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Africa, Europe, North America, Europe, Africa – A Fools Journey

For those of you following, I am now embarked upon the fools journey. I’ve no set destination in mind. A job was offered and in my excitement to accept it, I spent nearly all my money on a couple of tickets to get me closer to it. The job is in Alaska and I am in Morocco.

My money managed to get me from Casablanca to Madrid. From there, I have to figure out how to get to Frankfurt in Germany so I can take my next flight to Dublin and then I will fly from Dublin to Quebec in Canada. Once in Canada, I need to find a way to get to the job – or needed to.

Since the job was supposed to finish at the end of September I booked my flight back to Dublin on September 30th. Since I am a fool, there isn’t any job. The universe took it from me – but not before I spent all my money on those flights.

I have about $50 on my debit card, paypal has suspended my account indefinitely because I used it in Morocco without telling them and now they want documentation I can’t provide from here.

I left Sefrou, Morocco this morning with about 300 Moroccan Dirham (about $30) and an overdrawn bank account that I used to buy the flight to Quebec.

As you may know, I am a fan of the Tarot cards and since the tarot is the story of the fool and this story has started, I should tell you about the journey. Once he begins the fools quest, the first person the fool encounters is the Magician. The magician not only shows him tricks but also explains the nature of the universe and thus the fool learns the power of manifestation.

Strange as it may seem, I did encounter a magician shortly after all of this began. A few days ago while hanging out with Moroccan friends and some American visitors, I was happy to run into Medhi, a young Moroccan magician who wowed us all with his slight of hand. (Or was it really magic?)

In addition, I have been forced to do some deep thinking of late about how to create the elusive win-win situation and also how to utilize the psychology of everyone involved to create positive social environments. On top of that, this fool has to figure out how to find accomodation and food for this entire trip, not to mention a way from Madrid to Germany with just $50.

Today was hard in some ways and easy in others. Hard was saying goodbye to Hanane and her family for the next four months. Easy was the full day journey from Sefrou to Casablanca. A petit taxi to the grand taxi station for 6 MAD, 10 MAD to get to Fes (btw 8 MAD = $1 U.S.) then 103 MAD for a second class seat on the train to Casablanca, Voyageurs Train Station. 8.5 MAD for another petit taxi to the Casa Port Train Station, and a walk to the youth hostel where a bed is 60MAD per night and included breakfast. 10 MAD for a sandwich and a couple of cigarettes and 10 MAD for internet and that leaves me about 90 MAD to get to the airport tomorrow. I have a couch lined up in Madrid through SOS Couch in Madrid and I still have a 20 Euro note to use for metro fare and food.

So, the first thing I need to learn from the Magician is that manifestation is possible.

Here is more on the fool’s journey from http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/basics/magician.shtml

Basic Tarot Story

Traveling on his way, the Fool first encounters a Magician. Skillful, self-confident, a powerful magus with the infinite as a halo floating above his head, the Magician mesmerizes the Fool.

When asked, the Fool gives over his bundled pack and stick to the Magician. Raising his wand to heaven, pointing his finger to Earth, the Magician calls on all powers; magically, the cloth of the pack unfolds upon the table, revealing its contents.

And to the Fool’s eyes it is as if the Magician has created the future with a word. All the possibilities are laid out, all the directions he can take. The cool, airy Sword of intellect and communication, the fiery Wand of spirituality and ambition, the overflowing Chalice of Love and emotions, the solid Pentacle of work, possessions and body. With these tools, the Fool can create anything, make anything of his life.

But here’s the question, did the Magician create the tools, or were they already in the pack? Only the Magician knows – and on this mystery, our eloquent mage refuses to say a word.

Basic Tarot Meaning

At #1, the Magician is the male power of creation, creation by willpower and desire. In that ancient sense, it is the ability to make things just-so by speaking them aloud (“And God said ‘Let there be Light!’ and there was Light”). Reflecting this is the fact that the Magician is represented by Mercury. He represents the gift of tongues, a smooth talker, a salesman. Also clever with the slight of hand (Mercury *was* the god of thieves!) and a medicine man – either a real doctor or someone trying to sell you snake oil. The 4 suits laid out before him remind us of the 4 aces, which in the Tarot symbolize the raw, undeveloped, undirected power of each suit. When the Magician appears, he reveals these to you. The reader might well interpret this card as telling the querent that they will be given a vision, an idea, a magical, mental image of whatever it is they most want: the solution to a problem, an ambitious career, a love life, a job.

 

(Originally posted 12 May 2009)

Hitchhiking is always a little bit risky. Hitching in Canada is safe but you run the risk of being left out in the prairie for a cold cold night.

First of all let me admit that there is a certain amount of concern that I’ve felt about the advisability of this plan. Canada has 33 million people and is the second largest country by land mass in the world. To put this in perspective, New York has about 8 million people alone. What this means is that there are great stretches of unpopulated landscape in Canada. I can already tell you two days into this that Canada is BIG. And beautiful.

Kelie in Quebec City

After a great couple of days hanging out with Kelie and her boyfriend Sylvain, I hit the road two days ago. I pulled out my trusty sharpie, pulled some cardboard from a garbage pile and made a sign. Vancouver. Always make a sign and always carry a sharpie. I also found a pinwheel in the garbage so I attached it to the sign too.

I started walking West from Kelie’s place and after about 15 cars a yong couple named Patrick and Patricia stopped and gave me a lift. They had just driven to Quebec City over night and were driving back to Montreal because they had rented an apartment in Quebec City and accidentally overdrew their account so they pulled out the cash and rushed to Quebec City in the middle of the night to leave cash for the landlord so they didn’t lose the lease.

Great people. Before parting outside of Montreal they gave me cookies for the road and we exchanged emails so that when I head back this way in September we can go river kayaking and hang out again.

My next ride was an old Frenchman named Andre who spoke no English but saw my sign and said “Vancouver?” “Oui.” I said. “Vancouver?” “Oui.” He said. I couldn’t believe my luck and sort of thought we had a misunderstanding since he didn’t look like he had prepared for a long journey. I was right, he dropped me off in an industrial gas area in the North of Montreal a few minutes later and headed off to work. He simply liked Vancouver, unfortunately, hitching in industrial areas of cities is much harder than hitching from the outskirts.

I spent most of the day walking about 15 miles from one end of Montreal to the other. It seemed an urban wasteland as I followed the highway. Finally, a bus came and since I had picked up a few used bus transfers from bins near a few bus stops, I decided to jump on board the next one and get out of town. No luck, Montreal has an electronic validation system. I walked more and then decided to try again from a really gritty industrial area. The bus stop was broken glass and bad grafitti.

The bus stopped and I told the driver I only had a $2 and she told me to just get on board. Then she gave me two valid transfers. These got me all the way to St. Anne du Bellevue, a really nice little burb in the west of the city. Then I met a really nice couple named Josie and Alex and we walked across the final bridge to get out of Montreal.

I was set up in a great spot for hitching with a few hours of daylight left and hopes of reaching Ottawa about an hour and a half away. A young couple stopped and offered a short ride which I declined and they gave me some snacks and a juice box. Then an older guy named Henri stopped and offered a slightly longer ride that I accepted, but in hindsight, I probably should have held out in the sweet spot for a ride to Ottawa.

Henri drove me past the highway split Ottawa/Toronto and assured me it didn’t matter. Since I have no map, I didn’t argue, but the signs looked like it wasn’t true. He dropped me off in the middle of nowhere on the highway heading to Toronto.

“Okay,” I thought “I’ll head to Toronto.” I stuck out my thumb and about ten cars later someone pulled over. It was the police. They examined my passport and told me to get off the highway and go to the little used 338 to hitch.

Bad advice with only an hour of daylight left. By the time I got there the mosquitos and black flies were out, it was starting to get dark, and there was little to no Westbound traffic. I was exhausted too.

So I figured I would find a place to crash out. There was an abandoned old pickup truck with a camper shell off the side of the road so I crawled in and put on my two jackets and fell asleep. No sleeping bag. I knew it was a bad idea doing this without one, but no other option.

After about 4 and a half hours of sleeping in the old dirty truck I woke up freezing. My teeth were knocking and I knew that I had to warm myself up or else things could get very bad. I walked down to the river and lit a small fire and thawed myelf.

Then I walked back to the highway again, despite the police and began hitching. Soon a car pulled over. It was two more cops and the same routine. I was really sorry I took the ride from Henri at this point.

Freezing, no rides, 3:30 am. As I walked off the ramp a car pulled over and two guys asked if I knew how to get to Ottawa. I told them I did and asked if I could catch a ride with them. They said yes. So I hopped in and fell asleep in the back seat.

They dropped me two hours later at a truck stop outside Ottawa…no trucks there though. I went inside and used the restroom to brush my teeth and clean up a bit and then I went and sat at the counter and explained to the truck stop cutie behind the counter what i was doing there. Her name was Stephanie and she sold me a bottomless cup of joe for 1 penny which I had found on the side of the freeway. She even gave me a cup to go when I decided to go start hitching the onramp again.Very sweet girl.

On the highway I was picked up by an army nurse who treated me to a cup of joe from Tim Hortons and got me just to the outskirts of Ottawa. Too close to the city though and I ended up walking a lot again. By noon I was tired of walking and scoured around a bus stop to find used transfers and find out which busses I needed to take to get to the Western edge. Ottawa looked interesting, at least the center, but I didn’t feel like stopping.

My transfer trick worked in Ottawa and I caught long city bus rides to the Western edge. From there I tried hitching the ramps for about 3 and a half hours with no luck. The highway patrol station was right next to me so walking onto the freeway was not an option.

Instead I walked across the street to “The Beer Store” found the manager and explained to him what I am doing and then asked if he had any damaged cans of cold beer he would give me for free. He did. That cold beer tasted like heaven as i sat on a nearby bench drinking it. Thanks Mike!

Back to the ramp and finally I drew a sign that said Aloha! on it and started to give people thumbs down when they passed me without stopping. A fella named Derek gave me a lift to the outskirts where I stood on the highway again. He also gave me 5 cigarettes so I didn’t have to quit smoking.

I stood for quite a while and then Jim, a long haul trucker on his two days off picked me up in his mother’s car. Jim was Canadian but certainly way more American than me. He talked about how our two countries are the same, how we all have ‘niggers’ and ‘chinks’, and how the border is already open for criminals and it might as well be open for everyone else.

Despite his bigotry and sort of Rush Limbaugh mentality, Jim had a real heart of gold. I make a point of not arguing with my rides and yet when they make statements like his, i certainly can’t agree, so I would just ask him questions in the hope that he would broaden his mind a bit. I don’t know if it worked or not, but I do know that Jim drove me about 4 hours west, bought me a chicken and fries dinner, and a coke. When I got out of the car he gave me $5 and wished me good luck. I wished him good luck to since he was on his way to meet a woman he had met online on a singles website.

So there I was in North Bay. It was a few hours to sunset and on the way there I had seen signs that advertised “The Worlds Best Smoothie” and free wifi. So I headed there. I used the free wifi for a while and then started talking with the girl behind the counter. I told her about my trip and asked if she had any extra smoothie for me. She did. Jen was concerned that her boss would find out if I wrote about her giving me the smoothie so I won’t mention the name of the place, but I will tell you that smoothie as I sat in the sun was certainly the world’s best.

So there I stood, i had put in a couple of last minute couch requests but a few hours went by with no rides and no calls from couch surfers. I figured I might just sleep on that corner since I was stuck by a no pedestrians sign again. Then two smiling girls pulled over and waved.

Dawn and Lia live in Sudsbury about 45 minutes away and had just had an urge to take a drive to North Bay. When they saw me hitching, they decided to pick me up and within a couple of minutes of getting in the car, we were solidly friends. Great music, great conversation, funny stories. They offered to let me crash on their couch and here I am the next morning clean after a shower, rested after a night on a comfortable couch, and using their wifi to update all of this. Their house is filled with musical instruments and empty beer bottles, we watched funny youtube videos and one of my favorite films last night “Dead Man” and this morning I was able to feast on some leftover Chinese noodles. They also gave me a pack of smokes and a couple of delicious Canadian beers. They’ve offered to let me stay a little longer if I like and I’m debating whether to take them up on it or hit the road, there is still a whole lot of ground to cover….

Dawn and Lia through my weary eyes at a rest stop.

About 941 kilometers (585 miles) covered so far with about 3400 kilometers (2113 miles) to go.

(originally published 19 May 2009)

Frankfurt International Airport is like a space port. My first impressions of Frankfurt are that it is incredible. Maybe the most modern city I’ve ever been in. Silent, fast trains, beautiful architecture, clean…so incredibly fucking clean. After dirty dusty Madrid, this is like arriving into paradise of the future. It’s expensive though.

Booked into a hostel for the night with my ill gotten euros. 30 Euros for a dorm bed. Ouch. Will be couch surfing for the next couple of days and then flying to Dublin on the 18th on Ryan Air. From there it’s to Quebec City. Still better to have the chance to experience even a little bit of Europe than none at all…

Anybody want to offer me a job? Anywhere?

 

As I said before, getting out of Madrid was slightly hellish and after that nightmare couchsurfing experience, anywhere would have been nice, but thankfully, Frankfurt was a great experience in every way. The first night I stayed in the Frankfurt Hostel and after that I had a couch lined up with a couchsurfer named Josephine.

The Chinese Garden in Frankfurt. The heron is real. There are many parks in Frankfurt and lots of birds.

Josie was great. First day I went with her to do one of my favorite cultural activities, grocery shopping. Everywhere I go, I enjoy seeing what sells in the shops. On the way home we were caught in a massive deluge and got completely soaked. I didn’t bring my umbrella this time around. And yet, it was fun.

Frankfurt is a banking city (Bilderbergs and Rothschilds) and as such Angels and Demons has been more appropriately named Illuminati.

After drying off and having a very nice vegetables and chicken dinner, we headed out to meet a few other couch surfers at a cavernous old wine bar. In the bar were a couple of girls from Quebec City who were incredibly enthusiastic about giving me advice on where to go when I reach Canada. If all Quebecois prove to be so friendly, it should be a great time there.

Frankfurt has the cleanest red light district I have ever imagined.

Heading back to Josie’s place, we passed many German merrymakers in the streets. German people laugh a lot and I notice a huge similarity in the tonal qualities of English and German. To hear a crowd of Germans talking, sounds very similar to hearing a crowd of Americans. Not the same as Spanish, French, or Arabic speakers. Interesting.

The next day, Josie and I took a full day walk through the forest near Frankfurt and through the city. She showed the the Goethe tower, which was amazing. The structure is entirely made of wood and the picture does not do it justice. Massive wooden tower. Maybe the view will make it clear. It’s the tallest completely wooden structure in the world.

This is the Bier Bike.Seems like a bad idea to put a bar on wheels and have a bunch of Germans pedal it around…

In the evening, Josie, her friend Stefan, and I had dinner in an authentic German restaurant, not a tourist place, since we were the only non Germans there. My American sensibilities were shocked by Josie’s Hitler jokes, but the Germans didn’t seem to mind. For some reason, I thought it was inappropriate to mention Hitler in Germany, but no one seemed to care, so I laughed with them all.

After dinner, a walk to the Main river and some lovely night photos. Then in the morning I caught a bus to the Frankfurt Hahn airport, an hour and 45 minutes away. Not close to Frankfurt by any means, thanks again Ryan Air.

In summary, Frankfurt was beautiful, friendly, and fun. The German food was delicious. In particular I enjoyed the Currywurst and Pear Schnapps, the apple wine was a little like drinking pissy vinegar. Not a taste I loved.

Near the airport, I strolled through the beautiful rural countryside, took a nice nap in a quiet park, had a coffee in an empty cafe, and then after dark went back to the airport. There were probably 50 people overnighting in the airport. I was stoked to score the best sleeping spot on the longest of restaurant booth benches, but at midnight when the restaurant closed, I had to abandon it.

Unfortunately this put me last in terms of finding sleeping spots downstairs and I ended up sleeping next to a closed airport shop on the ground. The ground was pretty cold and at 4:30 am when those arriving for the earliest departures started to show up, I woke with them, glad that I had napped in the country park the day before.

Cheap coffee and more than a few cigarettes later, I boarded my flight to Dublin, but not before going through an almost comedic performance by German customs.

The two Customs agents arrived looking big, blond, and blue suited identical, they each opened the doors at the same point, went inside, sat at the same time, and then took a few minutes as each looked at their computers. Then at exactly the same moment they motioned to us to start filing through:

“Vhy did you come to Germany?” I don’t know if it was from movies or what, but for the first time in Germany, I felt intimidated. It was downright scary.

“Just a visit” I said.

“I hope it vas a nice vone. Alveeterzein.” Stamp and move on. That was it.

A couple of hours later I stepped off the plane in Dublin to a very different sort of place. I’ll talk about that later though. Suffice to say, Germany was a very pleasant surprise and I look forward to visiting more of it in the future.

(Originally posted 19 May 2009)


I’ve been here with my new friends in Sudbury and as luck would have it am going to be able to catch a ride to Winnipeg tomorrow. It’s a 20 hour haul so definitely worth waiting for. Nice to be able to wash my clothes, hang out with new friends, and relax a little bit. The next stretch of hitching from Winnipeg to BC might be very challenging.

Sudbury is an interesting place. 1.8 billion years ago a huge meteorite smashed into this area. It was composed of mostly nickel. Then about 150 years ago the Canadians started mining here because of the nickel. The nickel mining process is incredibly environmentally destructive and until about five years ago Sudbury apparently looked like the surface of the moon because of the huge slag piles from the mines.

This is a railroad town and sits on the trans Canadian highway, so it has a familiar feel to it. Feels a lot like Bellingham, Washington to me. The people are an interesting mix of weeded out bums, artists, musicians, and environmental activists.

Yesterday we recycled all the beer bottles in Dawn and Lia’s apartment and then I made a vegetarian pineapple adobo for dinner. The couches here are filled with a constantly shifting cast of interesting characters.

There is a fair amount of anti-American sentiment as a result of Canadian troops getting killed in the wars, the influence of U.S. products, entertainment, and institutions and the overall lack of awareness of the rest of the world that exists in the states. I had to remind one guy to stop referring to issues in the United States as if I am responsible for them i.e. “All of your guns are getting smuggled into Canada by gangs” and “You use more energy than the rest of the world combined”. I asked him to please be more precise as in U.S. guns and the U.S. uses more energy…etc. It’s a little bit of a hard point to get across that despite the accident of being born in the U.S., I am not responsible for what my country has or is doing. Certainly I don’t own any guns and I use a negligible amount of energy.

