Adam Shepard has done something many people only dream about. He spent an entire year traveling, immersing himself in different cultures, and truly experiencing life. His new book ONE YEAR LIVED chronicles his travels, allowing us all to join him on his journey. Adam is here to share an excerpt highlighting a snapshot of his adventure. Before we get to that, let’s meet the man behind the words:
Adam Shepard’s first book, *Scratch Beginnings*, was featured widely in the national media and thenceforth chosen on the curriculum or as a common read at over ninety colleges and universities across the United States. His newest book, *One Year Lived*, recounts the year he spent out in the world: seventeen countries, four continents, and one haunting encounter with a savage bull. More information (and a picture of the mullet that Adam grew on the trip) are available at www.OneYearLived.com.
Now on to Adam’s story:
So I went around the world. One year, seventeen countries on four continents, and one haunting encounter with a bull in Nicaragua. It was wonderful. I volunteered, I worked, I hang glided, I ate kangaroo steaks, I hugged a koala, and I met the guy to whom I had been outsourcing my menial tasks over the years.
And now people are asking me, “What would you do differently?”
The short answer is “nothing.” After all, you make mistakes; you learn from them; and you move forward. This is how I’ve lived my life domestically, and this is how I lived my life while I was abroad.
With one exception:
On my first full night in Antigua, Jan convinced Anki and me to head to the bar to sing karaoke in Spanish. In a stroke of monumentally poor decision making, we chose “Te Llorré un Rio,” a famous song by Maná, one of Latin America’s most famous musical groups. Of all time. People have been singing along to their songs for more than twenty years. Sure, it’s true that you want to select a song that the crowd knows, that they can sing along with if you’re absolutely horrible, but you also don’t want to absolutely ruin this song—forever—for the people in the audience. I just wanted something slow. Somebody suggested “Te Lloré un Río.” It sounded harmless.
I climbed up the stairs to the stage and faced the dozens of eyes staring back at me. For the next four minutes and fifty-five seconds, I wailed “Te Llorré un Río,” complete with off-key notes and many mispronunciations. I survived the episode, and so did the group crowded in the bar, despite their winces and laughter.
A week later, Maná announced that they would be coming to nearby Guatemala City for one show—their only show in Guatemala—on November 2. People started talking, chirping on street corners and in travel agencies and on the radio about what a blowout event this was going to be. Ricky Martin comes to the city and he sells out the arena; Maná comes through and the entire region takes the night off.
When I mentioned their name to my dad’s wife, Sharon, on the phone one evening, she lit up. “Oh, my,” she said from her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “I love Maná.”
I did a little more research to find out what all of this commotion was about. Originating in Guadalajara, Mexico, Maná’s career has spanned four decades, and they’ve sold over twenty-five million albums worldwide. Their music draws inspiration from rock, Latin pop, calypso, reggae, and ska. They have won three Grammy Awards, five MTV Video Music Awards Latin America, nine Billboard Latin Music Awards, and on and on. Beatríz sang Maná’s songs whether the radio was on or not. She was short and she was plump and she was always prancing around that house with a broad smile that just might have cracked her entire face open at any moment. And she loved Maná.
“Meh,” I said. “I’ll pass for now. Save my money for something else.”
For our last night in Guatemala, Jan, our two new housemates, and I met up with a mob of Swiss girls to go to El Gato Negro. The next morning I would move on to the next leg of my journey in Honduras, and Jan would hop on a bus north. El Gato Negro was closed, so we, the whole laughing herd of us, headed across the street, back to Personajes, the bar where my journey had begun. On my first night in Guatemala, nearly my first words in Spanish had been to welcome the crowd to hear me sing. “Bienvenidos a Personajes,” I said with a sweeping bow. “Somos Los Gringos.” Later, after ruining one of their favorite songs forever, I implored them not to forget to tip their server. Nary had such a conceited white man ever stepped into that bar. At that point in my trip’s early days, I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever have the opportunity to bungee jump or raft or skydive, but I quickly learned that you haven’t lived until you’ve stepped foot in a foreign country, grabbed one of their microphones, and attempted to sing one of their songs in their native tongue. My heart raced that night nearly as much as it did months later when I was in the bullring making passes with a red cape.
Dim white lights lined the ceiling of the bar, an expansive and modern place in contrast to the cobblestone streets and colonial design on the outside. During this second visit, people jammed the place, maybe a hundred and fifty or two hundred, but a hostess showed us to a table in the back. There we cramped together, shoulders upon shoulders and chuckling in spite of it all. We ordered twenty-two beers, the special. Gallo Girls, clad in the same skimpy outfits as Bud Light Girls in the States, strutted by with swag and raffle tickets. At first I didn’t understand what we were signing up to win, but I didn’t care. I’d take it.
“One!” the dude yelled five minutes later into the microphone from the very stage where I’d sung a month before.
“Nine!” he roared. I looked down. Still in it.
“Three!” Yes, yes. My gaze rippled over the faces packed inside. I had the first three numbers, but it looked like many others did as well.
“Zero!” he said, and the majority dropped out with deflated sighs. Ten possibilities left.
“Four!” he hollered into the microphone with feigned enthusiasm.
I walked the most arrogant walk any gringo ever made in Guatemala. I was already a pariah, the underdog by a hundred to one—this foreigner waltzes into our town, into our bar, signs up for our raffle, and wins?—and I pranced through that bar with my hands raised as if I’d actually earned something. I figured early on that that’s what I was supposed to be doing and realized too late that I was wrong. I guess I never really understood the magnitude of what I’d won. Worse, based on our blatant entrance just five minutes before, everyone knew I was the last one to toss my name in. Dude had drawn my ticket off the top of a pile that clearly didn’t get shuffled right.
