminating,
Watching the ’68 Democratic Convention
On television? Did all the cows get
branded? Maybe the diner’s still
there; a light is always
in the window, and a drifteris never begrudged a meal.'
But first, let us return to where we left of at the end of part 3 of this biography. With the expenses Christy had been paid by the State of Illinois to attend Val Santee's retrial as a witness, Christy travelled to Canada in October of 1968 in his '56 Chevy, accompanied by Ellen St. Claire and her sister Margo. Christy had already made a scouting expedition to Toronto two months earlier, to be told that the job situation in Toronto was grim and that he would have better luck in Ottawa; 'a fib they told so as not to increase their workload'. And so it was that the trio arrived in a foreign feeling Ottawa 'on a warm and sunny October Friday afternoon', and checked into a motel. 'The people didn't look the same as Americans. The architecture, the smells, the rhythms, all seemed different.' (JP 127)
But Christy was not fated to settle in that city. He was forced to leave in a hurry after being offered a job selling ads for a new magazine that never existed and his description was broadcast on the radio warning potential merchants of the deception. Christy found out too late that he was the victim of the scam. He'd been making $100 a day which he handed over to the 'Editor-in-Chief' to be told that he would get his money once it had cleared through accounting. He did manage to salvage $70 that was thrown at him by a fleeing woman assistant when, on his return to the office, he demanded the $900 plus due to him. And so with $70 in his pocket, Christy took a bus to Toronto. There he laid low in a steady job for five months, not wanting to attract any attention that would send him back to the USA. But by January of 1970, Christy had taken off for what he described as 'a bumming and hitchhiking trip in Europe', of which he described Lichtenstein as his favourite destination (EM). It was on a boat from Spain to Morocco that Christy met up with Jim Phelan's widow Kathleen. The story of their subsequent adventure is told by Christy in 'The Name's Phelan' under my bio on Kathleen Phelan. On presenting his American passport to the Moroccan border guard, Christy learned that he was a 'wanted' person back in the USA, and only a bribe of $20 enabled him to rejoin Kathleen and continue on his way.
|Christy on the ferry from Ward's Island to Toronto in 1969 (photo Dario Alonghi, Montevideo)|
After returning to Canada from his European trip in March 1970, Christy got an impulse to get involved in something political. Organising rallies and petitions were not his thing, and having developed a love of writing, Christy turned his hand to producing an 'underground' newspaper. The difficulty Christy encountered from the outset, was that his own personality and artistic style clashed with those of his earnest, middle-class, student co-founders, who's own contribution was limited to political rhetoric and regurgitating tired slogans. This difference was particularly acute when it came to his colleagues lack of a sense of humour: when Christy suggested introducing some satirical irony to the magazine by naming the first publication 'Gorilla' instead of Guerrilla, he was told that humour could wait until after the revolution. The first issue of Guerrilla was launched in June 1970. It was initially a success, thanks to the work of Christy and the newspaper's artist giving it a professional feel. But first the student editors got rid of the artist because his work was too accomplished to convey the revolutionary message, and then Christy left after being given the cold shoulder because his work was getting too much media attention.
And so it was that early in 1971 Christy jumped a freight and headed West. The story of this first trip through the prairies and the Rockies is told in his first published work, The New Refugees: American Voices in Canada (1972), and recounted in Part 5. New Refugees relates stories from US army deserters and 'draft dodgers' who, like himself, had made a new home in Canada. This trip West marked the first of many and by 1973 Christy had started making annual trips to Yukon Territory, fifteen in all, between that year and December 1981 when he moved his home to Vancouver. A well researched history of how the Alaska Highway or Alcan came to be built, together with an introduction to the many colourful characters who made the project happen, can be found in Christy's fourth book Rough Road to the North (1980), an extended version of which is also recounted in Part 5. The book also includes some of Christy's own Yukon adventures. Not that Christy confined his travels to exploring Canada. Throughout this same ten year period, and on top of the European trip he had already made in 1970, Christy also visited the Amazon five times (including a stay with Indians where—untypically for Christy—he got high on hallucinogens), France three more times, five trips to various Caribbean islands, four African nations, Colombia twice, Peru, Austria and Yugoslavia. But let us stay in Canada for now.
