Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #16

..My relationship with my hosts had gotten stronger as you would expect, and I felt quite at home with their company although I may not have agreed with everything they believe in, we can find common ground. One thing I had been enjoying immensely was the food, Inge seemed to spend the majority of her time around the kitchen, possibly due to her bad back, and conjures up some magnificent dishes, all with home grown or local organic produce; rabbit stews, chicken soups, spelt wheat loaves and various other items have been laid before me on the table in huge quantities, with 3rd servings being commonplace.

Amongst some of my regular tasks, which included opening and feeding the chickens and geese, moving the sheep and their pen and feeding the rabbits, during the first week I replanted some suffering onions and helped install a drip-irrigation system, collected firewood higher up the mountain, with the Junta's (council) strimming and cutting of the roadside aiding us, planted and irrigated three rows of potatoes, Alpujarran style, with the water cascading or trickling down through small channels, using stones to change its path when necessary.

I also cleared a patch of notoriously tough Spanish brambles, cleaned the swimming pool, which was a very tedious and tiring task, and planted various sunflowers here, there and everywhere. Both the physical aspect and the psychological aspect combined to be a draining experience, with the supremely bright moon coming out when my thoughts wandered to existential matters; globalisation, homesickness and how to light the stove without any matches.

The first week provided a good introduction to life at Semilla Besada, and it continued much the same, only with me having spend the majority of the next week with Bruno, the quiet, rough, knowledgeable Belgian who had spent the past 20 years there in Andalucia, since arriving at the tender age of 16 with no money and no Spanish. He was a builder by trade but seemed to be adept in many areas, be it killing animals, drinking copious amounts or other common Alpujarran pastimes. Bastian had told me brief snippets of his life outside of his temporary building work at La Chaparra and he seemed to have personal complications but he is a pleasure to work with, I have never seen anyone with such a passion for cement and spirit levels.

We had also been on two stone collecting missions further up the mountain, for building the steps and to be used as the drainage system around the bunker/larder we were building. At the natural mine, there were some lovely stones, huge chunks of marble, small rose quartz pebbles and perfectly flat stones stones, which Bruno exclaimed were perfect for building. The second time we were there, 3 golden eagles, presumably 1 female and 2 young, glided overhead, curious as to what we were doing on their part of the mountain. They flew swiftly over us and into the mist that shrouded the Rio Lanjaron barranco.

My first weekend off was a welcome break and to lie in till 9 seemed like heaven, something else that I didn't want to take for granted upon my return to England, along with a raised appreciation of wine, good food and sustainability. What occurred to me whilst wandering through the foothills, with my worn down adidas' aiding my Spanish adventure again and getting consequently filled with bits of the various prickly bushes that are so abundant on the Alpujarran slopes, is that Christopher McCandless' notion that 'happiness is only really when shared' applied to my scenario perfectly at points in my trip. Naturally, I wasn't as isolated as McCandless, not even nearly so, but compared to my home life, still a gigantic turnaround. Instead of walking through woods that I know like the back of my hand with my girlfriend or my friends, I found myself traversing steep valleys by myself, with a stick in my hand in care I should have another encounter with a hostile canine, and stopping once in a while for some water and to take in the ever-changing views.

It is these views of the tiny white-washed splashes on the surprisingly green gradients of the Sierra de Lujar and the Sierra de la Contraviesa that make me yearn for companionship. A view shared is a view to be enjoyed, to remember together, to be silent in astonishment or to loudly express ones joy at such imposing chunks of earth.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #15

(Sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will get back on track with them)

..Then we ate, a feast of spaghetti and sauce, more than enough for 4 people, which we washed down with some celebratory glasses of wine. I told them bits and bobs about myself over the food and was I would be cracking almonds that afternoon, as a gentle introduction to work on this conspiracy-theory fuelled, remote sustainable dwelling.

After said almonds were cracked, I was shown around the main lower garden, a maze of fenced-off vegetable patches, olive terraces and various animal pens, including the geese and chicken runs, the large rabbit cage, containing 20 or more black and white (edible) fluffballs, and the 2 sheep in their enclosure at the bottom of the garden. All these were joined together with little paths leading here and there, with the platform that David (the man who lived here previously and the one whom we lived with) had done some form of martial arts/meditation on, at the heart of the garden, surrounded by fruit trees and pleasant smelling bushes.




My hosts seemed nice enough, the semi-typical alternative type that this part of Spain seems to attract in abundance, possibly due, in part, to Chris Stewart's 'Driving over Lemons'. Over the next few days, I was to learn that my reading on conspiracy theories and occultism was nothing compared to what they believed and practised for the most part. Personally, I like to keep an air of skeptisism about such matter and, although it is clear to me that the world is becoming something uninhabitable due to various powers in place, I find it hard to believe in fables such as the lost city of Atlantic or the pyramids being constructed by 'aliens', although it certainly makes for interesting and dynamic conversation. On a more down to earth note, before our evening meal of cheeses, hams and bread, I fed the rabbits with a mixture of plants and weeds collected from around the garden, doing 2 jobs in one.

I had been at Semilla Besada almost two weeks and it had gone incredibly fast, it seemed like only a day or two ago since I was in Granada with John. I'd settled in reasonably well and had definitely been putting my hours in; Monday to Friday, working from 9ish til 2 then working 3ish til 7-8. However I had been sleeping well in the caravan that I called home. I lit the stove every night then read till the heat had peaked in my box of delights, then I crawl into my sleeping bag, comfortable and warm, only to wake up shivering every morning. The temperature sure did drop at night and when the clouds descend.

For 3 days it rained quite significantly on and off and we even witnessed some snow; in April this must be a rare occurance, but to wake up and see the immense Sierra de Lujár iced with the snow, the radio antenna its cherry on top, or the frozen grass crystals around Paco's sprinkler made waking up in a fridge slightly more bearable.

The first week here on the mountain had been peculiar affair, settling in, getting into a semi-routine again after the sporadicity of hitch-hiking and being around people permanently as opposed to lots of solitary pondering en route. My spirits were admittedly undulating as the dats wore on, moments of bliss and peacefulness followed lonely cold nights, I believe a partial reason for this could be due to my desire keep on travelling, keep on moving, but I found myself static, having small urges to flee but also wanting to take my time, extend my budget as much as possible and absorb all there is. But I had only been there 11 days, I told myself, its to easy to see how people say 'the road is addictive', it may well be, but it is also severely exhausting, so in that way, a temporary home is welcome...



New reservoir, old cloud

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #14

..I rose before first light the next day, mostly due to the clocks going forward and walked through the empty streets, after padlocking my room and posting the keys back through the door. I passed the Plaza de la Revolucion, the Universidad and my aforementioned internet cafe and arrived at the marble, where I phoned Bastian as to my arrival time and at some 'churros', then hopped onto the bus headed for Lanjaron.

There were barely any people on the bus; a couple of young guys, one or two women and an extremely large chap who chatted non-stop to the driver, a balding grumpy Spaniard who cursed me as I got off the bus after the last stop in Lanjaron, an easy mistake to make for a tired Englishman.

I waited by the small petrol station, one of the last buildings in the village, surprised at how much it was here than in Granada, with my breath being clearly visible against the spectacular backdrop of the Alpujarras...the foothills of the vast Sierra Nevada.

