I’m a Bit of a Rum Bloke Really

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Rum bloke is a witty British-ism. And I am a rum bloke in the strictest sense of the phrase I’m afraid. In the 1800s the word rum came to be used in place of odd, strange or peculiar when describing something or someone not quite normal. And of course bloke simply means man, fellow or guy (the male of the species). Rum bloke = odd fellow.

And I am an odd fellow or rum bloke. John Le Carré would describe me as being a disillusioned romantic whilst at the same time being a brutal pragmatic. I operate in the Shadowlands of the psyche much like one of his battle damaged spies—trying to come in from the cold. Like the cold war spy it’s a lousy position to be in.

To know in your heart (in a romantic-idealistic way) how things should be, and at the same time to know (in a real-world way) how things actually are—that is a recipe for misery on any level. I’ve known this about myself for a long time, but as I age it comes into sharper relief. I am a dinosaur soon to go extinct. I would love to be one of those lucky black & white people whose opinions are so damn cocksure—they’re out there in their millions (a quick scan of social media will validate that fact).

But I am not one of those people and rarely have been. The older I get the more I come to realise how little I know. I struggle to find reason and justice where none exists—and yet I continue to hope. Alexander Pope’s famous quote: Hope springs eternal in the human breast comes to mind. Yes, the most miserable of human beings: a romantic married to a realist. Forever intertwined in the dance of life. But maybe there is still a place for the odd dinosaur here & there—the rum bloke. We tend to keep others on their toes because we’re so unpredictable. And I do revel in the role of being unpredictable.


Travel 101: Overcoming Roadblocks to Successful Travel

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I wish the following was my quote but it’s not: There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing (Billy Connelly). That along with my motto (live simple, live cheap, live free) sums up my philosophy on travel nicely. There is always an excuse not to do something.

I plucked this quote from a fellow blogger who is a professional house-sitter, she and her husband travel the world full-time like me and visit countries for extended periods of time by house-sitting. I also like to burrow into a country and peel the onion as it were. That’s the whole point of Slō-Travel.

Slō-Travel is another term I picked up along the way (I think from my friend Paul France another veteran world trekker). Slō-Travel implies visiting fewer places but staying longer, seeing less but experiencing more. Getting to know a place intimately (burrowing beneath its surface) and making new friends. Euphemisms can be great for helping to define hard to explain concepts. Another one I use often comes from fellow travel photographer Elia Locardi.

Tierra del Fuego (Southern Patagonia) Argentina

Location-Independent. Basically Location-Independent means that you are technically homeless with no permanent residence (house, city or country) and that has been my status for almost six years. I often refer to myself as a turtle or crab, I carry my house on my back in the form of an Osprey rucksack and my office rolls behind me in a Pelican hard case (containing my photography kit). My house is on my back but the world is my home and every person I meet is potentially a new friend. It’s a lifestyle not suited to everyone but for me it works. Some need the security of place and stuff.

The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Back to the opening quote about weather. I don’t pay too much attention to weather when travelling—it is what it is. I just try to have the proper clothing with me to accommodate myself to any given meteorological challenge that might present itself. I’ve been in hot deserts during the summer and high mountain peaks in the winter. I’ve travelled in tropical climates during monsoonal rains and lounged on beaches anticipating tropical storms and even hurricanes. Actually, visiting places in their so-called off-season can be a real advantage: lower prices, fewer people and a different perspective.

Natural Limestone Cenote – Yucatan, Mexico

When travelling, especially full-time like I do, my advice is to think layers. I’ve been bundled up (head to toe) in five layers while travelling through Southern Patagonia in Argentina and down to one layer (bathing suit and flip-flops) on the beaches of Playa Samara in Costa Rica. In cold rainy weather waterproofs (as the British call them) are useful, it hot rainy weather just get wet and enjoy the respite. Clothing should be rugged and durable and sized for comfortable layering. If you’re travelling on holiday (and staying in all-inclusive resorts) clothing isn’t much of a problem.

Valle de la Muerte – Atacama Desert, Chile

But if you’re trekking the world on a budget, with just a rucksack like me, each piece of clothing becomes increasingly important. Space and weight are at a premium because you’re carrying everything on your back so plan wisely. Always choose function over form, your clothing has to perform as advertised regardless of the fashion statement it makes. When I travel I look like I just returned from an African safari, that’s because I find safari type clothing to be eminently practical. I recommend wool for base-layers (underwear and socks), poly-cotton blends for mid-layers (pants and shirts).

