Sunday, August 31, 2008

Barcelona (Part One)

I flew into Barcelona about two and a half weeks ago and barely saw any of the city. I was exhausted from the two plane flights and so could barely register anything other than to figure out how to get the city bus from the airport to the bus station and then up here to Martinet. Sightseeing wasn´t high on my agenda at the moment.

So it was with great excitement that I arranged to have the day off yesterday and take the bus into town to spend the day being a tourist in the great city of Barcelona. In fact, I was so excited about it, that I couldn´t get to sleep. It was really my first big trip and there were things to think about...what was I going to see, how would my Spanish hold up, would I be able to blend in enough to not be immediately targeted for a con or pickpocketing (common crimes here).

I did what I could to prepare of course. I stashed my two forms of identification in different spots, used a money belt, had cash in different places. I had a small tourist map, which featured many of the more popular sites in the downtown area, and I had circled some of the stuff I was interested in and got a general sense of the layout of the city. I think this is so important. This is one of those things that can make me more comfortable, and I´m not standing out there in the middle of the sidewalk with a big 'ol unfurled map, bringing attention to myself. One of the travel tips I´ve gotten is, that if you need to consult your map, fold it as much as possible to the section that you need, you generally don´t need to look at the entire city, just a portion of it. Also, take a look at your map in a cafe or a shop, and not out on the street. I think too, unfortunately, because I´m travelling alone, and because I´m a woman travelling alone, I have to be a little hyper aware of my surroundings. I think this is true for women in general...which is a pretty sad statement, still, about our world.

But probably, more than anything I like to just look like I know where I´m going, even when I´m hopelessly lost. I don´t dawdle around, and I just keep moving. I like to throw in a couple of jaywalking at crosswalks, just to show I´m comfortable with the movement of the city. If I get really lost, I just stop somewhere, buy something to drink and get my bearings. It all seems to work.


Dawn wasn´t even starting to break when I was readying myself to walk down to Martinet and catch the 7am bus to Barcelona. Orion was just setting behind the little hill across the river and the birds hadn´t even woken up yet. It reminded me of those walker days - oh so many moons ago - when we would get up at 4am and be packing before any other stirring of life was taking place.

There was a footpath that led down to the town of Martinet. I had never taken it before, but I knew where it started. I had my head lamp and was looking forward to the walk, there were no bears or mountain lions up here to worry about walking in the dark, and it was likely that any big creatures I encountered would be of the domestically hooved variety.

And boy was I wrong about that.

So I´m about three minutes into my walk. The path is overgrown, but I can still see it, and I´m cruising along, happy as a clam, when WHAMMO!

I am brought up short, my boot digs into the earth to stop myself...and I´m pretty sure I let out yelping, "whooooaa!". After my senses all caught back up with each other I find myself staring at the most gi-normous spider web stretching across the entire pathway, with an equally sizeable host in the center.

Now, ok, I respect spiders. They are really cool beings - but I can´t help it, they give me a little bit of the heebie-jeebies. I never kill them when I find them in my house...and depending on where they are, I´ll just leave ém alone. But I don´t want them crawling on me...and certainly don´t want to walk into the web of one the size of the palm of my hand.

So...I stood there for a minute, letting my heart stop racing, and it occured to me that I had a bit of a problem. Guys, this web was massive, and from the looks of it, there was going to be no way for me to get through it so I could continue on my way. I didn´t want to break was way to cool and beautiful and who was I to destroy someone´s home?

So I started looking at ways to climb around it, probably through the bushes, when I noticed an opening! There was a spot, that if I was careful I could crawl through it, minding my backpack, and get through to the other side without either one of us getting hurt. This I did, and lo and behold, made it through with only a little bit of bouncing on the part of the web. I thanked her for not charging me a toll, and went on my way, and then I thanked the Goddess of all beautiful crawly things that it was nightime and I had a good headlamp. If this had been daylight, I might not have seen this it was, the lamp caught the glistening of the spirals and really lit it up for me. I shook off the thought of what could´ve been and hoped that was the most exciting this walk was going to get for me.

And it was...other than a little mooing and dog barking in the distance, I didn´t come across anything else and soon found myself on the ALSA bus, heading into town, the sun just beginning to rise along the mountains. At one point, the light hit the spire of an old church, way up on top of a hill and I was struck with that feeling that you get sometimes when you are cresting the top of a roller coaster, or you see a bit of nature or art that clearly speaks to you, or someone just brushes their hand across your arm and you realize you´re in love. It´s that kind of sinking, excited feeling that comes in moments of full awareness of life, and that´s what I was experiencing at this moment on the bus. This landscape so unfamiliar, where I was going was unknown, I didn´t speak the language well or know the customs...but I was here and I was giving it a go and I was excited about the whole prospect.

We arrived at the Barcelona Estacion du Nord at just after 9am. I immediately went inside and bought my return ticket (this time was so much easier than the last time I had to do this...and I even had the same gentle soul working the ticket counter!). I would have about eight and a half hours to see as much as I could of this town. I knew that I could spend a week here and not get to everything, so I really just focused on a couple of things.

Mainly, the architecture. I knew that this was the city of Anton Gaudi, the 19th century architect who designed some fantastic structures. I saw one of them from the bus and wanted to get a closer look. I also wanted to see some of the Gothic and Renassaince churches that were all over the place. Just don´t have those in the states.

I had also heard about the CaixaForum and wanted to see that. Wanted to get to the Barcelona Museum of Art, and just poke around in the small city streets of downtown. I didn´t plan on seeing too many specific things, ´cause that would´ve been pure frustration and rushing about. I needed to keep things pretty loose if I was to enjoy my time.

First things first was to find some food. I had eaten a Nuttela (my new favorite food) sandwich before getting on the bus and I was ready to eat something a little more substantial. But...I admit to being nervous. I was about to enter shops and try to order something, and it´s nerve wracking. I decided to do a little gentler approach and go into an actual market and buy a few things for the day, which ended up being pretty fun.

The market was fairly small, but it was stocked with tons of stuff. Think of a good-sized corner store and that was the size of this place. But it had a couple of guys stocking shelves, a meat counter, two check-out lanes and American pop music on the speakers.