The mountain from Lanjaron castle
 After a bit of confusion and a pleasant 45 minute wait, a white Land rover pulled up with a slightly greying lady inside, who I presumed to be Inge, my prospective host. I threw my backpack onto the back seat and hauled myself up into the dusty cabin. I introduced myself, exchanged some pleasantries, then waited in the 4x4 while Inge got some items from the local shops.

Then came that ascent up the mountain track, a route I had done countless times in the back of the old Nissan Sunny, or hanging out the window; a ten year old face being woken up by the cold mountain mist on the way to a small rural Spanish school where everything was new and strange.

How peculiar to be driving past old neighbours, the same purple Seat Marbella parked on Juaqui's goat farm, the same dust settling on the dashboard and those wonderful smells of the wild mountain plants mixed together in a subtle nasal cocktail. We shook and shuddered up to around 1350m where the same black gate leading down to La Chaparra stood.

It looked similar yet very different, my memories mixing with the altered gardens and house. To my great surprise, it was Bonita, the old dog, that greeted me, the same she had probably done so 12 years ago, albeit with more flesh on her then. I was quickly introduced to Bastian and Bruno who were busy building the bunker/root cellar and then shown to a small caravan, which would become my quarters for the duration of my stay, however long that should be.


Cold/cosy caravan

Monday, 17 September 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #13

...On my way back to the centre, I passed the graveyard which John had recommended I take a look at, but it was shut for lunch and then the Alhambra with plenty of tourists flocking around the entrance. My slightly vague memories came back to me after I strolled down the tree lined path, flanked by tiny streams on either side which leads from Plaza Nueva straight up to the Alhambra Palace.

Upon arrival in the Plaza, I spotted John and asked him how he was, he said that it was particularly bad for a Sunday and he had only collected a few 'centimos', later he announced it as his worst Sunday ever in Granada. While I was sitting with this English street artist, Rafa, his old landlord came by, shuffling in his tartan slippers, and asked if I wanted to come to his casita for a beer, to which I obliged and said I'd be there 'a las ocho'.

Before I went to Rafa's though I wandered around Granada a bit more, encountering lots of street musicians and other performers up and down the busy 'calles'; a didgeridoo player, a swing band that used props and looked like there were possibly cave-dwellers or van-livers and acoustic guitars strumming to the people paseo-ing in the plaza.

I returned to my room, then headed up through the tiny graffiti'd alleyways to Rafael's. I knocked and entered, and there he was, his house consisting of four tiny rooms, including the central living room. He showed me around his decorated little house and then set forth cooking me a 'tortilla francesa' and proceeded to put yoghurt's, fruit, biscuits and beer in front of me, which I could hardly turn down.

I ate and we had some small conversation, with him repeating questions and me repeating pigeon Spanish answers. I thanked him for his hospitality and then escaped into the night, promising to visit him if I'm ever back in Granada.

That evening John was on an ultra cheap diet, consisting of garlic, tomato and olive oil on white bread. To show him some gratitude for hooking me up with a room, I bought us some cerveza's and we sipped a few before exchanging emails and heading to our separate night time abodes.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #12

Prickly pears & Moorish settlements
After passing multiple hippy vans at the top of the hill, behind the white church, I was in cave territory, 'Las Cuevas'. It was a strange area with lots of litter strewn all over the place, but also nicely kept (illegal) caves. I walked around on the little pathways, hither and thither and was starting to head back down to the centre, when I passed some abandoned cave-dwellings and suddenly heard loud barking out of nowhere behind me, then a large appeared, snarling and barking aggressively, before I knew it, it had gone for me. I instinctively turned my back on it and stumbled into the cacti behind me. Then it was gone and I ascended the mountain in a state of shock, stopping at a painted van to rinse the small wound with some water. I hobbled back down the Albaizin area to tell John what had happened.

He informed me, to my relief, that there was no Rabies in the area, however I went back to my little room and rinsed it out further to be on the safe side. John had made a few euros that day so we headed to his 'local', a small bar 15 minutes walk away in downtown Granada. As he had mentioned, it was nothing special, but they knew him and the tapas were extremely good, which I can vouch for, as, between us we had a decent sized bowl of chips, meat and sauce to accompany out beverages of choice. The second tapas was skewered marinated meat with some bread. Especially good for John with his small budget and love for drinking, it was a 2 for 1 offer too good to turn down.

We watched the end of a Real Madrid thrashing and headed back to the casa, where we consumed a few more beers and talked late into the night, during which he mentioned his sustainable community project in Northern Spain, which sounds promising and he obviously knows alot about such matters, having connections in various such establishments.

After not being able to resist the combination of alcohol and cigarettes, I woke up with a sore head and throat, so I pepped myself up a bit by getting my first shower for nearly a week. Although the shower was a complicated old Spanish device, I figured it out and washed in the tiny little shower cubicle, with walls that were caving in on me, but, it was lovely feeling to be in warm clean water again.

The previous day, John had explained a walk that he sometimes took people on, 5-6 hours including a picnic, so I set off using my hazy memory of his rough directions as a guide. Past the ancient little pueblo of Sacramonte, where the original Gitanos or Gypsy's lived, past ferocious dogs behind ragged wire fences, mountain bikers and plenty of prickly pear cacti; until I arrived at the crossing over the small river and started to climb on the small dirt tracks from past paseo's and mountain bikers alike. It was lovely to walk alone again in the mountains, even though I was only 25 minutes from the city centre, the smells and noises all came flooding back and I found myself almost instinctively making noises to warn off wild boars.

After passing an inhabited cave almost 45 minutes up the mountain, I began to search for a suitable picnic location, but I decided I wanted a view to accompany to my sandwich and glow in the dark fruit juice, so i carried on clambering up through the scrub, past giant ants and noisy bee's until I reached a plateau of extremely red soil, where there were lots of mountain bike trails and more signs of life than before. I followed the main path round and was confronted by a picnic area with hundreds of Granadino's milling around in the shade of the pine trees. the noise was overwhelming after the tranquillity of my ascent and I sought solitude further down the hill, where I ate and drank, looking out over part of the city, towards my next destination; the spa-town of Lanjaron, the pueblo I went to school in, what an experience to be back there...would anyone recognise me? Probably not, although I half expected to see some familiar faces, or if not, at least places from a past life.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #11

 
..By that time it was 7 a.m. and I couldn't keep my eyes open, so I dozed off multiple times on the coach, while an elfish looking woman read about esoteric astrology next to me. As we neared Granada it started to rain, which I found peculiar, but it didn't last long and after 20 minutes I had reached Granada bus station safe and sound. I checked for a bus to Lanjaron, the small village in the Alpujarras, which was my next destination. There were several buses a day and for less than 5 Euros, but I decided to ring my HelpX hosts first.

I did this in an internet cafe, but only after I had wolfed down a 'bocadillo del calle' and some fruit. I sent a message to Sam and talked to Cowie breifly on the estranged internet, then rang Bastian & Inge, my prospective volunteer placement. The muffled voice on the end of the line told me to come on Monday as they had some stuff to sort out over the weekend. This wasn't what I was expecting to hear but decided to make the most of the situation and stay in Granada for the weekend.