Each of the two VIP concert tickets I won translated into exactly the same monthly price of a furnished room I’d seen advertised for rent at the Internet café. I don’t know what VIP means in Guatemala, but for the price of two months’ rent, I know they would have treated me right.
I snatched the microphone from the MC and blurted out in Spanish to the crowd: “I leave. Go Honduras Tuesday. You want buy tickets, no? Three hundred quetzales.” My battered Spanish, meant to be endearing, often came off as demeaning. Even when I started to develop a firmer vocabulary and sentence structure, my gentility somehow never translated. In Honduras a month later, the cab driver quoted us three hundred lempiras; I pointed my finger at him and snarled, “No. The thing is, man, that we will pay two hundred and fifty, and that is it.” Bullied, he relented with a polite, forced smile, and we rode the whole way in silence. I had negotiated—nay, strong-armed—this sweet Honduran guy out of $2.50 without a simple por favor.
My pitch to sell the tickets amused nobody at Personajes. A guy pressed through the crowd and offered me two hundred quetzales, and I took it.
We finished the beers. Jan and the Swiss girls headed two blocks up to go dancing, but the new housemates and I returned home to crash.
The next day, I was pumped to tell Beatríz, Maná’s number-one fan, what had happened. She’d just prepared tea and pancakes for me (with sliced bananas in the batter). Every day she cooked these fresh, healthy, authentic Guatemalan meals for us, and cleaned our floors and our shower, and did our dishes, and washed her children’s clothes, and shopped and carted her son, Bruno, to school and to dentist appointments, and weeded the garden, and arranged flowers for her nephew’s wedding, and…Then, she found time to socialize with her friends. This was an inspirational woman.
“You won what?” she asked, reckoning that I must have translated incorrectly. She squinted and slanted her head to the right.
“Tickets, for Maná. VIP!” I beamed.
She just about exploded. After the relationship we’d established—joking at meals, going out to dinner, squirting each other with water in the garden—she knew I was going to take her as my date. She was my girl. When I remember Antigua, the memory of her—her round face and laughing eyes—leap out at me. The Indian’s Nose? Learning Spanish? The soccer game? The illuminated fountain in Central Park, the colonial buildings, and the cobblestone streets? Of course I’ll remember these things, and I’ll look fondly on those photos in thirty years. But in my memory, Beatríz, and that smile she brought to breakfast every morning, is Guatemala.
She ran, shaking her hips—sashaying mostly—around the garden, the central area of her rented house, which was surrounded by three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. For the first time around us strangers, she released her hair from its coil. She shouted and hooted, but I didn’t give her a chance to start singing. “I sold them,” I interrupted as she came to a stop. “I couldn’t go, so I sold them.”
I instantly wished I hadn’t told her about the tickets. She would have shined at that concert. I pictured her getting dressed up, maybe buying some new shoes from the market, spraying on some perfume, her face radiating, her arms swaying in the air. Her children and her friends and her adorable little dog made her life great, but VIP tickets to Maná would have been once-in-a-lifetime for her. She would have cherished that memory forever. Her face dropped, and my stomach dropped with it as she ducked into the kitchen. Delusion had allowed me to think that she’d be excited for me. To her, I’ll always be that sweet kid who was friendly, returned home by curfew, cleaned my plate after every meal, and kept my room neat. And I sold out to the first bidder.
For one month in the fall, Beatríz showed me that happiness can be found in simplicity. And I let her down.
I thought only about myself that night when my number came up at Personajes, denying Beatríz her opportunity to do something special.
I found this story especially poignant because it highlights how we often learn more about ourselves when we’re slightly out of our comfort zone. Also, this story shows how easy it is to take for granted those who are closest to us. I think we’re all guilty of that, at least on occasion.
Here’s a look at Adam’s book:
“I’m not angry. I don’t hate my job. I’m not annoyed with capitalism, and I’m indifferent to materialism. I’m not escaping emptiness, nor am I searching for meaning. I have great friends, a wonderful family, and fun roommates. The dude two doors down invited me over for steak or pork chops–my choice–on Sunday, and I couldn’t even tell you the first letter of his name. Sure, the producers of The Amazing Race have rejected all five of my applications to hotfoot around the world–all five!–and my girlfriend and I just parted ways, but I’ve whined all I can about the race, and the girl wasn’t The Girl anyway.
All in all, my life is pretty fantastic.
But I feel boxed in. Look at a map, and there we are, a pin stuck in the wall. There’s the United States, about twenty-four square inches worth, and there’s the rest of the world, seventeen hundred square inches begging to be explored. Career, wife, babies–of course I want these things; they’re on the horizon. Meanwhile, I’m a few memories short.
Maybe I need a year to live a little.”
But wait! Before you buy it, Adam is generously offering to give you a PDF copy – free! All you have to do is share the news. If you’d like me to send you the PDF, share this blog post on Facebook. You can do it right from the ‘share’ button below. Leave me a comment with your Facebook link, and I’ll send you the book. You can also share this post directly from my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/quietfurybooks
If you don’t have a Facebook account, don’t despair! You can still get a free copy by sharing; blog about the book, send out a tweet, post it on Pinterest, call a friend, send a text message, write it on a bathroom wall. Then leave a comment and tell me what you did. Be sure to leave your email address so I can send the book.
This offer is good from Monday, April 22 through Saturday, April 27. Please help Adam out by sharing the news about his book, and he’ll repay you by giving you a free read!
Thanks for reading.