Monterrico, Guatemala

And don’t forget water-resistant (or waterproof) clothing for your outer-layers. Mix and match as needed depending on the weather at hand. A wide-brimmed hat (not a baseball cap) is indispensable for both sun and rain (hot and cold) and gloves and scarfs are mighty handy in cold and windy weather. The purpose of your clothes is to protect you not necessarily to flatter you—again, function over form and not vice versa. I hope it’s obvious I’m talking about longterm adventure travel (backpacking the world months at a time) and not all-inclusive resort tourist travel.

Monterrico, Guatemala

If you’re on short-term holiday in a resort dress however you want and enjoy your margaritas. But if you’re planning to be a serious trekker and adventure traveller then plan seriously and do your research. Each item of travel kit needs to serve a purpose and be fully functional. It must be rugged and durable. At the risk of sounding sexist I think men are typically better at this (there are exceptions of course). But I’ve seen lots of women on the trail wearing inappropriate footwear, for example: flimsy Italian strappy sandals instead of heavy-duty shoes, Keen sandals or boots. Plan smart to be smart.

Stephen F. Dennstedt – Northern Amazon River Basin, Cuyabeno, Ecuador

Philosophy 101: Opposites and Non-Duality

Stephen F. Dennstedt

A wonderful quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald: The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up”, Esquire Magazine (February 1936). I’ve always loved the quote—very Zen-Buddhist in quality and form.

Another wonderful quote comes from Herman Hesse author of SiddharthaOur mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin. Hermann Hesse. I don’t know if Fitzgerald ever studied Eastern Philosophy, I know that Hesse did.

The Taoist Tai Chi ball is the perfect visual representation of Yin & Yang (non-duality and the duality it encompasses). Opposites not only attract but complement; the totality of the whole is the sum of its halves. To move beyond the duality (to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time as Fitzgerald says) is to transcend mere reactionary thinking. To see the merits of two opposing sides of an argument is to gain understanding. A great philosophical stratagem.

Tai Chi Ball With Its Opposites of Yin & Yang


Lifestyle 101: Our Memories Are a Millennial’s Junk

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Yeah, I know watch collecting is a GEEKY thing to do. But—but it’s fun, interesting and can be financially rewarding. One of my favorite shows is: Antiques Road Show. I prefer the USA version but the one filmed in the UK is pretty cool too. What can I say? I’m just a sucker for old historical artefacts. Be kind, I know what you’re thinking.

Antique or vintage heirlooms are talismans linking us to the past, a bygone era. Whether our passions are furniture, books, musical instruments, fine china & silver or watches they all remind us of a different time, often a simpler more romantic time. Vintage collectibles come with nicks, dings and scars—in other words a story.

If you’ve lived for any time at all you have this in common with material antiquities. Scars are proof of life and give each human a unique character or patina. Behind each scar there is a memory and attendant story. Watch the video below to see what happens when a daughter brings in an old box filled with her elderly father’s watches. As we baby-boomers fall by the wayside our stuff goes to our kids—they often view our memories (our story) of a lifetime as junk. The continuum (our legacy) is unraveling.

Julio Ortega at Warner (Hot Springs) Ranch

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I was very young when my mom first introduced me to Julio Ortega. Julio was reportedly a Cupeño indian (although I think I read in a history archive that he was part Mexican too) and had lived at the Warner (Hot Springs) Ranch for years. My mom had known Julio since she was a girl and absolutely adored the old man.

My maternal grandparents, Annie and Emil Koch, owned and operated the General Store at the ranch during the war years (the 1940s). My two uncles, Emil and Bob, were in the military (Navy and Army Air Corps respectively) and it was left to my mom and her older sister Gladys to help at the store and resort.

The thing I remember most about Julio Ortega was his huge, bushy, white handlebar moustache that was perpetually nicotine stained around his mouth from smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Also his large cowboy hat, probably a Stetson. Julio had skin like tanned leather and was always impeccably dressed in his spotlessly clean cowboy duds. Julio was, indeed, a real live working cowboy (he had been his entire life). I also remember he was quiet with great dignity and poise.

