Fundraising Countdown

The support and fundraising that has happened on my behalf has touched my heart and has made alternative cancer treatment a possibility for me. Donations continue to be my primary funding for healthy food, supplements, living expenses and medical bills. If you feel moved to give to my Health and Wellness Fund, please follow the Paypal "Donate" button below. To avoid Paypal's 3% fee, checks or cash can be sent to Zachariah Walker, 1003 Chipeta Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Blessings!


Donate to Zachariah's Health & Wellness Fund

Thursday, November 27, 2008

On Purpose...

Nov. 26th:

            I pass hillsides of olive groves interrupted intermittently by crops of solar panels, neatly planted in rows.  As the train departed Granada minutes ago I experienced a twinge in my heart.  Something about the tightly tucked neighborhoods on hills, the Moroccan influence of kebabs and street vendors, the University vibrancy, gypsies living in the hills and entertaining in the plazas, the presence of the snow clad Sierra Nevada Mountains, and of course the distinct emblematic presence of the Alhambra overlooking it all.  That and the mix of languages coming from all corners as you pass.  The culture blended in language, history, and customs- something to embrace, as I will never find its equivalent in Colorado as long as I live.  Despite these feelings it was no doubt time to move on.  To sit in once place for too long without a sense of purpose (beyond seeing the sights) becomes uncomfortable.  It’s like a root determined to set itself in foreign and concrete soil with no concept of what it may fruit.  There is temptation in experiencing the growth process and blooming out from the unknown.  Especially in a place where gravity seems to have a stronger pull.  However, there is ease in movement because movement will eventually return to the comforts of where it started.  Yes, the comforts of home and the love of friends, but as much the sense of purpose that seems so relevant and waiting.   

Elevation has stunted the growth of the olives, farmers giving way to the barren.  Further along I witness a landscape unique to any I have ever seen.  Resemblance to the carved unassuming desert soils of Colorado and Utah with rolling snow painted mountains resting in the beyond, but with the presence of low valleys of seemingly planted tall and wispy poplar-esque trees.  The white-washed residences and brief encounters with unvisited villas sparks the imagination as to what life is truly like in that little speck of the Earth.  So many specks, so many people, so many ways of life.  As the distance to Almería shortens I see the landscape noted in my Lonely Planet, one straight out of America’s Wild West.  In the 60’s and 70’s dozens of Hollywood Westerns were shot, at least in part, here.  Some movie night in the future may have to include The Magnificent Seven and Fistful of Dollars.  The valley I currently gaze at has now given way to rows of giant wind turbines; alternative energy has its presence on much of this journey I’ve taken.  Visions of moving into the future.

And how to move into the future is still a translucent image in my eyes.  This time of travel is clearly a time of transition in my life, the break from the form my “calling” has taken over the past five years and into a lifestyle more purposeful.  How to move vocationally to encounter a greater sense of purpose than teaching?  The answer found in how one defines purpose.  (And important to note as I watched the antics of school groups touring the Alhambra today, I was happy NOT to be the one in charge of disciplining and ordering the rambunctious ones.  Exhausting just to watch.  I chuckled to myself with the clarity.)  Purpose has a synonym that I’ve always knows, and that has become apparent again with the examination of those I have encountered, even just in Granada.  The old couple running the pension I stayed at.  Each morning a warm smile as ginger teas was delivered with kind Spanish comments regardless of one’s ability to understand.  A day of cleaning, making beds, checking in and checking out.  Day after day…  I wandered tiny streets which led to pathways up the hill opposite the Alhambra.  What appeared to be open land I quickly realized was inhabited.  Caves etched out of the Earth and marked by recycled fence pieces, hubcaps, and other useful rubbish.  The call of a drumbeat pulled me higher to witness a shirtless dready, hands making music.  Accompanied by a guitar and two dancers.  Dancing to the day, dancing to the One, dancing ‘cause they’re people living underneath the sun…  I struck up a conversation with a street artist, the first I’d ever seen with his craft of cutting the coins of the countries into creative charms.  Truly detailed work of which one I now wear.  He had spent years working the mechanic’s trade in Germany where he bore two children but was eventually politically pushed out.  His origins in Costa Rica intrigued me, but he laughed at my inquiry of living there.  “I can’t afford to because of you!”  I understood the generality of “you” and gathered more awareness in the inevitable laws of cause and affect.  He now lives hand to mouth following his creative passion as content as could be.  “Life is good in Spain.” 