I got myself a baguette (still warm), some camembert cheese, salami and sardines. Figured that would totally hold me for the day and it only cost me five euros (about $8.00). I basic bocadillo sandwich would´ve cost me two to three euros, so I was saving some cash there.

However...I still needed some caffeine and for that I would have to brave actually ordering something from a human. I tried to remember what Gwen tells me all the time, "they´re just people, Nik," whenever I get nervous around someone.

So, I found a nice looking little cafe (they are everywhere, with several customers enjoying little cups of something at the tables outside. There were lots of dogs, there was lots of smoking. I went inside and up to the counter, and, in my best effort simply said, "un cafe con leche por favor." Which, you know really doesn´t sound like much, but when you´re there and their looking at you, and there´s other just don´t want to screw up...and god forbid they ask you a this woman did..."para llegara o aqui," and she knew, from my accent...and my halting, trembling voice, that I was a foreigner, so she used sign language with me as well.

Now. If people would just use flash cards, it would be so much more helpful. When I see the words 'para llegara o aqui,' I know what she meant. But when it comes in a rush like that, and I´m not prepared...well it just leaves me as flustered as all get out, so I appreciated the little pointing language, demonstrating "aqui."

So I said, "aqui, por favor," and found a little table at to look at my map and figure out where the heck I was going from here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I have loved walking since I was a kid. I remember my first solo strolls out in the woods when I was in the 6th grade. We had moved to a fairly rural stretch of New Jersey and I would amble about, up and over the forested hill to my friend Jenny Boyd´s house; down the long line of railroad track out to High Bridge; and boulder along the river that ran next to our neighborhood. There is a freedom that comes from walking, and an antiquity that comes from putting one foot in front of the other, especially in the quiet of nature...that just doesn´t exist anywhere else for me.

So I suppose it´s a lucky thing I´ve gotten to do it so much this year isn´t it?

Sanilles has loads of romantic little footpaths to explore and the other day I was able to leave work early and head back out to the village of Mussa to try to find those sculptures Kinga, Peter and I tried to find last week.

The path starts along the river, which you have to cross at one of the waterfalls near where the horses like to hang out. I love giving them rubs on their foreheads and try to keep the flies off ém for at least a few minutes. They nuzzle my hand with their velvet lips as I talk to them. I try to make mohawks out of their manes.

Once I cross the falls, I get to walk along for a good quarter mile with a covered aquaduct made of stone on my on right. It´s a cool structure, moss covered, with openings cut into it every now and then, so you can pull up on the steel handle, lifting the heavy rock door, and take a peek at the water rushing by.

The aquaduct ends at about the boundary line of Sanilles and from there all is quiet but for the cicadas and the birds, and the rustle and dash of small lizards. It´s hot today and I´m glad I´m wearing my shorts, but wish I had my linen tank-top on instead of this t-shirt that´s soaking the sun into me.

These woods are filled with pines and cedars so I feel at home here; which is a comfort since my life in this place reminds me frequently how very far away I am from anything familiar. But the woods will always be familiar to me, and now I know that´s true even across the great sea. The trees and rocks and winds speak to me in a tongue more ancient than language and therefore I understand it.

The woods open to a clearing of pasture land and the wide spread view of the Serra de Cadi, towering about the river. From here, there´s a good, steep climb up to the ridge of this mountain. I set a steady pace and make my way, boots crunching into the sand-colored stubble of dirt and pebbles.

I am rewarded at the top with a full view of the valley. Do we ever get tired of looking at grand vistas? I can see Sanilles dotted below, the river a simple blue line cut into the ground. The highway tunnel coming into Martinet pushes out silent matchbox cars one by one. To the south is the Cadi, it´s fierce, linear stone are graded in greys and whites; if they were ambers and deep red earth, we would be in the North American Southwest. But we´re not.

To the north are the Great Pyrenees, the vast mountain range that seperates France and Spain. It follows from the East, ending the at the Coast in Basque country. Want to hike it. And I´ll get to - at least a little bit - in about a week. I need to cross the Pyrenees to get from St. Jean Pied-a-Port to Ronscevalles. Can´t wait.

After a good long look I started again, the footpath now taking me along through someone´s pasture lands. On either side of me are cobblestone walls about waist high. The path is fairly narrow, but you could probably get a cart through here. I see a wheelbarrow and a rake leaning up against an oak. You could definitely get a wheelbarrow through here.

Suddenly I noticed the blackberries. I had been on this path a couple of times and never noticed them before. The vines were swollen with them and I gobbled them up by the handful, staining my fingers with their juices. These were sweet; warmed and growing succulent by the mountain sun, unsullied by diesel fumes and high enough off the ground to avoid being assaulted by dogs. On the way back I would make a satchel out of some cloth I found in my backpack, and collect a few dozen to enjoy at breakfast with Hugh´s homemade yogurt.

After nearly an hour of walking, I came onto the road about a quarter of a mile from Mussa. It was still quiet, but then I heard the rumble of an engine and sure enough, around the bend, an old man in a blue shirt and cloth hat was driving a tractor, his kerchiefed wife rocking in back of him, holding onto the back of his seat. We waved at one another.

As I come into town, there is the sound of water; it rushes through in great gulps along earthen channels, diverting here and there into fields. It´s a terrific sound.

The town itself is very quiet. It´s three o´clock, siesta time, and nothing is moving about except a few chickens and a couple of boys on bicycles.

I make my way through the village and to the road where we think the sculpturer lives, about a three mile hike up. But then I notice the private road sign and a man with a wooden rake standing there, eyeing me. It´s the same man we came across the other day, we asked him for directions to the artist´s house, but he was ambivilant about his responses to us. But, I know from talking to Hugh that this is the place, with it´s fairly new house sort of holding fort to the gateway of this long driveway.

I decide not to test this guy, being satisfied with just the walk and not finding the sculptures. I knew Peter and Kinga would be coming back to Sanilles and thought I would wait until they returned and we could all go together. Strength in numbers!