|Assemblage by Christy chronicling his 1974 Yukon trip.|
But to return to Christy's earlier meeting with Horne. Christy had driven a van out West with another guy hoping to make it to the Yukon, but the other guy bottled out and Christy proceeded alone. Arriving broke in Vancouver, Christy worked for a few weeks in a metal workshop before heading back East to the Russian Doukhoubor community at Gilpin near Grand Forks. It was here that he met up again with Horne, but the place was overrun with hippies and so Christy got a job on a ranch, hanging out at a local roadhouse run by an old cowboy-truck driver from Montana. By now he was missing his girl friend of the time who was working on a summer programme in Nice, France.
|Pilot Tavern Toronto|
Christy did not get his Canadian citizenship and passport until 1974, and his first trip back to the States was not until the Autumn of 1976:
'I was curious. I needed that Canadian passport before I could even think of going back. It felt alien to me. I was a goddamned Canadian by then and proud of it. Also, I had refused Amnesty so I was still wanted by them.' (EM)
|Bar in St. Augustine, Florida, sometime in the late '70s (photo Myfanwy Phillips)|
Having now reached the limit of where any strict chronology of Christy's travel is possible, I will continue this 'history' by relating, at random, some of his further adventures, and in the process, the various guises and personas he has employed across the years: tramp, journalist, private eye, explorer, carnival roustabout, or just plain old vagabond doing what vagabonds do best. Joe Nickell observes these many faces of Christy when he says, 'Shakespeare’s “one man in his time plays many parts” is true in spades for Jim Christy, who has had many, many roles.' As I have previously noted, Christy may defy being pigeon-holed into convenient stereotypes but can hold his own in whatever company or tribe he finds himself; excelling equally in the role of the left wing agitator or debt collector for the Philadelphia mob, the pacifist or the pugilist, and all the while remaining fully authentic in whatever persona he adopts. It is also the reason, perhaps, that Christy has been able to survive the kind of hostile social environments that most people would not.
The Various Faces and Adventures of Jim Christy
I wrote in the Introduction to my Philosophy of Tramping, that one does not need to hit the road to experience the thrill of wanderlust: 'like some of Beckett's tramps, one can tramp in one's imagination, from a bed or other confined space, or even tramp in the pages of books'. Christy himself adds that, 'one can view like a movie in the privacy of one's mind, particularly during those housebound months of winter':
|Christy's temporary Fijian island home|
'Ah, yes, there was the strange encounter with the Obeah witch doctor on the island of Dominica; a long day under house arrest in Manaus, Brazil for suspicion of being a spy; a wonderful couple of days in a village on one of the remoter Fijian islands; climbing in the hills of the Coromandel peninsula in New Zealand ...' etc.
('Just what is this elusive thing called adventure?', The Daily Courier, April 12, 1992)
After recalling some of these notable memories, Christy then laments, 'Yes, but plenty of people have done all that.' When you add together all of the adventures described in Parts 1 to 5 of Christy's history-to-date, as well as all those not described, one is tempted to comment—maybe Jim, but not all in a single person's lifetime. That is what makes Jim Christy a vagabond adventurer par excellence.
In the pages that follow (Parts 4 and 5), I will summarise some of Christy's notable adventures, in no particular order. But I strongly recommended that the original text is acquired and read to fully appreciate both the writing and the tale. Where it seems pertinent, I will also use the stories to highlight aspects of Christy's character and philosophy to build up a profile of this unique individual—one who though entirely comfortable in the modern world, also seems to evoke a more innocent (innocent of the tyranny of political correctness, at least), romantic and authentic older world that sadly no longer exists. Joe Nickell used Shakespeare's 'all the world's a stage' characterisation to describe Christy, and certainly he would have been both at-home and a one-off in any historical epoch—I am particularly minded of Renaissance historian Jacob Burckhardt's 'all sided man'.