Purpose is living in happiness, being content with who you are, what you’ve got, and what you do, each as individual entities.  The world is overwhelming with possibilities for the fortunate ones.  We, the fortunate ones in the Industrialized First World, so bent on being industrious.  How many sacrifice who they are by defining what they do by what it allows them to get?  And what do they really have?  Analyze this via possessions and money, the crazy concept of retirement, self-image, what you will.  I’m sure the problem lies in never really being allowed to know one’s self.  Others start defining you long before you’ve got the faculties to do it yourself.  Unlearning is much more difficult that learning. It’s much more daunting to realize your capabilities than your limitations. 

This may read as vague gibberish, it may strike with personal relevance.  I’ve uncovered my own insight.  I started this trip as a cautious shadow dweller and storyteller.  I’ve bent my stature into a stiff neck and tight shoulders.  Fear and paranoia have manifested into gastronomical mourning.  I’ve caught anxiety in the form of clenched fists and jaw.  Honestly, I believe the origin of these side effects have been my self-concept while traveling overseas as an American.  At times I’ve wanted to run home and hide, I’ve played with becoming a Spaniard and falling into the lifestyle of siesta (still not a bad option), and I’ve wondered what it means to be an American.  I have had countless interactions with a variety of foreigners and each one has shaped my understanding.  The generalities that we all hold towards each other are amazing.  I could see the change in foreign attitudes as our election results opened the shades to large windows in a dark room.  I had something I could speak proudly about other than the vistas and open space of the west.  My newfound pride to be an American is not based on power, it’s based on possibility.  The world is overwhelming with possibilities for the fortunate ones.  The fortunate ones have responsibility for the possibilities of the world.  It is not necessary to pick a purpose out of possibilities, but to live one based on them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Loving Spain!

  I am having a killer time in Spain. Much of the adventure in traveling alone is finding others to share the experience with.  From Sevilla to Cadiz to Granada I've had the joy of sharing the experience with Gary Ireland and Rosa Lopez.  Gary, from Ireland (you should've guessed), and Rosa, from Alicante, Spain.  Two quality cats with whom I have laughed my ass off with.  Nothing like some good America bashing with those thick foreign accents.  I take it in stride...

pic 1- The Grand Cathedral in Sevilla.

pic 2- A night out taking in the Flamenco culture in Sevilla.

pic 3- Views of the Alhambra with Granada in the background.  

pic 4- Inside the Alhambra grounds.  Reflections on the past...

pic 5- Cheers amigos!  Drinking Alhambra after a day at the Alhambra.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sevilla Sevilla

Ahhh, life is good in Sevilla. I am in the travel groove and loving Spain. I met a fine Irish lad named Gary, who it turns out has had the same surgeries as me. He´s got a j-pouch and travels the world. Having a great time with him, his Spanish friend Rosa, and her friend Sandra. Here´s the past few days in pictures:

Tapas, the look says it all.

La Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza. Many bulls have soiled the ground with their blood here. I was disappointed to find that the bull that kills a matador does not win its freedom.

La Plaza de España in Sevilla.

View from the Torre Tavirs in Cadíz.

We took a drive to Cadíz, what a lovely town jutting out into the Atlantic. On the left is the town´s yellow-domed 18th century cathedral.

On to Granada and the Alhambra tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Portuguese Nutshell

Nov 18th:

            I’m on a five-hour bus ride from Lagos to Sevilla.  In my ear are some freshly acquired tunes from DJ Susie Sanchez.  Portugal’s been an up and down, but I’m sure as I get further and further away the best of it will remain in my mind.  I’m just over the halfway point of my Mediterranean voyage, the days are getting shorter, but the glimmer off of the whitewash residences seems to be getting brighter.  I continue to adapt to the mystery of time and place.  So much to see, only so much time to spend, and there’s making sure you find a certain grace in how you do it all.  For my own sake I want to review the 17 days and four phases of Portugal.

            Lisbon: My first impression is one that will stick for decades to come.  After a superb connection on the overnight rail with Luis (a local Lisbonian with so much interest and enthusiasm to share with the foreign travelers) and Grant (super cool MD originally from Prince Edward Island who I have so much respect for, and who I related with for hours, and who granted me honorary membership in the Canadian StFWC!) I landed in the early hours of a Sunday morning.  After the hustle and bustle of two major cities the desolation of the A.M. air was haunting.  No striking architecture, just intricately cobbled streets and tile faced storefronts.  Not but one single soul, an old Gandolf styled figure looking lost or bored and simply standing in the middle of the street.  As Grant and I passed, wearing the hunter’s orange of tourists, he stopped us with a subtle shift of wrist and opening of palm.  “50 Euros” as the sight and smell of 3 stogie shaped hashish sticks hit.  I casually assessed the barren environment in an attempt to shake the surrealism, shared a silent laugh with Grant, and moved along with a smile.  Not a day of rest for those working the underground.

