The greatest gift is perspective.Posted By Hanumantra Lamar on 24th January 2018
There are some feelings that you never forget. The nervous tension spinning in your stomach whilst the excited anticipation beats faster in your chest. Swimming through varying and conflicting emotions whilst gasping for every breath, on the brink of drowning. I remember all of the above when I was 18 years young, still a boy and my parents took me down to Heathrow airport where I was catching a flight to Australia, my first steps to true independence, in to adulthood, towards becoming a man. I checked in, we sat, we had breakfast, then they walked me to the security check point. I watched my mum hold strong, saying how she was proud of me, how I needed to stay safe and look after myself. All the things you expect a mother to say yet never quite ready to hear. She nearly made it, but as I walked through security and took a final glance back at my parents, I saw her falter slightly under the weight of seeing her first born child take those critical steps. It was only small it was nothing but now I’m a parent I realise it was everything and I know one day I too will understand the joy and agony of such a situation.
For me the other side of that security check point was a different world, I had a sense of true freedom and by the time I returned to England 14 months later my world had changed. Occasionally I look back to the person who boarded that plane and relive the days I enjoyed in the Southern Hemisphere sun, excited for the adventure I know he’s embarked on and to where it leads. Yet he feels like a completely different person to the one sat here writing this blog entry now, almost like we share only a name.
At the end of a long summer in 2009 where my excitement had been steadily building Jo Harrison and I set off on a journey together where we planned to explore the Americas out the back of a van. It was an adventure in the truest sense of the word where everything and anything was possible we just needed to be willing to take that step. But first we needed to find a van.
The furthest point you could drive from North America South bound then and still very likely now was a tiny village in Panama called Yaviza. It’s sat on the edge of the Darien Gap an impassable stretch of land that connects Central America to South America, it is made up of mountainous rainforest. We trekked in to this area on foot where many of the locals lived in make shift huts and were beyond astonished to see a couple of foreigners taking a stroll. It was also a surreal moment for me as I had wanted to visit this part of the world from the moment I had heard how remote and volatile it was. There was an overwhelming feeling of triumph but with a dark cloud of fear threatening. Below is an excerpt from the “Outside Online” travel website with a brief description of “The Gap” which is similar to the type of accounts I had heard and provided fuel for my imagination and inspiration for the trip. Like a lot of young men warnings of danger did not act as a deterrent but more a challenge.
“For centuries the lure of the unknown has attracted explorers, scientists, criminals, and other dubious characters to the Gap, a 10,000-square-mile rectangle of swamp, mountains, and rainforest that spans both sides of the border between Colombia and Panama. Plenty of things here can kill you, from venomous snakes to murderous outlaws who want your money and equipment.“
Once we got back to Yaviza we were warned by several of the people from there that we were not safe and should leave. As I placed the van key in to the door 3 military Jeeps pulled up with their guns pointed and instructed us to get in their vehicle but not before they searched our van in the most crude way possible. We ended up at a military camp where they detained us and only once they were satisfied we were not running drugs or up to any other illicit activities were we finally released in to the darkness of night with no idea of where we were or where our van was.
But before this evening where we wondered the dusty roads of Yaviza our trip had already provided so many great moments, meeting wonderful people and making memories for a lifetime. So where does all of this tie in to tattooing? Well one moment that will always stick with me and became pivotal in my attitude towards tattooing was geographically at the other end of our trip. It was in the state of Oregon, after we had worked the Portland Tattoo Expo, from there we travelled South to a little town called Grants Pass. Why? This was home to the tattoo studio “Gogue Art” and the man behind the name, Jeff Gogue.
Jo was doing a guest spot with Jeff as she had done many times before and whilst they worked out their days in the studio tattooing and painting I worked mine in the alley next to it. Here we parked up the van and I got to work on our Ford transit. It was the second time I had done a conversion of this nature (the first whilst I was in Australia) and in both instances there was a visceral contentment in the achievement of building something I would now call home. These times have also helped show me how little a person really needs to manifest happiness.
Jeff at the time had a friend called Grant working at the shop and we would all hang out, going for dinner and drinks after work. When it was finally time for us to leave Grants Pass and continue our journey South Jeff took his car and lead the way to a Mexican restaurant on the outskirts of town, our final meal before we entered the mighty Redwoods forest. Jo and I were sat upfront following in the van with the windows down and the warm Oregon wind carrying the last of summer. I remember having music playing in fact I remember the album we had on and we didn’t talk much, just let ourselves soak up the emotions of the moment. It was at this point that I noticed Grant who was sat in the passenger side of Jeff’s car with his hand out of the window and riding the air waves. Like a child does in a playful manner, carefree and honest. I switched hands on the steering wheel and then submerged my free arm in the oncoming tide of air as the excitement of what this trip promised to be finally completely washed over me.
There was no communication during these moments and once we sat down to eat at the Mexican I didn’t feel the need to share my thoughts. But that tattooed arm out the window of a car on the outskirts of Grants Pass at the end of summer 2009 changed my view on tattooing. You may wonder how this can feature so prominent for me where no words were exchanged, no knowledge bestowed. Well I was treated to a gift greater than most, I was given perspective. Tattooing is about choosing your identity, about altering the way you look without being just about the looks. For me it represents the freedom we have over ourselves, our choices and ultimately our destiny.
Here I’ve shared with you just one small memory from the millions that have made up my life so far. In this one I owe thanks to my good friend Jeff Gogue, for doing as he does. To finish this blog with a similar sentiment that we started, my time with Jeff has been one of change but mainly one that has come from feeling rather than thinking. The poet Maya Angelou described this far more eloquently than I can when she wrote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Below is a piece of artwork I did of Jeff, a true tribal chieftain. I took the photograph at the top of Mt Takao, Tokyo, Japan, April 2016. Another trip and another chapter of exploration.