As a footnote to this section of Part 4, and by way of further chronicling Christy's love of the automobile already acknowledged in Parts 2 and 3, it is worth observing that Christy is even able to defy stereotyping in his choice of cars:
|From the same book, the little '78 Pontiac Acadian|
festooned with memorabilia from around the globe.
|'58 Cadillac featured in 'Take 2' of Sweet Assorted,|
my favourite story from that wonderful collection of
tales from a tin box.
In Search of the Golden Madonna (Between the Meridians, 138-157)
|El Boquerón, Olancho, Honduras|
William Henry Davies lost a foot jumping a train on his way to the Klondike, Leon Ray Livingston nearly died of starvation and illness travelling to the Klondike by dog sled, Jack London quit university to spend a year panning for gold in the same region, Bart Kennedy and a friend narrowly escaped with their lives after an attack by hostile indians on their way to try their luck on the Fraser River after a strike in the Similakameen Valley, we know that Trader Horn panned unsuccessfully for gold on more than one continent—even after he made his fortune from writing and movies, and, although Jack Everson earned himself six hundred dollars when he proved his theory that dry gulch pickings were richer the further one panned from the river, he continued tramping anyway.
Christy follows an honourable tramping tradition, nearly losing his own life on an adventure prompted by a search for gold. In Christy's case, it was his search for the location of the legendary Golden Madonna of San Jorge de Olancho. Christy seemed impervious to the dangers of travelling alone into the inhospitable rain forest region of Eastern Honduras, patrolled as it was by local bandits. To put these dangers into context, according to a recent New York Times article (June 24, 2012) Olancho still remains one of the most violent parts of Central America today, with its narcotic smuggling and other criminal activities.
And so to the legend itself. In 1525 Spanish explorers, under the orders of Hernán Cortés, established the port town of Trujillo on the north coast of Honduras as a staging post to explore and colonise the interior of the Olancho region thought to be rich in gold deposits. By 1530, the Spaniards had established the town of San Jorge de Olancho at the foot of a mountain, El Boquerón, and, as some reports have it, on the right bank of the river Aguán. Other versions of the story say there was already an ancient city in the same location, and that gold and silver were so plentiful that the indigenous inhabitants fashioned it into tools and utensils; being the only available metal in the region. At any rate, the area was so rich in gold that the Spanish soon set to work mining it and hauling it to the port of Trujillo for its onward passage to Spain.
As elsewhere in Latin America, the invaders abused and cheated the indians, and when local priests demanded taxes from the conquistadores for all the gold they were removing, the latter responded by melting down gold which they fashioned into a nine-hundred pound golden madonna. The legend goes that not having enough gold to finish the statue, the conquistadores fashioned a coronet of cow hide; following which insult the side of the mountain fell away burying the town and many of those in it. The surviving inhabitants relocated to other locations, including Olanchito (Little Olancho). The latter certainly exists in Northern Honduras today, but in the Yoro rather than Olancho department. The site of Olancho Viejo (Old Olancho) remains the subject of controversy; not made any easier by the fact that there are two mountains named El Boquerón in Olancho, one in the north and one in the south. The illustration in William Wells 1857 account (see below) shows the more northern El Boquerón.
Christy's interpretation of the legend, that Olancho Viejo was located on the river Guayape, and not the river Aguán in the north (site of Olanchito), seems more credible. Particularly as the Guayape river has a long history and reputation for placer mining that continues to this day. Furthermore, Christy's own research is backed up by several historical records. Below is the relevant passage from just one such account:
'The infamous desecration of the Holy Mother was speedily avenged. While the population were collected in the church, the mountain broke forth with terrific violence, and in an hour the whole town was destroyed with showers of rocks, stones, and ashes. Many were killed, and the remainder fled afrighted out of the place. ... Those who escaped set their faces to the north, and journeyed to the coast in search of another site, carrying with them the crown of hide, which alone had been preserved from the general wreck. They pitched upon what is known as Olanchito (little or new Olancho), now the chief town of the department of Yoro after Truxillo. [...] How Olancho Antigua was destroyed is a matter of conjecture; but that a thriving and well-located town once existed there is beyond dispute. It is generally believed that much gold lies buried beneath the ruins, but no one is valorous enough to seek it. Oblivion has thrown her mantle over the place, and only exaggerated monkish legends remain to tell of its former existence.'*
*From Explorations and Adventures in Honduras, by William Vincent Wells (New-York, Harper & brothers, 1857). William Wells was an author, explorer and sailor (who survived four shipwrecks) born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1826. He later became US consul-general of Honduras.