            The accommodations at the Easy Hostel were just that.  I was delighted with another well run, cheap, clean, convenient, and easy to rest in hostel.  I played tag-along with Grant and his married friends John (a surgeon in New Brunswick) and Brenda.  It’s always interesting to inject yourself into the lives of others and stay an impartial, non-parasitic, and an entertaining investment.  I had a great time with the trio though I’ll admit I spent some time analyzing the psyche of John as, of course, one who has spent plenty of time analyzing the removal of really important organs, lymph nodes, and other ooey and gooey things.  It was quite refreshing to not make decisions, just flow along through the sights in Belém, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkien, and especially the Castelo de São Jorge.  The views from the castle were phenomenal on the warmest day I’d experienced in about a week.  The highlight was appetizers and my first Super Bock from a large sun swept patio with comparable views.  Sometimes the mark of a great beer is not simply the taste, but where and who you were with when you enjoyed it.  Do you remember where you were when Obama got elected?  Why, yes.  Do you know where you were when you had your first Super Bock?  Mmmm Hmmmm…

            I have to admit, short term the satisfaction of the Super Bock was better.  I woke the morning of the 5th at the Alto Golf and Country Club in the company of my mom’s brother Greg and his wife Carol.  My aunt and uncle were capping off a 4-month European adventure and I was grateful to rendezvous with them on the southern coast.  However, I could not share my joyful emotions of the election results that morning.  We quickly established, and I explained to many Brits who enthusiastically brought it up to us over the next few days (to my gleeful satisfaction), that we don’t discuss politics or religion.  We simply enjoy the sights, the sounds, the food, the beverages, and the company.  And we did, remarkably so.  We frequented Peppers, undoubtedly the best restaurant I’ve experienced the entire trip, walked the beach, and took a tour from Cabo de São Vicente (the end of the world) to Monchique and Silves.  Carol and I shared war stories from the classroom and we vowed to carry the mentality of travels into our daily home lives.  Colorado and New Mexico aren’t that far away from each other, but it took Portugal to bring us together for the closest connection we’ve ever really shared.

            While in the good graces of my aunt and uncle a song began to form in my mind.  It may never be complete, but have a sample of the ode from a bleeding heart Earth lover to relatives of the right wing.  In the tune of Ebony and Ivory ala Stevie Wonder or Eddie Murphy (your pick), (which I heard more times in France than in 10 years in the states):

You are red and I am blue, what you think’s wrong, I think’s true,

We’re from the same fam, but the buck stops there, no sense fillin’ a circle with a peg that’s square,

When we get together, one thing’s perfectly clear, no politics or religion, we just drink beer,

We’ll never all be happy, with who’s in the White House, I suffered 8 years of Bush, now ya got “mickey mouse,”

you like to watch Fox news, I prefer PBS, at least we agree our education system’s really messed,

you’re inspired by Rush Limbaugh, I think Michael Franti’s the man, will we ever see eye to eye and walk hand in hand?...

(I don't know why this is blue)

            Phase three was promising to be an exciting experience, a work exchange on a solar-powered home front with a holistic healer and D.J.  Lies, lies, sweet little lies; on day two, the flu.  From snotty child, to Susie Sanchez, to your truly.  Much of this story has been told.  The mind trip of the sick and intestinally psychologically sensitive in an alien land with an unfamiliar friend…Susie the sweet, dietarily balancing bi-polarity, special dyslexia, 18 years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and overwhelmed by the tasks of a simple existence.  No diet, no balance, no fun for either of us.  The energetics of the scenario are fascinating to those interested in such things as emotional and karmic layers.  And, as if universally prearranged, a random cranny stash of Mother’s medicine was provided by a previous volunteer in the cabin I cleaned out and stayed in.  Positive perspective as I regained my health in Susie’s own little private paradise.  Sunshine in the morning, wood fire by night, and the moon waxed, filled, and moved into waning.  One night as I stood in appreciation as funky blues riff came floating up the valley, live and rockin’.  I longed to join that gathering.  Up the road and down: views, beach, wildlife, and open land. In addition to multiple sea birds, prized views were a Bonelli’s eagle and a few flocks of migrating vultures (more majestic and full feathered than you’d expect from the sort).  And on my last night, as the setting rays of sun pinkened the ocean’s horizon, dolphins danced in the sea to bless me on the rest of my journey.  A treat Susie’s said she hadn’t experienced since 2005.  Truly, a blessing.

