Savvlinvan Goes Savvler
Blazing along the water our small craft careened in and out of deep banking turns, navigating the narrow ribbonlike channels of river, weaved tightly through the dense tropical jungle. As the captain slowed for varying species of exotic birds, the birders among us eagerly snapped photos and dogeared the pages in their guidebooks, whilst we swilled rum, enjoying catching up after nearly a year without much quality time and years since our last adventure to Central America. Costa ‘Batman’ Cody had arrived at the airport just two hours prior, fresh off the red eye from Denver, looking as pale as I’d ever seen him. With him having only a week to spare, we had a lot to see and even more territory to cover, why not start with a triple threat adventure? I figured we’d start it off right with a more traditional tour of Mayan Ruins, bird watching on a boat ride to ancient ruins and a smuggled bottle of rum to keep things interesting.
After a fairly uneventful 26 mile cruise up the jungle lined New River in northern Belize we arrived at the dock to the ancient Mayan ruins of Lamanai, albeit a bit rummed up. The tour started off casual, as we meandered along a path, the guide pointed out some of the indigenous flora and fauna. Expertly explaining the different medicinal and nutritional purposes of each plant from the Mayans naturopath perspective. We quietly sipped our modern rummy medicine, its elixing powers brought out our curious side, and opened a window our guide out of the group of eight. Eventually we came to the first large temple, the Mask Temple, and the guide was able to break down the architecture of this temple over the length of the empire. Explaining how temples grew larger and larger as the culture grew in power over the years. The enormity of the temple and the amount of work involved in quarrying the rock to build such a structure, is astounding.
As we left that temple behind and carried on through the jungle to next, the guide explained that we would be able to climb to the top of this next temple. Having never have climbed to the top of any pre classic Mayan temples, we were stoked. As we rounded the corner to the High Temple, we noticed that were some shirtless folk sitting on top, and if one listened intently, faint singing could be heard. Confounded by the shirtless men (turned out one guy was a actually a shaved female) we asked the guide if there was some sort of sacred Mayan ritual taking place up top. He laughed and grinned replying that no, in fact it was probably just some gringos getting high, just some new aged Savvlers doing their thing.
When we reached the second to last terrace, the shirtless folk still hadn’t passed us going down on our climb up, but there was no longer the sound of singing drifting in the wind, maybe the gringo ceremony had concluded, but at least we’d be able to catch a glimpse of these partially clothed jungle chanting heathens. With both of us chuckling in anticipation as we climbed up the last steps, we crested the top, and was greeted by a familiar sight… I was immediately transported four years and many countries back into time…
I cant recall most of the minor details of our three week trip in the fall of 2012 we spent traveling and drinking our way from El Salvador to Nicaragua, yet I’ll never forget the bus trip that inspired me to conjure up the term Savvler. As I recall we were on an impossibly cold, heinously refrigerated bus, slaying the potholed road from San Salvador to Managua, 3 countries, 12 hours at 32 degrees. Long enough that I had long talked the ears off of my brother, Special B, Brandon Day, Loyld Scott Wormell and PFC Dipwell aka Tyler Jackson Caldwell, my not so patient, hung-over travel crew. Having not been able to sit still for my entire life, I tend to wander a bit on buses, making excuses for reasons to get up and stretch my legs, and in this instance a bit of calisthenics to get my blood flowing in the Arctic climate. I was in the middle of some aisle wind sprints when I spotted the odd looking crew of eccentrics sitting near the middle of the bus. Apparently immune to the nearly sub-zero environment, making a bit of harmonized racket on a bongo, a tambourine, something resembling a mbira, definitely a ghungroo, unfortunately no didgeridoo, theoretically sending each other positively charged ionic notes that when combined, act as a musical zen-like warming blanket.
There could have been five, or easily eight, all wearing eclectic, bizarre costumes assembled from varying cultural fashions from seemingly all corners of the globe. Each individual had a unique take on the look, yet puzzling more, all closely resembled each other. Burning Man esque, with a tribal, East Indian, Amazonian, Game of Thrones, south East Asian Hill tribe, Mayan, Incan… etc. mishmash influence. This band of music playing, quietly chanting marauders, made for the worlds most interesting people watching, more so than even the infamous world traveler skid row, the cheapie slum of Koh San Road in Bangkok, Thailand.