I walked the few kilometres from the bus station to the centre of the city, with my back starting to hurt due to my heavy rucksack. I wandered around the tiny cobbled streets of the Albaizin, half searching for some hostels which I had scribbled down at the internet cafe. I didn't have much luck and ended up in Plaza Nueva, a bustling square right in the heart of the city, with the high court and one end and the start of the Moroccan-influenced Albaizin at the other, where the smells of incense, cooked meat, tobacco and rubbish drifted together seamlessly.

There were numerous people in and around the square, foreign tourists, Spanish tourists and locals, but I stumbled upon John, the English artist who was sketching the square on a large sheet of brown paper in order to collect some change from passers by. I sat on my bag and talked for a while with him, mentioning that I was looking for a place to stay for 2 nights, after which he suggested I try his landlord, as he could possibly give me a room for 10 Euro a night. So off I went to meet Rafael, the 78 year old, who'd lived his whole life in the centre of Granada, in his tiny 'casita' above the rooms which he rented out.

He was partially deaf and slightly senile, so communication was slow to say the least and when he described how the shower worked, I was lost completely. But I paid the 20 Euro and got my room, which was very basic but as John had said; a true taste of Andalucian architecture and living. After a week of tents and motorway services I was definitely looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed.

It was still early in the day so I headed back to Plaza Nueva and talked to John for a bit longer, who was an interesting guy, choosing to live in a way most people wouldn't; selling his sketches occasionally and getting change irregularly off tourists in order to pay his rent, which he said was as much as he could afford at any one time and Rafa was ok with that, mostly just wanting someone to look after the place downstairs and turf out and unruly residents. He had lots of stuff going on, working on various projects around Europe, both artistically and personally.

John recommended I take a walk up to the viewing point or Mirador, up through the Albaizin to the top of the hill. It sounded great so I headed up through the tiny streets, still taking in all the sights and smells and being so relieved to not have my backpack I was practically sprinting through the alleys.







Spain is covered in graffiti, from head to toe and Granada was no exception, with anti-everything graffiti on every corner, very much a refreshment from the British name tagging scallywag scrawls. I reached the viewing point and pondered over the lovely landscape for a few minutes, and as breathtaking as it was, I wanted to explore the caves which lay further down to the left...

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #10

..I devoured the old Dutch couples sandwiches and was even offered hot tea (at a picnic?!) after which we were on our way again. We had exited the foothills of the Northern Pyrenees and were now in a more arid, hilly climate, where I spotted a multitude of vultures drifting upwards on the warm air upsurge caused by a small cluster of hills.

Hermoet and Ria weren't quite as glad as I was to see these magnificent birds but exclaimed none the less. After a relatively peaceful and uneventful drive, we reached the last services before Burgos, where our paths parted ways.



It was a warm, humid afternoon, and I quickly gathered my belongings and sought the exit, where I was in clear view of any cars approaching, with a completely empty car park at my thumbing disposal. Only 3 cars had passed before a white BMW sports car wound down its window, revealing Ysia, a sunglass wearing, short business man, returning to Madrid after doing some form of audio translating work near Burgos.

I clambered into the low car and off we sped, with air con blasting and Homer Simpson directing us from Ysia's iPhone. It was my first lift in Spain and it couldn't have gone any better, we talked at length about many subjects, mainly in Spanish, with my confidence building as the car surged on towards the capital.

Luckily he also spoke English quite well, so if I was lost for words, he would help me out and vice versa. We drove through desert-like terrain, until the road squeezed between two mountains, where snow still lay, and there was Madrid, its few skyscrapers pointing the way to the centre with many kilometres of suburbs sprawled out below them.

Even though Ysia was a Madrileno, he confessed to not even barely knowing the city, such was its vastness. Consequently we drove around the ring road fruitlessly looking for a service station. He had already taken me all this way and was now headed in the opposite direction to his house, so I jumped out at the next petrol station I saw, without a clue where I was in relation to Madrid or to where I wanted to be.

I flew my sign for Andalucia half heartedly, knowing it was more than a long shot. This is where I met the kind young man who gave me the money for the metro...

So the gig with Erick was interesting to put it one way, it turned out to be some slightly overly happy Christian R&B soul cover gig, which would explain Ericks kindness earlier in the day. But I had a place to be, with some new people and some overpriced drinks, while they played covers of Wonderwall with a Christian twist.






All the religiousness was admittedly a bit much for me, with every other lyric being 'Believe', so I believed I would leave after the gig and turn down an offer to sleep on a band-members couch. And out into the busy night I burst, the streets being even more crowded than in the daylight. I walked past the plethora of prostitutes and the hoards of homeless, toward the train station, Atocha, where I thought I might be able to get a few hours sleep before getting the train as early as possible.


Atocha was shut though, Madrid's homeless problem means that it would become their hotel had it have been open through the night. And it was indeed a homeless person who came over and started talking to me, some fellow from Portugal, who was drunk. I was in a strange mood, so I went along with it, he said he'd take me to the bus station, but it was he wanted a ticket, which I wasn't prepared to do. I told my name was Raul for no reason, then left him and got directions to the bus station, a good 25 minutes walk from the train station.

I was hoping it might be open so I could sleep a bit, but most of the homeless people had the same idea, however it didn't open til 5. I found this out from David, a long haired chef from Granada, who was waiting to get the metro to the airport and fly to Seoul, where was going to be living for a year.

As we had 3 hours to pass, me and David had a great conversation, delving into everything, including travel (he had lived all over the world, including various places in London), drugs and how strange a place Madrid is. He shared his hashish and we had a very pleasant if not slightly chilly time.

Come 5 o clock, we exchanged emails and entered the bus station along with the majority of Madrids unemployed and homeless. I gave in to the beggars again and gave some guys nearly 4 Euros, most of which he plunged immediately into a Bandit. I ate churros, avoided a horrible little pervert in the toilets and got the hell out of Madrid for only 16 Euros...

Monday, 30 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #9

..They had managed to get a ride with a business man heading South, at first it seemed as if he was willing to go the 100km out of his was to take us to Toulouse, however we eventually found out it must have been a lost in translation affair, as he was headed towards Biarritz. Lauren was a peculiarly interesting guy who sold bus seats internationally and spoke 4 languages including Basque. The two lads from Yorkshire were lovely chaps, and it was a delight to have a bit of company.

We were dropped off with some haste in a small petrol station on the outskirts of Bordeaux, where we flew signs for Toulouse and Spain to no avail. We did however receive half a dozen tuna sandwiches and some bottles of water from a car full of young sportsmen. Strange positive experiences like this happen often when travelling, whether this is because you see more places and are therefore statistically more likely to find them or whether the positive nature of your travels attracts positive actions of others, I do not know.

After 5 or 6 hours, I willing to try get a few hours sleep round the back of the petrol station but we decided to stick it out for a bit longer. A Romanian coach pulled in and having nothing to lose, we gave it a shot but the person we thought was in charge said no.

In a peculiar turn of events though, an old guy asked us where we were going etc in Spanish and I told him as best I could, he then went to ask the driver for us again, and this time he accepted. One of my new found companions had his doubts about boarding the coach at that time of night, but I figured it couldn't be any worse than spending the night there, so we stuffed our backpacks in the trailer and followed the co-driver onto the packed coach.

I squeezed myself in next to an old Romanian guy who smelled just like the land I assumed he worked on. Soil and onions.