But back to Christy's own adventure. As with much of his ramblings, this trip was impromptu, with no planning involved. Here we also have evidence of Christy the romantic; with regard to both his love of women and his wanderlust—the two being often mutually exclusive, so far as long term relationships are concerned at least. Being an incurable romantic is certainly not incompatible with being either a tramp or a cynic, it goes with the territory. The year is 1987, and on this occasion, Christy, now aged forty-two, met and married a half-Mexican woman (he does not specify what the other half was). The pair spent a few months in the coastal town of Zihautanejo, before crossing the border into Guatemala. It was while in Guatemala that Christy got the urge to venture onwards into Honduras (EM). 'In Search of The Golden Madonna' opens with the following line describing his guide to the mythical home of the golden Madonna:
'If Geraldo was just a little bit smarter, I would be three months dead.' (BM 138)
Not that Olancho's reputation had dissuaded Christy from setting out alone and unarmed on his own perilous quest for gold:
'Thievery is a national pastime and the roads are the special workplaces of the ladrones. But in a country where everybody is armed it is difficult to pick out the hold-up men. ... Twice on the trip to Mt. Boqueron, I came upon clusters of people stopping traffic with ropes stretched across the road, revolvers dangling from their hands, shotguns across their shoulders [...] two masked figures wearing animal skins around their shoulders and dirty bedspreads that hung down below their knees emerged from the crowd. They held rusty paint cans. ... After I tossed some coins into the cans, the ropes were dropped, the crowd backed away, and I drove off.' (BM 144-145)
When the road eventually ran out, Christy parked up and continued down a cattle trail to the edge of the forest from which El Boquerón could soon be seen emerging. There he encountered a group of fourteen year old boys, the leader of whom agreed to take Christy to his uncle's shack a mile into the forest, while the other boys were sent back to guard the jeep. Some distance further on, the pair encountered a man Christy describes as, 'short, stocky, with thick wrists and arms'. The man, Geraldo, happened to be going in the direction of El Boquerón, and the boy suggested Christy let him act as his guide. A string of questions from Geraldo soon led Christy to suspect that he might be in some danger from the machete toting guide: Where were his companions? Was he alone?, etc. On an impulse, Christy took the photograph of Geraldo below at the start of their hike; although had Christy been murdered, it is unlikely that the film, never mind Christy, would ever have been found.
|Christy's would be assassin, Geraldo|
'I looked at his boots and was actually thinking that they were no worse than my own, probably better, when he went for the blade. His hand moved in a blur, but I was close enough to leap and grab his forearm before the machete was halfway out of the scabbard.' (BM 150)
The rest of this battle is described in the book but concludes with Christy relieving Geraldo of his machete and throwing it into the river, whereupon the angry Geraldo, with his pride sorely wounded, runs off to get the aid of his companions from a nearby settlement while Christy, frustrated from arriving at his destination with no opportunity of searching for treasure, makes a run for it back down the trail he has just climbed, and with a gang of angry campesinos in hot pursuit:
'I had not gone very far before I heard the call and answer of the whistles behind me. ... That must be Geraldo giving instructions to his pals. I had been crashing along trying to outdistance the noise, but I stopped to listen, to try and place them. The whistling ceased. It started again when I began to move.' (BM 151)
But we know—because we are reading this tale—that Christy did make it back to his jeep and out of Honduras. Not that it was his last time to be staring down the wrong end of a barrel before his final departure. One reason that I am so fascinated by this story is that, in 1982, I was also in Olancho (with the Paya Indians in the rainforest east of Catacamas), and I had also been accosted at gunpoint on more than one occasion? But back then I knew nothing of Christy or the Golden Madonna, and in any case, that, as they say, is another story. Christy may not have found any buried treasure, but he may still be the only one outside of the locality who knows the location of the burial site of the legendary Golden Madonna. As some historians have testified, the locals are too terrified to disturb the site due to the superstition that surrounds it and, so far as we know, no serious search for, or excavation of, the site has ever been commissioned. Others who described to Christy their own claims to have found the site, described a different location altogether. Even historians can't agree on the location of Olancho Viejo, nor which El Boquerón it is associated with. If Christy's description of the location of San Jorge de Olancho, or Olancho Viejo, is deliberately misleading, then he has his own reasons for maintaining the myth surrounding this legend. Such is the privilege of the vagabond storyteller.