            “Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”  “Interrupting cow.”  “Interrupting co…”  “MOOOO!”  I’m getting tired of those kind of people.  Usually they’re old and alone.  Today in my fourth or fifth such conversation with the same guy at my pensão I interrupted him with, “I really really have to pee.”  I could have held it, but I didn’t want to, and I didn’t come back.  I’m trying to decide what’s a better thing to do, make an excuse or politely explain how miserable it is having a “conversation” with them.  That, by the way, was not the highlight of Lagos.  Mostly it was just more beautiful beaches and sunshine.  One story for the books starts with the examination of a fascinating English word and a word of advice.  The advice: don’t ever “grab a beer” with an Aussie and expect to just grab A beer.  You may end up like me, “pissed off” after getting “pissed on” while “on the piss”, so “piss off” (none of that actually involved urine, though I did have to piss often).  The pub is the place to truly meet travelers.  Interesting perspective on American doled out to me by an intoxicated Australian sheila.  Only 5% of Americans hold passports and 4% are obnoxious.  I had to work hard just to have that conversation.  I must be the 1% to have the kind patience to deal with her obnoxiousness. 

Cobbled streets, shope merchants, Brits with yachts, fishermen, sandy stretches of beach, sardines for dinner, and sunshine…so long Portugal.               

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last (Portuguese) Supper

Nov. 17th:

            There is so much that crosses my mind while on the solo sojourn; humorous, contemplative, memories, and daydreams of the future.  I guess that’s part of the point for such a sabbatical, the processing and realizations, ghosts, gremlins, and greatness.  Wrapped up in it all is the awareness of lack of awareness, the comprehension that I am too often slipping in the meditative challenge of being in the moment.  Here I am experiencing what once I dreamed yet here I experience dreaming.  I guess it’s obvious what I am.  There are songs written about me. So, in a valiant attempt, here’s an ode to this very moment:

            I sit the far starboard side of outside dining.  The tables are three rows deep, yet the middle row, basking in piloted heat lamps, is the only non-vacant.  My ass has begun to tingle on the synthetic wicker patio chair, and awareness!  There’s a nice fuzzy fleece throw slung over a chair at each table and…ahhh, my ass is cush.  I have been eyeing the ambiance here at the Caravela everyday as I pass on the ever-amazing cobbled rua, directly across from my digs, the Pensão Mar Azul.  The direct heat and blend of casual lighting has my head glowing, my eyes almost radiate a hum.  A semi-erratic music mix is hit and miss, but my ears approve of the mellow Indian-influenced grooves.  The voices of young Portuguese squeals, adult bantering, and foreign critiques with British and German accents merge softly, and ebb, and flow. 

My Golden Bream banquet, grilled full body from snout to tail, was undoubtedly retrieved from the sea this very day.  I study through trial and error the best way to eat it without ingesting the delicate yet impending bones.  By the second half my knife and fork commingle with grace and flakey flesh floats from plate to face.  I personify the mini-toothed creature’s jaw lip-syncing the words to Abba’s Dancing Queen (bad DJ).  Luckily the turn in tunes comes after a truly a satisfying meal, one that should have stopped before dessert.  How rare for a plate containing a chocolate concoction to remain unfinished.  It’s a much better sensation for sight than salivation.  And now that my belly if full, the fleece is failing my ass, and Abba just won’t go away, I think it’s time for me to.  It’s only about 68 strides to a dark chocolate square, a splash of tawny port, and a diagonal night of sleep.  Tomorrow Portugal becomes the past.       

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lisbon Pictures

  I may soon catch up to where I currently am on my trip (Lagos, Portugal) and write a review of Lisbon, but until then here's some pictures:

  A monument to the explorer, headed by Vasco de Gama, as you're leaving Lisbon towards the Atlantic Ocean.

  The Castelo de São Jorge.  Ya know, I was fresh up on its history a week and a half ago.  There were killer views of the city and my imagination played with who was hanging out there 3 centuries ago.


  Lisbon cityscape.  To quote my Lonely Planet, "The city is a heady mix of crumbling pastel-coloured houses, grand squares and a maze of narrow lanes and alleys.  Spread over seven hills on the Rio Tejo and crowned by a castle, the modern center is contrasted by the Alfama's tangle of cobbled streets."