We got dropped off about 10km from Bayonne, in a moderately large service station with some quite exquisite seating areas amongst the tall pine trees and sandy ground under foot. We gathered out belongings and decided it was we camp out for the night and try hitch in the morning. By the time we had set up the tent and nestled down in our respective sleeping bags it was past 3 o clock and setting the alarm for half 6 was always a bit ambitious. We slept in in till around 8.

I awoke to yet another misty morning, unable to see the service station on the opposite side of the road, but we were in good spirits, despite the fact that we all knew getting a ride with all 3 of us was highly unlikely. After an hour or so trying the sign for Spain near the exit, they decided to go try on the forecourt, whereas I stuck out the sign technique for a bit longer.

It wasn't long though till I returned to the petrol station, feeling slightly glum about being so close to Spain but not being able to get there. At one point I was considering trying to walk to the coast and follow it down as far as I could, but I was eventually glad that I didn't make that rash decision, as only 15 minutes later I was cruising down the motorway in the back of a Dutch Lexus with Hermoet and Maria, who were on their way to an apartment in the Algarve.

Luckily James and Tom didn't hesitate in telling me to take the ride, for which I was very grateful. My Dutch came in handy when asking them for a lift as they didn't speak much English and probably wouldn't have taken me otherwise.

They were a typical older Dutch couple, very neat, precise and by-the-book, but we held some good conversations, as much as you can between a young hitch hiker and an elderly couple on a comfortably arranged holiday. They must have warmed to me however, because instead of dropping me off at the border as I had asked, they were willing to take me another 200km into the North of Spain, near to Burgos, where I was going to try head directly South, direction Madrid.

To them, I may have represented a substitute child or grandchild, as they treated me with parental kindness from the start, possibly due to me speaking their language. They had prepared alot of food, all neat and in it's own special place in the hamper..I have found the Dutch people love their organisation on both a small and larger scale, an inherent trait of a country where you live shoulder to shoulder. Biscuits, krentebollen, juice drinks were all passed to my back seat on the journey.

As if this wasn't enough, they insisted we stop somewhere for a picnic, and naturally I obliged. I returned from the toilet at the services in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in Northern Spain and found a veritable feast laid out on the marble seating area, picnic blanket and all...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #8

..When I popped my head out of the dripping tent, the sun was just coming up over the trees, but it wasn't going to dry my tent any time soon, so I packed up and headed back to the roundabout. It is definitely a strange feeling; waking up and within 10 minutes standing at the side of the road trying to mentally coax people into stopping for you.

45 minutes passed quickly with the rush hour traffic zooming on by, white van men peering, other trying to pretend I don't exist. Cristophe was the person who stopped for me and took me for 20 minutes down the road to a large industrial estate with a lot of traffic passing through; it appeared to be a sublime spot, however and hour and a half of nothing but the cold wind chilling me proved otherwise.

I went to the petrol station to eat and had chosen a lovely breakfast when I realised I didn't know or couldn't remember my pin number. Things were going from bad to worse and my rumbling stomach wasn't helping matters, so polished off the emergency chocolate and headed back to my hitching spot. Suddenly a car stopped and out stepped Benoit, a friendly police officer who lived in Valenciennes but was going to work in Paris for 4 days. He was extremely kind-hearted and eager to talk, just what I needed after quite a miserable 12 or so hours.

He enquired as to whether I was hungry or thirsty,  to which I honestly replied that I was both, upon hearing this he offered me 2 slices de pommes and a can of drink. Bliss! Although I was hesitant to accept, he would have it no other way. We managed to hold a decent and varied conversation for the 300 km to Paris, where he dropped me at a huge service station. I grabbed some waste cardboard and scribbled a sign for Bordeaux as Benoit had suggested. I positioned myself at the exit and sure enough, the size of the services led to me acquiring a lift within 3-4 minutes.

A small German lady wandered over and said she could take me as far as Saints, a small place 75 km  north of Bordeaux. Naturally I obliged, and before long Angela and I were negotiating the Parisian ring road and consequently the French countryside past Tours, a beautiful white, pointy city, past Poitiers and over numerous large rivers, the names of which escape me. Angela was kind enough to let me try and sleep in the back of her van but I could only manage a paltry 25 minutes before I was back to ogling at the wondrous countryside.

After some confusion as to where Angela was headed and where I wanted to go, I got out at a small service station somewhere north of Bordeaux. As I waved Angela off, I heard a familiar accent drift over the parking lot. Two lads got out of a car and we exchanged pleasantries, they were from Leeds Uni and were doing the organised charity hitch hike to Morocco, coincidentally they had arrived at exactly the same time in the same services. I splashed out on some more overpriced long life plastic food and hadn't even finished the squidgy baguette before they shouted me over..




Monday, 16 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #7

..Backtracking to my arrival in Calais, after an uneventful crossing in mostly mist and then arriving in the port to be greeted by beaming sun on the beach. I stepped off the ferry feeling about hitching down towards Bordeaux and after some minor deliberation, found what seemed to be 'the' hitching spot, judging by numerous scrawled messages on the back of the nearest lamppost.

I had what I though were some good signs to get me out of the port area, but even though the traffic was thick, both with truckers, holiday-makers and locals, not a single soul made a small gesture of kindness until a couple of hours later. Even then, the young French man who had picked me up only took me 5 minutes down the motorway, as he was going elsewhere thought I might be able to hitch from the hard shoulder.

He stopped the car in the divide between the junctions, with traffic passing at 70 miles an hour on either side. I manoeuvred myself onto the side of the highway heading back around past Calais, spotting a sign for Rennes and getting my hopes up. Naturally nobody stopped, as was to be expected, so I drudged for a mile or so on the hard shoulder and reached a roundabout on the outskirts of Calais which looked quite promising, however yet again it was proving to be nigh on impossible.

I left the roundabout and trekked down the side of the highway for another 2 miles approximately, with truckers beeping and policemen staring. Eventually I ended up in the dead centre of Calais and was losing faith in escaping this town by nightfall. I checked at the train station for a ticket to Bordeaux, but left as soon as I found out it was above 130 Euros.

After eating the majority of my emergency chocolate, and as I walked through the desolated, run-down industrial part of town, I felt an extreme sense of loneliness, the one you only experience abroad in an unfamiliar environment. I decided I would have to return to my hitching spot, after walking a huge circle of around 10 miles, but my luck was still running low. The sun was going down slowly and it seemed probable that I would be sleeping under the flyover or in my tent, which was still wet from the Dover dew.

Just as I was about to throw in the proverbial towel, a kind-hearted lady called Veronique puller over and I hopped in without waiting to hear where she was headed, I simply wanted to get out of that place. She was, in actual fact, headed to a city called Valenciennes, alot more Easterly than I would have liked but hitchers can't be choosers sometimes.

In my broken French we managed some reasonable conversation, she was a very normal lady, a teacher in Calais and hadn't picked up a hitcher before as I understood. I was very grateful for the ride and got that lovely feeling of movement after being stationary for quite some time. To have the miles flying by so quickly in moderate heat and comfort is something I won't take for granted again, that is for sure.

Once again it was hard to communicate a good place to part ways and I ended up at a tiny service station somewhere near Valenciennes and a small town called Orchies. After an hour or so my initial enthusiasm wore off, as it does when you get a ride but are stuck because of said ride. The sun set spectacularly over the small truck stop and it got cold quickly. I ate some nuts and raisins for a bit of a morale boost. That didn't last long though and like the flow of traffic my chances of getting out of the petrol station were dwindling.