I walked around the village for a bit, it´s very small, you can circle it in less than ten minutes, and then slowly headed back.

The irrigation channels now on my left, I continued down the road, listening to the low-pitched rhythm of cow bells from down in a lower pasture. I came across that tractor driving man and his wife again; but now they were in their fields, baling hay by hand it looked like. Working with long two-pronged wooden rakes, they moved hay into piles, cutting a path towards each other from one end of the field to the other.

Past their field, the rushing of water stopped and the sound was replaced by the chirping of grasshoppers who bounced around me by the dozens, showing off their blue underwings. Butterflies of golds, oranges and whites flew along in their halting patterns, stopping at the clover on the roadside for lunch.

I had brought a lunch too and found a perfect flat stone with a lovely view to enjoy it.

I would get back nearly an hour later, excited about the long days of walking that are in store for me.

Friday, August 29, 2008

To all my Hopeful Facebook Friends

I have been getting lots of requests from folks wanting me to be friends on their Facebok pages.

And I would so love to be!

However---while I was successful in a couple of instances, it seems everytime I try to add a new friend to my page, this ancient computer with its ten year old software crashes. So I´ve given up, I don´t have a lot of computer time as it is, and this thing takes about five minutes to warm up..

So...all I´m saying is, I may have to try again in another couple of weeks when I find my way to a little speedier system.

Don´t know when that´ll be, but just know that I'm grateful I´ve got so many friends out in the world, and I´ll get to play in those Facebook reindeer games soon enough.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Comida con Miguel

Miguel, our work leader here at Sanilles, has been working here as a handyman for over thirteen years. He is extremely patient, warm and kind and holds quite an apparent affection for this place in all its tatters.

Every day at 1:00 sharp he leaves to have lunch in town, about a five minute drive from here. He returns at just about 2:15 on the nose. The other day I was going to catch a ride into town with him, just to have a look around and he invited me to have lunch with him. I knew he always ate with a friend, so I didn´t want to impose, but he insisted so I gladly joined him.

Miguel apparently enjoys routine. He has been eating at the same restaurant, the Hotel Cadi, every working day, for at least thirteen years. Probably longer. "Muchos años," he tells me in the nice simple Spanish I appreciate.

We pulled into a parking spot in the center of the village of Martinet (it really is a village, very small, very quiet). There are a couple of restaurants here, a store that sells only fruit, a small market, a bakery, a meat market and a "tobacs" shop where you can get everything from stamps to shaving cream, sort of like one of our 7-11´s but without the ancient hot dogs rolling around on a stainless-steel grill.

We walked down the street, Miguel waving to everyone seemingly who passed us, whether they be on foot or in a car, and he suddenly veered off and walked into a non-descript door on the street. An old man was just sitting there in a rocker. I noticed no television or radio on, he wasn´t holding a book or a newspaper. He seemed to be just sitting there, at the ready.

¨"Vamos comer," he said to the man and then stepped back outside and moved in his rapid quickstep into a tavern. And it smelled just like any old tavern, Catalan or not, it had the scent of tobacco and stale beer attached to it and I thought, "oh man, we´re not eating in a bar are we?" But after Miguel greeted the bartender and slapped a few chums on the back, we beat it up the stairs and I was presented with an amazingly posh-looking restaurant complete with linens and chandeliers.

I was a little nervous, it looked like the kind of place I could ill-afford on my peasant´s budget, but I had plenty of cash on me, so I just decided that whatever it was I would just pay and be done with it.

Miguel motioned me to go sit at a table near the window and he disappeared into a couple of swinging doors, which I took to be the kitchen since a moment later I saw a waitress striding out with wine and water.

As I sat there, eyeing the decor and listening to American standards played in a big-band style (an odd choice I thought for a Catalan hotel), the same gentleman who Miguel had summoned to lunch tottered over towards the table. He was wearing a beige cap and jacket, with a plaid shirt underneath. He had to have been at least eighty years old and he made his way to the window seat and sat down next to me. We "hola-ed" each other and then we both sat silently eyeing the decor and listening to the Muzak.

Miguel came back to the table with two menus and a waiter´s pad and pencil.

"¿Tu trabajes aqui tambien?" I joked at him.

He smiled at me, "no, no...mire," he said, pointing at the menu. I started flipping through it, realizing I could barely afford a soup and salad combo when he took the menu and turned to the front page, "this", he said.

It was the fixed meal of the day...four courses, with two or three choices of each. "," I said, "too much...too much." Of everything, too much money to spend on lunch and WAY to much food.

Let me say a little something about the vast amount of food I am eating here at Sanilles. We eat three meals a day and they aren´t just a cup of oatmeal, a PBJ and maybe a salad and some meat and bread for dinner. Oh no...they are all full on meals, sometimes with three or four courses for both lunch and dinner. In the past week we have had guests at the hotel, which means we all sit down and eat together, and this means we are providing a pretty fancy meal with each setting. I was eating too much. It was all amazingly good (I´ve written down several recipes), but between that and not getting a ton of excercise...I felt I was getting a tad soft around the middle. Not good fighting form for the walk I´m about to undertake.

Anyway. Miguel says, "No..this."

And I couldn´t argue with him, with this guy sitting there...who, Miguel also has had lunch with...every day...for the past millenium.

So...we started to pick our choices, which Miguel then wrote down on the ticket and would later bring it himself to the kitchen.

First course is a choice of gazpacho or something called simply. "tomate." I order the gazpacho, which was wonderful, and the guys got the tomate. Which is really a glass of tomato juice, but which they then add olive oil, salt and pepper and down it with a flourish.

Next I had a choice of macaroni and ham, (obviously, I´m translating this for yáll and for me, since I can´t remember how to spell all of that.) or a fish soup. His friend and I (dammit, I can´t remember his name) had the soup, and Miguel had the pasta.

The soup was amazing. It was a clear broth, glistening with oils, and had such a rich flavor - to die for. In it were shrimp, clams and garlic croutons. Yum.

Next was a choice of fish, rabbit or sausage.

Guess which I had Gwen?

