Almost Human is a thriller where creatures with the enormous strength and power of a chimpanzee and the intelligence and size of a human are sought out and discovered in a remote compound in equatorial Africa. The special bond between trainers and their animals is central to the story. Drs. Ken Turner and Fred Savage follow rumors of chimp-human hybrids. The scientists want to study the hybrids but government operatives want to exploit them. The resulting conflicts threaten Turner and Savage’s research and their lives, as well as the lives of many others. Can they stop the murderous onslaught in time?
My name is Ken Decroo, and I’ve been wandering the Baja Peninsula for over 50 years. I keep coming back to this land and its people as though she were a mistress–she has the unique ability of reclaiming herself and keeping the core of her character, and has been a centering, constant support for me in a high-speed, plugged-in world. More at Welcome!
As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in the world, Hotshots in Lake Arrowhead, CA. And believe me, I’ve been to my share around the world and all pale to this gem in the mountains of Southern California.
When my dish came I was reminded of another time I ordered chicken. I had been riding a 2nd Class bus for days after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico. I knew this was going to be an adventure when I saw the sign on the bus driver’s visor that read, “Jesucristo Mi Copiloto—Jesus Christ is my Copilot.” Above the inscription hung a collection of crucifixes and crosses and a picture of Christ ascending into the heavens.
As we wound through the first mountains that evening, I noticed the bus driver was turning his headlights off when passing on blind curves. He explained to me that this allowed him to see the lights of oncoming vehicles. He laughed when I suggested that another vehicle could be doing the same thing and pointed to the sign. I retired to the back of the bus with some Campesinos and shared my flask.
As the trip progressed, I contracted dysentery requiring the bus driver to make frequent stops. Ultimately, the patience of the driver and the passengers was at an end and I found myself in Vera Cruz recuperating. A kind lady hotelier and a local pharmacist eventually put me right, which is a story I shared previously, The Fear of Giving.
I knew I was on the mend when I had the overwhelming craving for fresh chicken enchiladas, Vera Cruz style. My hostess told me of a local restaurant in her neighborhood that made the best in the city. She laughed and assured me they would be really fresh.
I decided I was strong enough to walk and could use the evening air. As I made my way through the narrow streets it began to rain, slowing my progress. Finally, I saw the little place down an alley and quickened my pace to get out of the weather.
I was about halfway when a young man sprinted past me chased by a rotund policeman; huffing and puffing with his pistol drawn. I had just enough time to dodge into an alcove as he began firing. After several shots, he bent over trying to catch his breath. The young man disappeared into the mist. The policeman and I went to dinner.
Inside was so steamy that you couldn’t see out the windows. My newfound friend and I were the only customers, so took seats near the kitchen. The policeman validated that the enchiladas were the best in town. The waitress was a short, little firebrand that stood tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for our orders.
I asked her if the chicken was fresh before I ordered. She laughed, as though to a private joke and assured me I wouldn’t find fresher. Right after she entered the kitchen with our orders, a small boy darted through its swinging doors, passed us, disappearing outside. I quizzically looked at the policeman but he just shrugged assuring me all was normal. Of course, I took that with a grain-of-salt as this was the same man who minutes before had been shooting at someone out front.
Now, in Mexico, you wait for your meal. It takes time and nothing happens very quickly. But usually, it’s worth it. A dinner is a social event that should be savored. But this dinner was really taking a long time, longer than usual. Just as I was about to call the waitress over, the boy returned with a chicken under each arm and disappeared into the kitchen. Seconds later, we heard squawking and the chopping of a cleaver followed by silence; except for subdued laughter and the rattling of pots.
After about half-and-hour, we had the freshest and most savory chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted to this day. And I made a few lifelong friends that have enriched my world ever since, but, as I said before, that’s another story.
The road to the freshest chicken enchiladas you’ve ever tasted can be a long and unpredictable one, but, as in life, the rewards can be great.
I met Oliver in 1982. He was full grown male chimpanzee that you took very seriously. He had been billed as a humanzee (half-human and half-Chimp) but I always believed him to be a chimp. He was unusual just the same. He walked bipedally most of the time. While chimps will walk upright some of the time, I had never known one to do it naturally and all of the time. Other chimps feared him and most trainers chose not to work him but for whatever reason, he and I had a special bond.
The photo above is Oliver doing what he loved the most, running with me out of his cage. Oliver and the mystery surrounding his past inspired me to write, Almost Human. I am working on the sequel, More Than Human, were Oliver still plays a larger than life role.