It was probably getting on for 10 o'clock by this point and my luck shifted, a lady who spoke very good English said she could take me a little bit further down the road, only as far Orchies, but I jumped at the opportunity. She probably only gave me a lift out of pity, which is understandable, I probably looked quite a state by this point.

I exited at a roundabout just off the main road and bode her farewell and thanks, then flew a sign for the A1/A2 towards Paris. It was late though and it was doubtful I would get a ride. I decided to set up my tent just off the roundabout, thankful to have some relatively flat ground after Dover's incredible slant. It was cold and damp which made for another uncomfortable nights sleep, where once again I probably only got 3 hours or so.







Saturday, 14 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #6

..As it was getting darker by the second, I set up camp hastily next to a small tree on top of the great white cliffs. The terrain wasn't good but it would have to do. The slant and the grassy mounds made for an uncomfortable nights sleep, with the cold accompanying the evils to amount in only an hour or two of sleep.

I awoke groggily and with a sore neck at 6.45, packed up my soaking tent with numb fingers and trotted along the edge of the cliffs in a thick mist that barely allowed me to see the harbour.

'I now found myself suddenly in Madrid, a ridiculously large city, I was lost before I even entered the place. The past two days have been a complete blur, everything has flown past and it looks like tomorrow I will be getting a train to Granada, at a price of 69 Euros, which is very steep for someone on a budget like mine, even though I keep giving change to people in various places. Some would say I waste but I hope I was genuinely helping them and that in the long run, some form of Karmic presence might return my naivety/kindness. However, if there is anywhere in the world one would think Karma is lacking or any spirituality at all, it would in a sprawling metropolis like one I find myself in.

It has been quite a while since I have been in a city, let alone a foreign one and it is without a doubt very frightening and a definite shock to my overly tired senses. So many people! All of them rushing about their lives, it seems quite the opposite to the intimate nature of hitch-hiking. As I write, I break a smile to the people who stare at my intrepid scribbling, perched scruffily atop my backpack. My smiles are yet to be returned. While I am in the city however, I must describe on smile that was returned, after my unplanned arrival in a petrol station on the south west of this place. I stood wearily at the exit of a petrol station, without a clue where I was headed or an inkling as to which direction I wanted.

A passing driver pointed out my blatant mistake of flying a sign for Granada/Andalucia when facing into the city centre. My defence is that tiredness and stupidity are a match made in heaven. Me standing cluelessly on the outskirts of the city makes me wonder and gawp at how many people are going about their lives here and I cannot get my head around it one bit. It makes me think of a song by and artist my girlfriend showed me.. "it's so hard to go into the city (this bit was true for me by itself), because you want to say hello to everybody". For example a women with a skateboard just walked past, presumably for her son or possibly daughter, and I wanted to tell her she had made a good choice, but by the time I looked back up to pay a small compliment, she was gone.

This leads me all to explain why I am sitting on my bag in front of a graffiti'd wall in a strange district of the city. Well, next to the trendy shops which crowd my views and near the grates leading up from the subway, spewing out hot air on which discarded wrappers float up, up, up, there is a small bar called 'Bar Intruso', outside which there is a small group forming, and I can only presume that these are the anticipatories for Erick, the guy who helped me get here and is singing in said bar tonight.

I can only hope he hasn't been and gone already, this however, seems unlikely, as Madrilenos prefer to start late with their nightlife. In the haste of things I seem to have left out a vital fact, the young man who pointed out my cartographic mistake earlier was enough to lend me 1.50 for the metro, where I met Erick. Luckily, I also seem to be in a moderately nice part of the city, with most of the passers by being trendy young people or slightly older people with bags full of designer goods. And so, as darkness slowly creeps up on me in the Spanish capital, I must bag up my journal and scribble my down from the past 2 days another time. It could well be on the train tomorrow...'

Friday, 13 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #5

..I tried the roundabout and the carriageway into Maidstone, predictably to no avail. I thought things might take a turn for the better at my next spot of choice, at the top of the road going out of Maidstone towards the large roundabout. I had a good sign, which was written on a discarded wine box whilst munching my selection of nuts, seeds and raisins, and what I thought was a decent spot. My insticts were wrong though and I seemed to get more blank stares in this spot than anywhere else.

I gave up and wandered into the meadow behind me, where I explored an abandoned house before heading back to the roundabout. Cursing after a half full energy drink emptied its remaining contents onto my shoe and trouser leg, I had had enough. I started the arduous slog in what was a very warm day, towards Maidstone centre. A passing cyclist remarked that it was a 2 or so mile walk. And a very unpleasant one at that.

I was headed towards Maidstone East railway station, where I was determined to catch a train to the coast. After some deliberation, I purchased the ticket to Dover for £17. Looking back I would have liked to have asked for directions to a nearby service station but at the time I was just desperate to make it to the fabled white cliffs. The train changed at Ashford International and then passed through Folkestone with some lovely views of the 3 and 4 storey coastal houses and glimpses of the cliffs that were to come, accompanying my reading of Patrick Leigh fermor as he crusied down the Rhine amidst castles. Upon arrival in Dover Priory, I headed towards the town centre and a supermarket to gather some supplies. A pear, a nectarine, 1 baguette, some biscuits and a tub of chicken spread contributed towards distilling my hunger.

Another 25 minute walk took me to the ferry terminal and just before I got there, I spotted a fellow hitch-hiker. An instant bond formed even though I had no sign or otherwise to suggest I was thumbing...A scouser. He had no money for the ferry, the poor guy had been there since half 10 this morning. By this time it was half past 5. I bode him good luck and we parted ways. When I arrived at the travel-service centre I was dog tired and sat down to rest and eat my homemade sandwich.

I had noticed that the majority of people I have met on my 2 day journey down to Kent have asked me if I am meeting friends over in Spain and are generally shocked when they recieve a negative response to their query. Could it be that a childhood filled with moving from house to house, from country to country, making friends and then abruptly ending the friendship has made me more of a solitary soul than others? I think this is very possible, although I do not seek solice, on the contrary I very much enjoy others' company. Having said that, I met a young lad from Dover who had just purchased a one-way ticket to Calais, for the next departure and got talking to him. I couldn't help but overhear his conversation with a friend of his who had turned up and had tried to persuade him to stay in Dover and asking about what was up with him, how come he was leaving.

I later found out that he had the notion that there was nothing here for him in Dover and he had packed some Lucozade, a suit and 300 quid and was headed to France to try get a job. He was a kind-hearted young chap, perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I felt for him and commiserated with his circumstances. It was good to see somebody throwing caution to the wind and trying something new. Even though he might be a bit naive, I hope he will manage and I offered him the advice to try head to Italy as he spoke the language to a certain degree.

He thanked me for my advice and we exclaimed that we may meet in Calais the following day. Him and the Warwick charity-hitchers left to board the 18.30 crossing, leaving me alone once again. I asked the lady behind the desk whether I had to purchase a ticket now and whether the services were open through the night. her response was no to both, so I headed out to find a suitable place to pitch my tent, climbing up past the flyover to the top of the spectacular cliffs as the sun was setting rapidly behind Dover Castle, lighting the clouds with a fiery orange glow. I took a few pictures and continued my search..