The sausage was unceremoniously plated by itself, save for a few strands of french fries thrown on the side. "Hey...french fries!" I said. Miguel looked at me and shook his head, " bueno french fries." I liked ém just fine. And the sausage was awesome. It didn´t come with mustard, or sauce or anything else. It didn´t need to, it was flavorful enough on it´s own.

Ice cream or melon?

I wanted ice cream, but we still had the whole afternoon of work ahead of us, and I would have a hard enough time working off that sausage, so I opted for melon...which came in a huge wedge - it seemed like a quarter of the melon on the plate. Miguel had ice cream, which he put sugar into. I tsk-tsked him for that, and he just shrugged his shoulders and put in an extra scoop for spite. Since I can´t show you pictures, I´ll just tell you that Miguel is skinny as a post.

All the while, all through this lunch, there was a little chatter between Miguel and his amigo. I would´ve loved to talk to this guy, but was feeling pretty shy about my Spanish just then. Friends and relatives, I implore you, if you are going to spend a goodly amount of time in a foreign country, it would behoove you to learn some conversational words in that tongue. I would´ve loved to ask this guy where he was from, talk about his past work, ask him about anything...but I just couldn´t get there. Maybe I´ll try again next week. He did ask me if I played was a random question and I appreciated it. I answered, "si, me mucho gusto baseball."
Ripping conversationalist, I am.

The bulk of lunch, however, seemed to happen between Miguel and two guys sitting behind him who were wearing city-worker or construction t-shirts or something. On of the guys cell phones went off, and it was playing that creepy little tune from the Exorcist that for some reason guys choose often as their ringtones. When Miguel heard it, he got the guy to show him how to put the Exorcist ringtone on his phone.

I shook my head at him, teasing him for his poor choice of ringtones. " Ex-or-cist...Tubular Bells," he said to me. "Ex-or-cist," I said back to him..."no bueno ringtone."

He ignored me and played me his ringtone over and over again while we were trying to enjoy our dessert. I almost threw it out the window. Then his lunch companion handed his phone over, and the construction guys put it on his phone so I got to enjoy it in stereo until I said, "that´s it," and readied myself to leave while they laughed. I asked Miguel how much the meal was and he told me, "nine euros." Only nine?

I knew that meal was more than nine euros, it had to be. But I gave out ten euros and went to look around a bit while Miguel finished up with his friend.

Later, in the car, I asked him about the price.

"Si...14-15 euros por las turistas, but with me? Nine euros only."

Thanks so much Miguel.

Monday, August 25, 2008

An Englishman, A Polish Woman and an American walk into....

Due to happenstance, Peter and Kinga returned to Sanilles only hours after departing on Friday and would be staying with us until at least Monday. And while I was sorry their travels were delayed, I was delighted that they chose to come back here.
And, as it turned out, I had the whole of Sunday off, so we decided to take a drive up the road a piece and see if we could find a fabled hermit sculpturer who lived just a few miles away.

And I´m pretty sure I´ve never written the words "fabled hermit sculpturer" at any other time in my life. By the way.

In addition to being simply delightful and engaging company, these two make me laugh...a lot. And honestly, after experiencing some righteous belly laughs with them, it occurred to me that I haven´t laughed that hard, or that often, in quite some time. Neither had they, Kinga told me this morning, so our meeting each other was a terrific and much needed gift from the Universe.

So we left on our little outing around noon and headed up the road. I realized that I hadn´t left the grounds, other than my walks, since I arrived here about ten days ago and it felt nice to be moving again, seeing new sights. We pulled into the parking lot of a miniscule little village called Transverre and I´m telling you it was right out of...I can´t even really reference it at this looked medieval to me with it´s cobblestoned buildings, tiny little windows set seemingly randomly within the walls. Suddenly a woman in an apron and kerchief called out to us in Catalan, "Bon dia!" and ushered us quickly into her shop which was dollsized like the rest of this relic town.

There was a display of jams and jellies and all around were vases and pots full of flowers - herbs dried on lines laid along the walls, and there were scatterings of folk art paintings hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. I could make out, from her wave of dialogue with us, that she grew the fruits and herbs herself, organically, and produced the entire product herself. Then she motioned us through a beaded curtain and showed us a most immaculate and surprisngly modern kitchen where she completes her work. It was quite the contrast, all this stonework in the other room, and then to be in that sterilzed space, with it´s stainless steel and gleaming tilework.

We talked with her for a minute and then Peter exclaimed that he believed he had left his car parked in the middle of the road. Somewhere, between the time we parked the car in what we thought was a lot, and made it into this woman´s shop, Peter realized that he hadn´t parked in a lot at all...but smack in the main thoroughfare. We bid the shopkeeper a quick "hasta luego" and hurried up the pathway to a man who was gesturing and calling out to us. Peter went to him and explained that he didn´t realize it was a road when he parked the car and that he was sorry. Kinga and I had jumped into the car and were unhelpfully giggling. I mean, I think it was an honest mistake. This "road" was kind of to scale of this miniature little village, it looked like you could barely pull a donkey cart through there, let alone a car.

That was how the day started out...and pretty much continued from there. We drove around in circles for awhile, asking whoever happened to be walking down the lanes if they knew anything about this sculpturer. Peter generally began the questioning, which would cause Kinga and I to giggle quietly at each other...I don´t know why it was so me it was his earnestness and the pointed way he would say, "¿Usted sabe donde esta el sculp-too-rrr...drawing that last word out. And people, who were generally fairly geriatric, would crane themselves at us and say, "que?"

Eventually we wound up in the middle of the same town square we had driven through a half an hour before, having no idea how we got there as we were pretty sure we had been on an entirely different road. And then Hugh showed up, right at the moment we were sitting there in the car a little dumbfounded, drove right up to us, with his jaunty straw fedora and his perfect English demeanor and said, "Well, how are you all getting along then?"

He directed us once again towards the road we were supposed to take and we followed it the best we could. In the end, we decided that we needed to eat something, having driven around now for a couple of hours, and pulled off to the side of a road with an amazing view of the Cadi valley and ate a lunch of French bread, herbed cheese and tomatoes. Our conversations all afternoon seemed lightening fast as we bounced from one topic to another, it was all very lively and generous.