If you’re in the Modesto area tomorrow, drop by Cycle Specialties for the BMW open house (9 am – 6 pm). I will be presenting all things BMW MOA.
The flight from LAX to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) had been a long one but while tired I was excited to be at last joining the movie company to film on location. I had been hired to train Jaguars and was the only America working for the British film. When I met Gabriel at customs, I soon discovered that I had stepped into a surreal world and time. He stared right through me wearing a sweat-stained t-shirt that read “Kill Them All and Let God Sort them Out.” I could just make out a faded French Foreign Legion logo on a worn canvas bag slung over his shoulder.
In a thick Portuguese accent, he said in rehearsed English, “Welcome to Brazil,” and commenced to orchestrate us through customs. This was the tone that the shooting of this movie would take for the better part of a year. We filmed in fifty-five different locations that year which took us from the coast to deep in the jungles of the Amazon. We were on a golden voyage, a real old school adventure and it was 1984. Each day took us further from what we knew to a world of wild animals, jungle darkness, danger, Voodoo and real outlaws. We were a long way from home.
It is really gratifying to be contacted by so many readers (many are fellow writers) requesting the background story on Almost Human. As a writer, it is a humbling experience to realize your work is reaching out beyond the private and often lonely effort of putting the words on the page.
Recently, I received an email from a reader in Russia (Russia!) who asked where I got the inspiration for Chapter 3, Lester and Girlie. That chapter is based on someone I knew years ago when I worked in the motion picture business who had a unique relationship with an aging chimp. He was an animal trainer in his late seventies or so. The old man and chimp were a real odd couple, who I enjoyed visiting from time to time.
Tammy and I had just come out of a long ride on backcountry dirt trails in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming when I first noticed a fog of oil wetting the dusty surface of the rear drive on my BMW R1200GSA adventure motorcycle. Clearly, my outer seal was failing.
I was so intent on running a mental inventory of tools and parts needed for the repair that I had not noticed the man standing beside me. Apparently, he had come out of the RV, with a BMW motorcycle in tow, parked at the pump in front of me. Almost on cue, just as I had come to the realization I didn’t have the parts to make the repair, the man said, shaking his head, “That’s not good—You won’t get very far with that. Do you have the part?” Continue reading
It’s always the same. Every time I start planning and packing for an adventure, I get so wrapped up, I’m exhausted by the time I throw my leg over the motorcycle and twist the throttle. What’s craziest about all this is I always pack too much which is half the reason I’m tired in the first place. I realize it is not the effort of packing but how all that stuff weighs on the mind not to mention my motorcycle.
I’ve learned from many past adventures, except for emergency gear, if you haven’t used it in first three days, you don’t need it. So, I pack it up and send it home at the first chance. This makes for better traveling; as packing and unpacking gear is faster and less cumbersome when setting up and breaking down camp and it’s just plain easier to find where I stashed something on the motorcycle. Life on the road becomes less cluttered.
Nowadays, it is easier for me to get ready for an adventure because I pack less. And really, I’m down to two pairs of cargo pants that make into shorts, two pairs of underwear, one Jetbol to cook in–you get the picture.
I have slowly grown into to a minimalist on the road and I’m noticing this philosophy has carried over into my life off the road. After several months out, I return needing less, and more importantly, wanting less.
To paraphrase Thoreau, we don’t own things–things own us.
Have any of you found this to be true? Or is it just me?
I will be giving a seminar at BMW Motorcycles of Riverside, on moto camping, March 4th, and 5th if you’d like to spend some time talking about heading down distant, dusty roads toward the empty spots on the map. Oh, and we’ll talk about how to do it without carrying the kitchen sink.
I have been working diligently on the sequel to Almost Human.
Finally, I’m close to finishing More Than Human. Over the last six months, personal matters side-tracked my progress—well sort of. So, I’ve set a goal of a thousand words a day no matter what. I’m pleased to say it is working. I am several weeks into this endeavor.
Writers, write. Continue reading
About this time every year, I like to retell a story about my best friend, Fritz.
It has been several years ago since he passed. But, like with all those we love who pass, it seems like just yesterday. He left, but not before he taught me one last lesson.
Fritz was big, larger than life man. He lived life to the fullest. I have often said, it is harder to find a good fishing buddy than it is, a good wife. And, Fritz was the best fishing buddy I ever had. Continue reading