Anyway, it’s a nice time here and even that exchange was enjoyable for me. Dawn is heading to Winnipeg tomorrow and I’m glad I don’t have to hitch since it’s started raining and is forecast to keep raining for a few days. I’m very glad these girls picked me up, that is for sure.

Thomas Edison visited the Sudbury area as a prospector in 1901, and is credited with the original discovery of the ore body at Falconbridge.

During the Apollo manned lunar exploration program, NASA astronauts trained in Sudbury to become familiar with shatter cones: a rare rock formation connected with meteorite impacts. However, the popular misconception that they were visiting Sudbury because it purportedly resembled the lifeless surface of the moon dogged the city for years.

Lia tells me that there are a huge number of people in Sudbury who claim to have been abducted by UFOs. Dawn whispers that it’s more likely they are affected by the heavy metal residue from the hard rock mining. Either way, Sudbury is out of this world and certainly rocks.

 

(Originally Posted 26 May 2009)


Quebec City is absolutely great. As I said, before, I got here and hitched a ride from the airport since there wasn’t a bus and taxis were a whopping $37 flat rate. Ouch. Since my couch surfing host has to work, I had most of the day to wander around Quebec City and become stunned.

I’m a big fan of Canada already, for years I’ve listed Vancouver, B.C. as my favorite city in the world. I may have to change that, Quebec City is jockeying for position.


When I arrived it was pretty cold. I put on my fleece and my jacket and considered pulling out my gloves too. Uh-oh, I thought, I’m going to need to gear up. Then, yesterday, it was clear, sunny, and incredibly hot. Everyone flooded into the parks that are everywhere in Quebec City. Sunbathers, people wading in the many fountains, bicycling with no shirts or wearing shorts. It’s nice to be somewhere where the body isn’t taboo and a guy can walk around with his shirt off on a hot day without attracting any attention.

I needed to do laundry so I wandered into the old city and found a laundromat and washed everything. The price was very reasonable at $1.25 Canadian per wash/dry. Incidentally, the exchange rate is favorable at the moment so a U.S. dollar will get you $1.04 Canadian. Feels nice after having to lose buying Euros.

Quebec City is gorgeous. While the cities of Europe were also very nice, they always felt like something was missing from them. I think it is because I’m a North American and we North American’s have a different sense of space, nature, and certainly history. This city has the charm of old Europe, the flavor of France, and the essence North America. It’s like a U.S. city without most of the negatives like gun violence, McDonalds on every corner, Walmart, Starbucks, and an uptight protestant Christian ethic. Yeah, I like it. If I could figure out how to swap my citizenship overnight, I would be proud to walk around with a Mapleleaf. (Incidentally, I’ve never been one of those Americans who pretends to be Canadian…I’d just like to be.) But, it’s actually quite a process to get Canadian citizenship unless you are already wealthy…

Anyway, here are a few pictures for you to enjoy.

It’s a Woodchuck!

Originally published 22 May 2009

I am in Quebec City now and I have $4 in Canadian. Since paypal has limited access to my account, I have no options but to get across Canada and down the west coast with the $4 I have. I’m not exactly outfitted for a long backpacking and hitchhiking trip. Since I have had to overdraw my other bank accounts, I have no access to overdraft money and I also have no credit cards.

Natural Beauty of Canada is Free
Flying High with No Money in Canada

I just got off the phone with a woman at Paypal who told me they will lift the limitation of my account. This is great but it comes a little too late to help since the $350 I have in paypal is only available to me through electronically transferring it to my $520 overdrawn Central Pacific Bank account. The transfer usually takes 3-5 business days so that still leaves me with $4 Canadian to get across Canada until next Wednesday.

The reason my CPB account is overdrawn is because of nearly $200 in fees and expenses I’ve incurred as a result of paypal restricting my account. My account was restricted because I accessed it from many different locations and they became concerned, despite the fact I’d told them I would be in those locations. They have asked me to enter pin numbers, fax them my passport, send utility bills (while I was in Morocco!) and more. I’ve managed to do nearly everything, but still, here I am.

 

UPDATE: It turns out that Danielle was simply lying. Instead of lifting the limitations, she actually placed new requirements on my account. I had to call back and go through the whole process again with another Paypal supervisor named Jessica who worked with me (not easy given my level of frustration) and after an hour on the phone managed to get my limitations lifted. So in 3-5 days I will only be $180 in the hole with my CPB account.

The problem is that Paypal is almost completely automated and as such makes limitations based on data without considering the human factor or taking into account situations where, like me, a person is almost constantly on the go. Furthermore, as a corporation they have created policies that are rigid and don’t take human considerations into account. This is the world we are living in and it is becoming more like this every day, so I ask you to consider:

What happens when the bank’s computers decide that you may not be you? I sent my passport, answered security questions, confirmed my personal bank account that is connected with paypal, had multiple phone conversations, and reset my passwords and still it wasn’t enough to prove to the computers and the policies that I am me and not someone pretending to be me. To get past all of that, it took a human being who was willing to duck and dodge through the bureaucratic quagmire of the computer and the policies.

Should we trust the computers that have our money? It’s essentially a matter of we are giving hours of our lives to computers that may decide they are not ours at all.

(Originally published 22 May 2009)

Vagabonding and relationship aren’t always compatible, but it’s a safe bet that the travel is worth it.

Hot Air Balloon RidesAt the moment I am embarked upon perhaps the biggest adventure of my life. You have no idea how big Canada is until you try to cross it with no sleeping bag, no car, no tent, and only $4 Canadian. Started out in Quebec City and now am in North Bay in Ontario. It has been epic getting here and I will update more completely when I have time.

If you don’t believe that this is epic…I want to hear what you think is. Slept in an abandoned pickup truck last night, have been stopped by the police twice, had numerous rides and despite starting with litttle food and $4 canadian, at the moment I have a full belly, am using free wireless, and have $7.03 Canadian

I admit it though, I am fucking tired. That’s about 630 miles covered so far. The cost was actually I got paid $3.03 Canadian. Can’t beat that deal. Only about three times this distance to go.

Wish me luck.

(Originally published 24 May 2009)

Sudbury was great. The generosity and good nature of Dawn and Lia really took the edge off the road.

I caught a ride with Dawn from Sudbury to Winnipeg, a drive of more than 20 hours. Dawn had never done a drive that distance alone so I was actually of some worth as I am a pretty good driver and I take the responsibility of keeping the driver awake and alert when I’m not driving pretty seriously.

We drove straight through all the way to Thunder Bay and finally had to pull in a rest stop too exhausted to drive but not before we saw a moose, a fox, and some deer. We also almost accidentally crossed into the United States. It was terrifying. Never mind that my license is expired…that’s in another country anyway.


Day 2 we saw lakes, moose, bear, coyotes, another fox, and plenty of beautiful scenery.

It was a fun road trip and we picked up another hitch hiker named Terry along the way. He told us that he had spent almost 2 weeks trying to get out of Ontario.

Ontario is huge and to drive along Lake Superior is more like driving along the ocean than anything else. Terry was hitching with his dog Tessa. I wish I were hitching with a dog. It reminded me that hopefully I will be able to see my dog in Bellingham, if I ever make it there.

It was totally sad to part ways with Dawn in Winnipeg. Her and Lia instantly felt like friends and I knew that I was going to be heading back out into the rough and lonely road. They made me feel like I was at home in a place I’d never been. From the truck stop Dawn dropped us at, Terry and I parted ways too.

I found a truck that was heading to Calgary but wanted to wait for 2-3 hours and I foolishly decided to hitch instead. I found a ride with a woman named Sonya who said she was going to Regina and could drop me off at the next truck stop.

On the way to the road from the truck stop I accidentally stepped in a swamp and covered my shoes, socks, and the bottoms of my jeans with muck. Then I got the ride with Sonya, who seemed pretty stoned and drove erratically while offering me hits from her joints.

Instead of going to Regina she told me she had to go by her sister’s house and let the dog out and then she would come pick me up in a 1/2 hour. This was about an hour before sunset. We had traveled several hours and were still an hour outside of Regina.

She dumped me pretty much in the center of the prairie and again told me that she would be back in about a half hour. Then she left and she never came back. I stood there trying to hitch a ride from nowhere for hours and hours.

Then it started to get really cold, then it started to get windy, then the trucks started flashing their brights at me. If I hadn’t of thought she was coming back, I would have arranged shelter but as it was I was stuck and couldn’t really leave. It was fucked. I don’t know what happened to her, but she put me in a pretty bad situation. My suspicion is she got stoned and fell asleep.

I didn’t really have the luxury. I didn’t know where all this bad luck was coming from but then I realized I’d left my lucky traveling hat in Dawn’s trunk. That hat has helped me with a lot of rides. Now it was in Dawn’s hands and I hoped she would take good care of it.

Thankfully despite my lack of a hat, a traveling salesman (Praise Bob Dobbs!) named Ivan stopped to see what I was doing there, found out I didn’t have anyplace to stay, and told me about a dry thicket about half a kilometer up. He also gave me a blanket he had in his trunk. I slept like a log in the thicket though I think I heard some coyotes in the night nearby. It was cold but not deadly.

This morning I caught a ride to Regina from an out of work electrician and since then I have been trying to escape from this place. It is windy, hot, and cold all at the same time. There are no couch surfers here. I have tried the highway, the secondary road, and the truck stop. No luck yet. Except that here at the truck stop there is a free wi-fi connection and a very nice old waitress.

I hate the Prairie. It fucking blows.

(Originally published 29 May 2009)

2922.1 Miles by thumb in 7 days plus two days in Quebec City and two days in Sudbury. I arrived in Vancouver with a little over $12.50 Canadian and a blanket. I left Quebec City with $4 Canadian and no blanket. Nice trip.
Hitching in CanadaFrom the truck stop in Regina I spent all day trying to thumb a ride and finally met up with Gary and Ian. Ian is a punk rock philosopher that did some hard time and now counsels at risk youth, Gary is a surly drug addict that drives a beat up pickup and works in migrant labor. The ride was here and there from Regina to Calgary in about three times the time it should have taken as we made frequent stops.

As we drove, we talked about our various religious philosophies and I was particularly struck by Ian’s punk rock code. Very new age punk rock.

In Calgary they gave me directions through town to the C train that with a bus transfer I found on the ground, and I hitched a ride at 7 am with little to no sleep to the base of the Colorado Rockies. Very glad to be off the prairie. My ride let me out at a very isolated freeway exit after about 45 minutes of driving. I forgot his name but he was a nice guy going hiking. He gave me his consul change to get something cold to drink.

Awesome old manI was picked up 15 minutes later by Ray, a retired forester who drove me from there all the way to Kamloops, British Columbia by way of all the ranges of mountains complete with their names, elevations, and local color he gained from working in the woods for the past 30 years.

Ray asked if I would mind if he showed me Lake Louise and various waterfalls, the spiral tunnels, and more. It was like having the best possible guided tour. I told Ray about my trip and he offered to buy me lunch, then a snack, and finally he drove me 45 miles past his destination and bought me dinner too!

Meanwhile we talked about life, history, and his wife in Thailand and the life they are slowly putting together while he closes up his life in Canada. His wife is 50, he is about 65, she is Thai, he is Canadian. It was nice to hear this old lumberjack speaking to her in Thai on the phone as they planned their future together. Ray and I got along great and even took a little hike on a glacial slope.

The Incredible Lake LouiseRay left me a the Kamloops truckstop where with no internet and no sleep that was really good in several nights, I rolled up in my blanket and slept in the dirt just outside of the lamps light.

I woke at 4:30 am and caught a ride with Dennis, an oilman from Edmunton who just got rid of all his possessions and is on a sort of vision quest after his wife left him and then his coworker who had also been left by his wife hung himself.

Dennis is rearranging his priorities in life. He drove me all the way to Vancouver and told me how he had his wedding ring and watch from his ex wife that he was going to give to the first worthy bum he met. I suggested he give them to an old bum that had been around the block a few times.

I think he wanted to give them to me, but somehow, I felt like I was getting enough with the ride and the breakfast Dennis bought for me. I’ll be fine and that jewelry might make the difference in someone else’s life.

Peace Arch Between Washington and CanadaAfter that I figured out how to take public transport to the U.S. Canada border and had the most hassle free entry into my country of origin that I have ever encountered. I walked across the border and didn’t get my bag checked, the border agent walked me across past the guys that might have searched me after I told him I had hitched across Canada.

Then I called my friend Dave, he offered to come pick me up and give me an accommodation for a night or two and we’ve been hanging out with his lovely wife Lynn in their little house in Bellingham since. Nice steak dinner, great company, and comparing travel stories and pics.

(Originally published 31 May 2009)

I’ve been a lot of beautiful places in this big, beautiful world, but few of them compare with the splendor of the Canadian Rockies.

Olympic Park in Calgary. Those are ski jumps.

The road where I was left at the base of the Canadian Rockies…very happy to get off the prairie. This is where Ray picked me up.

These grizzlies are not in a cage. There is a fence alongside the road to discourage animals from crossing at certain points. Ray said in 30 years, he had never been so close to grizzlies. we were both glad of the fence. I was also glad not to have to sleep in the mountains.

Lake Louise. I filled up my water bottle with glacial water and have rarely tasted anything so sweet.


 

(Originally published 01 June 2009)

a broken wagon in Big BearAnd now I get to work for the next few months. I’m in my childhood hometown of Big Bear Lake, California.

You can check it out at BigBear.com. I’m working with my Dad to remodel a couple of apartments and in the process he is teaching me the fine details of the constructions trades. It’s a good opportunity for me because he is a guy that really knows how to do this stuff. So for the next few months I’ll be tiling, painting, plastering, framing, plumbing, electrical work, and more. I’ve done a lot of this stuff before but never actually had a chance to be taught by someone who knows the ins and outs of the business.

Plus, it’s pretty cool to hang out with my Dad and hear a lot of stories and thoughts that we’ve never had the chance to share before. He’s an interesting guy. Last night we had a fairly intense debate about politics and had to call a truce to end it. Fun stuff.

Big Bear is a lot smaller than I remember it and is filled with quite a few odd people. I can almost imagine living here. I’ve found the only internet hotspot in the entire town and am having coffee and using the wifi here while I skip out on a few hours of work. I’ll be getting DSL hooked up in the apartments in a few days. Essential for me to be online these days…it’s my home address.

Anyway…getting here was fun. After Canada I spent a few days with my good friends Dave and Lynn in Bellingham, visited with a few friends, took a trip to Seattle where I saw my friends Kevin and Candida and then I watched the new Star Trek movie before heading to the airport for what turned out to be a pretty good nights sleep on a bench near the check in counters. Woke at around 6 am and caught my flight to San Francisco where I had just a long enough layover to have breakfast with my sister and say hello to her cute little baby. Then back on a Virgin America flight to San Diego where my Dad picked me up, then a 2 hour drive up the mountains into Big Bear and straight to work.

Star Trek was great. I really enjoyed it. Virgin America was also the best airline I’ve flown on in the states or Europe. I was a little disappointed as they advertised wi-fi on all flights. They had it, but it was $9.99 per flight essentially. And you have to have a credit card to use it. A royal rip off unless it is a 5 hour flight. The service was nice though, the seats comfortable, and the inflight entertainment system was the best I’ve seen on any airline.

So I think that’s about it. I’ll update sometime soon, but probably not as often as I have been doing while I was on the road.

If someone told you they had just spent a fun-filled weekend at a popular southern California resort called Yuhaviat, you probably wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Yuhaviat is a Serrano Indian word that means “Pine Place,” and it is the name Big Bear had for more than a thousand years.

Big Bear is no longer called Yuhaviat, because back in 1845, Benjamin Davis Wilson rode into Yuhaviat Valley with a posse of 20 men. They were chasing Indians who had been raiding their ranches in Riverside. As they entered the valley, they found it swarming with bear.

Wilson divided his men into two-man teams. Each team went out, roped a bear and brought it back to camp. They had eleven bear at the camp all at the same time. This prompted Wilson to come up with the name Big Bear Lake. However, it should be noted that Big Bear Lake is a man-made lake that didn’t exist in 1845. The lake Wilson named Big Bear was actually the natural lake at the east end of the valley, now known as Baldwin Lake.

Ben Wilson is not only remembered for giving Big Bear its name, but he went on to become an important figure in Southern California history. Among his accomplishments, he is remembered as the first mayor of Los Angeles. He was also a two term California state senator, and he built the first railroad between Los Angeles and San Diego. Wilson died on March 11, 1878, but before he died, he donated land and buildings for the construction of a college. This new college eventually became the University of Southern California.

Wilson’s energy and leadership qualities were passed down through his children to his grandchildren. One of those grandchildren was famous World War II General, George S. Patton.

 

Originally published 07 June 2009

It’s a strange place that I grew up in. The strangest thing is that it hasn’t changed at all since I last lived here 22 years ago. The same businesses, the same houses needing paintjobs, the same old time miner 49er beards on different quirky Big Bear types.

If anything, the place seems smaller but that’s just because I’ve seen a lot more of the world than I had when I was 15 years old. My childhood home looks the same, the same a-frame house next door, nobody is mowing the grass at Community Park still and the same grumpy guy works behind the counter at the Community Market.

My cousins and I used to go in there in the winter and stuff our moon boots full of candy and then go to the park and divvy up our ill gotten spoils.

People here still drive Pintos and most of the men seem to work in construction and grow what I call Mike Rafferty mustaches.

The main industry here still seems to be making ugly log furniture and carving animal totems with chainsaws. I haven’t had the chance to go hiking yet, but I’ll be sure to take some pictures when I do. In the meantime, this will have to do.

About 15 years (1860) after Bear Valley was discovered by Wilson , prospector Bill Holcomb discovered gold in nearby Holcomb Valley . After abandoning his prospecting and mining efforts in Northern California and Oregon where he spent 10 years searching for gold, Holcomb and his partner Jack Martin came to Bear Valley in the winter of 1859. Although the partners worked hard they made only a modest strike. Martin returned to Los Angeles to get his family.