But having discovered the whereabouts of Olancho Viejo, and in spite of the obvious dangers involved, the vagabond romantic was not about to abandon his quest. Back in Mexico a year later, with the intention of returning to Honduras, Fortuna would again intervene. By now separated from his second wife, happenstance, in the form of the offer to play a part in a Mexican movie (a continuation of Christy's on/off acting career) resulted—instead of finding buried treasure—in the equally Quixotic adventure of riding around on a horse for some days before getting beaten up by the hero as one of the movie's highlights. To date, Christy has not made a return visit to Honduras.
West of Keremeos (Between the Meridians, 33-45)
|Details from photo of Hedley petroglyph taken by Christy|
At the start of his quest, Christy finds Ernie Joseph, a 78-year-old Indian, in a bar. According to Similkameen oral history, members of Ernie Joseph’s tribe massacred Spaniards near their Indian village of Keremeos and buried them in a fabled ‘Spanish Mound’. There are rock carvings, petroglyphs, to prove it. But Ernie Joseph tells Christy he has to find the petroglyphs for himself. Christy then recounts his roundabout route to find the rock carvings near Hedley. We learn that the Spanish launched more than 150 coastal expeditions from Mexico in search of gold and the ‘Strait of Anian’, a mythical passage that supposedly split the North American continent. 'It seems preposterous to insist that no European reached the southern interior of British Columbia until the 1800s,' he writes. 'By the latter part of the 16th century, Cabeza de Vaca had already traveled overland from Florida to the Pacific Northwest.' Christy also cites the travels of a Greek mariner named Apostolos Valerianos. While Valerianos was using various pseudonyms—-including Juan de Fuca after which the Strait of Juan de Fuca is named—Valerianos apparently sailed north three times to the Pacific Northwest for the Viceroy of Mexico in the late 1500s. According to Michael Lok, an Englishman who financed Martin Frobisher’s three trips to Baffin Island, Valerianos claimed he made a journey across the North American continent from west to east.
This leads Christy to his hard ‘evidence’ of Spanish inland infiltration: 1/ Historian Bill Barlee has observed that the appearance of the Similkameen band is different from neighbouring tribes (they’re taller), 2/ The Similkameen are the only Interior band to pronounce a pure ‘r’, a predominant letter in Spanish, 3/ Armour made from heavy copper has been found in a native burial ground identical to Spanish mail (and neither the Spanish or anyone else wore armour in the 19th century), and 4/ The only piece of turquoise ever discovered in an Indian grave in B.C. was found near Okanagan Falls (and is now displayed at the Penticton museum). Christy visits the pictographs and provides the following analysis: 1/ There are men on horseback with peaked hats (like the helmets worn by the Spanish), 2/ The are four standing figures attached by a line drawn through their necks (like prisoners chained together in the Spanish fashion), 3/ The prisoners are guarded by dogs with open mouths (like the vicious guard dogs the Spanish were known to have used). Dismissed out of hand or regarded as a troublesome crank by academics, Christy has persisted:
'Over the years I have returned to the spot, studied it, and, consequently, gathered more pieces of information. For instance, the iron neck collar the Spanish placed around their prisoners was called a cerebance. On each visit, I had been particularly intrigued by the care with which the helmets were drawn. Not only was the brim, or lip, of the helmet distinct, the peak, as mentioned, was rendered just-so. I often thought of it. I learned the helmet worn buy conquistadors, and shaped exactly the same way, was a morion. But my primary discovery occurred in Mexico, near Cuernavaca, on a cliff wall in country not unlike the dry land above the Similkameen River. I located an ancient pictograph that shows a soldier on horseback wearing a morion, and in front of him are five Indian prisoners guarded by dogs and chained at the waist.'