All of this. On a bus, in the middle of nowhere, Nicaragua. With each passing glance revealing more trinkets, more cultural mockeries and more ingredients to this bizarro world-like melting pot. Unbeknownst to me, a rare unnamed and bizarre anthropological discovery. I felt like I was riding in a plane above a village of red painted previously uncontacted tribal warriors, deep in the Amazon basin, dodging the mysterious travelers eyes like arrows of the wild and free jungle bushmen.
The most interestingly clad traveler I had seen before this breaking-point bus riding moment, was a young, exceedingly tanned man, strolling through Los Angeles International Airport boldly wearing 100% burlap. Quite the out of place sight, with an ensemble of Thai fishing pants crafted from burlap sacks (potato?), an open chested vest of the same itchy looking material and of course, a burlap carry-all slung over his shoulder, neatly tying the unique outfit together. Not believing what I was seeing at that moment, I missed my opportunity to engage this fellow, and missed my opportunity at first contact with what was possibly an earlier version, the visionary or perhaps prophet of the bus clan, that I now sat three seats behind, utterly in disbelief, fascinated.
This crew, at this point it is safe to call them a tribe, of six, took that repurposed burlap look, borrowed just the the tanned skin, and the carry-all side satchel concept and ceremoniously burned the the rest of outfit. As per tradition, mixing in some sage and using an eagle feather to perform a quick smoke-purification ritual. So I approached them. Scheming for a better look, a possible chat, looking for a small peek through their window into their third eye or possibly a guided climb into their higher fifth dimension.
At this point in my life a friendly smile and a howdy had often garnered an invite into conversation, a window into new culture and people. This was not an ‘often’ type case. This was a new breed I was dealing with and it became more and more apparent that they did not take to kindly to outsiders. In response to my opener they replied with a collective elitist look of around-the-worldness, the type of folks that must have been to space and back or around the world four times over by now, a cool, smug, smileless shun.
That feeling hurt, silenced by my hungover peers in the back of the bus, then ignored by the curiosities in the front. I’d never been, to my knowledge, shunned before then, or ever since then that I can recall (I apologize if you shunned me and I missed the memo). This stonewall made me even more curious. I now wanted to know this groups story even more. the longer the ride drug on, the more questions that arose in my head. Were they the Magnetic Zeros? What happened to Edward? Where were they going. Where had they been? Why were they carrying a piece of cardboard with a map painted on of the Americas and why were there feathers and fur tacked to it. What did it represent? What did they represent?
As that bus ride ended, another journey had begun for me. After breaking down the situation to the boys and discussing the situation at length, a name for these trinket borrowing, indigenous culture appropriating, elitist, homogenous ‘tribals,’ was coined. These folks were what most instagram types would lump into the gypsy column, but having dealt with gypsies and their sneaky ways in the past, they didn’t quite deserve that stigma, so that was out. They had managed to weave together bits and pieces of different cultures, to come up with a unique take on travel culture and style, that struck me as savvy, in a derogative way. Together we have the term Savvler, a savvy traveler.
Over the last five years the definition of the term has broadened considerably, the further we go and the more people we meet, the more travelers that qualify as Savvlers. Generally speaking the term is used in a derogative way towards travelers that are off-putting, elitist, non congenial, their way or the highway types and any characteristic that would put them on the not the person that you’d like to have along on a journey in a van attempting to drive the length of the Panamerican Highway list. I too possess some of the same characteristics as a Savvler, lest those in glass vans not throw stones, we chose to name the van after this concept of Savvler. Thereby forming the basis for the name of our 1988 Dodge Ramvan, the not nearly instafamous @Savvlinvan.
The tribal Savvler is still on top of their totem pole, deep into their journeys, spriritual enlightenments, hallucinogenic ayahuasca ceremonies, rendering them to the endangered species list of Savvlers. If you want to see one in the wild, may I suggest traveling to Lake Atitlan, the hub of the Mayan universe, and the hive of the Savvler kingdom. There you can indulge in transformative traditional ceremonies led by shamans from New York or San Francisco, while burning rare woods, cleansing your soul with hits of acid (sometimes included with the price of admission) and picking up many hand made costumes and trinkets that will help you in your quest to join up with the Savvler tribe.
