Beyond the Panama Canal, a huge engineering feat started by the French and finished by the Americans, little is known about that little causeway country linking the two American continents. I have never met a Panamanian. Their football team don’t cover the backpage. John Le Carre wrote a book set there.
You may have heard of General Noriega, mass drug dealer and the CIA’s man in Panama who holed up in a nunnery when US hypocrisy struck. Rather than storming the place, the US military thought up a better plan and hounded out Noriega with Metallica at high decibels for 48hours.
Other little known facts include Panama was to be a Scottish colony in the late sixteen hundreds but the expedition was a disaster, near bankrupting Scotland and forcing then to sign a union treaty with England in 1714, a partnership that continues to this day. The disastrous mission had literally got bogged down in mildly famous area called the Darian Gap, a notorious treacherous 400km3 swamp land stretching over to Colombia that very few people cross. The is no real road through it but it’s used to militia gangs and drug dealers to transport cocaine from Colombia. It’s a dangerous area but I will cross it in the next few years.
But there is one man who stands out on the world stage, a man who is considered a great in his field. In 1980, Sugar Ray Leonard was at the top of his game. Fresh from winning a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, Leonard became a world champion after two years as a pro at Welterweight. He was considered a great already, maybe good enough to challenge the record of his namesake, Sugar Ray Robinson, considered the greatest boxer in history. But then he cleanly lost a 15 round decision. And he lost to a Panamanian, the Hands of Stone.
Roberto Duran wasn’t a star except in his homeland. He didn’t appear on chatshows. But boxing enthusiasts knew Duran. He has reigned for 7 years as lightweight champion of the world, winning the title at 21 from Scotsman, Ken Buchanan. He defeated all-comers soundly and then moved up to face Leonard. He won and deservedly won in a battle known as The Brawl in Montreal. The boxing world was shocked. While Duran was considered a great fighter, he wasn’t thought to be in Leonard league. It was thought no one could keep up with Leonard’s speed and precise combinations. But Duran did and he out-worked and out-boxed him in a legendary performance.
A rematch was arranged 5 months later. The fight was even going into round 8. Leonard had upped his game, working tirelessly to counter Duran’s workrate. But the fight was still even. And then, during round 9, Duran stopped fighting, turned to his corner and uttered the words ‘no mas’ to his trainers. They looked shocked but Duran had made his decision. He repeated ‘no mas’ and the fight was called off. Duran had quit on his stool. No one could believe it including Leonard.
Boxing is an unbelievably tough sport. The hours of training and dedication, the intensity of the competition produces tough men. Proud men. Duran left the boxing world bewildered by his decision. He has been questioned and criticised by commentators but to make such a decision takes a brave man. A hero in his own country, a man who carried the nation’s hopes doesn’t make such a decision lightly. He had had enough, couldn’t do it anymore and took such a monumental step. I congratulate him. I wish I had that courage.
And so to myself for this is a blog. The phrase ‘no mas’ resonates with me. I love my life but it’s a motivational battle. I have been lucky and feel it. At some point, indulgence becomes obscene and I feel gluttonous. The great Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami lived in Rome for over 15 years before the nagging in his mind started to draw him back. The Aum Cult sarine gas attacks had just occurred and he felt now was the time to return to Japan. His words were ‘he felt guilty and selfish. it’s time to do something for Japan.’
I can understand those words. I am sitting now on a bus heading north along the Queensland coast, going somewhere. I could be going anywhere but that’s not really true. The bus is rattling along, the sky is dark but I see no stars. I’m tired physically and mentally. It’s my fault of course. I made the choices, I take the responsibility. That’s the rules I set myself. People often ask how I do so much that I do. They envy the carefreeness of it all. It seems like a holiday going on and on.
Talking with fellow backpackers and friends, I am coming to the conclusion that what I’ve learnt could now be put to more use than sitting out on a deck drinking wine and talking. It may sound arrogant but people listen. My carefree yet intellectual nature is infectious for some people. I am no prophet, believing I have found some well of inner knowledge. But I am no charlatan either. I believe in my way. It’s been an amazingly fun yet growing experience. At least 5 people have told me this year I have changed their life, their thinking on what they can do. Lauren is now out in Laos using her academia and she told me that move came from talking with me in Japan. Os wants to work abroad now. Kristen wants to get back to Seville and get her life moving on and that electrician guy in the Social Club is moving to London soon. He came over one night and told me I had changed his life!
Spending with LP was as always hugely entertaining, informative and confirmatory. We are approaching the same issues from different angles, LP through psychology and myself through writing but we seek the same goals. We always see more out there and it’s time I went looking for the solutions and did something for myself and my family.
I finished a Soviet-style 5 year plan last year. I begun it in 2002 after Japan, feeling the need to pursue greater goals of self-improvement and knowing I lacked the discipline to grit it out. That plan was a success, if not always for the results but just for setting the discipline in place. I thought I’d pass on the next plan, believing it undesirable. I was wrong. There is still much to do.
I will always be restless but searching, optimistic and smiling. I have my inner doubts but I am beating them. There is nothing else to do. I know I am right and with the friends that I have, broad, funny and genuine (ref; the man Si), I have started out well. Time to consolidate and make it work. As so many say, I’ll keep the faith, keep asking questions, searching for answers, demanding equality and seeking solutions. I’ll probably keep drinking too. But I’ll be playing music, running, training and supporting the greatest team in the land too. You gotta smile.