After lunch we checked the time and remembered that Hugh wanted us back at Sanilles by 3:30 to share Emilio´s paella with the rest of the group. So we steeled ourselves for another meal and packed up.

We had to push the car out of the ditch that we had accidentally rolled in to, causing another fit of laughter, but it turned out fine in the end and we made it back just in time to pretend we were starving and ready for our supper.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sabado a Sanilles

What a gorgeous day.
That´s pretty much the sentiment that came to me during my morning walk up into the foothills above Sanilles. I have found a perfect little rock for leaning up against, next to a couple of young oaks; and I sat there this morning, watching two hawks circle and call to one another while the gentlest breeze moved the grasses around, the creek tumbled away behind me and the sun just starting to dapple everything. We are gifted with these sweet moments of perfection from time to time and this morning was one of them for me.
I have tomorrow off and am planning a long hike up into the hills to see what´s up there; but today I worked the bar and had a nice time of it. My Spanish is still atrocious, but I´m actually understanding a great deal more after 10 days here, and have even been able to string together a couple of standard sentences with some confidence. I´ve learned to pick out several key verbs, which helps tremendously with comprehension and Miguel, my work leader, continues to be astonishingly helpful.
Today was also lovely because I got to hang out most of the day with two new friends who showed up here a couple of nights ago and we immediately fell in love with each other.
Their names are Peter and Kinga (he from England, she´s Polish) and were actually "WWOOFérs" here at Sanilles eleven years ago. They say the place hasn´t changed all that much.

They are this wonderful dynamic duo who have done some beautiful things to make some positive change in the world. From producing and directing a film on the plight of stray animals in the U.K. and Spain ( to raising money and saving rainforest in Argentina (10,000 acres); and they have currently just completed a beautiful eco-designed retreat center in Southern Spain. I saw pictures of it this morning and was quite wowed. They also write for a local magazine on a variety of green topics. Dynamic, this duo.
And know those people that you meet (when you´re lucky) that you can´t stop talking to them, they can´t stop talking to you. Your conversations are almost rushed because there is so much to say and so many stories to tell and it´s all very fun and can go deep and then silly...that´s what it was like with these folks.
I just said goodbye to them and my little heart actually was a little sad...and here I´ve known them all of about 48 hours. Funny how these people show up in your life isn´t it? Like my family from the walk, I can´t imagine there was ever a time when I didn´t know them...these two felt like that and I wish them safe journey and the hopes that we cross paths again in this great, small world.
I don´t have much else to share today...I really dislike not having pictures to talk to you about...hope that changes soonly.
Alright then, I´m off to go back to my little rock. I´m done working for the day and am ready to put my feet up.
Lots of love to you all and I´ll talk to you soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where was I...?

I think we were talking about how I am being forced into getting better at my Spanish, because I have to actually wait on people here at the bar. It gets less terrifying every day, mainly because people are so nice, but it´s still nerve wracking.

I think it´s also hard for me because I actually like waiting on people; I like asking how they´re doing, where are they travelling from, how´s their day going...i can´t really do any of that yet, ´cause I can barely understand what folks are saying when they are ordering water from me.

Part of the problem too, is that I am in Northern Spain..way Northern Spain..about 15 miles from the French border, Northern Spain; and so people here speak ¨Catalan¨- which , I was told in no uncertain terms today, is not´s Catalan. Okay, got it. And it´s actually more closely related to French and German than it is Spanish, according to those who told me so. They have a lot of similar words, but some very different ones as well, and the pronunciation of even the same words is realy different. ear has a hard time hearing Spanish all the way through, so when someone comes and spews Catalan at me...I´m lost pretty fast. know, it goes okay and people are patient and sweet, and so I´m learning two languages instead of one. Bueno. It is exhausting though, and I just lost my English speaking companion, Alexi, who left today. Angela, from Spain is here now, and doesn´t speak much get a lost frequently throughout the day and it´s tiring.

Anyway, so, we work until about 12:30-1:00 and then head down to the kitchen to make lunch. And really, you never know what´s going on until you get down there. Yesterday we had to prepare salads for the family that was hanging out here all day, and we did that before we had our lunch. Today we ended up getting a couple of hotel guests, so we prepared a nicer lunch than we normally would have and ate family style with them. That´s wierd to me...I can´t imagine checking into a hotel and then eating with the owner and the staff...but, it all seems like business as usual here, so we´ll have them dining with us for the next couple of days.

Which means I sit there like a beached trout while everyone is telling stories in Catalan.

Anyway, after lunch we do another 3 hours of work. Today it was cleaning up after lunch, doing a lot of watering, cleaning up a couple of the hotel rooms and chasing the two horses that showed up, back into their pasture on the other side of the river.

We then have a break for about three hours and then meet back in the kitchen to prepare dinner. It´s a good day...long, but not fast paced at all. I love working in the garden, weeding and watering. There´s always plenty to do and the work is really peaceful.

So I´ve been here a week now..and I´m starting to finally settle in a little it seems. My jet lag is past me, thank goodness and I´m starting to sleep through the nights again..I can pick out a few more words and verb tenses than I could a week ago, which is excellent, and I´m getting ready to leave here in about ten days to hit the trail which I am really excited about.

Because I´m so close to France, I´ll be taking the train through that country to get to my starting point on the Camino (St. Jean Pied-de-Port) on the French side of the Pyranees. I´m also going to stop off for couple of days in France - one day to check out the neolithic cave art, which I can´t believe I´m that close to (I´ve always wanted to see those cave paintings, and they are less than 100 miles from me), as well as take a night and see the city of Toulouse, which I hear is amazing.

Anyhoo...that´s all for now...pretty straight forward stuff. Miss sending you guys photos, but I´m sure they´ll show up down the road.

Lots of love. Thanks Joe and Big G for writing comments! Glad to hear from you both!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


We hear that word a lot here, "tranquila" - it essentially means to slow down, take it easy...mellow. It´s August and so most of Europe, and certainly most of Spain is on holiday. But I suspect that people here are "tranquila" most of the time.