Meanwhile, towards the end of April, while Bill was hunting bear, he crossed the meadow in the center of Bear Valley and climbed up the west side of Bertha Peak and saw what he described as “the most beautiful mountain valley I have ever seen”. A few days later, he returned to that valley with companions, and while tracking a grizzly he had wounded, along what is now Caribou Creek; Bill noticed glittering specks of gold in a quartz ledge.

News of his find spread fast and soon prospectors began staking and working their claims. The population of Holcomb Valley swelled to over 2,000; buildings and businesses sprung up, including a General Store, Saloon, Grocery Store, Blacksmith Shop and the famous Octagon House where the “glitter girls” danced and otherwise entertained men in small dimly lit cubicles. As more and more prospectors came to Bear Valley in the hunt for gold and silver ore, the Bear Valley Mining District was founded.

 

6/26/09

This was written inside one of the closet doors, I felt guilty of killing those memories for whomever the girls were, so before pulling the door off and putting it in the dumpster, I figured I would save those memories from dying, just a little bit.

As a guy who is pretty used to freebooting and having a fair amount of time to himself, this has been challenging in a few ways. Since we are living on the jobsite and the project belongs to my Dad, there hasn’t been a lot of downtime. Dad likes to wake up early and go to work, since we are living on the site, he usually sees something right off that needs to be done and gets to it. I can’t really let him labor on while I sit and write or work on the computer and so I usually labor alongside him.

At the moment, Dad is taking care of some business in town and Murray has gone to the Home Depot down the hill, so I am taking a few moments to catch up a bit. What a relief!

My uncle Murray (named for our Irish ancestors The Murrays…not a hebrew name…) has been here for the past week or so and the upside is that we’ve been getting one hell of a lot done. The downside is that I haven’t really had a chance to just relax and explore or blog about any of this.

Murray, Mama Jeanne, and Dad relaxing on the lanai after a day’s toil.

Last weekend, my old friend James came up from the Inland Empire and we decided to take a little hike up to Gray’s Peak in our old stomping grounds of Fawnskin on the other side of the lake.

It was nice to take a couple of days to just hang out and explore this place. As you can see from the pictures, Big Bear is a beautiful place. The weather has been stellar and it was nice to get out and do a little hiking.

Gray’s Peak sits at an elevation of 7920 and we started from Fawnskin at an elevation of about 6900 feet above sea level.

The hike took about 4.5 hours and took us through the region of the Fawnskin Caverns where we used to spend a fair amount of time, then up to some Alpine Meadows, past the area where the firefighters managed to put out one of the big forest fires a couple of years ago and finally up to the peak.

I forgot my camera and the batteries on James camera were dead so we both took pictures with our phones, so I apologize for the resolution and color bleeding.

During James visit we of course talked a lot about old times, had a couple of nice dinners with the folks and even visited one of our old hangouts The Goldpan Restaurant in Fawnskin where I briefly worked as a dishwasher. It was funny to look out and see that things haven’t really changed in Fawnskin at all, the kids still hang out in front of the pizza barn, just like we used to.

Also last week I had the opportunity to spend a little time with my oldest friend on the planet, Kris Rafferty. How strange to hang out with someone that was my first friend when I was 4 or 5 and realize that neither of us have really changed very much. We instantly fell into the comfortable comaraderie we used to have as kids running around our neighborhood and causing mischief. Kris lives in Palm Desert and comes up to Big Bear fairly regularly so I think it is pretty likely we’ll be able to hang around more over the summer.

One thing that I’m not too happy about is that I’ve probably put on 10 pounds since being back in the United States, mainly because of the huge portions of food people eat here. My Dad is a real meat and potatoes guy and serves up huge steaks off the barbacue and after a day of working hard, I tend to clean the plate, I’m realizing that I need to start eating half and saving the other half for later or I’ll end up obese.
As an example of how big the food is here, check out this hamburger my friend Dave Walker made for dinner before I left Bellingham

On that plate is a full meal for my entire Moroccan family. By the way, while it’s nice to be in Big Bear and seeing old friends and family, it isn’t home to me. Home is where the heart is and for me that is in the little town of Sefrou in Morocco where Hanane and her family are in an environment that isn’t too radically different from this one, though the culture certainly is. I think about going back to her and Morocco often and look forward to finishing up the work here so I can head home. Of course, I’m also looking forward to whatever adventures happen along the way back there.

6/13/09 A trip around big bear lake


After all the free wheeling I’ve been doing, it’s been a little difficult to be confined to these apartments in Big Bear City so I decided to take the day off and get outside and see my old home town.

This is the remains of my old treefort. It’s held up pretty good for thirty years. In the background you can see my childhood home which my Dad built in the mid 1970’s.

I started walking from Big Bear City. Walked along the North Shore of the lake to Fawnskin (about 6 miles) and then found a garage sale where there was a beat up old ten speed with only one speed working that the guy wanted $20 for. I had $13 in my pocket and he took it.

Alpine Slide. This was the first job I was ever fired from. I carved my name into the fence like an idiot and they knew exactly who to fire.

So then I rode the 15 or so miles through Grout Bay, Teddy Bear Cove, across the Big Bear Dam, through the dangerous and windy roads of Boulder Bay, into Big Bear Village, through Big Bear Lake, past Stanfield Cutoff, finally along the Stanfield marsh/lake back into Big Bear City.

When I was 3 or 4 I remember being busted trying to steal a box of lemonheads from this market.

It’s a pretty nice place. The trail improvements along the road were great but I confess that riding on the narrow curvy roads in Boulder Bay was a bit difficult on my psyche. Lots of cars, no shoulder, and lots of blind curves.

Plant species diversity in Big Bear rival the rainforest with 125 species per acre. Big Bear Valley has the highest concentration of endemic species in the continental United States. Plus, there are beavers in the lake.

This might explain why I am such an odd guy. This was my elementary school. North Shore Elementary. It always got me bonus points in Hawaii to say that I went to elementry school at North Shore, I meant this though…you can’t tell by the picture but the school is round. I went to elementary school in a UFO.

Now…well, I’m exhausted.

A nice view of the lake on the North Shore.

Fog rolling over the dam. I forgot how nice the smell of Vanilla pines and Sagebrush is.

The long defunct Big Bear Drive In. This is where I went to the movies for the first time. I think it was Escape from Witch Mountain.

This bomb buried nose down in the grass has been there for as long as I remember. Nearby used to be a stable where I think I rode a horse for the first time. I also got bit by a llama there instilling a lifelong fear of llama’s and llama clothing.

I love this picture. That’s my Dad on the standup base, my mom is the brunette sitting in the middle of the foor, my uncle is the guy in glasses to her left, and the guy on the banjo is their buddy Steve Martin. not sure what year, 1968 or 1969 I would guess. Classic.

I have to admit, when the job in Alaska fell through, I was pretty disappointed, but I’ve learned that you can’t waste a lot of time on being disappointed. It’s a bit like that monk once told me in Thailand “The key to happiness is to want what you have…” So, I wanted the tickets to North America, I wanted the trip across Canada without any money, I wanted the opportunity to see what would happen, and as it turns out, things have worked out better than if I had gone to Alaska.

I’ve always liked the phrase “Luck is where preparedness meets opportunity.” It’s amazing how many opportunities you can miss if you aren’t tuned into what the universe has in store for you. For instance, there I was, sitting in Quebec City, not sure where I was going or what I would be doing, no money, and it would have been really easy to simply have a pity party or to take some desperate measure like taking a dishwashing job, or whatever. Instead, I submitted myself to the will of God like the good Muslim I am. That is what Muslim means, one who submits themselves to the will of God. I may not be a good Muslim in many other ways, but in this regard, I think I make up for all my other deficits.

I set out on my trip not sure where I was heading…not really. I spoke with my Dad and he told me that things had gone sour for him in a deal where he had sold some apartments, the buyer had defaulted on the payments, and in the meantime the apartments had been pretty much ruined by bad tenants. He got them back in a mess and because of the economy, he was forced to leave his retirement and go to Big Bear to restore them. Paying someone else to do it was not really an option.

So I asked if he needed some help. He said yes and that he was willing to pay me too! So here I am. Living in some torn up apartments (rent free), working a lot, and most importantly, having the opportunity to work and hang out with my dad and my step-mom in the town I was a little kid in. It looks like the project will take most of the summer. Imagine how easy it would have been for me to miss this opportunity! I’ll tell you a secret though…I was prepared. I didn’t know what would come up or how things would work out, but I was looking, waiting, and knowing that the hand of the all powerful was working it’s magic.

Today is Dad’s 74th birthday. He and Jeanne took a few days off to go to their house in Green Valley, Arizona. I’m blown away by my father. I’m exactly half his age now at 37 and he absolutely kicks my ass in how hard he works. I think of 74 as being pretty old for most people, but not for my father. He carries bathtubs, breaks down walls, paints, textures, frames, and puts in 10 or so hours a day. Then he drinks a bottle or so of wine and watches the basketball game. At first I thought he was becoming a little confused in his years, but I’ve since figured out that it’s not his brain, it’s his hearing. He’s always been a fairly funny guy and would pretend to mishear stuff and so it was confusing…but now I get it. As we work and pick up materials etc, I notice that he is in much better shape than guys 25 years younger than him. He looks their age and they look older than him. Anyway, I’m stoked to have this chance to hang out with him and hear stories of his years working as a parole officer in LA, leaving that to play music with an up and coming band, and then either building or painting just about every house here in Big Baer.

6/28/09

The old Belleville Cabin in Holcomb Valley. Hard to believe this is all that is left of what was once the largest southern california gold rush town. Belleville was nearly 25,000 people and had more than it’s fair share of prostitutes, miners, and desperados. The town was named for Belle, the first baby born in the community.

Well, the work hasn’t stopped here at the apartments. We are building bathrooms, tiling, trimming, and more. I finally figured out that a part of the reason I was so exhausted at first was because of suddenly being above 7000 feet and working my tail off.

None the less, I did have the chance to meet with a couple more old friends this weekend and rediscover the friendships that we had in the past.

My friend Beki was up on the hill (as we say) to visit with another old friend Leigh Anne Drake. We all met up for coffee on Friday and caught up on their kids and all of our new loves and then on Saturday, Beki and I ventured out into beautiful Holcomb Valley.

I had bought a camera to send to Hanane and thought I would try it out to see what kind of pictures it took. Unfortunately, the pictures were total crap and then to top it off, I put the camera in my pocket and it erased all the pictures I had taken! Needless to say, I will be returning this piece of crap to Walgreens and getting another.

Rumor always had it that this old Juniper tree was the hangman’s tree where all those desperados I mentioned before were sent to meet their maker. The story when I was a kid was that they would hang a man and then cut the limb off, hence all the cut limbs. The Discovery Center now claims this tree was not the hangman’s tree, but I don’t believe it. I think they just want to protect the tree from souvenir hunters….

Very much a bummer since we had stopped by the Big Bear Discovery Center to throw tomahawks with old mountain men and saw some really incredible scenery through the day. Luckily, I had brought my usual camera and thought to snap a couple of photos with it too. Sadly, I didn’t get any shots of the scores of Mormons who were on their annual trek dragging carts through the mountains while dressed up as old time pioneers, nor the tomahawks, nor much of anything else. What you see here, is all I got.

And another gorgeous view of the Lake from the Gold Rush Trail. The drive on this road was treacherous and made more so by dozens of dirt bikes that would come roaring at us from the opposite direction. I thought Beki was going to kill me for taking her on this stressful road, but it turns out she let me live after all.

It was certainly nice though to see old friends after more than 20 years and have the chance to catch up and remember old times too. Now, I have to get back to work!

(This is an older post that I am moving from one of my old blogs to this one)

It’s been a funny couple of days. I have to admit that I was surprised with the suddenness of my situation change, but I’ve learned it’s best not to take things personal even if they seem as if they really are. So when this situation came upon me, I swallowed my anger and ire, swallowed my sense of being confronted with one a situation of intense disrespect and I tried to leave on the best terms possible.

There really isn’t a better alternative than that. So I packed up what I could, threw out the rest, said ‘Thanks for the work Dad’, and when they offered to let me stay, I listened to that little voice inside me that said ‘this wouldn’t be happening if you weren’t supposed to be leaving’ and so I left anyway with my pride and my sense of self worth completely intact.

I had made some loose plans to hang out with my oldest friend on the planet, Kris Rafferty, who was my first best friend when I was 3 or 4 until I was 7 or 8 years old, so I gave her a call when I reached the bottom of the mountain. It was already about 105 degrees and she said ‘Are you insane? You’ll fry in the desert and it’s an hour drive to the next little town from there. Why don’t you hang out and since I am already on my way up to Big Bear, I will pick you up and you can stay with my folks and me and hang out with my friends on the 4th of July.”

Again, the little voice said inside me “This is what you should do.” So I gave up my plan of biking across the desert and met up with her a few hours later at the library in Lucerne. I opted to leave my $13 ten speed there at the library, unlocked for some would be bike thief to steal away and then we went back up the hill to her folks house.

It was great to get the chance to hang out with her parents, Mike and Yvonne, who were sort of like my second family when I was just a little guy, to get to know her two fantastic daughters, and to get to spend time with another family that we Damitio kids had a strong connection with, the Iuppenlatz. Kort, their youngest son was a good friend of my brother’s in high school and he and I found a strong connection in literature and science fiction geekdom. Then there were Kerry and her kids, their parents, siblings, and all the other kids running around. It was really nice, this chance to hang out with good people and enjoy hamburgers, cupcakes, and 4th of July fireworks together.

And now today, Kris gave me a ride down to Palm Springs where I have the chance to visit with my Uncle Murray and his friend Leigh Anne for a couple of days and then I move on to whatever that little voice tells me is where I am supposed to be next.

Life is good. It’s beautiful. It’s full of joy and wonder. And as a further odd occurrence, my buddy who initially offered me the job in Alaska that fell through ended up getting canned and evicted from the kayaking job on the same day that my situation came to an abrupt end…and all I can think is…man, that’s strange and it seems that perhaps no matter what happened, it was going to happen, so once again, I admit that things are actually beyond my control and I allow myself to joyously go to where ever it is the will of God will send me.

I really do look at this life as a journey. One of the things I love about Islam is that there is a sense that each of us is born with a predetermined life. This doesn’t mean that we are going one place to do one thing only though because we are given free will in the area of how we choose to deal with situations as they arise and that is what determines where we are. When we are closer to what is ‘right’ for us, things go smoother and when we move away from it things become less smooth. If this sounds like Buddhism to you, you aren’t alone. It sounds like Buddhism to me too.

There are so many misunderstandings about religion. Within Islam, there are people who don’t understand the religion they say they practice, just as there are those who misunderstand Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and every other major religious philosophical system.

Here are a couple of the things I love about Islam:

1) Islam says that Allah (God) is everywhere and in everything and cannot be understood. There is just one God with no divisions or multiple personalities and it is neither male or female, it is just God. Islam says that Allah (which means one and only God) is not comprehensible and so we shouldn’t even try, we should just accept that Allah is and is everywhere.

2) Islam says that in every people and every culture there have been men and women who were given special understanding of Allah and our place in the universe and that these people shared these messages with humanity. These include Jesus and Moses (Peace be upon them), but they also include hundreds of more, probably the Buddha, a human Krishna figure, Native American prophets, Nichiren, Lao Tzu, the Sikh Gurus, and the founders of every religion. Of course this also included Mohammad (Peace be upon him). The beautiful thing about the revelation of Mohammad is that it was revealed in 28 days and not a single word of it has been changed or modified, down to the punctuation marks. This is in marked contrast to the Bible which has been constructed and deconstructed and modified and remodified hundreds of times. So Islam says that Mohammad (Peace be upon him) was the last of the prophets who revealed the way to us humans. Anyone after him is a false prophet so that knocks L.Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith out of the running which doesn’t bother me too much at all. Mohammad, like all the prophets is a regular dude, a human being, and a humble and peaceful guy that respected women, life, and never tried to use his position to become wealthy or powerful. In fact it is Jesus that is the sort of power figure in Islam.

3) The fighting Jesus. Islam says that all men die except for Jesus who didn’t really die on a cross but whom God took up to a suspended animation state and who is being held in stasis until the antichrist figure rises on the earth. At this point, Allah will wake up Jesus and he will come back and chew bubble gum and kick ass. He will lead the armies of Mehdi against the antichrist and really do some serious ass kicking. None of this turn the other cheek Jesus, we are talking about a serious fighting Jesus. That’s the guy I’ll follow into combat.

4) Islam tells us that within each of us is a moral compass called a Fitrah. We are all born innocent and on the path of God (thus we are all Muslims or ones who submit to the will of God at birth) but our parents fuck us up and tell us all the wrong things they’ve learned. At this point, we forget to follow the directions of our fitrah and we start to suffer in this world. All we need to do to open up our hearts to allow ourselves to feel where that fitrah tells us to go.

As an example, I could have taken this whole ridiculous situation with my father to a dozen bizarre levels. I could have gotten angry and cussed at him, I could have decided to have a pity party and gotten incredibly drunk and somehow destroyed my life, I could have murdered him, there is no limit to how stupid we human beings can be when we refuse to listen to our fitrah. So instead of all that, I took a step back and listened and I am feeling the benefits of it nonstop.

Truth is I was working a lot and earning some cash but I wasn’t accomplishing some of the things I needed to take care of. One of those things was to get the hold taken off my drivers license so that I can drive again. It involved finding out about a ticket in North Carolina, paying it off, getting my name taken off the National Driver License registry, and then getting my license renewed in Hawaii. That’s actually four bureaucracies in three different time zones and I was living on a jobsite with a guy that liked to start work at 7 am and usually didn’t finish until 6 pm and even if I wanted to take a break, there would usually be a saw grinding outside the window of the room I was trying to work from. Sure, part of that frustration came from not wanting to feel the guilt of watching my 74 year old dad work while I was on the phone or the computer, so I can’t really blame him for it, but there wasn’t really an understanding from him when I would mention that there were things I needed to take care of. Instead he would ask me to give him a hand with the next project. So things weren’t really as they needed to be, no matter the cause.

My fitrah was telling me that I needed to go, but I wasn’t listening. So what happened happened and the way I chose to deal with it was what it was and here I am.