  First morning in Lisbon fresh off the night train from Madrid.  Dr. Grant (my Canadian travel buddy) and I at the Plaza do Comércio near the waterfront of the colorful Baixa region of town. 

Journal Entry 2

I write happily tucked into a quaint single room in the heart of Lagos.  Today’s shift back into action is so welcome after nearly a week of illness and recovery.  My spirit is positive and the movement is slow.  Here’s a journal double-header:  

            As I wander this morning to this rocky and stained ocean front precipice my mind turns through matters of spirit and nutrition.  With improved health and vitality, and so much perspective over-chewed in past days (like stiff and flavorless Trident), my confidence is renewed and my enthusiasm is somber.  I count three Portuguese fishermen to my left, separately nested into their own nooks of iron-infused and ordered rubble.  They sit for hours watching their lines and listening to the rhythm of the ocean.  I wonder, is it like television static or a meditative OMMM to them.  These litter-strewn rocks remind me that what is new, mystical, and sacred to one is easily worn, monotonous, and trivial to another. 

I move on today, these last moments I take in are likely my last gazes of this corner of Earth.  In the view there is relief.  There is humbling.  There is clarity.  There are more lessons to learn every time I come back to life.  There is fear to be forgotten.  Ahead, in the far distance, I can see a third jutting peninsula, there is more civilization there.  To the west the second reaching and crumbling finger of rock is the last; it’s the end of the world.  The surf pounds, like a tease, like thunder, for eons of time.  And how this ocean could swallow you up.  It’s immensity and mystery always so daunting to me.  I embrace its energy from the shore and shallows.  I adore the sun and surf.



Friday, November 14, 2008

Journal Entry

  I am now 4 days into trying to recover my strength (and sanity?) after acquiring a widespread illness here in Southern Portugal. I'll keep my blog somewhat updated for those keeping track of me through it with an entry from my journal. My shared writing (ie:blog) tends to be optimistic and adventurous, my journal is what's real:
  Another day awakens on the planet. I rise from my quaint inhabitance tucked in the dank bellybutton of this land and take an early walk up the navel and to the bosom for sweeping views of the ocean. Beyond the expanse to my left you'll find Africa and to my right you may eventually reach America. Common sense nowadays, but not so many centuries ago, in the visible town of Sagres, Henry the Navigator and his pupils philosophised the possibilities. Though, it seems, even in this modern age travel can send you off the edge of the world into the gut of a hungry dragon. I sit in its darkness surmising my own will to return to the grace of the sun, to find a flow along the unexplored path.
  I examine the plight of the adventurous spirit, filled with wonder-lust and the most ideal sense of existence, swimming through life with a compromised body surrounded by conflicted souls. Are decisions based on a Utopian notion or escapism? Lessons learned seem lost in joys remembered and the knowledge of the mind begs incessantly for a transfer to wisdom, despite the severity of experience. Contradiction in desires, the shadow side plays while light sets for days. The despised monotony of home life seems now an unreachable goal. I gaze off to my right, 5000 miles away.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Portugal Post

   Life has slowed down a bit on my trip. I thought I'd post a quick note in case any of you are following and wondering where and how I am. At some point I hope to elaborate further 0n my Portugal adventures, as for now I'm in between Lagos and Sagres (coastal southwest) doing a work exchange for about a week. Seems a bug is going around the area and I followed suit with my host Susie in experiencing it. The worst of it has passed, but it's been a light-headed and napping sort of day. There's a beautiful clothing-optional beach just a 10 minute walk one way and great views of the coastline from above 10 minutes the other way. I'm staying in a little cabin with a woodstove that I spent the first two days tidying up. Plenty of chores to do around this solar powered homestead. Prior to arriving here I spent about 4 days with my aunt and uncle who also happened to be visitin Portugal as well. With them I stayed at the Alto Golf and Country Club and dined out and casually strolled the beach and streets of Alvor, we had a great time. Definitely experiencing two completely different ways of life here on the Portugal coast.
I last left off on my way to Lisbon. I could've stayed in that area another day or two. The highlight there was spending time with Grant, a traveling MD from Canada that I met on the night train to Lisbon. We were in the same bunk and hit it off from moment one. I tagged along with him and his friends that he met up with when we got there. There's more to tell there, but the sun is setting on the day here. Time to sit fireside...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Magical Madrid