If this is a little too close to the left side of the spectrum, I suggest looking for the other end, the ultra geared up, full of local knowledge, been there, done that ten times better type of Savvler, the savviest of the lot. These folks tend to hang in common areas of hostels, and are quick to strike up conversation, preying on every bus rattled weary backpacker walking through the door. After the hours of unsubscribed tales of world travel and one-upper grandeur never subside, you’ll be left wishing that you were on the back of the bus, viewing this particularly nasty breed of Savvler from a safe distance. From there on out, will likely be on the look out for these unruly weavers of grand travel tales, and surely will hone the ways of quickly dodging this soul sucking, beer borrowing, endless story telling savvy traveler type.
After studying, and occasionally coming in contact with this phenomenon for past few years I’ve come close enough to the fire, though hadn’t yet gotten burned. Onetime staying a little to late around the festival fire, with a few too many rums, talking with an accountant from Jersey, wearing feather rimmed caps, trinkets adorning his newly dreaded locks, about the spiritual meaning the eagle feather and the sacred smudge smoke cleanse that followed. His story and many others tales around that campfire that night of coming to Atitlan for expensive yoga filled, vegan fed, guru led journeys to attaining the level of enlightenment of that of a High Savvler. Luckily that night I passed on the acid being offered at the door, as who knows in that Mayan drenched guru world, by now I could be leading the very drum circles I was rummingly mocking. Little did I now that in just a few weeks I would be crossing the proverbial bridge from a simple traveler to savvy traveler, sans expensive Atitlan glamping yoga and guru summer camp experience…
As our pupils adjusted to glaring sun on top of the High Temple of the Lamanai ruins, our eyes gazed upon quite the savvling specticle, four Savvlers in their natural environment, preparing for a possibly culturally or geographically insensitive traditional Savvler ceremony. The rarest of rare, I felt as if we had walked into an episode of the BBC’s Planet Earth, with the four Savvlers replacing snow leopards and the temple replacing the Hight Tibetan plateau. The congenial leader had dreads wrapped up in a Marge Simpson beehive look, and was wearing loincloth, a pepe cover like Mowgli from the Jungle Book. He smiled and offered a warm greeting in English with a heavy, unknown to me, European accent. Would we like to join in on a Mayan Cacao ceremony he asked? Without hesitation I agreed for both Batman and I to join up, the timing was flawless, as the cacao was being neatly laid out over some freshly picked jungle leaves, tangerine slices garnished beside for a bit of citrus flare.
We formed a circle, joined hands, as the leader began a slow song. Together we sang, eventually picking up the words as song and tempo picked up. The power of the temple was uniting our spirits, the endorphins were flowing and we were crossing into the fifth dimension of Savvler. My mind became clear, we ate the cacao, then harmonized until the tangerines were ready to be consumed. We ate those too. Sang some more. I felt touched, not by the guy in the pepe cover but by the powers of the Mayan temple and the cacao, we were lifted on high. The sun shone brightly and I slowly came to realize that we had crossed the bridge, learned the language of the bus clan, and now had become one with the people I had longed to understand. I am a Savvler, I am, I am, hey oh whey oh way oh whey, the suns coming out and I’m a Savvler today oh hey oh whey.
*Authors note: Its now been a month since my transformational ceremony on top of the High Temple at the Mayan ruins of Laminai, since then I have seen many a great things and have had no negative experiences to suggest that we conjured up any negative spirits while on top of the temple that day. If fact a week after this experience we ran into the same Savvlers that guided us across that bridge of raw Cacao, riding in the back of a Police truck on San Pedro. Again running into them on Caye Caulker, we shared beers and stories and sang our song one last time. Turns out they had spent six weeks raveling through Central America by bus, stopping at as many temples as the could preforming their sacred ceremonies. My only regret is that i cannot remember the sacred song we dang that magical day, although the rhythm still comes to me when I least expect it. I’m not sure if Ill ever have another transformational enlightening experience quite like that, but my third eye is forever open to the possibility.