And today, I called about the tickets and National Driver License issues in North Carolina and a woman told me that it was all because of an open container (on a sidewalk mind you, not in a car) ticket that I hadn’t resolved. There was a part of me that wanted to rant and rave and be a real dick to this nice lady, but I didn’t. I just talked with her, remembered that she was a person doing a job, and calmly moved forward. She had me call someone else who had me call someone else and finally I talked with someone else who told me there were three tickets, warrants for my arrest had been issued over them, and that I was probably going to have to go to court and pay $1000 dollars and maybe it couldn’t be resolved over the phone at all. And I wanted to flip out but I remembered that this was just a nice lady doing her job and someone who probably really wanted to help me, but wasn’t able to.

I got off the phone and looked to see if there wasa statute of limitations that would run out on these tickets (for the record 55mph in a 40mph, failure to change my address on my license, and open container in public) but foung that states have no statute of limitations on these kind of things. They last forever. I found out Wisconsin and Michigan aren’t connected to the driver license registry and thought about taking a trip and getting a license there. Then that second nice lady called me back.

She told me that she figured the court should drop one of the charges and suggested I call the courts with her suggestion. I did, I called that first nice lady and left her a message.

A few hours later, she called me up and told me that she had taken a trip to the D.A. and he had opted to drop all the charges and tickets except the failure to change my address and all I would need to do was send $250 overnight and it would be taken care of by weeks end. The second lady had told me that if I solved the problem with the courts I would be able to solve the registry problem for $85. And these two ladies had made it all possible for me. And to think that there was a frustrated part of me that almost took my frustration out on them…

And so here I am, well on my way to solving one of the major issues I came here to solve, and not for $1000 but for a third of that. Feels like I’m listening to my fitrah…now the question is…where should I go next?


I have to admit. My friend Kris Rafferty probably saved my life by keeping me from trying to bike across the desert. As it is, she also showed me a great time in Big Bear and dropped me off at my Uncles just as her own uncle has fallen into some pretty bad illness. My prayers go out to he and the Rafferty family.

My Uncle Murray is a great guy. He and his long term companion Leigh Anne welcomed me with open arms and offered to let me stay as long as I wished, but I’ve always been a fan of Ben Franklin’s famous words about house guests and fish, that both start smelling after three days, so I like to keep my visits to as close to that as possible. As it was I ended up staying from the 5th of July to the 8th of July and enjoyed every minute of the visit.

As we drove up to their house, Kris said to me “You know, I love living in Palm Desert, but there is something so old worldish and beautiful about these Palm Springs houses.” It’s true. Especially in my uncle’s neighborhood. Looking across the road you can see the house that used to belong to Cary Grant, next door is author Herman Wouk’s house, down the street are the houses of Barry Manilow and Henry Mancini, and across the ravine are the Sonny Bono Estate and the home of Suzanne Sommers who I am told throws some parties that rock the neighborhood. She seemed pretty mellow while I was around though just working in her garden and driving her golf cart around. Here is the view from my uncle’s driveway.

One of the things I love about Murray and Leigh Anne is that they have this very comfortable class that expresses itself in everything from the placemats, to the tile floors, to the furniture and towels they choose. In short, it’s called taste and it’s something that many people strive for but that ultimately money can’t buy. Walking into their home I was immediately comfortable and at ease and each decision they’ve made has made their home feel that much better. I’m not talking about creating a museum where a guy can’t wash his hands in the kitchen sink or use the bathroom, everything they have is meant to be used and none of it is simply to impress someone who might drop by to visit. Their plates make the food better, the wineglasses are comfortable in the hand and make the wine experience more enjoyable through directing the bouquet. Ah yes, taste. If you have it, you know what I mean, if you don’t, you probably will buy something with a duck on it to make your kitchen look more country.

Anyway, the visit was exceptional. I was able to assist a little bit in some remodeling they are doing on a ‘trailer’ they recently bought that is more like a new york loft than a mobile home and to help my uncle set up a blog that I think will yield amazing things in the future. We ate lamb with mint jelly for dinner, in and out burgers for lunch, and had wonderful breakfasts. Waking up in the morning and having good coffee and reading the paper in the backyard next to the pool while a hundred varieties of birds fed and the sun started to heat up the mountains to the midday 115 degrees and then having a swim later to take the edge off the heat.

Kris says that if there is ever an earthquake in California, Palm Springs will start all the propellars and fly away.

I was tempted to stay forever, but as it was, I left rested, relaxed, and ready to start seeing the world again. Murray drove me to the Greyhound Station this morning and I caught a bus to Los Angeles for $26. On the way I met an Englishman named Ian who has been living in Mexico and is heading back to Britain to earn some money and take care of some paperwork so he can marry his Mexican fiance. We shared a cab from the Greyhound Station to Union Station and were surprised at our common purposes of making some money and taking care of paperwork to marry our sweethearts.

From Union Station I caught an Amtrak to San Diego for $34. The ride down was beautiful. California beaches are certainly nice. In San Diego I took the blue line to the end where I then caught the green line and then I walked a few blocks to my friends Erina and Kevin’s house. Erina aka Kitty, walked part way with me when I walked around Oahu last year. Kevin made some stellar hamburgers and we shared our favorite youtube videos with each other. Here are one from Kevin

and one from Kitty.


At this point, San Diego sits among my favorite United States cities. The climate is perfect, the ocean is beautiful, and it just has a certain something that makes it feel good.

The area of San Diego has long been inhabited by the Kumeyaay Indians. The first European to visit the region was Portuguese-born explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailing under the Spanish Flag, who sailed his flagship San Salvador from Navidad, New Spain. In 1542, Cabrillo claimed the bay for the Spanish Empire and named the site San Miguel. In November of 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent to map the California coast. Arriving on his flagship San Diego, Vizcaíno surveyed the harbor and what are now Mission Bay and Point Loma and named the area for the Catholic Saint Didacus, a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego.

Yesterday was a mellow day. I had a hard time waking up, actually I think we all did. But once we were up went gangbusters. Kevin and Erina had the day off and wanted to show me a little bit of what makes SD special so we headed to Ocean Beach (OB) and got some burritos near the beach. OB is a cool little neighborhood of hippies and thrift shops with plenty of hippies wandering around, but not so many dirty hippies, more the variety that surf.

We drove by the largest wooden roller coaster in the United States and into the vicinity of Seaworld, but I think we were all looking to enjoy a little bit of the less expensive delights of this great city, so we passed on both.

And then we went into one of San Diego’s crown jewels, Balboa Park. Rocky Balboa was cool, but man, what a beautiful park! Here is the real deal on it, after all Rocky is a Philadelphia icon, not a SD guy at all:

Balboa Park is a 1,200 acre (4.9 km²) urban cultural park in San Diego, California, United States named after the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa. The trees here were planted by the famous American gardener Kate Sessions. Placed in reserve in 1835, it is one of the oldest sites in the United States dedicated to public recreational usage. Besides open areas and natural vegetation, it contains a variety of cultural attractions including museums, theaters, gardens, shops and restaurants as well as the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. Balboa Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977

While Beesan, Kevin, Erina, and I walked in the park we watched these two guys notice each other. It’s a fairly typical California car custom for custom cars. One guy raises his hydrolics then the other does, basically like dogs sniffing each other’s butts the first time or more like saying, hey, look at my underpants! then they both got out of the cars and admired each other’s rides.

At the park I had the chance to briefly meet up with my new friend Beesan, a Palestinian American girl I sat next to on the plane when I flew from San Francisco to San Diego. On the plane, the guy next to me had taken the wrong seat and then Beesan showed up. We chatted fairly non stop on the way down about school, life, travel, and Islam. So even though she only had 15 minutes to hang out, it was nice to sort of firm up one of those random friendships that travel brings about.

We had thought to visit the Museum of Man but since we were arriving late in the day, we opted to jst sort of walk around Balboa Park and check it out. We had shave ice (which I have to say was nowhere near as good as Hawaiian shave ice), explored some little galleries, and went into a nice little fine art museum that had a fairly amazing collection of old masters. The Timken Museum of Art.

When we left the park we headed back to their place near Qualcomm and made some homemade pizza. I made the dough, Erina made the sauce, Kevin prepared the toppings and the result was spiritual pizza that rivaled that of the Kalalau Valley on Kauai. We barbecued the pizzas on a ceramic stone so the pizza tasted smoked and my contribution was my favorite flavor of pizza , cashew and pineapple.

At my suggestion we had a little menage-a-trois….jeez, get your mind out of the gutter. Menage-a-trois is a fantastic California red wine produced by the folie-a-deux vineyard. It’s a marvelous value wine that tastes like it should cost $50-$60 but can usually be found for between $8-$15 if you are lucky. Last night I found a bottle of menage-a-trois for right around $9. I was introduced to this wine by that paragon of taste, Mink Hippie. Thanks Mink! The wine went really well with the pizza.

It was a superb ending to a superb day.

It’s been a very nice couple of days here in San Diego. I arrived at Erina and Kevin’s and Erina was still at work and Kevin had accidentally locked himself on their 3rd floor balcony. Erina arrived home and let us both in the house and then in a sort of tragically funny way, Kevin, a furniture maker had made a coffee table with a big glass top that was designed to sort of wobble. He was showing it to me and jumped on the table top to show how it wobbled and at that point, a weak spot in the wood let loose and the table shattered into a thousand pieces. I was very impressed by his ability to simply laugh it off and say that it simply gave him the ability to make a better table the next time.

Yesterday, while Kevin was working Erina and I went to see the new gangster movie “Public Enemies”. I liked it. Of course, I’m a guy that always loves the films set in the Great Depression. My fedora is still in Canada but Dawn has offered to send it to me when I have an address I can get things at. As it turns out, I will be going to my brother’s place near Salt Lake City tomorrow and will probably be there long enough to have her send it to me.

Another bit of good news is that I managed to get myself off the no license national registry and have talked with the Hawaii driver license office and they are going to let me renew my license by mail. So in a few weeks I will be motor capable again. What a relief! I had thought I might have to go to Hawaii to take care of it and airfare right now is sky high at about $800 so I’m glad not to have to spend the limited funds I have to get this taken care of.

Since I am so close to Mexico, I had considered heading south of the border to where the dollars I have would stretch a little further, but at the moment, that isn’t really a great option so it will be a relief to revisit Salt Lake City, one of my favorite stops on this nearly 8 month epic journey and spend a little time there. Just to refresh my own memory, this trip started in the beginning of december and roughly followed this course:

Honolulu to Portland to Sacramento to Salt Lake City to Chicago to Boston to Providence to New York to Barcelona to Valencia to Alicante to Granada to Gibralatar to Tarifa to Tangiers to Fes to Rabat to Casablanca to Marrakech to Sefrou to Sevilla to Lisbon to Porto to Bordeaux to Paris to Amsterdam to Rotterdam to Brussels to Bergamo to Milan to Fes to Casablanca to Madrid to Frankfurt to Dublin to Quebec City to Sudbury to Winnipeg to Vancouver to Bellingham to Seatle to San Francisco to San Diego to Big Bear Lake to Palm Springs and to San Diego. Whew!

Yes, I’m a bit exhausted and shocked that I am still on the go. What a long, strange trip it’s been! I haven’t had much money for any of it but I’ve sure covered some ground. 3 continents. A dozen countries. Scores of cities and hundreds of friends, new and old.

I’m ready to get back to my Sweetie but sad that the travesty in Big Bear has robbed me of the money I thought I would be bringing back to marry her with. It makes seeing Public Enemies all the more powerful…

I was really curious if I would find Salt Lake City to be as cool the second time around as I did the first time.

Archive: Salt Lake City to Chicago

I did. Wow. I really love this place. I would guess that even before it became the center of Mormonism in the world that it was a spiritual place to the Native Americans. There is just something amazing about this place. It is the outpost of rationality and liberalism in very conservative Utah. It’s a funny thing to say, but in terms of energy and people, SLC reminds me a lot of Granada, Spain. It has the same sort of hippie granola dreadlocked outdoorsy energy.

Before Mormon settlement, the Shoshone, Ute, and Paiute had dwelt in the Salt Lake Valley for thousands of years. However, occupation was seasonal, near streams emptying from Canyons into the Salt Lake Valley. The first US explorer in the Salt Lake area is believed to be Jim Bridger in 1825, although others had been in Utah earlier, some as far north as the nearby Utah Valley (the Dominguez-Escalante expedition of 1776 were undoubtedly cognizant of the Salt Lake valley). U.S. Army officer John C. Frémont surveyed the Great Salt Lake and the Salt Lake Valley in 1843 and 1845.[7] The Donner party, a group of ill-fated pioneers, had traveled through the Great Salt Lake Valley in August 1846.

This time around I arrived at the airport rather than the train station. I caught a $2 city bus rather than a $20 cab to the Gateway Mall where my friend Candice came and picked me up. I met Candace about 7 months ago when I sort of couchsurfed here last time.

Candice has had a very rough couple of months. First she got her wisdom teeth out and had some complications. Then she caught swine flu H1N1, then she got bronchitis, then five days ago, she hit a ditch and did a face plant on the pavement and got massive roadrash on her face and arms. And to top it off, she has another sort of sinus infection going on now. And yet she smiles and remains positive. She’s the first person I’ve met who actually had swine flu. She said the bronchitis was much worse. In the couple of days I’ve been here she has healed an amazing amount. It’s astounding how quickly her wounds are recovering.

Her Dad and sister in law were visiting and they invited me along to eat amazing vegan food at an out of the way cafe, Vertical Diner.

After that we went back in sat in the sun in Candice’s garden and then since it was my other host Cameron’s birthday we ate some of his grandma’s delicious poundcake and caught up on all the adventures we have found since we saw each other last. It was an odd mixture of gay Salt Lake City men and Southern Trout Fishermen. All the men more or less segregated themselves from Candice and Apriel, except for me that is, since I have no interest in playing drinking games in a sausage store. Candice says that all Salt Lake City parties are like that.

The funny thing is that I only spent 5 or 6 hours here the last time I was in SLC. I didn’t even actually surf their couch, but even though that was the only time we’ve ever met before, this felt like I was reconnecting with old friends who I have known for years and years. There is just such an incredible connection with them. This is my first revisit of couchsurfing friends and I am fairly profoundly affected by how before I was a couchsurfer and they were hosts and now we are actually friends. I don’t know if words are expressing this very well.

The next morning (well early afternoon) we got breakfast at a great little cafe across from Liberty Park and then we strolled through the park watching kids with hula hoops, old hippie bums, stone and tie-dye vendors, and every other kind of good natured oddball you can imagine. Of course I didn’t have my camera with me at all, so you will have to trust me when I say the park is a laid back, relaxing, and fun place.

I was going to catch the train to my brother’s in Ogden but realized that it didn’t run on Sunday, Candice said it was no problem if I were to stay another night.

Then I got an acting gig. Candice’s car needed to be repaired and her mechanic friend was willing to fix it but had no tools and he had recently had a falling out with their friend that did have tools. So Candice called and asked if she could borrow the tools from him so her other (imaginary) friend could work on it. The toolman was named Mark and she told him her (fake) mechanic friend was named Mark too. Mark wanted to talk to Mark. Enter me, stage left.

I talked with Mark and sort of explained what Scott, the actual mechanic, had said he would do. Then we went to his jobsite to get the tools. We got the tools and gave them to Scott who fixed her car while getting incredibly oily and dirty while I laid in the grass smoking cigarettes and looking up at the clouds. Then after Scott fixed the car we took the tools back to Mark, who was very impressed that I had fixed her car but didn’t seem to notice I was incredibly clean. Mark bought us burritos and asked my last name. I said Bago.
So really, I was eating Scott’s burrito but since he and Mark don’t get along, there was really nothing else to do.

Last night there was another couchsurfer. Shavani, an artist who has been traveling around the southwest in her truck and painting for the past two and half months. We all sat around (including two new roommates since I was here last, Kate and Apriel- fantastic women) and told funny stories, laughed, and just really enjoyed each other’s company.

Now, with any luck, I will head up to Ogden in a little while but maybe the 4th dimensional beings that seem to control my life will slap a denial down as they did yesterday.
Yesterday I was hanging out with my cousins Lance, Lou and his lady Heidi. We did a little bit of lake surfing. Lou and Heidi have a great boat. Here are a few pics from yesterday. This is a beautiful place.


I really can’t wait to get on the road again. It’s nice here, I’m surrounded by good people. The food is good (too good maybe since I have gained some weight since getting back to the US), and I feel like I am figuring some important things out.

I just want to get back out of my country and get on with my life. I know I’m leaving, so I feel a little bit impatient with spinning my wheels here.

It’s like being in limbo. A very nice limbo though. Where am I? Well…I suppose just saying limbo works.

There are plenty of reasons for that. I can show you a few pictures though…but I don’t suppose I’ll tell you much about it.

I’m in Ogden, Utah house sitting for my cousin and her boyfriend as they take an RV trip to the Southwest. It’s nice to be on my own for a little while. Don’t get me wrong, it has been really nice staying with people that I know and love, but there is always a little bit of guilt that goes along with it, no matter how welcoming and loving people are.

In any event, this is a nice deal. I feed about ten horses, take care of some chickens, water the garden, and have the use of a truck, the house, and everything that comes with it. So for the next week or so, I am a cowboy caretaker. Not bad.

I’ve been working on getting a job teaching English in Indonesia. With any luck, that will come through. The two interviews went very well, now I can only hope that the job happens. Indonesia will be nice on a couple of levels. 1) I love the country and the people 2) It’s a Muslim country and 3) It’s a country that Hanane can actually travel to without a visa. The money isn’t great, but that isn’t what is most important right now.

I was able to defer my student loans until January, I still have some money saved up from the debacle of working for my dad, and I just feel like this is the right move. So with any luck, I will take my flights back from Quebec in September to Dublin, then go to Brussels and hang out for a few days, then I will go back to Morocco, then a short flight to Turkey for a few days, and finally a flight to Indonesia where I will need to take a trip to Singapore to get my working visa, and then I get to (hopefully) teach kids.

I think life is going to work out for this Vagobond. Don’t you?

Just a quick update for those of you who are wondering. I’m still in Utah. I’m house-sitting for my cousin still. Aside from feeding the horses and chickens, I am spending about 18 hours a day online. Not a joke. I’m still convinced that I can learn to make enough money to live on and still have time to enjoy life using the internet.

I’ve decided to abandon my old blog and get a fresh start. The problem with the old blog was that I was all over the place with it. I didn’t have a game plan. It was just something I did. I’ve moved most of the posts that meant anything to me here to Vagobond.com . This blog is focused solely on my travels and life. .

With it, I am both educating myself and teaching others what I learn. No tricks, just learning about and implementing what works and discarding what doesn’t.

