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Day 159: Home, sweet home

September 20th, 2011 9 comments

Home is where I lay my head to sleep. Where I am comfortable enough to sleep. Where I trust my surroundings and the people around me. Where I can rest and look forward to the next day with renewed interest. I have been so fortunate to have been at home every day of my travels. I am now back in Los Angeles but it doesn’t feel like I ever really left. I went to sleep one day and woke up 159 days later a renewed person, re-centered, ready to look forward to learning something new and doing something useful.

Actually, flying back over Canada and the United States, I had a vision of myself 19 years ago, when I was coming to the U.S. for the first time for college. I had happily left everything I knew and the people I loved to go alone into a future that was completely unsure. And I was excited, as I am now. Not everyone finds the opportunity to start over again in their lifetime. To take a second chance at shaping their life and to be able to make as much or as little of their past life. To not have anyone else to take care of, no debts, and no emotional baggage. I’m coming back to the U.S. with only more experience and the feeling that everything lies before me. I think my journey is only starting.

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Day 154: Isn’t it a bit early for beer?

September 15th, 2011 2 comments

Was what a lady asked me in the beach park in Ryde when I asked her and her partner if one of them would take a picture of me. I was sitting on a park bench drinking a local brew, Goddards Duck’s Folly. Now that I think about it, I suppose it didn’t look too good.

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Day 150: Thames festival

September 11th, 2011 1 comment

You can tell that I’m almost completely switched out of backpacker travel mode. I’m already planning ahead into next week when I’ll be back in Los Angeles. I’m almost forgetting that I’m in one of the most amazing cities in the world! Thankfully, I have friends here who remind me to slow down, sit on the curb, and have a beer once in a while.

Here is a day out (in pictures) at The Mayor’s Thames Festival in London. It’s to celebrate the end of summer.

Street performers:

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And the fireworks that started late!

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Day 149: Madrid

September 10th, 2011 2 comments

I have to say that I can sense that there is more to Madrid than meets the eye but that you need some time to find it and I couldn’t really do that unguided in the three days that I was there. Although I couldn’t meet with any local couchsurfers or friends, I did make the acquaintance of some fellow traveling couchsurfers and we looked at some of the typical Madrid sites. The most beautiful thing for me was the Catedral de la Almudena which had recently been remodeled to meld modern art into the gothic architecture.

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Day 148: Sunshade, moonshadow

September 9th, 2011 6 comments

It’s a strange feeling to be disconnected. Not alone, but just disassociated. Like being Jupiter’s outermost moon, Megaclite, following the great planet about on its journey around the sun but at a different perspective from any other satellite. it’s how I feel now as I sit in a bus of Spaniards and Anglos (English-speakers), all of whom I’ve spent the last six days with in an intensive English-speaking tutoring program for the Spaniards. Each Anglo, was paired up with a Spaniard for almost every hour of the day from 9:00am to 9:00pm and we had to converse with them only in English and help them improve their English speaking fluency and confidence. The Spaniards (or the companies for which they work) pay for the program and the Anglos volunteer their time in exchange for a place to stay in a beautiful (remote) part of Spain and plenty of food and cheap wine. After six days of intense conversations, one-on-one and in groups, about everything possible from family lives to philosophy, politics, religion, and music, it is an odd feeling to be disconnected. The people on the bus are on their phones, talking to each other and making plans for what they’re going to do next week, catching up on email, watching downloaded TV series they’ve missed on their laptops, or planning the next part of their holiday. It appears everyone has something to go back to.

I’m on the bus back from the program. It seems that many people put their lives on hold for this program in the middle of a valley (Valdelavilla) in central Spain and now that they were heading back to their normal lives, it was time to reconnect. Valdelavilla was in a valley with no cell phone reception, one public computer, very slow wifi, and a landline at the front desk that cost about 40 cents/minute. Valdelavilla used to be a small Spanish village that was eventually abandoned and then bought by a hospitality company that now uses it as a type of resort for this English-speaking program and a few private events like weddings and parties. No one lives in this village except for the resort guests. At night, it is just the guests and the wild beasts in the surrounding woods (deer, wild boar, foxes). It made for a very intense program with a small group of about 30 people. When it was over, people left the valley with a mixture of relief and melancholy. The Spaniards were relieved that they could speak and communicate uninhibited in their mother tongue, and everyone with a little melancholy at losing the camaraderie developed over the last few days.

In addition to the fascinating people I got to know at the program, I learned a lot in this last week. I learned new English phrases that I’d never heard before like “hot mess”. What is the difference between shade and shadow? I participated in a Quemada, a Galician tradition to ward off witches.

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I picked up a slight Liverpudlian accent (gone by now). I learned some new jokes from a lovely Australian lady.

Did you hear the one about the centipede?

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How about the lizard?

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I heard (but could not repeat) a Yorkshire ditty.

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And a great game to play when drunk – do you coffeepot when…

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Day 139: Bardenas Reales, a desert nature reserve

August 31st, 2011 1 comment


I miss off-roading – this place would have been fun. It reminded me a lot of Anza Borrego in southern California. I went with my host’s family for a tour in a Nissan Patrol and then we went to a couple of the medieval villages in the area.

There is a NATO base in the middle of Bardenas Reales and there were jets doing exercises.

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Later, we visited a couple of villages (pueblos) that were from medieval times and still had their ancient churches and castle walls. The church in Ujue really struck me as a weird example of the changes that have happened in Spanish history and how they have affected the culture.

Firstly, the church looks like a castle on top of the hill and the village is build around it. There is no cross at the top of the church. The sculpture above the main doors are a bit random – the last supper with the story of the three kings and Christ’s birth directly above it.
Then, the older half of the church is in gothic style, but since the church wasn’t finished in one ruler’s reign, the new half is completed in roman style.
The original floor was multi-leveled and had stairs so, in the newest renovation, they raised the whole floor to cover the stairs, thus shortening the pillars in the rear of the church so much that you feel like you can almost touch the ceiling when you walk in the back of the church. This throws the gothic ceiling out of proportion. Carlos II’s heart is preserved and kept in a locked shelf by the altar. Apparently it was common practice to take a part of a ruler, preserve it, and put it up for display in churches. The altar has a depiction of Mary but she has been augmented over time to get a Spanish royal crown and something else that I can’t remember. If you look closely, you’ll also notice the hand of Buddha in there. Lastly, there is a fence with spikes separating the congregation from the priest’s altar. During mass, there is a gate in the center that is opened but the fence remains. Apparently this is also common practice in many Spanish churches because the altar pieces are very expensive. All in all, I found the church in Ujue particularly disturbing on many levels. You can judge for yourself.

Bardenas Reales itself was beautiful in that way that only someone who loves the desert can appreciate, as I do.

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Day 138: Hop over to the French side of the border

August 30th, 2011 1 comment

Sure, why not! It’s only a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Pamplona to some southern French villages so why not go see what it’s like on the other side of the border? We went to St. Jean-de-Luz and to Biarritz. I much preferred the down-to-earth people in St. Jean-de-Luz than the tourists in Biarritz.

Biggest difference? There is no noise on the streets and all the shops close from about 13:00 to 18:00. It is dead. People just walk around on the beach and lie in the sun. Too quiet for me.

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