Thursday, 12 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #4

Sean was a small, gingery truck-driver who had also travelled a fair when he was younger and was eager to tell me the in's and out's of trucking. It appeared as if my lack of success in the truck-parks could very well be the dreaded insurance and the fact that the lorries are on the road 8+ hours a day makes the insurance iffy to start with...adding more people to the equation skews it even more.

Feeling on top of the world after finally getting out of the ghastly South Mimms services, I invested in an overpriced tuna sandwich and wolfed it down in the sun at Thurrock services. I walked past and greeted a Scottish guy who was hitching somewhere up north, but his reaction seemed semi-agitated so I left him to it, wandered further down the exit road and stood on the middle divider.

There were hoards of vehicles heading past, both lorries and cars, and once again I was in top spirits. Peculiar thoughts and passing comments are a source of constant amusement whilst trying to win a ride, but I find my prejudices still surfacing, presuming certain people will most certainly not give me a ride and raising my hopes when a 'suitable candidate' drives past. It seemed a lot of truckers were willing to take me, however they were also going the wrong way unfortunately. A young guy in a Mercedes saloon drove past me on the other side of the road and asked me where I was headed, however he was going direction Milton Keynes. Not long after that he drove past again on my side of the road and said the best he could do was to pick me up in an hour and a half, after he'd been to his office. He explained his eagerness to help me out; he himself had hitch hiked throughout Canada a couple of years ago..

A definite link between all the generous souls who have picked me up is their previous travel experience and consequently their love of travel. It would seem the openness of voyaging and the new experiences it brings, makes individuals more aware, responsive and willing to help, perhaps having experienced the generosity and hospitality of other aids this cause. Either way I was very grateful to all those who gave me a seat in what is usually a private space.

After the young guy sped off with my thanks having been said, not 2 minutes later, an older gentleman in a red Mercedes, a real luxury car, pulled over and said he was going to Maidstone via the M20. I obliged, he popped the trunk and I slid down and into a lovely interior of leather and polished wood. The incredibly reclined seat in which I found myself instantly seemed to soothe any pain I might have from carrying my backpack. Phillip, my chauffeur as it were, was delivering said car to Maidstone, he then proceeded to tell me that often when he has delivered a car and needs to get to his next destination, he becomes a hitch hiker himself, albeit a slightly more professional, business-like one. Using the special registration plate which was secured in the window, people recognised him as a professional driver and extend their generosity his way.

It was an absolute please to sit in this beautiful modern piece of German engineering, hearing it tick through the automatic gearbox and listening to Phillip's tales of his days working as a photographer on a cruise ship all over the world and how different hitch-hiking is in Africa (Botswana to be specific). It seems a friend of his managed to pay off a mini-bus purely by picking up passengers on his way to work for 2 years.

Phillip was following his sat-nav and before we knew it, we had arrived at the junction where the M20 towards Dover turned East whereas Phil was headed into Maidstone itself. Had I have known this at the time I would have asked to join him. He hastily dropped me at the side of the dual carriageway and I walked back up towards the M20 on ramp, sign in hand and feeling optimistic. However upon arrival at said junction it was quite clear that it was a terrible thumbing spot, being on a bend with no place to pull over and vehicles travelling over 50mph. After a scramble uphill to get to this spot, I stuck it out for a short while before throwing in the towel and searching for a better spot.




Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #3

Tuesday 20th March 2012 (start of spring)

After a chaotic nights sleep, perhaps having got 3 hours of shuteye I arose at 5 am to try catch the first truckers leaving. No such luck however, and by half past 7 I was back at the main building, where I met Steve the Tramp again and his mysterious blue eyed dog. He told me his story, how he'd had his home and possessions taken from him and had hitched to Wales and was now heading back to Essex. He enquired as to how long I'd been on the road and my paltry one day seemed particularly meagre compared to his month long stint. I gave him the £2 change I had, he would need it more than me, I guessed.

It got to roundabout 10am and Steve seemed to have left, whereas the Hong-Kong/Warwick charity hitch-hikers were still at that cursed place. I began to lose my patience at this point. I knew that hitch-hiking is a game of chance but to be stuck in a grey industrial looking, bleak, bland service station isn't quite what I had in mind when I set off. Although, saying that, the majority of my time has been spent in such services.

I took a walk towards the enormous motorway roundabout looking for a town or something but it was dual carriageways and motorways all around. To add to my despair, I waited for a bus to take me to some obscure little train station but even that didn't show up.

The comedy hitching factor was also attempted; using a large wooden square I wrote 'Dover M20, Anywhere but here', whilst stood on a stretch of busy industrial road. A fair few people acknowledged me and bode their apologies which almost came as a relief amongst the ignorant scowls of so many a British person.

I then went to try acquire some hot water for tea and if that failed I would have been at the end of my tether...However, things didn't work out too bad in the end. I didn't go for my free hot water, instead I had a surge of optimism, which I had predicted could be the case due to letting some angst out in these pages. So I went to sit directly outside the entrance to the main building with my M20/M25 Dover signs, feeling a tad sorry for myself, and within a few minutes a friendly guy said he could take me a bit further down the M25.

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #2

It seems Tony also slipped my mind, telling me and enquiring about recent events, and about how some people are just 'mental' and you can never tell who. His prophesized homeless lady also turned up and sat next to me as I was engrossed in Patrick Leigh Fermor's epic wandering through the lowlands of Europe.

She sat for a good 15 minutes cracking peanuts staring solemnly at me. The Thai lady who seemed to run the place kindly filled my water bottle while I bought an overpriced tea to keep me slightly warm when the automatic doors created draft. It was possible that I appeared homeless or that I was a runaway and she offered me discounts on their foodstuffs. But I had to decline, to take advantage is surely against the 'way of the road'. I didnt want to be overly gluttonous if I could help it at all. I also believe Starbucks tea-bags are made of plastic.

A phonecall with Sam while I am still in the UK was a very welcome surprise and I told her I was safe, fed and moderately warm. It was strange to talk to her, knowing I won't see her for 4 months or so. I was sure she would cope fine, I know I would have be welcoming a break from myself.

Although I was grateful for not having to brave the night in my tent just yet, the service station definitely made for undesirable sleeping conditions; drafty, bright and noisy, with a smattering of semi-suspicious persons dotted around. I had been advised to head to the lorry-park around 5.30am in order to try catch them filling up on fuel and then hopefully heading for mainland Europe.

I let Hanna (my first arranged CouchSurf host) in Calais know via text that I wouldnt be arriving that night, but recieved no reply. I decided to try acquire a lift further South, towards Bordeaux.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #1

Monday 19th March 2012

Got up early after my last night of comfort and security at home. Said goodbye to my parents and took my mums homemade bag, which will hopefully come in handy at some point.
Took a steady walk up to Woolley Edge services, passing primary school children and their fussy parents. An elderly man who was making the most of the deceptively cold days sunshine by cleaning his car-boot wished me well and I felt uplifted and positive about the journey I was starting.

After scoping out various spots and asking some truck-drivers, I stood right at the very bottom close to the motorway on-ramp. On the back of a nearby lamp-post I saw previous hitchers who had left their mark with various dates, names and symbols. It was at this point that Dave stopped for me, in a small white van and said he could take me to Derby, which I gladly accepted, having spent 2 or so hours at that place. Dave was a project manager for some form of sewage operation, but was retiring in May, after which he had a cruise to San Francisco and Alaska booked. He was a nice chap and well travelled. Was told that the 'Dover' sign nearly put him off. Luckily not.