Glenn Douglas, a native researcher and librarian in Keremeos, is also convinced that the legend of the ‘Spanish Mound’ is for real. 'If the story wasn’t true,' says Douglas, 'it wouldn’t have been handed down as truth from generation to generation.' The photograph above, taken by Christy of the Hedley pictographs, adorns the cover of his book Between the Meridians.
'History, you know, is really a lie and changes its mind every day. Blood red lines drawn on protected cliff walls will last through millennia. In the end, the only historical truth is in the blood of the people. That’s the secret of my own special place.'
Umtali Massacre, Rhodesia (Sweet Assorted, 166-168, and Between the Meridians, 123-137)
|Victims of Elim Mission Massacre|
An example of Christy's journalistic independence can be evidenced by a report he wrote on the Elim Mission massacre by ZANU-PF fighters that took place on the night of 23rd June 1978 in Rhodesia's Eastern Highlands. Eight British missionaries (5 women and 3 men) together with four children aged between 3 months and 6 years, were beaten, bayoneted or axed to death. Even the baby had been beaten before being killed. Four of the women were raped and the fifth managed to hide but died a week later in hospital. The day following the massacre, Christy was the first Westerner to arrive at the Mission, nine miles south east of Umtali (today's city of Mutare) and only four miles from the Mozambique border:
'I was there all day but never saw any other Westerners, except dead teachers and their families. The massacre was the work of Mugabe's forces, who before hacking those people to death, delivered a political speech to the young black students. The kids were told that education just played into the hands of the whites. The students watched their teachers and their families die. Children first.' (SA 167)
And Christy was lucky to escape the scene of the massacre with his own life:
'I got a ride out of there with a black Rhodesian soldier. We were ambushed on the road by guerrillas but rescued, eventually, by Rhodesian soldiers on curfew patrol. The car, a Ford Anglia, looked like a colander when the shooting was done.' (SA 167)*
*see also BM 130-132 for more detailed description of the ambush
It would be a further two days before television crews and other journalists were flown to the site from the Meikles Hotel in Salisbury, but, as Ian Smith's government represented a pariah state, most press editors were unwilling to openly criticise what they regarded as Rhodesia's liberating forces. When Christy returned to his paper's Toronto office, the chief editor had rewritten Christy's copy to remove any suggestion that Mugabe's forces were implicated, and furthermore, had maliciously illustrated the piece with South African police holding back Alsatian dogs from small black children, in order to highlight white on black brutality. They had not used any of the film footage taken by Christy, nor did he ever receive his film back. Christy threatened his boss with a lawsuit and the piece was modified, but not as hard hitting as Christy had intended. Even so, the result of the report was that the editor received letters denouncing Christy as a racist and 'right-wing-fanatic'. Letters to the editor in the same issued also criticised a piece Christy wrote on Soweto published the week before, this time denouncing him as 'a Commie dupe' (SA-168). The point being, that political correctness serves to mask the truths that moralistic liberal minded folk do not want to hear. It takes a true cynic like Christy to lift the veneer and expose hypocrisy for what it is.
Just such a journalist also was Auberon Waugh (son of the British writer Evelyn Waugh) whose death in January 2001, prompted the left-wing columnist Polly Toynbee to write a scathing obituary on Waugh. The following comment by writer Charlotte Raven, was just one of the many responses to Toynbee's idiotic criticism of Waugh. Importantly here, Raven's words cut straight to the whole business of the sanctimonious pretensions of 'politically correct' journalists—and also, how to expose them:
'There are many left wing people who take things at face value and many liberals who congratulate themselves on their moral superiority when all they are doing is restating the bleeding obvious. The earnestness of each of these groups is a signal that they don't really grasp what's going on. People who live on this level and never travel anywhere else are unlikely to make jokes about plane crashes . . . Their humourlessness is a symptom of their lack of judgment. . . . They are people whose souls are cold and whose bullet-point priorities close the window on imagination and genuine freedom of thought while increasing their own claims to ethical superiority.' (Charlotte Raven, ‘Love across the divide’ in The Guardian, Jan 23rd 2001)
And so, like Waugh, Christy spoke his own mind and was political hostage to no-one, a troublemaker par excellence. But there is a price to pay for being a vagabond writer, and that price is to be ostracised by the self-appointed guardians of literature and reportage. Those who, anxious to protect their own narrow interests, use their mercenary powers to banish to the margins dissenters like Christy who choose delinquency over obedience.