In addition, I am monetizing and maintaining Clownjazeera.com where politics and news fill the big top I also have a couple of other fun projects with Vagobunny.com, a site which is filled with beautiful women from all the countries of the world (eventually), and with Stress Management Magic whereyou can learn how to deal with stress and improve your life.

Then, I’ve picked up a couple more sites I’m not real sure what to do with.

So what am I doing online? A few things. Writing content, studying how to make a blog work, and trying to implement winning strategies. I’m convinced that making money through reading emails, playing games, or even adsense is a losing proposition. So I am exploring the other options.

Personally, I am waiting to hear back from Indonesia and hoping that I will get the teaching job I applied for recently. The two interviews went well and they said it might take a while to get back to me after checking my references but that I should be hopeful. I am, but waiting is hard. My cousin gets back in a few days and then I’m not sure exactly what I will be doing.

My flight from Quebec City leaves on the 30th of September so I have a little time between now and then. I will be fasting and taking part in my 30 Days of spiritual excercise during Ramadan which starts in a few days. From Quebec, I will fly to Ireland, then to Brussels to visit my friend Le Mat, and then to Morocco to see my sweetie Hanane. If I’ve landed the job in Indonesia I will fly from Morocco to Turkey, then on to Indonesia for a year. Crossing my fingers.

My student loans are deferred until January and I’ve probably got enough money to make it until then if I live very cheap. I can do that of course.

So there it is. That’s where Vago is.

And for those of you invited here, you get to know. Everyone else can sort of wonder about it if they want to. Or not.

Bridge at Powell dam
Well, the house-sitting came to an end about five days ago. It was odd that it ended just as I started to the Ramadan fast, I suppose it’s better not to be alone while fasting. So I am back at my brother’s place where I have set up a tent in the backyard and sleep like a baby at night. One of the best decisions I made when I decided to leave Hawaii was to give my brother all my camping gear. I got here and he has a sleeping bag, thermarest, tent, and more that I feel comfortable with. Of course, if I wanted to, I could be sleeping on the couch inside, but I prefer the tent.
On the road to Arizona
It’s set up out next to the horses and so aside from looking up at the starry skies I hear the gentle woofing of the horses as they sleep. I’ve been really enjoying riding these past couple of days. Not only does it take my mind off my rumbling belly and dry mouth, but it is also a joy in itself. Learning how to control and work with these huge animals. The horse I ride is called Peaches and is a fairly gentle three year old horse. That’s good because my skills are pretty green. I actually bought a pair of cowboy boots at a garage sale yesterday for $3 and at the same time my vagobond hat arrived back in my hands from Canada where that awesome chick Dawn kept it safe for me until I had a place she could send it to me. So life is pretty good. Not everyone likes to have their lives on the internet though, so if I’m not going into details or taking a lot of pictures, I hope you’ll understand that.
Cousin Lance

My cousin Lance (pictured above on our road trip to the Mexican border) is the author of a book about a guy who gets tired of women getting beat up by assholes so he starts making them disappear. Here is the cover, a link, and a blurb about it.
Justus Walken
One mans answer to domestic violence and the abuse of women. A hero to those who feel helpless at the hands of their abusers. Follow the story of someone who grew up in an abusive household and finally could stand no more. If you or someone you know has suffered at the hands of another this is one book you should read. There can be life and love after an abusive start.

There was a short road trip the week before I started house sitting where I had to go recover my important paperwork, old journals, and old photos from the old guy that gave me the boot back at the end of June. I never should have trusted him in the first place, but I did manage to get everything. I’d had a box of books and some old coins that I sold that managed to pay for most of the expense of getting there.
Canyon Country
Expenses weren’t too extreme anyway since my cousin Lance agreed to let me use his car. So expenses were fast food on the way down, gas for his Prius, and one night in a hotel room. Plus, we stopped in a weeded out old casino in Arizona and managed to lose a few bucks each.
Navajo Country
The pictures in this posting are from that little trip. We drove from Northern Utah all the way through Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon area, across Arizona, and right to the Mexican border. It wasn’t a sight seeing trip since Lance needed to be back quickly, but still, we did see some amazing places. I can tell you for certain that Sedona is a tourist trap though the areas around it are incredibly beautiful. Personally, I really liked Flagstaff and the surrounding area. I can almost imagine living there. Arizona though seems to be full of police and that’s a pretty huge turn off.
A lake in Bryce Canyon
Still waiting to hear from the school in Indonesia, still fasting (it’s day 5 now), in possession of all my mojo, all my dignity, and all my willingness to enjoy the hell out of this life.
Moose in the Rocky Mountains

We woke up and saw this moose the other day, a good reminder that I’m in the Rocky Mountains.

peaches is a good horse

I got the chance to take a little ride up into the mountains the other day on Peaches. I can see why people keep horses. Pretty cool to realize that I was riding on the same trails that many of my heroes, the mountain men, rode on back in the early 1800’s. Men like Jim Bridger and Tom Fitzpatrick came to these valleys without the intention of subjugating the native populations or bringing their white man cultures with them. Instead, it seems pretty obvious to me that they were trying to escape from what they could already see was the insanity of American obtuseness and obsequiousness. Anyway, if I were to stay in the U.S., I think it is pretty likely I would get a horse and become a true saddle tramp. I’ve been wondering if there are folks who ride horses all the way across the United States or Canada. North to South I know there is the Pacific Crest Trail, but it bears some looking at to see if there is a non-stop East to West trail.
Indian trails monument

James or Jim Bridger (March 1804 – July 17, 1881) was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States during the decades of 1820-1840. He was also well known as a teller of tall tales.

Jim Bridger had a strong constitution that allowed him to survive the extreme conditions he encountered walking the Rocky Mountains from what would become southern Colorado to the Canadian border he had also once said. He had conversational knowledge of French, Spanish and several native languages. He would come to know many of the major figures of the early west, including Brigham Young, Kit Carson, John Fremont, Joseph Meek, and John Sutter.

Jim Bridger began his colorful career in 1822 at the age of 17, as a member of General William Ashley’s Upper Missouri Expedition. He was among the first white men to see the geysers and other natural wonders of the Yellowstone region. In the winter of 1824-1825, Bridger gained fame as the first European American to see the Great Salt Lake , which he reached traveling in a bull boat. Due to its salinity, he believed it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.

Supposedly one of Bridger’s favorite yarns to tell to greenhorns was about being pursued by one hundred Cheyenne warriors. After being chased for several miles, Bridger found himself at the end of a box canyon, with the Indians bearing down on him. At this point, Bridger would go silent, prompting his listener to ask, “What happened then, Mr. Bridger?” Bridger would reply, “They kilt me.”

me and peaches, tramp and mount

Well, just like Bridger to them greenhorns, some of you might be wondering if I am going to be settling in here or if they kilt me yet. Nope. Stay tuned.

I just got some disappointing news. I’ll just post the email here:

Hi Vago,

I deeply apologize for not being able to get back to you sooner as I have been away for a few weeks. We have received replies from your references. Your application process went very well, I must say, and you are one of the candidates we would be very interested in. However, all the positions with the starting date of October or November have been filled, and we cannot really tell when we will have more positions available as this depends on whether our teachers continue their contracts or not. Perhaps it is safe to say that the closest starting date we may have available will be around February or March of 2010. The best thing we can do for now would be to keep your application for now and we will gladly get back to you when we have positions available. Would this be alright for you?

Looking forward to hearing back from you.

Regards,
Haryo.

Man, this is a bummer. Basically what happened is that Haryo took a few weeks off and the positions I was being considered for were filled without me being considered as a candidate. I’m offered perhaps a job in the future but the October/November start date I had all but been promised by the Director of Studies is gone. Oh, this really sucks. Part of the reason I was staying put in Utah was because it facilitated getting Visas and other essentials for jobs. I actually didn’t respond to offers from Turkey because I was so certain about this one. At least this time I didn’t buy the airfare before finding the job didn’t materialize.

On the upside, I have managed to make a little money while I was here through my internet ventures and then this weekend I had a small garage sale with all the stuff my cousin left behind when she moved. It was the payment she gave me for house sitting for her. So it hasn’t been a complete wash and it’s been nice to get to spend time with my family too. But crap, I really am disappointed.

Heading back out on the road today. It’s been a summer of varying degrees of good and bad. Not one job worked out the way they were expected to, I lost my father, and I found love and trust with my uncle, brother, sister-in-law, cousins, nephews, and nieces.

I rode horses, surfed lakes, climbed fake rocks in Utah, hiked, blogged, sold my old blog, and put together some new ones. I road tripped to the Mexican border, biked down a 7000 foot mountain, revisited childhood places and people, and visited Palm Springs, and San Diego.

I hitched across Canada with $4, had breakfast with my sister in San Francisco, learned some construction skills, slept in a tent for a couple of months in the Rocky Mountains, held a big garage sale with stuff that wasn’t mine, sold stuff that was mine on e-bay, and became a favorite uncle instead of a distant figure.

I’ve made some money, not enough to do everything I wanted to do, but enough to get me by until I can figure out how to get more.

And now…back on the road, heading back towards Morocco and plenty of adventures on the way, no doubt about it.

salt lake city

This is my third trip to Salt Lake City since I started this odyssey. My first visit, I was very pleasantly surprised by this place. I made some great friends, had a lot of fun, and left thinking this might be one of the best cities in the United States.

My second visit was still good and I still enjoyed my stay, but I became aware of what I very un-politically correct call “The Mongoloid Factor” when I played through some social acting with my friend Candace and her friend Mark, who literally has his eyes on the side of his head.

What I noticed is that there is a certain Utah type, referred to by some as “Utards” that has resulted from the genetic tree being noticably free of branches among many of the LDS (Latter Day Saints – Mormons). This type has big noses, unnatural freckles, white pasty skin, bleached out dry hair and skin, and more often than I would expect, eyes on the sides of their heads. That doesn’t mean they aren’t nice people, it just means they are mutants of a sort.
magic mormon underwear
After spending a couple of months in the Wasatch Mountains where I interacted with just about no one who I am not related to (large portions of my family have moved from California to the Utah mountains), I am struck by how beautiful this state is. It is filled with pristine mountains and lakes, gorgeous natural beauty, and unfortunately Mormon Utards.

For a very scary history and synopsis of Mormonism, check out this excellent post at Above Top Secret.

Yesterday, I arrived here via the very excellent Front Runner train. I love this train, it is scenic, cheap, comfortable, and has free wi-fi onboard. As a result of this, I thought that SLC public transit would be just as efficient. I was wrong.

My friends Cameron, Josh, and Tony had offered me a bed for a few nights and gave me their address which is on the outskirts of the city, but still well within. Arriving in SLC, I went to the beautiful Gateway center and watched a movie since it looked like it would rain. I watched ‘9’, a post apocalyptic animated letdown of a film, and then I went to catch a bus. I went to the Salt Lake Central bus terminal and there was no information, when I asked in Greyhound, they told me to ask the drivers. I asked 3 drivers which bus would take me to my friend’s neighborhood, none of them knew. Finally a Vietnamese driver told me that I needed to catch the 307 but that I couldn’t catch it there. I tried to call the UTA information line but after 20 minutes, I gave up. Finally I found a bus that would take me to where I needed to take the bus to get to the general area of my friend’s house.

I got on the bus heading to Cottonwood and asked about the address and the driver had no idea where it was. The woman with eyes on the side of her head sitting near him tried to be helpful but actually only made things more confusing, then she found out I was from Hawaii and started to sing and try to dance the Hikilau Hula she had learned 8 years before…um gruesome.

Finally the driver called his dispatch and I found out I needed to transfer to another bus but that was all the info they had, once again, I was told to ‘ask the driver’. I did, again, he had no idea.

I got out and walked. I asked a guy at a gas station if he knew the street I was looking for, he was a normal guy, seemingly. He told me that he lived on the street and gave me good directions to it.

So I found it, but I also found that the public transit here is atrocious outside of the downtown area. And I met more mongoloids. Then, I watched Monday night football with my buddies and then went out to shoot some pool. None of them are from Utah either…
salt lake city
Today, it’s just rain and drizzle, so that part of my travels seems to have returned…in summary, I think Utah is great, but there is something sort of creepy and sinister about the Mormons and more than a little bit of the mongoloid factor in play and frankly, it’s just disturbing to see people with eyes on the sides of their heads….

utard mongoloid

I’ve got a short layover from Salt Lake City before I head out to New York City. Denver Int’l is nice but like most airports, everything is way overpriced.

It’s nice to see some genetic diversity again. The past couple of days were good ‘man time’ American style. Staying with Cam, Josh, and Tony was the first time in years that I’ve actively engaged in typical American male behavior. I drank beer and ate pizza while watching Monday Night Football, played horseshoes, admired guns, went out to a couple of bars and played pool, and girl watched with my buddies. Good times were had by all. If it hadn’t of been raining, we probably would have gone out shooting those guns, as it was, we just passed them around checking out the action, clips, and weight. Fun stuff.

This morning, Tony dropped me off downtown and I met up with one of my old buddies from the dotcom era, Alain, who is developing i-phone aps now. We had breakfast and then he dropped me at the airport. The rest was uneventful, but here I am at DIA where the free wifi would be great if not for the annoying ads it lays on my tiny little screen.

Oh well…glad to be adventuring again…

me and guttenberg bible

Me taking a picture of the Gutenberg Bible at the New York Public Library.

I still love New York.
(previous New York Posts)
http://www.vagobond.com/2009/01/hostel-in-new-york/

http://www.vagobond.com/2009/01/no-more-amtrak/
http://www.vagobond.com/2009/01/vagobond-in-queens/
http://www.vagobond.com/2009/01/art-in-new-york/

There are certain things here that just are unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. The smells of the street, the sounds in the air, the friendliness of the people (yes, like rumours of the French being rude and surly, rumours of New Yorkers being less than friendly are nearly the complete opposite, maybe it’s because of me, but frankly, I love New Yorkers)

This is the third time I’ve been to New York- both previous trips were when there was more than a little snow and more than a lot of cold. This one is different, for one, I am only here for a day, and secondly, it’s not really that cold. It rained a bit this morning, but then the day turned into a perfect (for me) 70 or so degrees.
Geggenheim
Since I’m not really on a vacation, I chose to walk around. I walked from where I am staying on the upper East side down 3rd avenue, meandering a bit to Madison, Lexington, Park, and then to 5th Ave. I did some window shopping, ate a slice of pizza ($3.49 for a mozzarella and riccota slice) and grabbed a cup of coffee for $2.
NYC library
Another thing I love about New York is the fact that there are every shade of skin you can imagine all swirled together, from snowy white to a rich chocolaty brown. It’s actually hard to tell ‘races’ here because there are people of every conceivable type and combination. White people that are darker than black people, red people that are more umber than yellow people, and ye3llow people that are far paler than white people. I love this. This blending of people, this melting pot. And yet…
Jaqueline Onassis Reservoir
I don’t know if it is a result of traveling the world or of becoming tired of one place after another or living in cheap places, but the fact is, New York is EXPENSIVE! No surprise here, but I forget that there are places in the U.S. where cigarettes cost $10 for a shitty pack. Most meals here are over $10. Accommodation and transportation here are way too much…though my transport costs are low so far at $12.25 and my accommodation is also very low at $43.50 for two nights. How do I do it? I’ll tell you later.
Central Park
I’m looking at less than $100 for two nights in New York City including everything…including cigarettes. But that isn’t what this post is about, it’s about my day.

I walked and walked and walked. I have some Florsheim Ease shoes I replaced the old Johnson and Murphy’s with for $5 at a Utah thrift store and I have horrid blisters because the shoes were incredibly new, leather, and Italian made, i.e. not super flexible for about a hundred miles walking.

I walked through Central Park.
Central Park Vagobond

I walked to the New York Public Library.
NYC Library
I walked to Times Square.
Times Square
I walked to wherever it was I went.
Manhattan
However, when I arrived, I arrived at LaGuardia Airport in Queens. I walked outside and asked a guy named Sean who was loafing around the exit where I could catch a bus to Manhattan. He told me the M-60 and walked me to where I caught it. Along the way, we talked story and he told me he had met a few people from Hawaii…he showed his Shaka. I told him the story of the Shaka. He dug it and started to adapt it so he could tell it to people who rent cars from him at Hertz.

The hostel I had booked was on the Upper East Side and said that I should catch the bus to 125th and Lexington Ave. I did, but I missed my stop, it was 11 pm and I found myself wandering around Harlem looking for where I could catch a bus back to 94th Ave East. People were incredibly nice and helpful. It helps to be an idiot sometimes.

I made it to the hostel, checked in, and crashed out. The hostel, Tone Hostel, aka The Lex is a little more than $20 a night if you stay in a 10 bed dorm like I’m doing. It’s tight, small, and cramped. Nice staff, weak wi-fi, decent courtyard behind it, and slightly out of the way from anything you might want to see if you are here for the first time, but, it’s just about the cheapest thing going in New York City.
New York City
My ramble through the park was nice, but the blisters cut into the enjoyment a bit. I feel like I’ve done enough here, I don’t want to pay $20 to visit any museums. I don’t have any shopping to do. I’ve got a couple of friends here, but it’s Thursday, they’re working and they have to work tomorrow and I have a bus to catch to Maine (which it turns out, does NOT have a connection to Quebec City which the Greyhound site showed…more on this later)

And so, here I am. Not bad, good, and on the way to whatever it is my future will provide.

Overall, I think that if I had the money to live in New York, I would use it to live in Honolulu. But since I don’t have that kind of money, I’m going to do neither.

fiddlin in Portland, ME
I absolutely adore this place. It’s filled with funky bookshops, boats, quirky cafes, and plenty of people that fit into that scene. I arrived and met my couchsurfing host at the restaurant she works at “Sillys”. I had a very delicious Thai chicken pizza and then Allison wouldn’t let me pay for it! This is some kickass couch surfing!

After that, Allison, her boyfriend Tori, and her roommate Kate took me for a nightcap at their favorite watering hole and then we went back to their house on the East end and we all crashed. I was thankful for the silk bag liner my brother gave me since it gave me an extra bit of protection against the Maine cold…it’s already dropping to the 30s here at night and it promises to be a long winter…from now until May.

Of course, they sleep with the windows open. They’re Mainers. Not too different than Northwesterners really, in fact, this town seems like a cleaner, less seedy, meth free version of the town I like to call one of my hometowns, Bellingham, Washington.

