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Chris LarsenJune 29, 2006

Chris Larsen

I've heard of him before I actually met him - Jungle Jim, Tarzan, maverick sailor, castaway, etc. He's the stuff movies are made of. He has been sailing the world alone in his Chinese junk - no motor, just the wind.

I met him finally when Mimsy and I went to El Nido (Oct 94) to hook up with the couple - Chris and Mimsy's friend, Natalie. Seeing him from a distance, I knew it was already him, with his much-described beard and castaway look. In El Nido, he's known as Balbasin or Bin Laden (due to his beard). He walks the streets barefoot and a few minutes with him gives you a sense he has been rough hewn from his many travels that spanned Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe.

Limestone Cliffs
El Nido is known for its bird's nest (source of bird's nest soup). The birds nest on sharply edged limestone cliffs. Chris guided us as we climbed one of the peaks. It wasn't for the faint of heart. With sharp pointed rocks, a fall would be disastrous. I was climbing on all 4s. Chris on the other hand, navigated and climbed with just his right arm - he has a sprain on his left shoulder. This guy was friggin strong despite his 50-something age. We chilled at the peak that gave us a stunning view of the coastline and the nearby islands.

Hunger for Knowledge
I was quietly observing Chris. He possesses a childlike hunger for knowledge and desire for learning new skills. He recently took to painting, and was discussing with Mimsy (who's a painter herself) how certain objects are painted. He also learned book binding using hard wood for book covers. Every book he completed was a finely crafted work of art. He has also ordered the complete version of the Arabian Nights which he plans to translate. The full collection is comprised of literally hundreds of stories, many contained within other stories, all dating back more than a thousand years.

Bread Talk
He told a story when he was stranded in the open sea with no wind to move him forward. There he was, in the middle of the ocean for days on end, with supplies running out. It was a surreal experience for him. He thought he was just going to languish on his boat and die. At some point, while looking at the bread he was about to eat, it started talking to him! He threw the bread overboard and thought he was going crazy first before he dies.

No Fish
Chris said something quite disturbing - there are no more fishes in the Philippines due to overfishing. Normally, boat people rely on the sea's bounty for their food. You can't do that in the Philippines - you'd starve! This observation was corroborated by a couple we met. They'd been traveling the world on their yatch and they said the same thing - no more fishes in the Philippines.

Jungle Jim
In one of his travels, he got stranded on an island with provisions running low. Eventually, some yatchies (people who travel on a yatch) found him surviving on island rats for food. These guys wrote a book about him, but Chris never saw a single penny from that.

Ending Thoughts
There's a lot to admire about the man. Chris Larsen is the quintessential free-spirited iconoclast who lives life on the edge, on his terms - outside the box, outside society, surviving only on his wits and instinct. Like my meeting with Aklay, meeting Chris is a privileged opportunity to glimpse a life very few live by. In him, I saw a maverick soul who lives life to the fullest. I wouldn't mind trading places with him for a day to experience raw life with no safety net.

--- TheLoneRider

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