Dave dropped me just outside of Derby, at what I think were called Trowell services and having said what he did, I was going to change my sign to London, but before I even had the chance to salvage some more cardboard, a small grey corsa had stopped opposite me. Once inside the small vehicle, I'd like to say I got talking to Alison (or Alexandra in Spanish apparently) from Little Hampton (between Brighton and Plymouth) but I think I hardly muttered a word. The quirky revenue and customs lady talked non-stop about ex-boyfriends, travels, formula 1 racing and other topics until we reached Toddington services, just before the M25.

It was lovely weather still, although slightly and I was enjoying my first taste of proper solo travels. I had been trying 3 different points at the services but to no avail. Enquiring throughout the truck-stop also proved fruitless. After an hour, possibly slightly longer, a polite young chap picked me up. His names escapes me...Mark or Paul. He said he had picked me up after seeing me stood there for a while. He was, like Alison, going home after seeing his mother over the weekend. He told me he was a contractor for security at various events, gigs etc. and was a knowledgeable guy with some good views. He had travelled through Europe in a camper van and had camped at service stations in France without a problem, which is promising. After some confusion with directions, maps and sat-navs, he realised he was headed the wrong way and dropped me off at the first services, those being the South Mimms services.

Having spent a good three hours there, I had met some students from Hong-Kong studying at Warwick University, doing a charity hitch-hike to Croatia, a true hobo who was as polite as you like, he went to sleep round the back of the services with his dog. I didn't know his name yet but his demeanour was quite amazing, I was very happy to have met a true roads-person. I decided to try seek him out later, see what stories he had and if he was willing to share them. I gave in to hunger after nibbling chocolaty things all day, and, this being a motorway services, had to settle for overpriced fast-food. However there was another surprise in store, albeit minor. The friendly Eastern European lady at KFC (where I have vowed never to eat again after an encounter with an eye-opening book) gave me free chips with my burger and departed to the greasy backroom after telling me that good people get good things. I thanked her and devoured the small greasy package, while noting how strange it is to see 3 uniformed police officers eating chicken and playing on their iPhones. Peculiar indeed.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Crazy times!

Hello to everybody who reads my blog, and sorry for not posting anything, this is the first time I have been near a computer in about a week.

I have been keeping a journal, but I am also behind with that, its been a whirlwind the last few days and a bit of a blur to be honest, with not much sleep, about 1500 miles covered and only about 50 pounds been spent.

I will try to type up my travel journal on here when I am settled at my first volunteering placement, where I am headed tomorrow...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Less than a week to go..

I've definitely been slacking with the blogs again these days. Its mostly down to a lack of motivation, and also being pre-occupied with setting off on my travels and the whole business surrounding that.

So, its Tuesday night and I will be leaving next Monday, its still sinking in to be honest and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it all. Obviously it's what I've been waiting for but I can't help but doubt myself as to whether I'm prepared for it, both mentally and physically. It seems to have only just sunk into my girlfriend as well, which is also playing its part in making me slightly uneasy about leaving.

But then I remember why I'm going and why I've wanted to go for so long... 'that world hunger and poverty could be removed from the face of the planet if only 10% of the USA military budget was used for such purposes.' and other such quotes fit quite perfectly.

You get the jist, its my own little 'Into The Wild', its my own version of 'On the Road', I want to be Jack Supertramp, Chris Kerouac and all my literary heroes. However it seems most idea's like this have been realised and it's old news for people to get out there and do some extraordinary shit with their lives. But even if it has all been done, it must have been done so many times for a reason.

I have one phrase that I'm gonna try to emphasise to myself on my travels...'Get out there and find some truth'. I'm going away because I don't want to have to put up with shit tv, shit conversation, spending money on things I don't need, wasteful, ignorant, self-obsessed people and media driven propaganda. Going to southern Spain will most certainly not do anything about this, but hopefully I will learn ways in which to put up with them or fight against them.

Me seeking this 'enlightment', if you will, is an interesting subject in itself. With me having lived with and worked with mentally handicapped students for nearly half my life, I have watched them, interacted with them and learnt from them. One aspect of the differences between me and one of the more severely autistic students that I think is particularly interesting is the seeking, or obtaining of happiness.

Now you could go into extra depth on what happiness is and so forth, but lets just take that word as it is. Happiness, having a good time, achieving, etc. For me it seems the only way it can be achieved is by constantly striving towards a greater goal. Be it getting better at skateboarding, writing more, or travelling further afield taking the road less travelled, I am constantly after the happiness, and I suppose if this is the case, I probably won't find it any time soon. Sure, I will have some damn good times along the way (I hope), and I might even take these statements back at some point. But the guy who stands outside on the lawn, and twiddles the blades of grass between his fingers, watching them float away on the breeze, whilst making high pitched noises, seems to be having a better time than I am whenever I see him.

Does happiness exist? Or is it something made up to be twisted into whatever form it takes...? Big house, nice car? Hitch-hiking, meeting new people? Watching grass fall? Maybe I'll try all and decide afterwards..

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Open your eyes..

Quick little update on goings-on, I will hopefully be leaving between 16-20th March, preferably the 17th, this is due to me finding out that Dragon Festival is happening from the 16th til the 26th this year. The first time I was at this festival, was also the only time I've ever been, and it left a lasting impression on me.

Without a doubt one of the craziest places I've been, I'd say it was very very loosely organized chaos. But full of the most interesting people, most of them living some form of alternative life-style; travelling by all kinds of van, bus etc. with the biggest sound-systems I've ever seen. It claims to be Europe's biggest free festival, and advertises itself (advertising is definitely not the correct word) as being open to all performers, travellers, soundsystems and free people.

I have also made some further arrangements on couchsurfing.org, and should hopefully be staying with a guy in Bordeaux, I figured I'd try to couchsurf only in cities, if I find myself in the countryside of any sort, I will jump on the opportunity to wild-camp. I have been reading 'The art of camping' which is getting me geared up for the great unknown. I have also spent many hours trawling the internet for information on wild camping, although I suppose one can only do so much reading about camping.

When you get to a quiet piece of woodland in the late afternoon and set up your tent, no amount of reading will prepare you for what will happen. I suppose I have reached a point here in England, where I have some sort of disregard for my own well-being, as long as I am experiencing living, minor danger or anxiety is nothing compared to being out there.

Not quite sure how its going to turn out being at a festival by myself, but we shall have to wait and see. The good thing is I don't have a strict time schedule to stick to, as long as I keep my HelpX hosts informed of when I will be arriving all should turn out well. Saying that, I have literally just found out that the first hosts I am visiting have some form of connection with the people I lived with, with my family about 12 years ago. Interesting. I don't know whether that is a good or bad thing, I have sent them a message to enquire as to whether they are based in the same location I lived.

Now another question I have pondering on; is it selfish of me to travel and live in some form of freedom for as long as my budget will stretch?