Nov 4th:
   I’m leaving Lisbon feeling a bit unfulfilled. With hesitance I stepped on this early train and now I watch the mix of tile-covered and pastel and rust colored buildings dissipate into the distance. Out the window to my right and directly below the Rio Tejo, it’s immense width dividing commerce from industry, pours into the Atlantic Ocean. Now gone from view and a memory forever. Each city I’ve explored has taught me that you can hold no expectation from one to the next. Each has surprised me with its unique personality and purpose. I have truly enjoyed each and would find it impossible to pick a favorite. Before I expose the resistance to my departure I must revisit Madrid in my mind. These tracks only move forward and the past moves further behind.
   My welcome to Madrid on the afternoon of the 31st was another wet one. I stepped off the metro at Puerta del Sol, the heart-center of the city. It is literally Spain’s center point as well; all kilometric distances in Spain are measured from there. Not interested in the effort to uncover my Lonely Planet’s basic map I began walking. It’s truly probably my favorite past time, to aimlessly wander through these enigmatic environments. Small creeks poured down the magnificent mosaic patchwork streets. Forget asphalt around here. I’m continually amazed at the labor intensive care put into beautifying hundreds of kilometers worth of streets and walkways. Tiling a kitchen with 12x12’s is taxing enough. These puzzle pieces are rarely more than 3 inches in diameter. After finally tiring and failing to make directional sense of the cityscape I pulled out my guide and realized I was a block away from the Mucho Madrid, an absolutely pleasant hostel run by an older couple who took obvious pride in their business and verged on O.C.D. with the cleaning. No complaints on my part as it’s rare to confidently step barefoot into the shower of such places. After a bit of chillin’ and BS-ing with a young and seemingly overwhelmed exchange student from Connecticut I again hit the streets.
   Now, I have a good sense of direction and intuition and I’m quite confident in my Jedi radar, but in Madrid, forget it. Barcelona has some sense of a grid system with occasional slant streets and round-abouts that spider out in 5 or 6 directions, I grasped the playing field quickly. Madrid, however, is a truly fantastic, geometrically abstract, conglomeration of madness. The feeling of the city is much more modern than Barcelona and the merging of an urban and edgy underground graffiti-littered décor with the high class and trendy bourgeoisie influenced shops and centers is fascinating. I followed masses along Gran Via to the next artery, vein, and vessel until it was suddenly dark and quiet and narrow and tall and time to turn around. Good luck backtracking. Peace of mind in knowing all you’ve got to find is people and a metro stop. I do have to say I managed to stumble into amazing building, statues, and plazas. The only problem with doing this through aimless wandering is not knowing what the hell they are. I guess it’s really about the experience anyway. Like in Plaza Mayor where I joined a group gathered around musicians and mumbled along with them in my best attempts to sing words I didn’t know in words I didn’t know. I finally realized it was a Catholic group trying to polarize the paganism going on all around. I had earlier laughed at myself when, after the third group of costumed creatures and 15 minutes of subconscious unscrambling, I realized it was Halloween. I forgot the eyeliner and glitter, however I’m certain a singing reveler who came up to me and passionately grabbed my arm while pointing back and forth between me and the sky (again, my first thought was wallet) was exclaiming my likeness to the Christ. It was the first time I’d heard that since cutting my hair.
   The true joy of the backpacker’s lifestyle and a necessity for the solo traveler is meeting and connecting with others. It seems there are about one in a dozen hostellers that I talk to where the conversation starts easy and just flows. The next morning I met Yanna, a Philly-born redhead teaching English in Italy with her cousin Helen. Teacher conversation led to a day of sightseeing and doing what I might tend not to on my own (like shopping for women’s underwear (it was for them, they lost their luggage)). A ticket on a double-decker tourist bus highlighted an entire city circuit I would’ve never seen otherwise. I experienced sadness partway through the day when a busy pastry shop and my trip to the servicios divided our paths. That’s the reality of the ebb and flow of this plight, connection and separation. I wandered more mysterious streets and stopped for a traditional dish of paella as part of a restaurant’s menu. A menu here is an appetizer (usually bread and butter or cheese) and a glass of wine, your choice of a first and second course from a set selection, a dessert, and a coffee to finish. And the coffee is not what we think of in America. In fact, I had to hold back my giggles at the first coffee I experienced in Paris. It’s small, petite in fact; it’s just damn cute. The cup looks meant for a dollhouse and I believe it’s meant to be sipped slightly with your pinky sticking out just a bit. What it lacks in stature however, it makes up for in strength. That potent little sugar packed shot of slurp puts the shine in your shoes and the shake in your soul. The perfect antidote to the wine induced coma following a long day of sightseeing. Halftime was over…
   The highlight to the evening was watching the setting sun sweeten the view of Madrid’s 18th century royal palace, the Palacio Real. It’s another immense (2800+ rooms) and gaudy structure built before our country was a country by some royal dude (King Felipe V) because he could. It truly was a sight to behold. I then jumped on another two-story tour bus and stood on top taking in the darkening town. I experienced true satisfaction in the exhilaration of dusk as I soared along above the crowds. I stepped off the transit and into line at the Museo Nacional del Prado to check out “Spain’s premier museum and one of the finest art collections in the world.” Setting my exquisite and refined taste in art aside, I decided my mission in the four level museum was to find Goya’s famous Maja Desnuda (Naked Maja). Rembrandt…blah, Raphael…hmmm, no, I wanted to find the work of The Man commissioned by the husband to paint the portrait of the Duchess of Alba, Spain’s richest woman at the time, who he ended up shacking up with and painting and extra portrait of for himself, sans clothing. Scandalous! Along the way I was specifically struck by the energy coming from the scenes involving compassionate haloed and winged beings and the vivid colors infused into El Greco’s work. As the Prado was beginning to prep for its evening hibernation I found the dark works of Goya, including Saturno Devorando a Un Hijo (Saturn Devouring his Son), creepy. A dash up the stairs to Goya’s final displays revealed the unrevealed. Damn, there was the Maja Vestida but no disrobed duchess. It was on loan to some undoubtedly uptight outfit in Paris. As usual, I had to use my imagination.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Barcelona Review