Julio was already old when he befriended my mom as a girl and really old when I knew him. He hung around the resort, most often smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes (I remember the cigarette papers, small pouch with the makings and wooden matches) on the porch, and provided local color for the ranch and its guests. My mom and her sister attended school in Julian and worked in their parent’s store in the afternoons. In the evenings and on weekends they dressed as indian maidens and worked as waitresses in the restaurant serving the guests, including the likes of movie actors like John Wayne, Andy Devine and Joe E. Brown.

Mom did everything at the ranch including working in the stables, wrangling horses with the cowboys and even guiding horseback excursions into the backcountry. When my uncles returned from the war Emil left the ranch but Bob stayed on to manage the bar and restaurant and eventually the golf course. My dad flew up to the ranch in his Stearman biplane, met my mom, and married her at seventeen (he was twenty-five). My grandparents sold the store and eventually moved to Ramona (where I lived many, many years later) and retired. Growing up in the 1950s we often visited Warner Hot Springs Ranch and Julio.

He was impressed as hell when we visited shortly after my second rattlesnake bite. And I was on Cloud-9 knowing that I had impressed a real cowboy—I was ten years old. The ranch and resort are still there although they’ve changed hands a few times. I recently drove by and it suddenly brought back some great memories, especially that of Julio Ortega an authentic indian and cowboy. I met some great characters when I was but a wee lad and it’s fun to think back over those childhood experiences. I really feel sorry for kids today and think they miss out on so much. I wonder, do they have characters in their lives like Julio Ortega? I doubt it.

Lifestyle 101: Horologists and Their Collections

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Collectors can be obsessive. And it’s no different for horologists. Horology is the art or science of measuring time.  It doesn’t matter what you collect it can quickly turn into an addiction (so you gotta be careful). Now that I travel full-time (365 days a year) with just a rucksack it’s impossible for me to collect (a really good thing).

Back when I lived like a normal human being I did collect. My four passions included: old first edition books (typically English), vintage film cameras, watches and to a lesser extent firearms (in that order). When I decided to leave the USA in early 2012 my books and guns went to my son, my cameras went to my daughter and my watches to various friends.

I still have the bug to collect and like any addiction it’s managed but never really cured. I am still interested in books, cameras, watches and guns—I just don’t have the room (or money) for them anymore. I now live vicariously through various collectors on YouTube. One channel I particularly enjoy is The Urban Gentry (it’s about watches). Take a look below if you’re interested. Are you a collector (an addict)? What do you collect and are you obsessive about it? I find watches to be very cool, they are both functional and a fashion statement.

Eiler Larsen The Greeter of Laguna Beach

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I first met Eiler Larsen when I was four or five years old. That would have been in 1951 or 1952. He scared the crap out of me. No one ever called him Eiler Larsen he was simply referred to as The Greeter. He was a gentle and kindly soul but he looked like Shirley Temple’s gruff grandfather in the 1937 movie Heidi.

Eiler arrived in Laguna Beach, CA sometime in the 1940s at the age of 52. By the time I first met him in the early 1950s he was probably in his early sixties. Every time we drove north from San Diego and passed through Laguna Beach on Highway 1 we looked for The Greeter. And often as not we saw him and waved.

Eiler Larsen was a native of Denmark, travelled through South America and was wounded in World War I. He finally died of cancer in 1975 at the age of 84. The small coastal town of Laguna Beach adopted Eiler and made him their official greeter. As I grew older I saw The Greeter many times and he always brought a smile to my face. The town has erected a memorial statue and plaque in his honor and local pottery shops sell images of his likeness in every size imaginable.

March 27, 1970: Celebrating his 80th birthday, Filer Larsen waves to tourists in Laguna Beach. This photo was published in the March 21, 1975 Los Angeles Times.

He literally touched hundreds of thousands of lives during his tenure as The Greeter but only old guys like me remember him. People passing through Laguna Beach today often remark on his statue and wonder what it’s all about. But they seldom stop and continue to drive through the small beach town jabbering on their cellphones. Growing up in California in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s could be quirky but lots of fun. Many times we saw Eiler Larsen (and waved to him) when travelling to and from Disneyland in Buena Park. I don’t think kids today have as much as I did growing up.

Eiler Larsen – The Greeter (Laguna Beach, CA)