As a footnote to Christy's Rhodesian mission, four years earlier, and only vaguely aware of events in Rhodesia, I was arrested on my second trip to Zambia for an act of terrorism (blowing up a section of the Chinese built TAZARA railway line from Dar-es-Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi). A case of mistaken identity? I was the only white guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the white Rhodesian mercenaries who were responsible had long since fled. And so, after a couple of weeks of house arrest (fortunately for me in the house of the local mayor’s daughter) I managed to sneak back to the capital on a night bus, get myself on a plane and out of there. I later suspected that the whole thing had been arranged by the mayor who was not happy about a white vagabond living in his daughter's house—people under house-arrest are not normally allowed to keep their passport.
Land Mines and Looters (The Walrus, September 2012)
Christy reports the plunder of Cambodia's heritage, for example, the discovery of two ornate temple bells dating back to around 200 BC, a half-metre-tall head of Vishnu stolen from the stone banks of the Kbal Spean River:
'sophisticated thieves ... are part of complex international operations. Because there are thousands of temples and pagodas, towers, steles, and pyramids throughout the county, and there is not enough money to guard more than a fraction of them, the art is there for the picking. [...] the entire stretch of the Kbal Spean from its source above a waterfall to the plains below is guarded not by automatic-weapon-toting guards but by one unarmed kid in overalls and flip flops who says he’s twenty but looks fifteen.'
A UNESCO observer points out that, “the shipment of these big pieces out of the country can only be accomplished with the collusion of the military. The collectors claim they are helping to preserve Cambodia’s heritage.”
But, adds Christy, 'the usual way is still to invade a site after it has been de-mined, and spirit your treasure over the border.'
On the Caddy Trail (Between the Meridians, 175-196)
|John Herbert Caddy|
'Caddy was just the sort of person I've always been drawn to: a creative adventurer, an original who wouldn't buckle under. ... Caddy never got his due. Had he been a careerist and played by the rules, the fellow would have made something of himself.' (BM 177)
And so Christy embarked on his own trip, following Caddy's route and fortified by Caddy's sense of humour. The modern day rambler's adventures are remarkable in themselves, but as there is not the scope here to recount all of Christy's escapades, and the fascinating characters he encounters on the way, a full reading of The Caddy Trail is recommended. The trip describes many of the places Christy stops at on the way: the towns of San Ignacio, San Jose Succotz and the Xunantunich ruins in Belize; the Tikal ruins, the town of Flores in the middle of the caiman alligator infested lake Petén Itzá, Santa Elena, Sacpuy, and Narnjo in Guatemala, then onwards to the Mexican state of Tabasco and his eventual destination of Palenque.
I will relate just one more story of the many adventures Christy encounters on this trip. It relates to a deadly poisonous fer-de-lance snake. Christy encountered the snake while walking alone down a dirt road near the Maya ruins of Xunantunich. On later reporting his encounter with the snake to a park ranger, the man became alarmed and asked Christy, "Did you apologise to the snake for looking its way." When Christy replied that he had not, the ranger shook his head in concern and said, "Well you will see Senor fer de lance again." Not encountering the snake on his way back, Christy put the superstition out of his mind. Sometime later, after Christy had survived the bus hold-up and arrived safely in the town of Naranjo, he was bought a drink by a man sitting at another table in the bar:
'He looked like a well-bred killer from somewhere in Latin America. He nodded and came over to the table. Turned out he was a well-bred killer from somewhere in Latin America by way of Luxembourg. ... I'll call him Astorias Baumann. He had spoken only to Indians for the last couple of months so he was eager to talk to me. I was eager to listen, and I did for two days. The man never said anything trivial.' (BM 189)
It turns out that Astorias had served in both the French and the Spanish Foreign Legions, before being hired by the Guatemalan government to train its elite troupes in jungle survival. Anyway, when Astorias took Christy with him on horseback to visit his camp in the jungle, a short distance from the camp he suddenly stopped, took his rifle out of its saddlesheath, fired twice at a dark shape up ahead on the trail, then sat still in the saddle for a full minute watching.
