Tag Archives: Spain

One Year of Faces: Part 2

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One Year of Faces: Part 1

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On the 23rd of this month Richie and I celebrated one year on the road! 365 remarkable days! If there’s one thing that has characterised the experience for us, it’s the people. As a tribute to the places we’ve been and the friends we’ve made, I offer a gallery of faces: each one beautiful and unforgettable in its own way.

These are people with whom we’ve couch surfed, Wwoofed, played, partied, wept, worked and dreamt. Thank you, each and every one of you, for the inspiration you’ve offered us; the chance to mingle our life journeys with yours.

Thank you… شكرا… спасибо… σας ευχαριστώ… gràcies… 谢谢… tak… merci… მადლობა გადაგიხადოთ… תודה… grazie… ຂໍຂອບໃຈທ່ານ… با تشکر از شما… mulțumesc… ¡gracias… teşekkür ederim… diolch i chi… Ake Issrebeh Moulana… tanemmirt…

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The Tao of Travel (Part 1)

 “It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.”

– Alain de Botton The Art of Travel

Richie and I have been on the road for 115 days: long enough to begin observing the natural cycles and rhythms of our journeying – the emotions, the needs that arise, the types of experiences that we enjoy, and the edges of our personalities that rub uncomfortably and bring us into conflict with ourselves and one another.

As well as being a joyful process, travel is painful. The frequency with which we find ourselves in difficult and unfamiliar situations puts constant pressure on our ability to respond in open, loving and creative ways. Decision-making in particular is a fraught exercise, with wills and egos doing battle to win supremacy. Essentially, what we want is the same thing: to be happy and not suffer; and to find a route overland from England to Australia that will hold the most abundant opportunities for self growth and good times.

So far, we have met the challenges of the road with greater and lesser degrees of grace and good humour. In my experience, how willing we are to speak truthfully to one another about our fears and hopes, and how willing we are to address unhelpful/inharmonious behaviours and habits of mind, has a direct and proportionate bearing on how quickly we are able to return to a space of grace, goodwill and openness.

Finding ways to make long-term-travel meaningful and sustainable – in every sense of the word – is a challenge. We know we’ve found the right balance when we can raise our eyes to the horizon once more and smile at what we can’t see is coming… every moment like this is a joy and a homecoming. Releasing the ego’s grip on the self and surrendering to the intuitive wisdom of the road – the dao – or whatever it is you want to call it, is a rare and fleeting thing, but well worth it for a look in on an adventure of a lifetime.

Lessons from the Roads no.1
One of the most frequent patterns I’ve observed in myself over the last 115 days is the frequency with which I fall in and out of love with the process of travel. Disenchantment follows hot on the heels of elation, and no sooner have I convinced myself that I want to be a gypsy for life, than I begin to feel that life on the road is repellent to me, and must be brought to a speedy conclusion.

The initial phase of disenchantment usually coincides with our departure from a cherished place and our arrival in a new, unfamiliar location, or, being brought into contact with a particularly unwelcome reality or set of circumstances – for instance being deprived of a comfortable place to stay or a good square meal.

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Venice: between heaven and hell

If the devil is Venetian, wears storm-trooper boots, black sunglasses and operates via Couch Surfing, then Roberto (alias) is his name.

Roberto was our ‘fall back’ option for accommodation in Venice.
“Call me,” he said in response to our Couch Surf request, “in case of emergency, if you get stuck, or if you really can’t find a room.”

Within a day and a half (and a lot of rain) of arriving in Italy the conditions that Roberto had described had indeed come to fruition: we were stuck, it was an emergency, and we couldn’t find a room (that we could afford).

“Who should call him, me or you?” I asked Richie.
“You do it. You’re the one who wrote to him.”

Despite having a rather fearsome profile on Couch Surfing (think Sid Vicious crossed with Che Guevara) Roberto was gracious about letting us stay. He met us at Venice’s St Lucia stazione and took us back via a circuitous route to a squatted university building where a ‘happening’ was underway. He introduced us to his friends and gave us a running commentary on the history of the building; its apotheosis as a squat, and the reasons why Venice’s grand buildings were being systematically sold off as luxury hotels.
“There’s more tourists here than residents. We’re outnumbered 3 million to 60,000,” he told us flatly.