So..can´t write for too long, ´cause it´s nearly 10:00pm and I´m pretty tired (muy cansada)- it´s only about 1:00 there in Portland right now. 1:00 in the afternoon, y'all are kind of just in the middle of your day!

Here, the moon has risen above the Serra del Cadi, a stunning mountain range that looks straight out of the Southwest. There are crickets singing and bats fluttering about and it´s very quiet save for the sound of the river that runs alongside the land. Sometimes I can´t believe my luck in landing here.

Let me tell youa little a bit about how our days work here. It´s all really random, and they can change at the drop of a hat depending on who shows up, but here´s the general idea:

6:30am - I wake up and spend a couple of hours reading and walking the footpaths that stretch out all along this property. My favorite spot so far, is to visit the crumbling ruins of this old stone farmhouse, not very old by European standards, it was built in the 18th century and is doing a nice job of tumbling down brick by brick. There are horses that roam around and this is sort of their home base. We say hello to one another and then I commence to writing a little bit before the day starts.

9:00am - I go to the kitchen to meet the rest of the folks for breakfast. This usually consists of Muesli and fruit. Hugh (owner of the property) soaks the Muesli every night, adding almonds, linseeds and hazelnuts. Then, in the morning we grate up apples, and put peaches or melon or whatever along with it. This is sort of the staple, we have yogurt on the side and sometimes bread if we want it. And tea and coffee of course.

9:30 - Miguel, our work leader, sets us up with chores for the day. This can be anything from weeding or planting in the garden, to helping out in the kitchen, to cleaning the pool or the hotel rooms. Because it´s August we have a lot of folks during the week dropping by to use the pool. For the past couple of days we´ve had the same large family - about 10-15 of them - come by and use the barbeque, for which we also provide salads for. So usually someone has to stay on hand in case someone wants to buy something for the bar. I am getting slowly better at this, the whole spanish helps to have to hear it and speak it every day.

....well, we have to take a break, I have to get off the computer...I´ll tell you more later on.

Much love to all...I love you..and think of you all every day!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

¡hola de españa!

¡hola everyone!

I´m here in España, at my WWOOF volunteer placement. Unfortunately I am using an absolutely dinosaur computer, there is no USB port, so I can´t download any photos right now. It´s gonna be awhile probably, but I can at least tell you that where I´m at is lovely, lovely.

I am nearest the town of Martinet, still in Spain, but very close to the French border in the Pyranees. My volunteer gig is at a place called Sanilles Cerdanya - it´s a resort of´s an old hotel, there´s a thermal swimming pool, a good sized organic garden and trails for walking up along the hillsides or down along the creek. We don´t have a lot of guests staying in the hotel right now. I just missed a week long yoga retreat with abot 25 people.Mostly we have locals that come and use the pool and have drinks at the bar.

My job is to serve folks at the bar and prepare meals for the guests that are staying here. I also work in the garden. It´s pretty random really. It´s run by a British ex-pat and his Spanish wife. There is another volunteer here with me named Alexi, she´s from England as well and is very sweet (a freshman at College).

The language barrier is trying, but I´m getting along alright...I know it´ll get easier with time and the more I´m forced to speak it. Next week we get a volunteer who doesn´t speak any English, so that´ll help some. Working the bar is going to be great for learning how to order things myself when I´m out in the world in a couple of weeks. Right now, I´m just sort of taking it easy, eating well, relaxing and enjoying the view.

Alright then, glad to know I can post from here (yay Firefox!), so you´ll be hearing from me down the road...lots of love...have to run now and get back to work, but I was just checking my emails quickly and thought I would try blogging again.

Okay, talk to ya soon!

Monday, August 11, 2008 I really here?

I have been here for 10 days - and it may as well been one, or fifty - it doesn't matter - I have been so discombobulated and unfocused that it's amazing anything has gotten done.

I have hardly any pictures from my time here. I didn't really take any. Here's one of gwen on the day we took the bikes out for a spin - this is in front of Tad's Chicken and Dumplings - gwen liked the photo op.

Here's a nice photo of my little orange scoot.

Just realized my father doesn't know I have a motorcycle. Whoops. Now he does. Whelp. I've had it a couple of years - and Portland is a short riding season, so I haven't been on it too much - but, I'm a cautious rider, so don't worry too much.

And besides...I'll be in Spain for the next three months so ... no riding anymore for me this season.

And that's it. No more photos.

Here's what I did in Portland. I can only manage list form right now.

1) Bought stuff for the trip
2) Packed and repacked my backpack - added items, tossed items
3) Took the truck into the shop to have the u-joints replaced
4) Had a major freak-out fit when the ATM ate my debit card two days ago, sending me - reeling - into a tailspin of "I'm screwed..I'm screwed...whatamigonna do - I'll have no money in Spain..I'll be destitute, in Spain...wail, wail, much hand wringing and general woe.
5) Got over all of it

Have visited a few folks. Made a few calls. Saw a couple movies. Watched a bunch of Xena. Rode the motorcycle. Hung out with Skiddy (here he is)

I've walked a bunch since I've been here. Talked to my walker family (still miss you guys lots and lots) and just kind of tried to stay afloat. Went to a few meetings and heard there is great recovery in Barcelona (which I'll check out).

So....that's it. I won't have my phone in Spain. Please email me. I'll try to blog as much as I can.

I'll be volunteering (WWOOF) for Sanilles Cerdanya for 3-4 weeks (google them, it's a cool place); and then heading on the Camino de Santiago. Haven't decided whether I'm taking the Frances or the del Norte route yet. I'll decide later.

Can't write anymore, need to sleep. Love you all so much. I'll be in touch.

Oh -- I almost forgot...during my varying levels of freakout I got some great advice that I wanted to pass on. Some from gwen (of course) who, when I was spinning around what to take, or what not to take she told me, "just remember Nik, you will always have everything you need."

And this from my ol' buddy Bob, who reminded me that "Virge, life ain't complicated at all; you might think it is...but it ain't!"