My impression was reenforced this morning when I walked outside and the residents of the hill they live on had opted to throw a party in the streets just because they love living there. Check out this pickup filled with beer and ice…guess what? No cordoned off area, no cops, just people enjoying a last day of summer and first day of fall.
beer in the streets of Portland, ME
I wanted to explore though, so I set off walking around hoping to find some hidden cheap lobster place…that I didn’t find, but the fashionista I befriended on the bus to Boston yesterday had told me that there was a place that made Belgian fries fried in duck fat, it was called Duck Fat, and what Lily, very much a Jewish American Princess, had recommended was that I go there. So I did…amazing…the Thai Chili Mayo for the fries was only beat by the Mayo Aioli Garlic…next time I’m in New York, Lily told me she’ll show me where to buy some contraband cheese!
duck fat
Anyway, Duck Fat was nice, coffee was great all around, and my walk showed me that if I come back to the USA, I think Portland, Maine will be where I try to make a go of it…
docks in Portland, ME
I also started looking at fares and brochures for Nova Scotia and bought a one way ferry ticket to Yarmouth for $109. Turns out I would spend a minimum of $300 to get to Quebec City by bus or train by way of Boston and if I go to Yarmouth, I can probably hitch to Halifax and either bus, train, or fly to QC for less than $200.
Portland, ME
I’ve always wanted to see Nova Scotia. Tomorrow I will. I’ve got a very cool sounding host lined up to couch surf with….
berlin wall in Portland, ME

There is actually a big piece of the Berlin Wall in Portland, ME. Pretty cool.

One last note, I didn’t want to leave Maine without eating a lobster so I came down to the touristy Maine Lobster Company on the docks and bought a 1 lb chick (small lobster) dinner. It ran me $25 and wasn’t nearly as delicious as the huge Rhode Island lobsters I had with my friends Ken and Lena back in January…but, still, it was a lobster dinner in Maine and it was pretty delicious…besides they had free wifi so I could write this and post it.

I showed up with a ticket leaving Canada, I was carrying no contraband, I had money, I was clean, and yet…Canadian Customs worked me in Yarmouth when I arrived.

They read my journal, searched my hard drive, held me in isolation, grilled me with question after question, searched my dirty underwear, grilled me more, used chem wipes on most of my things to search for gunpowder, read every document in my possession, and then grilled me more.

Canadian Customs Agentscc image courtesy of CBP photography on FlickrThen they said “Welcome to Canada” and let me in! There was one scary moment where they came back in very excited with a book and lots of secret conferring and one guy said, “Yeah, that’s a real strong hit! We’ve got him” and the other guy said “Wait, there’s duct tape on that book, that gives false readings for THC and Heroin, it’s the tape.”

Then they searched my underpants again where they no doubt found I had crapped them due to their conversation…although, somehow I think Canadian prison wouldn’t be that bad, but bad enough.

In any event, I couldn’t help making up stories for all the questions they kept asking me and aside from actually having a ticket to leave Canada on the 30th, I didn’t really give them any information. And at least they didn’t steal my toenail clippers, but that female Canadian customs agent was really into reading my journal…I think the ugly shoe was actually hot for me and getting off on going through my private thoughts and underpants. Who could blame her for that one?

Anyway, I escaped and told them I knew no one and was going to stay at a hostel or hotel and then as soon as I went outside, my couchsurfing host picked me up and we drove away as they watched…

Out of every country I’ve ever visited, including Canada, I’ve never been subjected to customs that went this far…all that was missing was torture in terms of violation…

They said they were just searching my laptop for child porn but I’m sure they must’ve put some kind of cookie on it, after all, even though it is Canada (and I love Canada) it’s still a government.

By the way, I’m in Canada and I love it. More on that later.

 

(Originally published 21 SEP 2009 )

Portland, Maine

A nice shot of Portland at night.

I took the ferry from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. I was sad to leave Portland, but happy to be heading to Canada. I woke up early, said goodbye to Kate and Allison (my hosts in Portland) and then caught the ferry.

Kate and Allison in Portland, Maine

The ferry was brilliant.
The Cat Ferry from Portland to Yarmouth

On board there were places to watch movies and big windows to watch the sea. I had hoped to see whales but not this time. I was very happy to be back in Canada until I got to customs. As I wrote previously, the woman there was horrible. She searched all my clothes, searched my computer, read my email, read my journal, and asked me every question in the world six times. They treated me like I was a criminal or a drug dealer and of course I am not, so they found nothing. They didn’t even apologize. It was like being raped I think. Finally they let me go and I met up with my couch surfing host in Yarmouth, Carla. Carla pulled up just as I walked out of the awful building.
Carla in Yarmouth
Carla (read her blog at http://lifewithyourgogirl.blogspot.com/ )was more than nice and fed me delicious food, took me on bike rides, and since she is a reporter, she took me with her all over Nova Scotia the next day while she took pictures and did interviews.
yarmouth's beautiful grey lady

Yarmouth’s beautiful grey lady has been waiting for me for 150 years.

yarmouth

Yarmouth is an old fashioned kind of place.

Hanging out with Carla was a lot of fun. We had a fire on the night I arrived and ate delicious food she made on it. One of her tenants is a very nice Muslim man from Guinea and so I was able to speak with him in a little Arabic and lots of French and that made me feel closer to home and Hanane in Morocco.

I almost felt like I was back in the Souidi house as he and I spoke of how hard Ramadan is when you are the only person observing it. He is the only black person I have seen since coming to Nova Scotia and he told me that he is the only Muslim within about 200 km. It’s a shame that he and I weren’t around each other during the fast, it would have been much better.
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
In the morning, Carla took me for another bike ride through beautiful Yarmouth and then I went with her on her rounds (she’s a reporter) and got to see schoolkids who made a giant peace sign out of pinwheels (Whirled Peace) in honor of World Peace Day.
Whirled Peace
Whirled Peace
whirled peace

Then we toured all over Cape Sable Island and I saw people mowing their lawns

Nova Scotia

People gathering Irish Moss
Irish Moss, Nova Scotia

Churches being bulldozed
Nova Scotia church

Plenty of lobster boats
Cape Sable Island
lobster boat Nova Scotia wreck

And the site of the 1967 Alien Incident
UFO Shag Harbor
Nova Scotia UFO
Not to mention the alien.
Alien, Shag Harbor

Carla had to cover a council meeting and so I walked around through Barrington as the sun went down. I like this shot of the bridge there.

Barrington

After that I watched a movie on my laptop in her car. I was pleasantly surprised when the Warden (like the Mayor I think) had made a delicious blueberry crumble cake and Carla brought me out a piece of it.

The next morning, Carla took me for coffee and a delicious muffin at the Old World Bakery and then I set out on my way with a very cool sign and a lunch she had made me. The sign said Brier Island on one side and “Nice Guy” with a happy face on the other.

It worked wonders…as I will write about in the next post…
Cape Sable

This is the lighthouse at the southernmost point in Maritime Canada.

(Originally published 23 SEP 2009)

Acadia lobster fishers

After Carla dropped me off with my sign and my lunch, I waited for 15 cars and then a very nice lady picked me up. A mother of 3 boys who just got her landscaping license. She drove me to Clare and told me all about Frappe Pie and dropped me off at the place to get it. Frappe pie is made with potatoes, they grind them up, then run them through the washing machine spin cycle to get all the water out of them, after this they cook chicken, quahog, or beef with broth and then make a pie. Lynn, the lady who drove me there, told me it looks like snot but tastes delicious.
Acadia Rappe Pie
Inside, they were out of small pies but the owner gave me a free sample of a chicken one…Lynn hadn’t lied, it looked like snot and it was delicious.
Rappe Pie
My next ride was a guy who only drove me 2 km but smoked two cigarettes in that distance. He told me about how much he loves the strip bars in Montreal and how he thinks most Quebecois are ignorant.
St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
Then I had to walk for 5k or so. My next ride came out of his house and picked me up at the end of his driveway. He was a wheeler dealer Acadian who mows grass, buys houses, and makes all kinds of deals. He bought a house for $4000 yesterday! Paul drove me almost to the Long Island Ferry intermittently speaking the Acadian language with his lawyer on the phone. Acadian is like French with a Scottish brogue. Interesting language and hard to understand.
Nova Scotia Lighthouse
It was getting cold and foggy by this point and there was almost no traffic…I thought I had made a mistake and maybe should turn back to Digby but I kept going figuring I would regret not knowing if I would have a great time more than having a bad time…c’est moi.
Acadia
Next a 74 year old retired fish cutter drove me to the ferry, he slit fish for 46 years! Now he splits wood to keep busy. He said he wouldn’t live in Yarmouth or any town if someone paid him, he hates towns. He pointed out his house and there was a veritable mountain of wood in front of it all apparently split by the axe that leaned against his house.
Digby Neck, Nova Scotia
At the ferry I walked on and rode off with a science teacher who recently retired and now is the eminent environmentalist of Long Island, he told me about geography, flora, fauna, history, and the effects of climate change. He has spearheaded a project called the anti-idle campaign to discourage folks from leaving their cars running.
Long Island, Nova Scotia
He dropped me off at the Brier Island ferry where I walked on and met a couple from Ontario, David and Mary, who came here to bird watch, they told me about lots of birds and also that there were no restaurants open on Brier Island. They were right, every restaurant has closed for the season. I was thankful for the lunch Carla had packed for me.
Long Island Ferry Nova Scotia
I got to the hostel afraid it would be closed but they gave me a bed, and I had it all to myself. It’s the first time I’ve ever stayed in a hostel where there was no one else. No workers, no attendant, no nothing. Just me. It was like having a great big vacation rental with a big living room, scenic views from the window, and a big private veranda. I checked in at the store and they just let me in and then they left. Not bad for $18. Only down side is no wifi, but what the heck, who needs it! It was nice to have the chance to just sort of sit.
Brier Island, Nova Scotia
Of course part of the joy of traveling is making friends and so I decided that rather than taking a whale watch cruise by myself and spending $50, then spending another $18 to stay another night, I would head on the next morning. I went, I saw, I slept, and I left.
Acadia
Beautiful little island. Lots of nature. Not terribly different from the San Juan Islands or the Queen Charlottes on the West Coast though and to be honest, I don’t really have the money to be taking whale cruises. Keep in mind that I’ve seen whales in Hawaii, Washington, and Alaska from yachts, fishing boats, the shore and once even snorkeling…so I skipped it and set out this morning.
Brier Island
I met David and Mary on the way to the ferry and the agreed to take me up to Digby where I could catch the 101 freeway to Halifax or points along the way. They were looking for a little place to buy for a summer house and so I got to spend the morning house hunting with them on Brier and Long Islands. It was fun. I saw parts of the islands I would have otherwise missed…

For instance…I’ve always heard of the Bay of Fundy, but I never knew I would visit it. Now I have. Ah, yes, the Bay of Fundy!
Bay of Fundy
In Digby I checked my email and then caught a ride to the highway from a nice woman named Carolyn. Since no potential hosts had replied to my CS queries along the way, I opted to try to make it to Halifax…I admit it, the countryside was beautiful, but I was bored. I wanted to hang out with people and dig into Nova Scotia’s biggest city.
Nova Scotia
I’ve found a host starting Thursday. I figured I would find a hostel if I made it to Halifax.

(Originally published 23 SEP 2009)

Brier Island
Well it turns out I made it. My first ride was a very cool cat named Justin, a Halifax surfer from Newfoundland and Yarmouth both. On the road we became fast friends and I found out that he is the doorman at a place called Bearly’s which is right next to the international hostel in downtown Halifax.

Justin took me to his place, fed me some chili, and then dropped me at the hostel. Yet another example of how hitching, couch surfing, or hosteling can open the door to friends you wouldn’t otherwise meet…

At this point, I should make a small note…sometimes in hitching, I don’t want to tell everyone everything about me.

I tell a shorthand story of my life that leaves out some of the more interesting facts, like the fact that I am on my way back to Morocco, that I’ve left Hawaii and the United States, and like I’m not sure if I will be going back at all.

My shorthand story is that I am a tour guide from Hawaii, it’s the low season, and from Quebec I will be going back to Honolulu to go back to work. I do this because telling more usually raises questions that I am still trying to answer myself or that I don’t know the answer to …

So, along the way, if friendship forms, I usually fess up that there is more to the story, or I share this blog address with my new friends…so, David, Mary, Justin…if you care to dig a little deeper into this blog…you’ll find…the rest of the story!

Thanks for the rides, the company, and the friendship!

It’s morning now and as I look outside at the rain and cold I am glad I listened to my inner voice as it told me to come to Halifax sooner rather than later. First of all, I gained a new friend out of the hitch here and secondly, I hate hitching in foul weather.

harbor at HalifaxAs to Halifax, it seems pretty good. Last night I stayed in the Hostelling International Hostel on Barrington Street and I’ve got to say it’s a fairly lame place. The guy at the desk when I checked in, Jimmy, is a pretty nice guy, but the hostel itself is $31 (CAD), more than the hostels in Hawaii and I was surprised this morning to wake and find no free breakfast as most hostels offer, even though this is the most expensive one I’ve stayed in, more than New York, more than Hawaii, more than the places I stayed in in Europe. They even charge .50 for coffee in the morning…

So that’s my gripe about it. Other than that, it’s fine really, clean, centrally located, free wi-fi, and a cool old building. Last night I joined a ‘pub-crawl’ but left it before too long. The other crawlers were two very drunk German fellas and a nice guy from Czech Republic who left early as well. The crawl was led by a shy 20 year old German with premature balding and a very bad haircut.

So I ended up coming back to the bar next to the hostel ‘Bearly’s’ where my new friend Justin was the doorman. Pretty funny because it was karaoke night and there were a majority of very talented singers. One big sort of doofy looking guy got up and did ACDC and completely blew it out of the water…he sounded better than ACDC! Then there was the hipster who sang Diana Ross ina style all his own and made it work.

It was an early night for me though and I slept okay in the dorms except for the idiot who set his cell phone alarm and then kept hitting snooze…I felt like punching him, but I didn’t. At least not that I’m going to admit…

As for breakfast, one nice thing about hostels are the kitchens and how guests will leave their extra food behind for others so I was able to cobble together a mushroom, broccoli, and potato scramble that hit the spot. By the way, I didn’t pay for my coffee! I will admit that.

(Originally published 24 SEP 2009)

Okay. I’ve got to admit it. Tourism is incredibly fucking boring. I’ve got some bitterness about it, because I don’t think it should be, but the fact of the matter is that it is. Why? Fucking baby boomers.

Here is what I think is wrong with the world. The most selfish generation ever born raped and pillaged their way to having everything, they had free love and they fucked it up with AIDS, they had socialist medicine and they’ve fucked it up with capitalism, they had beautiful parks and cool old towns and they’ve fucked them up with ‘quaint’ shops and restaurants.

They had everything and they fucked it all up. The worst part is that they are so selfish that they continue to fuck everything up with no intention of leaving anything good for the ones who follow them. They wear their khaki trousers with crisp lines down the front and their golf shirts and every time I see the typical 60-something American tourist, I just want to puke.

And now that they are all retiring, they are everywhere. You can’t visit a remote place without seeing these awful god damn grey-hairs who love golfing, buying expensive tasteless souvenirs, and paying for things that used to be free…not to mention charging for things that used to be free.

They’ll suck up social security, they won’t retire, they refuse to die, and like super cockroaches they fill up every interesting part of the globe. Why can’t they just die and leave the rest of us to clean up the mess they’ve already created in this world? Instead, they just keep on going like godzilla crossed with an energizer bunny…

Enough already. Take your RVs, your bank accounts, your Eddie Bower/J. Crew clothing, and your retirement and leave us already. I’m okay with people from all over the world, regardless of race, color, or creed, but these people….they disgust me. Bring on the euthanasia…start with the cruise ships, then hit the bed and breakfasts, then all the waterfront tourist towns and boutiquey places like Aspen, Victoria, Park City, Sedona, and Lahaina.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some fine people age 60-80, but most of them are doing something interesting at home, traveling to out of the way places without a noticeable budget or travel books, or living lives of abject poverty…

I don’t ever need to go anywhere where all those other 60-80 year olds are going. I don’t need to go to any mainstream tourist attractions, I don’t need to go to a town restored to look ‘cute’, I don’t need to go on a cruise, a package tour, a ‘destination’, or anyplace that sells mass produced t-shirts or refrigerator magnets…

I’m much more excited to see the Shag Harbor UFO museum, a run down diner, an industrial fishing pier, Silly’s Restaurant in Portland, or the Fairhaven Pharmacy Museum than anyplace people dress in period costumes, get on duck tours or double decker busses for tours, or serve ‘authentic’ anything that has to be listed as such.

Travel in Canada is fantastic. Halifax is a good city. Not the best city I’ve ever spent time in, but definitely not a bad place.

Now. That being said, I found Halifax to be an interesting place filled with great little pubs, scenic views, and tons of nice people. It has the same sort of funky bar vibe, the same sort of college atmosphere, and really about the same climate, plants, and people as Portland, Oregon. Oddly similar.
Halifax
As I’ve said previously, my arrival in Halifax was great because I caught a ride from my new friend Justin, the door man at the pub next to the Hosteling International Hostel on Barrington Street. After eating Chili and hanging out for a while at Justin’s (chili courtesy of his landlord and his Philipina wife), I checked into the hostel.

I had high hopes for this place, but to be fair, I have pretty high hostelling standards after traveling in Asia, Europe, and Hawaii. Fact of the matter is that I managed the coolest hostel in Hawaii (The Polynesian Hostel Beach Club) for long enough to know what it takes to make a hostel great.
halifax hostel
There are a couple of things 1) The price for a dorm bed should be $25 or less 2) No matter how simple, there needs to be free coffee in the morning and a continental breakfast, even if it is just toast and jam 3) There need to be excursions and events that are reasonably priced and led by dynamic personable people 4) and it has to be in a funky location with a cool vibe that encourages people to hang out 5) Beds and bathrooms need to be clean 6) There needs to be lockers available for each guest in the dorm rooms 7) A completely extrovert staff
Halifax
This hostel could be great. It’s a funky building in a great location. It is clean. It is comfortable. It has tours and excursions. And the guy who was at the desk when I checked in, Jimmy, was extroverted, nonthreatening and friendly.
Halifax duck
On the downside. Base price for a bed in a six bed dorm was $31. There were 3 lockers in the dorm, all of them taken when I arrived. I opted to go on the pub crawl and it was led by an introverted 20 year old German guy who didn’t seem capable of having a conversation and simply walked from pub to pub without enthusiasm. The pub crawl was lightly attended. Myself, the guide, a czech man who left after 10 minutes and 2 very drunk German guests.