After the ‘happening’ at the university we were frogmarched to a bar on the other side of town where an anarchic bunch of rabble were loitering alongside the canal, drinking beer and listening to heavy metal music: more leather than the Fez tanneries and more dogs on leads than Miami beach.

It was not long before Jason wandered over and started talking to us… again. He’s joined us for drinks at the university, impressing us with his distinctive appearance (he wore what can only be described as a leather cape) and intriguing persona: part Ezra Pound, part Mick Dundee. His mother was Australian but he was born in Venice.

“Nice Irish accent,” Richie scoffed once Jason had excused himself to search out a cigarette.
“It’s no Irish, it’s Australian. Watch the pen. He’s got my pen. I bet you he’s going to pocket it. You can’t trust writers!”

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Hossin’ it to Venice

Richie and I have been known to attempt rash and zany things, especially whilst on the road. A whiff of adventure, a challenge, a dare, and we’re off, scheming of ways to reach B from A; testing the mettle of our spirits and the imperviousness of the soles of our hiking boots.

If they were made for walking, what’s the point in standing still?

It was during a particularly low moment during our stay in Barcelona that we decided to intercept Richie’s parents on their 18-day cruise of the Mediterranean. We were lonely and could do with a merry rendezvous. On the 14th of April Kay and Steve would be disembarking the Queen Victoria in Venice. Why not surprise them there, and spend a memorable 6 hours walking the streets; lagoon water lapping at our toes and the taste of gelato in our mouths.

Reaching Venice on the 14th left us with a window of 4 nights to get from Figueres (in the northeast Spain). We considered flying, then thought better of it. Why not hitch?

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Dogs in Heaven

Dino and Amanda are the type of hosts that every Wwoofer dreams of: fun, sociable, passionate and accommodating. What’s more, they cook great food and live in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited!

Right from the beginning, when our Wwoof Espania membership came through in the post and long hours were spent pouring over the host list, I knew I wanted to stay with Dino and Amanda at Can Col. They’re Wwoof profile said it all: “young couple living in a 17thcentury renovated farmhouse in the lower Pyrenees… surrounded by woods and silence for many miles around… we make our own bread, pasta, game sausages, pâtes, marmalades and jams… and we grow our organic vegetable terraces from which we eat all year round.

After arriving in Figueres, we were met off the train by Dino, Amanda and their two dogs, Rita (mother) and Lucy (daughter). It was a wonderful reception full of tongue kissing (from the dogs) and excited yelps (from the dogs also).

Dino (Italian) and Amanda (Catalan) spoke brilliant English, and it was nice to be able to talk freely about their lives, as well as our adventures on the road.

After several peaceful miles driving through fertile valleys we began the ascent into a rugged uninhabited mountainside, covered in a forest of holm oaks, chestnuts, walnuts and wild apple trees. Great ridges and crusts of limestone jutted out like stern eyebrows.

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The Wonder of ‘Alhambra’

Richie and I tend to eschew the type of tourist ‘experiences’ that require you to part with fistfuls of money. Waiting in line at the Alhambra ticket office in Granada was a fairly joyless experience. Richie fidgeted with his respectably hairy chin and seemed as likely to bolt as a colt after its first taste of the bridle bit.

I watched enviously as tourists who’d had the prescience to buy their tickets online breezed toward the open gates; silk shawls fluttering and leather sandals slapping the hallowed earth.

Eventually, after nearly forty five minutes of waiting, we acquired two tickets. Audio guide NOT included. “You’re kidding,” Richie breathed as he inspected the tickets. 2 hours to fill before the allotted time.

We walked back downhill over the saddle of Sacromonte where the sound of flamenco heels rapping on timber floors was almost sufficiently enchanting to disperse our penny-pinching fugg.

Through white streets; past portholes leading into mountain dwellings (the interiors of which we were never likely to see), we succumbed to the sadness and dislocation of being gypsies… of sorts…

Back up on the Alhambra we made ready to enter with our ticket and tourist map. “Choose wisely which monuments you visit,” the guide warned us, “save your legs.”

Richie’s permaculture perversion did the talking as we followed the shaded cyprus walkway to the gardens of the Generalife.

With the first glimpse of terraced gardens, fountains and scalloped bowls of trickling water everything was forgiven.

Richie was rapt by a series of channels and cisterns transporting flumes of water from terrace to terrace.

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