And finally, from Kathleen, who I talked to just hours before I left..."always remember the most important thing to do is to have fun!"

Thanks gwen, Bob and Kathleen for those words of wisdom...I will carry them close to my heart. And thank you Peggy and Lisa for still reading the blog! That's very cool and sweet.

Love to everyone - I miss you guys already. Leaving for the plane now.

Ahhhhh.....Camp Cushy

I've been enjoying vacations at Camp Cushy for nearly ten years now. I was just talking to Regan and was telling her I thought it was funny that I don't really have many pictures of it.

And the ones I have...well, they just don't do it justice.

And I don't have any pictures of the river - which is the real appeal of the place. South Fork of the Smith River. Amazingly beautiful - the only undammed river in California, the South Fork is as crystalline beautiful as one can imagine. I am not a good enough writer to describe just imagine the most beautiful river you have ever seen and enhance it. That's the South Fork that runs right along the beach of the land.

It's cold. Really cold and I get poked fun at for never wanting to swim in it. Folks think I'm nuts. I just don't dig cold water. Love sittin' by it - looking at it, musing through it - but to get in -- thanks, I'll watch from afar - frolic away my water-lovin babes. Enjoy yourself.

Anyway - no pictures of the river - here's the meadow that hangs out above the river.
Lovely, lovely.

Corbin and Joan are building a home out here. They did such a nice job with this, got some great folks to help them with it.

Unlike this structure - which I helped build. For some reason Corbin doesn't want to raise her child here. Hmmm.

But - this shack - the shimmy shack - has a great deal of history. Corbs and Regan and I all put this thing together over one fun-filled summer back in 2000. It's a storage shed, and dammit, the thing is still standing! So, says something about our carpentry skills. Something.

It also was the birth of our company, Carpentry by Force and the birth of our carpenter names - BruceRoy, Bob and me, Virgil. And we still, much to the chagrin of some, refer to each other by those names lo these many years still.

I love the shimmy shack. Love that it's still there. Oh, and I almost forgot - the motto for Carpentry by Force?

"Built to Last.....For Now." We even had shirts made. Still got mine.
Good times, good times.

Anyway, here's the "porch" of the kitchen and dining tents...

And here's Sophie enjoying her own respite.

I spent five days here - mostly sleeping off the road trip and the walk and the whole of these last 6 months. That's what this place is heaven for - pure relaxation - I also got to visit with my dear, dear family - Corbs, Joan and Regs were there - Gwennie! Oh, gwennie, my sweet friend. Soooo great to see her. We missed each other so much! Gwennie was celebrating a birthday that weekend too, so I was really glad to have gotten there for that.

I love my Gwennie.

- Nymiah and Jaca - got to see Bridget and Ward for a second - goddess they were all such beautiful sights.

And -- our Corbin - my BruceRoy - with child! So we weren't just celebrating her 40th - but the coming attraction (who is due in January) - she looked great, healthy and beautiful. No word on gender, we are calling the child "The Greek" or "The Little Baklava in the Oven." Sorry - you'll have to speculate onto why. It's funny.
But, as we were reminded, "you know you can't call the child "the greek" once it's born."


We know that.

"Bob" and I tried to take a couple of pictures of each other - we were having some really bad photo moments,'s a picture from our visit in Virginia - she took this one...(and the ones of me and gwen and corbs - thanks for those!)

I love this picture, it's kind of a wierd action photo - actually, Tiffany took this one.

Anyhoo....hard to leave this place, it always is. But it was time to get back to Portland and get ready for this whole Spain thing.

Day Two - three - four - five

Gotta tell ya - I'm writing this the night before I leave for my Spain trip, so this blog reflecting my trip from east coast to west is gonna be a little abbreviated. But, you know the drive across skipped a few beats, so - like the drive across Nevada - there just ain't that much to tell.

I can barely remember the places that we stopped. I know we barrelled through the eastern states - whizbang - New Hampshire, Connecticut (Hi Kid!), New York (Hi Kathleen!), New Jersey, Pennsylvania and into Ohio (Hi Jen!).

We would stop for lunch and open up the coolers in the back of the U-Haul and get everyone fed.

Here's a pic of Luke and I enjoying some refreshment.

There was another Motel 6 in Toledo. I ate chili dogs at an AM/PM at about midnight and went back to the hotel and watched...boy, there is nothing on television is there? Not at midnight in Toledo on that night anyway.

Here's a photo of 3 of the four-legged making do in the motel room...(not shown, Inca - although you can kinda see her in the mirror, Luke and Freeway)

Oh, here's a couple of photos of Luke - he's so talented - check out the feather work!

Mike calls this Luke's "John Adams" impression...

We left Ohio and tripped through Indiana and Illinois before bedding down in Iowa.

And this is where things really sped up for me.

I was under a little bit of a time constraint; I needed to get out to Northern California by Saturday night so I could get to Corbs' 40th b-day party hopefully by Sunday.

We were in Iowa and it was Thursday. I wasn't going to make it at the rate we were going - it's just hard to travel with that many critters and make any sort of time; so we decided that I would take the pick-up and separate from the group - make the rest of the way on my own. I took my walkers with me in the new ride...of course.

So..I left Sonja and Mike with hugs and well wishes in Des Moines (I think - we had most excellent tacos there from some place that Mike and I found at 10:00 right before they closed - they weren't too happy about serving us...but they did).

Anyway, I took off and pretty much hauled my butt as fast as I was comfortable with (80-85 mph. I drove all day and well into the night and wound up, bleary at a Days Inn around midnight about 50 miles from the Utah border.

Woke up at 5am and crossed through Utah, Nevada (90mph) and hit Sacramento at about 4:00 that afternoon. I made the decision to go for it - all the way to Eureka - and pulled into town a little after midnight.

I had never driven like that before. Not for a very long time anyway (once drove up from Baja to Redding in two days I think - which was nuts).

But it all worked out - the truck did well and I dropped it off the next morning in Bayside, got my truck (Howdy truck!) and hit the road around 10am to drive up to the Smith River and one of the most gorgeous respite places I know...Camp Cushy.