' "What's that?"
"You'd know it as a fer de lance."
He climbed down and approached the seven-foot long snake cautiously, carrying a canvas tarp. Only after standing over the thing for another full minute, then prodding it with a stick, did he wrap up the fer de lance and sling it over his saddle.
So the Indian at Xunantunich was right. I would see the Senor again.' (BM 190)
It was from Astorias also, that Christy first heard about the huge trade already developing in looting Mayan antiquities from the numerous archeological sites in the region. Astorias told him that the looters were practically falling over antiquities as they penetrated the last of the forests, also being plundered, by loggers. And so it was that Christy learned of Astorias' new venture. It turns out he was buying antiquities from the huecheros (looters) for a few dollars, who in turn paid local campesinos and loggers a few cruzeiros for their finds, only to sell them on to his network of international collectors for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars:
'He had a few pieces around his shack. ... For this, he said, he'd get four hundred thousand dollars from a man in Berlin. He was going to deliver it to a man in Antigua in a week or so, once the go-between, an archeology professor, had the piece, he'd fax the collector in Berlin who would have the money transferred to one of Baumann's accounts.' (BM 191)
There was an unspoken agreement between Baumann and Christy that the latter would not rat on the former; Christy being fully aware that:
'this is a man who could walk blithely through a barroom of angry hockey enforcers without spilling his drink. I've changed the details just enough to protect myself...'
Christy was relieved to wake up the next morning and travel back safely to Naranjo with his host, from where he departed for the Mexican border in a homemade freighter canoe together with the captain, his son and three other passengers. After a brief stop at the customs shed to have his papers checked, the canoe continued on its journey, this time including the custom official as a passenger. On arrival at the river settlement of La Palma, Christy was coerced into joining a party and robbed the following morning while sleeping off the effects of the night before. Then on to his destination where, after describing the ruins, he relates the manner in which Caddy had already arrived back in Belize and into obscurity, just as Catherwood and his party were arriving at Palenque.
Saskatchewan Summer (Jackpots, 37-43)
In the summer of 1972, Christy disembarked from a train in the small rural town of Estevan, just north of the US border in Eastern Saskatchewan. He was accompanied by a woman he'd met on the journey and whose looks he sums up as those of 'a corn fed prairie girl', wholesome and smooth skinned. We are not told what Christy was doing on the train, nor why he departed at Estevan—unless he wanted to spend more time with the girl. In any event, he got some work on the girl's mother's farm where he was allowed to sleep in the barn. But instead of being joined at night by the girl, as he had hoped, it was the mother who eventually visited Christy for several nights in a row. Not being able to bear the tension that followed, compounded by hostility from a farm-hand who clearly had his own designs on the two women, Christy took off walking westward.
|May 2015, a veteran Jim Christy retraces his 1972 tramp down Highway 18|
(photos by Reyna Lynne)
In the end, Christy walked the three hundred and fifty miles from Estevan to Maple Creek in two and a half weeks. There he met up with a contact in the Maple Leaf Hotel, a name he'd been given in Toronto, who introduced Christy to a Métis (French Canadian term for mixed race First Nation/European) who claimed to be a hundred years old. As a boy, the old man claimed to have spent time with Sitting Bull, driving him to church in a buckboard. The chief had headed North to escape the aftermath of Little Big Horn, being permitted to stay in Canada by the authorities from 1877 to 1881 before returning to the USA where he and his remaining 186 family and followers were forced to surrender. When Christy asked the obvious question, "Sitting Bull went to church?", he got the reply, "No, we stayed outside in the wagon. He used to like to see the young girls ... dressed in their Sunday finery."
|Maple Leaf Hotel|
In Part 5 of Christy's biography I will recount further of his adventures, including unpublished tales requiring no small amount of research with the story-teller, I will then consider just what might be Christy's own philosophy on life.
PROCEED TO PART 5