Oct. 31st:

            It’s appropriate, I think, to read the previous entry to understand that it was the breakthrough.  It, the process of writing, such a powerful tool.  The moment I closed the lid to my laptop a weight was lifted and now I float with so much more ease.  Being in Spain helps.  The moment I stepped onto the Barcelona streets I could immediately sense a different energy than in all my time in France.  The people here are more laid back and friendly and willing to work out communication barriers (of course I can meet them part way since I hablo espanol un poco).  The traffic is not nearly as homicidal.  The fear that the French put into me about thieves and pickpockets has me paranoid and hypersensitive, but I have sensed no such vibe even in the busyness of Las Rambles.  There are plenty of other more clueless victims walking the streets with much nicer things to steal anyway. 

            Barcelona is an ancient city with immense, historic, architecturally astounding buildings serving as everyday apartments and businesses.  The pillars, statues, and spires had me photo crazy around every corner.  The vast heights of stone and brick walls bisected by tiny streets off the main thoroughfares made it feel like you were walking down dark alleys at each turn.  Soon, the character of these side streets made them the more appealing routes.  The Mercat St. Josep was a delightful and bright expression of a fine street market.  Reminiscent of Seattle’s Pike Street, though much less linear.  And with a larger variety of dead animals, heads and hooves still affixed.  A lift to the top of the Monument a Colom afforded circumnavigatable views of the entire city.  (Yeah, I made that word up in honor of the big shot they built this crazy, skinny, tall structure (that you’d be crazy to put a lift in) to, even though he didn’t end up circumnavigating anything).  I must admit though, even to those sensitive to what Columbus symbolizes in terms of the disintegration (to put it lightly) of the natives of the Americas, the dude had some major balls to jump in a ship and take such an unknown voyage.  Maybe not quite Shakleton sized balls, but… that just struck me while I was standing there overlooking Port Vell. 

            Another big shot in Barcelona is the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudí.  He’s dead now too, but they’re still building his masterpiece and what is Barcelona’s most famous building, La Sagrada Familia.  Construction began in 1882 and is expect to be complete by 2020.  I might come back then because the 5 massive cranes and colossal scaffolding kept distracting me.  I kept waiting to see a cable snap and drop tons of cement and stone onto an unsuspecting, rubber necking, camera wielding, passport toting, penny pinching touron (tourist/moron) below.  No, it wasn’t me ‘cuz I kept my distance.  There were other highlights in Barcelona too, but I’m in Madrid now.  The pre-partying Halloweeners in the hostel have finally left and I might be able to sleep for a few hours before they stumble back in.  I had my knife confiscated getting on the train today (which is so lame because it was my favorite camping knife) so I won’t be able to give them the kind of Halloween scare that would shut them up for the rest of the night.  That’s what I get for cheaping out on a hostel, but I’ve still managed to spend 100 euros in 24 hours.  It’s actually a really decent joint, Mucho Madrid.  They provide big fuzzy blankets.  I can hear mine now…     