I was home.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hitting the Road Again - Backwards...and Faster...Kind of

When Kathleen and I were leaving the parking of that Starbucks parking lot in Greenbelt, MD -- heading for home - she zeroed out her odometer, signalling a new trip. I liked that. So, here are the zeroes from the U-Haul that would be my home for the next few days.

We had three vehicles with us - the little Honda, the blue pick-up and the smallish sized U-haul. The bulk of the kids (birds and dogs) were with Sonja in the little car. Mike had the cats in the truck.

I didn't have anything but a dashboard of supplies...

...and pictures of my walker family up on the roof. I was still pretty attached to them at this point - they were a week behind me, but still very present. I had been talking to Patrick and Kathleen and had gotten emails from Carrie and Jen, so...our hearts will still very much with one another. So...I took them with me.

And we headed about 4:00pm on a Tuesday, leaving from the Cape. It wasn't the most fortunate time to be starting a 3000 mile road trip - but some things are simply out of your control.

As we soon discovered about 2.3 miles down the road when the car battery on Sonja's car conked out.

Ooooooh. So close.

So, there was that.

Then there was an accident that closed Hwy 6 (the only highway off the Cape) for a goodly section of mileage. We had to take a back road, which slowed us down further. I think it was about 6:00 or so before we even got near New Hampshire. It was....mmm.

We did end up driving quite aways into the night - pulling over at this Stop and Shop at around midnight and discussed how much further we wanted to go. We decided to push another couple of hours and make up some time.

I can't even tell you where we stayed that night. I do know it was about 3am when we pulled into the Econo Lodge.

And then we had to deal with the animals.

Have you ever tried to sneak one of your critters into a hotel room at night?

Ever tried six?'s kind of hard to explain - at that time of night, and at that level of delirium I just started to giggle. But I had to stifle it, 'cause everyone was exhausted and Mike was sweating carrying Luke's cage up two flights of stairs and then realizing that Kaia was having a panic attack and wouldn't climb the stairs and so just ran back outside - which caused Sheluin to run outside with her. Freeway had to be carried up in her crate or she would've bolted and her anxiety was causing her to meow way louder than normal (which sounds really loud in a motel hallway at 3am). Bramble clawed the shit out of my arm.

I don't have any pictures.

But I can tell you what finally made me lose it - after everyone was finally tucked into the room and I was free to wander around and peruse the snack machine before heading to my room; I was walking up the back stairs where we had snuck everyone in and I saw one lone grape. And I just started cracking up, right there, my giggles richoceting off stairway. It must have fallen out of one of the bird cages. I wish I had taken a picture of it. It probably wouldn't have taken, 'cause it was kind of camouflaged by the carpeting...but there it was, nestled in the corner. It killed me.

Night One.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The House that these wonderful people built

Sonja and Mike have built a wonderful home here on the Cape, and while they are sorry to leave the land, they are pretty darned excited about getting back to the West Coast.

We, on the West Coast, are super happy to have them home.

I came to this place in the fall of 2002 for a refuge, a respite and a great deal of healing while I started trudging along the road of recovery. These guys were gracious enough to let me stay with them for over four months in the pre-dawn days of my sobriety. A gift that can never be repaid - and though they have never asked me to - I was thankful when an opportunity came up for me to at least be of some service to them while they uprooted from one Coast to the other.

So, for a week I helped them out the best I could. I wasn't in super form, having just left the Walk I was still bodily exhausted, but they put me to some use, running errands and helping out with cooking meals while they worked tirelessly getting everything ready to go.

It's hard enough to pack up a house - but the work takes on a life of it's own when you have kids - they have 6 of them - of varying ages and skill sets. Their kids are critters, kids none-the-less. Let's introduce them, shall we?

Here's Sheluin - sweetheart herder dog

Kaia - sweetheart Labrador dog

Bramble - Mr. Outdoors - super capable, easy-going feline

Freeway - one of my favorite cats in the known Universe - Freeway is ultra-shy and doesn't like her picture taken, much like her mom - so i really don't have a picture of her - here's a photo of her back end. But she is a wee black cat, with white paws and a tiny, tiny mew. But she is her own woman and quite powerful in her own catness. I love her. We bonded back in 02 and I will always be grateful of her gentleness with me.

Inca - a 48 year old Amazon Parrot. 48. She is a rescue parrot, and Sonja has done a remarkable job of nursing her back to relative health. I will say that Sonja is a staunch opponent of caged birds, or in keeping birds as pets. I heartily agree. Birds are not domesticated creatures and the fact that we have tirelessly tried to make them as such is abhorrent to me. Birds belong in flight, in freedom, period.

Luke - another rescue - Luke is a cockatoo - and though I can't remember how old he is - let's call him a toddler, 'cause that's pretty much where he's at. He's very sweet, but a bit of a problem child - Again, you have to give thanks to the patience of both Sonja and Mike for taking on these birds. Birds are incredibly difficult to keep in the home; particularly exotics such as these. Luke was born in a cage, sadly, and was found at a Flea Market. Inca was stolen from her home in the Amazon and survived the heinous trip into the U.S. nearly 50 years ago. These birds are delicate in the sense that you can't just throw a bunch of seed and newspaper down and call it good. They need an incredible amount of attention and a very particular diet if they are to survive. When I first met Luke, he was squawking so loud I could hear him from the street. He was enjoying himself from a perch way up in a tree on their yard, having climbed up there (mostly) on his own. Sadly, Luke can't fly anymore...but he gets out regularly!!

And for fun...I have chosen this towel as a representative of Sonja, who hates having her picture taken. She is always carrying a towel around (kids)'ll do.

So - that's the family (and, I'm sorry I don't have a picture of Mike...I don't know how that happened!) It's huge. And in a week's time they'll all be loading up into a car and a truck and making the 3000 mile journey out to California. I'm driving the U-Haul.

Anyway, before we get to that little adventure, here some pictures from her garden.

Sonja is an herbalist with a wonderful line of natural products and tinctures - some of which are grown right here in the garden.

Her specialty is in the healing arts of critters. You can learn more about Sonja's work by going to