The guide, in a moment of actually communicating, said to me “I hate these two guys”. That seemed to be all he was willing to converse. He didn’t know the city, didn’t know the history of the pubs, and had nothing to say despite my attempts at opening him up. Now I can usually converse with anyone, no matter how depressed or introverted, but not this guy.
Halifax
I left the pub crawl when the Germans began approaching every woman they saw and saying “Ve are Germans”. At one point, one of them had a pink balloon tied to his lapel that a woman celebrating her birthday had given him in an attempt to make him leave her alone. He hadn’t understood when she said “Fuck off.” Pretty blunt for a Canadian.
hostel halifax

So I went back and went to sleep. Jimmy was working hard to woo a girl in the office so I left him alone and went to Bearly’s the pub next door where there was a karaoke night in full swing. I have to admit, I’ve been to karaoke in a lot of places and Canadians are by far the best singers I’ve heard. One guy did a magnificent Diana Ross and another unlikely looking fat fellow did ACDC better than ACDC. I feel like I’ve already written about this though.

In the morning. No free coffee, no breakfast. No friendly people. Just some very unhappy looking guest/cleaners and a sour looking rocker type at the desk.
Halifax Titanic

Halifax is where the maiden voyage of Titanic really ended, with the most lasting legacy from the sinking located here.

The world was stunned in 1912 by the loss of the liner Titanic on her maiden voyage. Halifax, Nova Scotia, located on the eastern coast of Canada, has one of the most moving and intimate connections with the Titanic disaster, playing a key role during the tragedy’s aftermath and becoming the final resting place of many of her unclaimed victims.

Three Halifax ships were involved in the grim task of recovering victims – many of whom were laid to rest in three of our city’s cemeteries. Rows of black granite headstones, each inscribed with the same date, April 15, 1912, are a stark reminder of the disaster.

I checked out and wandered Halifax in the rain. I found a funky little coffee shop called “Steve-o-renos” and grabbed a thick cup of mud. I sat and chatted with a guest I recognized from the hostel and she recommended a few walks to me.
halifax Public Garden
So then I meandered my way up Garden Spring Street, around the hilltop Citadel, and into the beautiful Halifax Public Gardens. I love public gardens. While this wasn’t a rose garden, still it reminded me of Portland, Oregon’s public rose garden.
Halifax public garden
At 5 pm I met my couchsurfing host Anna at the Split Crow, which is touted as being the oldest pub in Halifax. In fact though, the Split Crow was the first pub in Halifax, only it was a different place in a different location. This one was started in 1979 with the historic name and very old feel. I’ve been in some old pubs and so either way, it was a pub.

The first evening, Anna was sick as a dog though and made repeated trips to the bathroom to throw up and complained of a terrible headache. I’m not used to having this effect on people, but she insisted it wasn’t me.

I took a walk to the grocery store and bought some vittles and then returned to her place making veal, vegetables, and pasta with sourdough toast smothered in black pepper crusted goat cheese. It was magnificent, unfortunately, due to her stomach, Anna wasn’t able to enjoy it. I made a plate for her and put it in some tupperware so she could enjoy it later if she chose.
halifax apes in the window
The next day was rainy and despite the rain I took a very long walk through parts of Halifax that most visitors probably don’t see.

halifax colored guys

An odd name, don’t you think?

I ate lunch in the St. Mary’s University dining hall for a very affordable $3.25, walked through the North End, along the inlet, and then back into the Waterfront District stopping to visit the Alexander Keith’s Brewery and bypassing 1000 or so shops set up for visiting baby boomer tourists with cute maritime names and overpriced garbagy products.
halifax harbor hopper

Oops. The duck tour/harbor hopper smashed into this little car.

I opted to not take the $20 Brewery tour, having seen plenty of breweries in the past.
halifax Alexander Keiths
Instead I popped into bookstores, and searched without success for second hand shops. I’m sure the second hand shops exist, but I didn’t find them.

halifax
halifax ferry

Anna on our trip back from Value village. We met up with her friend who had just shoplifted about $100 and spent about $80 in the same place.

halifax

anna halifax

Later in the day I went back to Anna’s and then we braved the rain to take the ferry over to what she calls “the dark side’ of Halifax. Our purpose was to visit Value Village where she bought a big collection of tins and jars and I bought a much needed second pair of pants.

At this point, it’s fair to point out that my main purchases aside from food and getting from point to point are usually clothes that I need. I left Morocco with four shirts, two pairs of pants, five pairs of underwear, a fleece, and a jacket and my shoes. I return with two pairs of pants (one of them newly acquired at value village), shoes (acquired at the DI in Ogden for $5 when my others wore out), 4 shirts (from the DI and the Senior thrift store in Big Bear), a jacket from a garage sale in Maine (it’s L.L. Bean and it was $3), three pairs of socks bought in Big Bear at Kmart and one pair I brought with me, and a couple of beenies from various thrift stores.

I’ve worn out most of the clothes I brought with me and replaced them with second hand clothes along the way…I think this is the way to go rather than traveling heavy.
halifax

Anna had made French Toast for lunch and for dinner we had excellent bean burritos. Her mystery illness was totally gone. Probably food poisoning from school, she thinks. The weather started to clear up on the ferry ride back to Halifax.
halifax
Next morning I woke up, said my goodbyes to Anna, and paid a visit to the Halifax farmers market in the brewery with high hopes but found it to be about the same prices in the store, not too terribly unique, and far too crowded for my tastes.

Yes, I admit it, I’ve become a curmudgeonly traveler.

(Originally published 28 SEP 2009)

Quebec

This second trip to Quebec City confirms that it is my favorite city in North America. There’s just something very great about this place. Maybe it’s the old world architecture combined with North American space, maybe it’s the location on the St. Lawrence River, or maybe it’s that this is a French City and as a result it has a certain je ne sais qua that really appeals to me.
Quebec
I wrote a rather rambling email recently that sort of sums up my thoughts on this francophile tendency that I seem to have developed.

…Back in Quebec City. Looking forward to getting back to Morocco…I’m sick of traveling, think really I am quite cut out for staying in one place and gardening, just have never been able to stand people having seen more than me of the world…still have a few places I would like to go sometime in the future…
India, Turkey, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal, Brazil, Cambodia….

but mostly am tired of seeing the same old people snapping pictures wherever I go. Quebec City is better than most places though…it’s French and there is a sort of smug condescension that suits me.
miserable old baby boomers
The level of disrespect to boomers who are used to being kowtowed to is utterly enjoyable and goes over most of their heads.Not to mention, I notice that Quebecois say Oui much more in their conversations than other north americanos say yes, perhaps these are a positive thinking people who don’t really seem to want to go anywhere else or be anything else but what they are.
Quebec
The coffee is good, the food is good, jazz flows without apparent self regard and even the weeded out old drunks have a style about them that speaks volumes about their dignity. I believe there has only been one homicide here in the past 5 or 6 years and violent crime is close to nil in general.
Quebec
Great thrift store, plenty of walking, big beautiful library, and people continue to talk in French to me even when my french is bad, then when I don’t ask them to speak English, they smile and compliment my french…they then speak in English in a friendly way and I continue in my poor French when possible.
Quebec
Yeah, I like this place. Probably part of the reason I like Morocco too, because of the French influence. I’ve never found the French to be assholes at all, instead, I tend to understand and commiserate with them for the rest of the world being so tasteless and gauche. You gotta love a people that riot in indignation, kill their leaders, and then do it again when the next batch of leaders proves just as useless.

Quebec
And so it is. Here in Quebec, I haven’t done a lot. My first day I arrived quite early on the train and wandered around the streets until my host Kelie was awake. She is a very sweet girl who I stayed with last time I was here. Her apartment is in the lower town and sits right near a couple of weeded out old bars and has a great view of the big church nearby.
Quebec
I’m not a souvenir kind of guy usually, but sometimes I find something on the ground that I will pick up and keep. In this case it was a Saint medalion for the first Canadian Born Saint. St. Marguerite D’Youville was a widow who founded an order of nuns called the Grey Nuns, they dedicated their lives to charity and to helping the poor, so in a sense she is the patron saint of the needy and the charitable. A nice charm to add to my traveling bag.

Quebec

Foundress of the Gray Nuns, or Sisters of Charity, born at Varennes, near Montreal, 15 October, 1701, of Christophe-D. de L. and Renee de Varennes, the sister of Laverendrye, discoverer of the Rocky Mountains; d. 23 December, 1771. After studying two years with the Ursulines at Quebec, she shared, at the age of twelve, in the housework of her widowed mother. She married (1722) M. d’Youville, who treated her with indifference, and eight years later left her a widow with three children and a heavy debt. She was forced to carry on a small trade in order to meet her obligations. The only two of her sons who reached manhood became priests. Out of her own poverty, she helped the needy.

Mother d’Youville conceived an ardent devotion to the Eternal Father, which was to be the keynote of her life. Providence destined her to rescue from debt and ruin the hospital, founded (1694) by M. Charon, ad hitherto managed by a brotherhood bearing his name. This undertaking which was to be the cradle and groundwork of a new religious institute, the Grey Nuns, or Sisters of Charity, was destined to flourish under the wise and zealous direction of Mother d’Youville. When, in 1747, the General Hospital was entrusted to her, she had already, with a few companions living under a provisional rule, begun practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. She opened the hospital to disabled soldiers, the aged of either sex, the insane, the incurable, foundlings, and orphans. When, to save the General Hospital of Quebec, the intendant Bigot, with Bishop Pontbriand’s assent, decided to transfer to the former institution the property of the Montreal Hospital, Mother d’Youville submitted. The intervention of the Sulpician superior, Cousturier, maintained her rights. In 1755, Mgr. Pontbriand confirmed the rule of the institute drawn up by Father Normant. Mother d’Youville assumed the entire debt, 49,000 livres, and to meet the expense of restoring, rebuilding, and harbouring numerous inmates, increased by the admission of epileptics, lepers, and contagious patients excluded from the Hôtel-Dieu, she made clothing for the king’s stores and for the traders of the upper country, which constituted her chiefrevenue. During the Seven Years War so many English soldiers were treated at the hospital, that one of its wards was called “la salle des Anglais”. Mother d’Youville ransomed from the Indians, at a great price, an English prisoner destined to torture, and saved from their fury several fugitives, one of whom, through gratitude, later prevented the bombardment of the fortress-like hospital. Owing to the exorbitant cost of necessaries of life, due to unscrupulous corruption, the hospital was heavily indebted at the time of the conquest. A credit of 100,000 livres, due by the French Government, was redeemed with interest only under Louis XVIII, and the sum applied to the work begun by the foundress. Despite her poverty, Mother d’Youville undertook to rescue all foundlings thrown upon her charity. When, in 1766, the General Hospital was destroyed by fire, fully resigned to her loss, she knelt with her sisters and recited the “Te Deum”. Her institute has spread throughout Canada and even to some of the neighbouring states. The Decree introducing the cause of her beatification, and entitling her to be called Venerable, was signed on 28 April, 1890.

Most of my day was spent in the beautiful Musee de Civilzation. A natural place for an anthropologist to end up I think. They had several interesting exhibits, one on Egyptology, another on the long lasting effects in North America of the 7 years war which it turns out led to the French Expulsion from Nova Scotia, the war of Independence in the states, and most likely to the horrid treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada by the English after the much more enlightened treatment of the indigenous by the French. Full citizenship to genocide including the use of disease ridden blankets by the English. My favorite was a look at creatures from outer space in fact and fiction.

aliens in Quebec

At Kelie’s I caught up on email and online work and then we were joined by a Spanish couch surfer, Adria. Nice guy who has been hiking in the Canadian Rockies for the past couple of months.

We made a simple dinner and then in the morning we all went our seperate ways. I chose to get a haircut, do my laundry, and visit the Musee du Chocolat. A nice stop, small 25-cent machines offered handfulls of a variety of world chocolates and a small window looked in on the chocolate being made.
chocolate Quebec
Later I wandered through the upper city and visited the Maple Syrup shop where I tried the delicious maple ice cream and candies. I was unable to find the Musee du Fur, which is a shop that makes fur coats and hats from start to finish…I did however find this fur shop.
fur Quebec
In the evening we made a very nice dinner back at Kelie’s. I made couscous and vegetables, Kelie made an apple crumble, and Adria made bread with cheese and tomato, plus hummus and breadsticks. We drank a sweet wine I’d brought from Nova Scotia called Jost, which complimented the savory vegtables quite nicely.
Dinner in Quebec
After dinner we went to a wonderful little pub in the upper city where the Quebec couch surfing community meets every Monday. The pub is the project of Bernard who has been running it for 38 years. The walls are adorned with pictures of Nostradamus and inside the pub there are tons of games. When I asked Bernard about this he said that he believes that when people play games together, they become friends and his goal with his place is to build community. Lots of friends were made as we played the craziest scrabble game ever in French, English, and Spanish plus more than a few words that I’m sure were invented in the confusion.
scrabble in Quebec
Then we played pool and the crazy Quebecoise girls started a massage line which amused the locals to no end. It amused me as well.
massage in Quebec
Bernard remained stoic through it all. I asked him what the craziest thing he has seen in his time there and he told me that there has been too much to recount. He has kept track of the number of people who come through and it is around 4.4 million!I really loved this guy. He started out with an ice cream truck and now, four decades later he has watched the world come through his doors without leaving beautiful Quebec. He wore a hockey jersey that said “Mecca” on it, I don’t know if that is a team or not, but I liked it.
Crepes in Quebec
This morning we trekeed over to our new friends from the pub and had delicious crepes. Then I did more walking and observing. I find that my mode of travel is different than most, the way I judge cities different from most. For me, it’s not about discos or tourist attractions, instead it is about walking, watching, listening and feeling a place. And there is just something about this place that feels good to a traveler like me.

Quebec
Quebec tittyReally, this bronze breast has the perfect nipple…unbelievable. I love the bronze titties…and the tan ones too- actually, almost all of them…

 

(Originally published 29 SEP 2009)

I bought a sushi roll and two veggie samosas for the train trip I was about to take and then went to the store where I bought some Halifax apples cheaper than I could have in the farmers market.
halifax farmers market

Note the very strange happy woman under the free bibles sign

The train trip cost $130 Canadian and was beautiful since the leaves are all turning brilliant shades of red and gold. I tried to take pictures but since the train was in motion, you can see they mostly were only blurred images of color.

At this point, I have to hand it to Amtrak. Via Rail Canada is not as comfortable as Amtrak in the U.S. West. The lack of a sightseeing car, the large hump between seats which makes stretching out on them nearly impossible, and the lack of hand rails to stabilize as one walks through the cars was missed by me.

On the train, I met no one of any interest. A few old women from Moncton were very chatty in French and we talked a bit but overall, it was a chance for me to read Tim Ferris’ excellent book “The Four Hour Workweek.
from the canada train
I slept poorly and arrived in Quebec City at 6 am the next day. Even though the rain followed me, I can still say, I love this city.
train from Halifax to Quebec

(Originally published 29 SEP 2009)

Woke up early yesterday in Quebec but despite that the lovely Kelie woke up with me and insisted we have breakfast. I took an expensive taxi to the airport $32.50, the only way to get to the airport in QC, then got searched by Canadian customs again! Not as severe as last time, but man do they hate my harmonica.

American customs was positively warm as I entered New Jersey, no search, no nothing. Just welcome back.

Then 5 hours in the Newark. I ate a bagel and cream cheese and a slice of pizza. Who knows when I’ll be back?

cc image courtesy of Innovation Journalism on Flickr7pm flight across the atlantic, multiple meals on board but all I really wanted was a xanex. I didn’t have one. Arrived in Dublin at 6 am. Caught a bus to my Dublin hostel at 7:45 am. No sleep on the flight. Quite tired, but had breakfast in the hostel. Decided to put myself on whatever tour was leaving the hostel just so I could get over the jet lag and feel somewhat normal the next day.

Took an all day trip out into the beautiful rolling hills and lakes around Dublin. Kept falling asleep like a narcoleptic. Went to take a picture and realized my camera had gone kaput finally…bummer, it’s been a good camera. Took lots of pics on my crappy cell phone camera though…

Intended to tip the guide but he decided to drop me off somewhere other than where he picked me up and told me to ask how to get back to the hostel from the nearest pub. No tip.

Guide Rule #1, fellow guides usually tip you well, unless you dump them off in a strange part of town and tell them to ask directions from a pub when they can’t keep their eyes open.

Otherwise, it was a great trip. Great guide. Found my way back to my hostel and now trying to figure out how to upload from my phone.

That’s all for now.

Glendalough
Yesterday in my jet lagged no sleep state I signed on to a tour of some pretty places outside of Dublin. As mentioned earlier, the guide was pretty good except for the fact that he didn’t tell me I wouldn’t get a ride back to where he picked me up until the end of the day and then dumped me off I’m not sure exactly where.
Wicklow County
I don’t remember a lot of what he said, lots of the same tourist jokes you hear all over the world. Pointed out where James Joyce mother lived and the homes of some fictional characters from ‘The Dubliners’. Yes, real homes of fictional characters. He wasn’t shy about his dislike of the English despite most of the other passengers being old English ladies. Also there wes a French couple that spoke no English and a couple of Germans.
Glendalough
I like old English ladies. They told me about their gardens and the lovely places back in England. They had a million questions about Hawaii and Morocco and so my guide skills came in handy.
Hey, what's the lochness monster doing in Ireland?

Hey, what’s the loch ness monster doing in Ireland?

We visited Glendalough in Wicklow County and drove through the moutains and peat bogs. A few mountain towns and a stop at a little village for lunch. Unfortunately, all Irish villages look like fake country villages. I had a bowl of veggie soup that was pretty good.

Situated right in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, Glendalough is one of the most visited locations in Ireland, with over 1 million visitors a year.