The Breakthrough

Oct. 31st:

            Suddenly it seems my iPod is setting the soundtrack for my trip.  This time Ben Harper off Lifeline in a very Neil Young flavored track, “Lord, I’m a fool for a lonesome train with that lonesome whistle in the rain…I tried to say goodbye, but never got your name…I know it sounds crazy, but I’m painfully sane…Lord I’m a fool for a lonesome train…”  Appropriate since listening to the previously mentioned soundtrack, the scene of Alexander Supertramp’s Alaskan realization plays in my mind.  Experience is meaningless without being able to share it.  Truly what inspires me to sit and write and share this with you, my friends.  I know there’s at least one of you here with me.  I know there are many.  I remind myself. 

            “True happiness is having wings,” thank you Ben for that reminder as well.  What a balancing act.  Add it to the list for this free-spirited Libra.  How to have wings and connection, how to soar and sit, how to travel and root, sound like a “How To” book that’s not yet been written.  Perhaps this is the beginning… It all started at 296 kilometers an hour on a train to Madrid.  Inspiration came to find luminosity under a clouded ceiling, to find a bridge between satiation and hunger, to establish again that translucent definition of what is, what was, and what will always be…    

            Hmmm, hell if I know.  I mean, I was born knowing it all and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to remember.  Being in a foreign country, Spain for example, holds such mystery and intrigue for an English speaking homeboy from the mountains of America.  Yet, the remembrance from being here: water is water, land is land, and people are people who just don’t understand each other.  This is superficially evident when speaking different tongues and profoundly evident with those able to correspond (take American politics for example).  The beauty of life is connecting with those you do understand, those you can look in the eye and just know, without exchanging a single word.  And when the words flow; joy. 

            There is no doubt I enjoy, even thrive on inspiring others.  I have often found it difficult to express myself when I hurt or when I’m insecure or when I am in need.  Likely from a childhood full of suffering and trying to protect loved ones from worry.  So please don’t take on my anxiety when I say I have held only transitory moments of happiness on this trip.  It’s a strange phenomenon that the exuberance of anticipation is too often replaced with contention in the reality.  But I think I understand why.  And I know there are others that understand.

            Why did my inspiring friend Annie, an amazing one-legged cancer survivor, up and go to Africa to help the malnourished?  Why did my beautiful friend Beth, another colon-less wonder, push herself to hike the Appalachian Trail?  Why are there so many magnificent stories of people striving to do the unconventional, the motivational?  Perhaps, motivating others is just a byproduct of the experience.  Those who truly observe themselves overcome struggle heighten their sense of self-awareness.  There is power in that discovery and purpose in the plight.  There is a desire to go deeper and this often means creating your own discomfort.  Creating your own challenge.  Creating your own rabbit hole.  Creating a personal conquest.  Giving a meaning to IT all.

            In an earlier entry I stated that I am not traveling to find who I am, I am living it.  Here’s where my latest struggle resides.  I was born with an innate sense of independence and my own conquests, chosen and not, have intensified it.  The thought of packing up and going to Europe by myself is a much simpler prospect that it would be for most.  So I did it and with it carried (as I usually do into everything) an ideal perspective of what it would be.  I know better than to expect something to be as I expect it.  That’s silly.  What I truly expected was to carry that sense of self that I have been infused in for months.  The flow of living in the NOW, the know of knowing how.  I truly feel like the growth I’ve gone through in life has bloomed into a true understanding of self and my higher purpose.  I’m not finding how this trip fits into it.   

            That sense of looking someone in the eyes and just understanding, well I’ve got my own eyes to look into.  And when I look lately I don’t get it.  Or have I really been looking?  Quite possibly my start to this trip rocked my confidence and I haven’t been able to look squarely since.  The challenge I’ve created for myself is to exist in a world of foreign strangers, where my verbal communication skills are slight (I’ve found it pointless to ask questions in another language because the catch is understanding the answer), as the upright and confident expression of me that I AM.  And I suppose, therein lies the purpose of this trip, at least a significant part of it.  Survival is easy, flowing with confidence and ease, that’s next. 

            There’s no question in my mind that there’s a point to these travels, even if it’s just for the perspective of what I’ve got.  As all growth experiences go, you don’t reach the heights without first wading in the shallows.  So I keep groovin’ on, writing the words to my own song, sharing with all who want to come along.  Much love too you, and me.