Literature has always been illuminated by constellations of memorable characters. One of my favorite stars is Dean Moriarty, the brilliant, adventurous and a little bit crazed protagonist in Jack Kerouac’s, “On the Road.”
Fortunately for us, Mr. Moriarty’s star shined brightly a second time, only now it was under his given name, Neal Cassidy; the driver of ‘Further’, the famed bus that he – and I use the phrase loosely here – steered across the US with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in 1963. This rollicking good adventure was superbly detailed in, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”, by Tom Wolfe.
I was reminded of Cassidy’s exploits when I interviewed one of Cuenca’s most exuberant characters, Kane Flambures.
Kane’s father was in the military, but unlike grunts who spend their time marching on a parade ground, or swabbies’ mopping the decks of an aircraft carrier, his father’s job was booking performers for officers clubs around the world. It wasn’t the smoke of gunpowder that fogged over his dad – it was Lucky Strike cigarettes, and another more suspicious combustible carried by the jazz musicians and celebrities that would routinely congregate in the family’s’ quarters until early into the morning. It was an ideal beginning for a child hell-bent on roaming the streets with a wild assortment of misfits, visionaries, and footloose folks out to see the world.
Flambures was born in Virginia in 1952. He hit the road a few days before he turned two-months old when his dad was transferred to a new post in Puerto Rico. He described it this way, “I just loved growing up in Puerto Rico! That is where I went feral.”
While his dad was busy working to entertain the troops, Kane was busy entertaining himself by smoking copious amounts of weed and hanging out with an assortment of juvenile delinquents and ne’er-do-wells in the more dicey neighborhoods surrounding the army base. He said it was like being in a Tim Burton Christmas pageant, and set the stage for the rest of his life.
By the time he finished his “tour of duty” with his folks he had lived in numerous countries and yearned for more; he joined the U.S. Navy.
After ten years at sea Flambures was discharged in Japan, a country he loved and traveled in for several years. However, “a series of unfortunate events” precipitated a hasty retreat. So, on an early morning before sunrise, he boarded his first vessel as a Merchant Marine and skipped town.
He spent the next 35 years sailing from port-to-port on an assortment of tramp steamers circling the world more times than he can recall.
When Flambures retired he settled down in a sweet little neighborhood adjacent to downtown San Diego, California, to live, as he described it, “a nice quiet life.” However, ‘a series of unfortunate events’ caused him to make yet another hasty retreat. This time it was to South America, looking for a country that suited his needs; an obscure place with lovely weather and lax extradition treaties. The IRS wanted to chat with him about his involvement in a large-scale medical marijuana venture, but he had other ambitions on his mind, and decided to forgo the invitation.
Kane Flambures first set foot on Ecuadorian soil in Guayaquil where he had a lay-over before boarding a flight to somewhere else. He missed his connecting flight because some folks he met on the plane were heading to Cuenca, a city they loved and thought he would enjoy. He decided to join them for a few days and never left. That was six years ago. He found the port he longed for, is now happily bonded to a woman from the campo, and has time to indulge his interest in agricultural pursuits and devoting some of his considerable energy towards caring for his mate’s parents.
I found his stories fascinating and occasionally hilarious: a year spent working a small cargo ship that circumvented the African continent; the time he stared down a militia bent on robbing him of his money or his life; and his unshakeable belief that seeing the world as an itinerate seaman is the best life one could ever hope for. I also found his storytelling to be deeply moving, very reflective, and wise.
His is one of the more fascinating life stories I’ve heard from the people who harbor here, snug and at home.
I left the interview with a freshening appreciation for what it means to truly live on one’s own terms, and was completely captivated by his lust for life.
Flambures is older now and steering a much slower ship that rarely leaves homeport. That’s good. He has learned to avoid the turbulent shoals that once disrupted his life and fomented ‘a series of unfortunate events’.
Welcome aboard. We are delighted to have ya’.