We stopped and looked over a lake they call Guinness Lake due to it’s black waters and white sand beach (and the fact that the water to make Guiness comes from it)

Glendalough gets its name from the Irish language. Gleann dá locha literally means the ‘Glen of the two lakes’. We stopped at a waterfall that was …you know…it was a waterfall from the road.
waterfall glendalough and Wicklow
And then we drove back listening to the kind of Irish music that makes me feel like it’s Christmas and actually…I hate Christmas.
Heather in Bloom Ireland
The saving grace was the old English ladies with thier over the top cheerfulness and their sarcastic wit. Also since I was the only one who speaks any French besides the French people, I did chat with them for a bit too…they spoke no English and we had a surprisingly decent conversation considering the state of my French. I need to improve that.
glendalough Wicklow

A lot of the tour was about St. Kevin, although this legend of St. Kevin wasn’t included but I found it online:

Perhaps the most famous legend is the one about Kathleen of the “eyes of most unholy blue”. She is said to have pursued the handsome Kevin in a bid to captivate him, ignoring the fact that he was bound by holy vows. He became annoyed and repulsed her by beating her with a bunch of nettles. She later sought his forgiveness and is said to have become a very holy woman, noted for her grate sanctity.

Nothing like beating a woman with a bunch of nettles. What a guy!

Here is the tour description from the company’s website.

Tour Ireland with Over The Top Tours. We’ll show you Ireland in a way that larger coach companies cannot. Experience fun and adventure off the beaten track.
Wicklow Glendalough
We offer you the opportunity to enjoy this land of mysterious mountains and spectacular valleys.

The tour starts over the Dublin mountains and into the picturesque Sally Gap. Experience breathtaking views with complimentary coffee! Wicklow is widely known as the “Garden of Ireland” Stop where you like and when you like along the route.

See the famous film locations for Braveheart and Ballykissangel. Visit hidden lakes and luscious waterfalls. Travel the by-roads to beautiful Glendalough and after a healthy walk, time for lunch* and a drop of the famous brew. Returning home via the depths of the Wicklow mountains passing the scenic lakes of Blessington.

coins in Wicklow and GlendaloughI thought about going down and collecting those coins but instead I just added one more and made a wish. Also wrapped my arms around St. Kevins cross and made the same wish, I’m not telling what it was. That’s me reflected in the middle and a couple of my old English lady friends on either side.

By the way, lunch and the ‘famous brew’ were not included and were overpriced at the little stop which is why I opted for coffee and the famous veggie soup.
Glendalough and Wicklow in Ireland, Dublin tripIreland is sort of like Hawaii in that there are lots of stone walls everywhere, sort of like the Pacific Northwest as there are lots of blackberries and people with big red noses everywhere, and like nowhere else really…I like it, but as I’ve said before recently, I’m finding travel to be more humdrum and boring than ever before, in particular this kind of tourist trip.

Yeah, I’m a curmudgeon. As stated before my camera crapped out and so these pics are taken with my very poor quality Razr V3.

Here is more on Glendalough:

Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of maonastic ruins in Ireland. It is also known as the city of the seven Churches. Fourteen centuries have passed since the death of its founder, St. Kevin, when the valley was part of Ireland’s Golden Age.

The two lakes, which gave the valley its name, came into existence thousands of years ago, after the Ice Age, when great deposits of earth and stone were strewn across the valley in the area where the Round Tower now exists. The mountain streams eventually formed a large lake. The Pollanass river spread alluvial deposits across the centre of the lake and created a divide to form the Upper and Lower Lakes. The Glenealo river flows in from the West into the Upper lake which is the larger and deepest of the two lakes.
Before the arrival of St. Kevin this valley (glen) would have been desolate and remote. It must have been ideal for St Kevin as a retreat and area to be ‘away from it all’. Kevin died in 617 A.D. at the age of 120 years and his name and life’s work is forever entwine with the ruins and the Glendalough Valley.

The recorded history of the wooded valley dates from the 6th century – the dawn of Christianity in Ireland. For 500 years it was one of Irelands great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning. The establishment was attacked, burned and plundered by the Danes, who were based in the stronghold of Dublin, a shortish distance away, and making it an easy target..
Glendalough, despite extensive fire damage in 1163 A.D. prospered until the early 13th century. In 1163, Laurence O’Toole, Abbot of Glendalough, who later became Irelands first canonised saint, was appointed Archbishop of Dublin.


The arrival of the Normans in Ireland sealed the fate of Glendalough, as in 1214 the monastery was destroyed by the invaders and the Diocese of Glendalough was united with the Sea of Dublin. After that, Glendalough declined as a monastic establishment and gradually it became deserted.

Glendalough St. Kevin

The buildings fell into decay and more than 6 hundred years elapsed before a reconstruction program was started in 1878. Further work was carried out in the 20th century Today the valley of Glendalough is extensively wooded and a comprehensive network of walk ways have been completed and continually improved, which provides good access for the visitor and researcher to wonder the valley.

(Originally posted 02 October 2009)

Brussels, BelgiumSince my old camera broke and I wasn’t able to fix it, I decided to use it as what I call ‘karma checkpoints’. I took out my memory card and batteries and put a note inside that said

:” Karma Checkpoint. congratulations. If you found this and intended to return it you have earned good karma, if you did not intend to return it…well…you can keep it anyway.”

Then on the back I put this website address.

Then I walked out of my friend Rafe’s apartment in Brussels this morning and set it on the ledge of a window. Then I walked around the corner. Not more than 2 minutes later I came around the corner again and the camera was gone. Ahead of me were only two likely suspects since there had been no one on the street prior to my placing the camera and there were only two men walking away from it. They were an older guy and a younger guy with a green mohawk.

It could have been someone else, but I think it likely it was the older guy who picked it up, of course no one knows but the blond woman on the second floor who watched the whole drama from the office of her insurance company.

Will the real person who took the camera fess up and comment here? There is no telling…only time will tell.

I love to do this sort of thing.

Luxembourg

Since Rafael had plans on my second day in Brussels, I caught the train to Luxembourg.
Luxembourg
I’d never thought of going there. It was nice. Quiet. It was Sunday and rainy. The train fare was half price, but only if you asked for it to be.
Luxembourg
I had coffee. Walked around. Took pictures. Caught the train back to Brussels.
Luxembourg
Frankly, I’m tired of moving from place to place. I like seeing new things, but they don’t feel so exciting as they used to. It used to be like ” I’M IN LUXEMBOURG! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT.”
Luxembourg
Now it’s more like. “I’m in Luxembourg. Neat. Where can I get a cup of coffee?”
Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a parliamentary representative democracy with a constitutional monarch; it is ruled by a Grand Duke. It is the world’s only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy. The country has a highly developed economy, with the highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in the world as per IMF and WB. Its historic and strategic importance dates back to its founding as a Roman era fortress site and Frankish count’s castle site in the Early Middle Ages. It was an important bastion along the Spanish road when Spain was the principal European power influencing the whole western hemisphere and beyond in the 16th–17th centuries.

Luxembourg is a founding member of the European Union, NATO, OECD, the United Nations, Benelux, and the Western European Union, reflecting the political consensus in favour of economic, political, and military integration. The city of Luxembourg, the capital and largest city, is the seat of several institutions and agencies of the European Union.
Luxembourg
Luxembourg lies on the cultural divide between Romance Europe and Germanic Europe, borrowing customs from each of the distinct traditions. Luxembourg is a trilingual country; German, French and Luxembourgish are official languages. Although a secular state, Luxembourg is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Luxembourg
The coffee was good. The 3 hour each way train ride was better. Nice to have space, gather my thoughts, stare out the window at the passing scenery.
Luxembourg Belgium Train
I didn’t shower in the morning and by the end of the day, frankly, I stank (stunk?). I felt bad for the girl who sat next to me, but she got her revenge. She sneezed a lot and the next day I woke with a sore throat that has turned into a full on sinus/flu. She probably couldn’t smell me anyway judging by how clogged my sinuses have been.

History of Luxembourg

The written history of Lucilinburhuc (i.e. Luxembourg) starts in the year 963, when Siegfried, Count of the Ardennes, and founder of the Luxembourg Dynasty, had a castle built on the territory of the present-day capital of Luxembourg. This castle was the origin of the establishment of a town, which later was to develop into a formidable fortress, known by the name of ‘Gibraltar of the North’. At its height, the fortress was girdled by three ring-walls studded with 24 forts, and linked underground by a 23 kilometre network of Casemates. In 1994, Luxembourg City was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

After a long period of foreign sovereignty (Burgundian/ Spanish/ French/ Austrian / …), the Congress of Vienna settled the destiny of the country, by raising it to the rank of Grand Duchy, and by giving it as personal property to the King of the Netherlands William I of Orange-Nassau. The personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands lasted until 1890. During this period the political independence and autonomy were strengthened, and the democratic institutions were developed.

The 11th of May 1867 is one of the most important dates in the more recent national history: The Treaty of London reaffirmed Luxembourg’s territorial integrity, and the political autonomy which had already been granted by the Treaty of Vienna of 1839. Furthermore, Luxembourg was declared perpetually neutral, and the great powers agreed to guarantee and to protect the neutrality of the Grand Duchy.

Since 1890, when the Crown of the Grand Duchy passed to the elder branch of the House of Nassau, Luxembourg has had its own Dynasty. The present ruler, H.R.H. Grand Duke Henri, succeeded his father, Grand Duke Jean to the throne in October 2000, after having been appointed as “Lieutenant-Représentant” -the Grand Duke’s official deputy- on March 3, 1998, as provided for by Article 42 of the Luxembourg Constitution.
Grand Duke Jean’s mother, Grand Duchess Charlotte, Duchess of Nassau, Princess of Bourbon Parma, died in 1985. Grand Duke Jean and his wife Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, the sister to Albert, King of the Belgians, have five children Henri, Jean, Guillaume, Marie-Astrid, and Margaretha. (See also The Grand-Ducal Family and especially monarchie.lu)
Luxembourg
Executive power is in the hands of the Grand Duke and a Cabinet of 12 ministers. The legislative power rests with a Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) elected by men and women over 18, all of whom in Luxembourg have the right and duty to vote.

Despite its neutrality, Luxembourg was occupied twice by German troops during the two World Wars. The Battle of the Bulge was to a great extent fought on Luxembourg territory. In 1948, the country gave up its neutrality, to join the various economic, political, and military organisations of Europe. Already forming a close economic union with Belgium since 1921, the Grand Duchy is a founder member of the EU, and was host to the first European institutions in 1953.

I really do love Brussels. The funny thing about it is that I really had no expectations for Brussels and no real desire to go to Belgium at all.
Brussels
Luckily for me it was a cheap flight destination, I got lucky to couchsurf with Rafael, a man who became a good friend instantly, and along with all that I was introduced to a charming old world city that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Brussels
I love that Brussels is so proud of it’s comic heritage that intermingled with the ancient buildings are full scale murals of famous comic strips.
Brussels comic wall
Brussels Comic Wall
My flight from Dublin was a whopping 10 Euros thanks to a Ryan Air promotion. The thing with Brussels is that when you fly Ryan Air, you fly into Brussels South- Charleroi…actually nearly two hours from Brussels. So once at the airport, I caught a bus for 13 Euros to Brussels and then getting off at the Zuid (South) Station I walked through the dynamic Moroccan neighborhoods to Rafael’s place on the North side. The walk was only about 30 minutes, but the sounds, the smells, and the sights…really like walking through a Moroccan Medina.
Rafael Brussels
Rafael greeted me when I arrived and we went out to one of his favorite Vietnamese restaurants. I had some very excellent Duck Pho (Pho by the way is Vietnamese noodle soup) and a coffee that I needed quite badly. One problem with those bargain flights is that they are usually not at the most convenient times, very early or very late. In this case, very early.
Brussels is one of the greenest cities around and in the center there is always some sort of Green display, in this case a house built of Pallets. Nice.
Pallet House
Brussels Pallet House
We also strolled by a sinkhole that had recently opened up in the middle of a busy street and then we wandered to a house owned by the city in which an artist had begun squatting. He fixed the house, opened it up, and turned it into a gallery. At this point the city decided to evict him. So he did what anyone in that situation would do.
Artist Brussels cemented leg

HE CEMENTED HIS LEG IN THE DOORWAY SO THEY COULDN”T MOVE THE FURNITURE OUT!
Artist Brussels Cemented Leg
Raf and I toured through the house, it was quite nice and he talked with the squatter for a while. The man said that since his mother was a potter and his father was a mason, he felt right at home with his leg cemented in.
Watch a video here: http://www.deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/mediatheek_en/1.602653

In the centre of Brussels Jeroen Peters has been squatting a council house that has been empty for years. He has turned it into an art gallery. To keep a bailiff from turning him and his art out, he cast his foot in cement by the front door.

Later we sat at Raf’s and caught up like the old friends we now are. It really is the greatest joy of couchsurfing to meet strangers that become your good friends.
Brussels
In the evening we grabbed a drink at a Spanish cultural center where a Spanish comic was making everyone laugh, but since neither of us have enough Spanish to get the jokes, we simply laughed because everyone else was.
Brussels
So you start to get the idea why I love Brussels! It really is everywhere at once. The weather was rainy and grey, but I’ve lived in the Northwest enough, that doesn’t bother me.

(Originally posted 08 October 2009)

I really do love Brussels. The funny thing about it is that I really had no expectations for Brussels and no real desire to go to Belgium at all.
Brussels
Luckily for me it was a cheap flight destination, I got lucky to couchsurf with Rafael, a man who became a good friend instantly, and along with all that I was introduced to a charming old world city that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Brussels
I love that Brussels is so proud of it’s comic heritage that intermingled with the ancient buildings are full scale murals of famous comic strips.
Brussels comic wall
Brussels Comic Wall
My flight from Dublin was a whopping 10 Euros thanks to a Ryan Air promotion. The thing with Brussels is that when you fly Ryan Air, you fly into Brussels South- Charleroi…actually nearly two hours from Brussels. So once at the airport, I caught a bus for 13 Euros to Brussels and then getting off at the Zuid (South) Station I walked through the dynamic Moroccan neighborhoods to Rafael’s place on the North side. The walk was only about 30 minutes, but the sounds, the smells, and the sights…really like walking through a Moroccan Medina.
Rafael Brussels
Rafael greeted me when I arrived and we went out to one of his favorite Vietnamese restaurants. I had some very excellent Duck Pho (Pho by the way is Vietnamese noodle soup) and a coffee that I needed quite badly. One problem with those bargain flights is that they are usually not at the most convenient times, very early or very late. In this case, very early.
Brussels is one of the greenest cities around and in the center there is always some sort of Green display, in this case a house built of Pallets. Nice.
Pallet House
Brussels Pallet House
We also strolled by a sinkhole that had recently opened up in the middle of a busy street and then we wandered to a house owned by the city in which an artist had begun squatting. He fixed the house, opened it up, and turned it into a gallery. At this point the city decided to evict him. So he did what anyone in that situation would do.
Artist Brussels cemented leg

HE CEMENTED HIS LEG IN THE DOORWAY SO THEY COULDN”T MOVE THE FURNITURE OUT!
Artist Brussels Cemented Leg
Raf and I toured through the house, it was quite nice and he talked with the squatter for a while. The man said that since his mother was a potter and his father was a mason, he felt right at home with his leg cemented in.
Watch a video here: http://www.deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/mediatheek_en/1.602653

In the centre of Brussels Jeroen Peters has been squatting a council house that has been empty for years. He has turned it into an art gallery. To keep a bailiff from turning him and his art out, he cast his foot in cement by the front door.

Later we sat at Raf’s and caught up like the old friends we now are. It really is the greatest joy of couchsurfing to meet strangers that become your good friends.
Brussels
In the evening we grabbed a drink at a Spanish cultural center where a Spanish comic was making everyone laugh, but since neither of us have enough Spanish to get the jokes, we simply laughed because everyone else was.
Brussels
So you start to get the idea why I love Brussels! It really is everywhere at once. The weather was rainy and grey, but I’ve lived in the Northwest enough, that doesn’t bother me.

(Originally posted 08 October 2009)

Day before, yesterday, I woke up at Raphael’s feeling worse than I’ve felt in a long time. This flu came on sudden and strong. I hope it doesn’t pass on to my friend and his family. If I would have known it would feel like that, I wouldn’t have stayed there.

As it was, Raphael and his daughters were gone for the day and so I cleaned up, left a thank you note, and headed out. I was suppossed to couch surf with a new friend in Charleroi (remember 2 hours away where Brussels South Airport is) but since I was feeling like my head would explode and my breathing was strained and that perhaps I had actually caught H1N1, I opted instead to go to the nearest hotel to the airport and get a room, get some medicine, and rest. My hope was that I would recover enough so that I wouldn’t act as a vector, as it was, if I were Typhoid Mary, I would have done my job well.

I rode the crowded train from Brussels to Charleroi. Then I took a crowded bus to the airport. The hotel didn’t start running it’s shuttle service until 6 pm so I ended up sitting in the airport because it was raining and I didin’t want to get soaking wet again, the airport was nonstop crowded with incoming and outgoing flights for the 2 hours I was there. Then I took the shuttle to the hotel after buying some medicine in a pharmacy, I laid in bed and slept. I woke at 4 am and showered, then went to catch my flight.

It was delayed for 2 hours because of an Air Traffic Control Strike in France. The medicine seemed to have helped. My head felt better. I could breathe. I was incredibly excited to see my sweetheart after 5 months away.

Got to Morocco, they had some sort of star trek flu detector system at customs and I was able to go through, so probably just a bit of sinusitus from the cold and rain. Took another bus to Fes, a taxi to Sefrou, walked in and Salaam a leykuumed my Moroccan family. Really nice.

If I was a virus vector, I exposed thousands in a very short time…wow. I can see why disease outbreak control is a nightmare.

For the first time in a long time, I have no destination, no where I am going, no flights to catch, nowhere I need to be. I do have things I need to do though.

Hanane and I want to marry as soon as possible which might be a long time given the mountains of Moroccan bureaucracy and my Vagabond status.

I need to find work.

I need to find a place to live. Not that it’s bad living with the Souidi’s, I love them, but it’s the sort of frenetic place where one can’t really write, study, or work. Constant activity of eating, cleaning, catching sheep, painting, and more.

I’m really happy to be back in Morocco. I’m happy to be back with Hanane. I am totally optimistic for the future and sure that things will work out.

So here, this blog perhaps takes a turn towards building a life in Morocco and starting from zero. The challenges of international marriage in a Muslim nation and the joy of successes that are yet to come…inshallah.

Wish me luck and welcome along for the ride.