I don't think there is a definitive answer to this question, however I have recently been influenced by various sources, and it is clear to me that life is for living and I don't enjoy my time here in the same location, repeating routines. The idea of mild danger and not knowing what I will be doing the next day appeals to me greatly. I can see that this probably doesn't appeal to everyone, but I would like to ask these people whether they are truly happy in their position. Working for the majority of their time, for what? So they can impress? Does that flat your paying for make you genuinely happy? Does your car that you lowered make you feel better about yourself? DO those clothes you're wearing make you a better person? These aren't for me to answer; as the saying goes, each to their own.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Synchronicities and abandoned houses

The past day and a half have proved to be very interesting and some great stuff has come out of it.

It started with a delve into the waters of what I have been reading up on previously, that is all things connected with and associated to the esoteric, the occult, possible spiritualism, psychonautics etc.

These areas are of particular interest to me as of late and although due to not being qualified or having much indepth knowledge I find it difficult to add to such discussions and debates, I spend a lot of time reading posts and articles on these matters. One of these websites I found whilst doing some research into the life (and tragic death) of Rik Clay, is 2012rising.com.

Perhaps quite a substantial amount of people will scoff when faced with websites such as this, containing predictions, revelations and other various insights into possible 'catastrophic events in 2012' linked to the Mayan calender, 'supernatural and spiritual phenomena' and 'metaphysical matters or conspiracy topics'. But although sometimes you do have to view the counter arguments to form a valid and accurate opinion, you cannot simply deny its existence. These matters play out daily around the world and many people hold a large amount of trust in them. To simply deny them is outrageous and anybody who consider themselves to be a human that cares about where Earth is headed to, should at least read them if nothing else.

After browsing 2012rising.com, I discovered a recent article written by the founder about a visit to an author and all round esoteric-researcher in the south of Spain. This is where I began to wonder whether I had stumbled upon this website by accident or was there something bigger playing a part in guiding me towards a predetermined goal? The coincidences could be described as merely that, however it is interesting that I too have spent time volunteering and living less than 10km away from where this author is based (in the Alpujarras, south of Granada). In scientific terms, these seemingly unrelated events that come together as coincidents, could be described as Synchronicities; "the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner."

On the flipside, this is renowned for being a location where 'eccentric' ex-pats choose to settle down. Take it as you wish. I wrote a brief message to Bruce Fenton, creator of the website, pointing out these 'coincidences' and asking for his views and opinions. He is yet to get back to me, but I remain hopefull, he obviously knows his stuff and is also based in England.

On a related but slightly different note, after a talk with one of my friends concerning his previous sleep-walking and one of his friends' interest in lucid dreaming, I have decided to make a conscious effort to record my dreams. A dream-journal if you want. Dreams are a perculiar phenomenon and I have been fascinated by them since a young age and having a (slightly scary) reccurring dream. As I have been struggling to remember my dreams over the past few weeks, I figured this dream-journal could act as an aid to recall dreams, as it has been documented that keeping such a journal invokes feelings that dreams are important and therefore they become easier to recall in more detail.

I read on digihitch.com that one person kept a dream-journal as well as a regular travel journal, and found himself referring back to the dream journal more frequently that his 'real-life' journal, simply because, even though he was travelling, his dreams were often more interesting to read back through. The subconscious is a powerful thing.

On a more down-to-earth level, I went on a 4 hour walk yesterday, towards Emley Moor. However, on arrival in West Bretton the rain began, so I turned back toward home. This turn of events led me to find some slightly perculiar items...Walking back through some woods, I found a film cannister containing directions to a 'crystale' written in wannabe medieval English, then a bit further on I found a gold necklace hanging on a fence post, with what looked like a monocle attached to it. Whether these events had anything to do with the role of Synchronicity, I don't know, if anyone comes up with a link please let me know.

After these events, I continued on my way, looking forward to getting my feet up and having a cuppa, when I stumbled upon an abandoned house. Now, being a keen, albeit not too good photographer, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to check out a semi-collapsed, stinky, burnt building in the drizzling rain, by myself. I enjoyed the eerie exploration round the house and surrounding out-houses, half expecting to see some form of person squatting or drugged up or whatever, but this house is quite out of the way, and I saw no such thing. The closest I got to that was a squirrel carcass and a spider bigger than my thumb.

If your interested you can see some of my pictures from this mini-exploration on my Flickr. What I was contemplating after this solo walk, was how interesting it was to walk around a place that you thought you knew quite well, when in reality I had barely touched on anything in that area at all. Walking, especially if you are by yourself, gives you a much more intimate feel of everything you come into contact with, if only everybody could experience life a little slower, a little bit less rushed, I think the world would be a better place for it.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Going out with a bang...

Heard this a few months back and still surprises me everytime I listen to it.

Mark Esterhuysen's rant on live radio in South Africa.

His message may not be all that positive, but at least he's taking a stand for what he believes in.

Cut Loose

One of my friends said to me earlier how 'lucky' I was to be going away travelling through Europe come next month. This led me to think about what it means when people mention that somebody is 'lucky' for travelling.

First of all it depends on what your definition of lucky is... When I think of luck, it brings to mind random events of a positive nature, for instance if you are walking down the street, feeling thirsty and have no money and out of the blue you find a £2 coin on the floor. That surely is luck.

If you want to delve further into what luck consists of; some would probably say luck to a certain extent is karmic, what goes around comes around etc. In that case good deeds lead to positive events occurring in your life. However, I made a conscious decision to go travelling a few months ago, so luck doesn't play a part in the initial process. Its purely drive to do something, just like you get the drive to go for a walk, or to play football, go skateboarding etc.

It could be said that me being able to travel is luck, I was born in a westernized country in reasonable wealth, compared to other parts of the world. I have had a good upbringing, education and home life, this allows me to have a sense of freedom, to a certain extent. I can apply for a passport and travel with relative freedom in most parts of the world. So in that way I do consider myself 'lucky'.

In many ways, if you know me, you'll probably agree that I am for the most part a pretty average 21 year old; steady relationship, family of four etc etc. However that is precisely one of the reasons for my wanting to travel into the (somewhat) unknown, I don't want to be an average 21 year old. Its not for reasons some might think, I don't aim to become famous or have people write about my adventures or what-not. Its just that normal life is for me considerately boring. Yes, its enjoyable at times, but for the most part I'm BORED. That might sound cruel or inconsiderate to friends and family, but I assure you it isn't the people that make me bored, although they do exist, no doubt about it. Its the daily routines of numbing mindless shit that I feel myself dragged into on a regular basis. When I detect these routines that make up my 'comfortable' existance, they make me feel the need to escape.

Sitting here now after just ordering, collecting and eating a take-away pizza, I almost feel ashamed. I know these are merely trivialities in the larger scheme of things, but it still makes me think that I should really be 'living' instead of sat here staring at this stupid laptop telling people about why I want to go. Why don't you go then for crying out loud? Well yeah if only it was that simple...If I had the self-confidence and knowledge to be able to set out of my house with no destination in mind and no money as back-up then I'd already be gone. Sadly, even a small budget is necessary for my travels. However if you know where to look, you will find people who have survived for years on a budget of absolutely nothing. Imagine that. Impossible right? Apparently not.

Its hard to imagine breaking such routines for a lot people, and most of the time it can take a life-changing event for anyone to do so, however it doesn't have to be like that. You know when you go somewhere new or do something you've never done before (be it legal or illegal) and you get that buzz which makes you feel 'alive' to use the cliche term...well thats because you're outside of your comfort zone, it makes you feel that way. Obviously not everyone is the same and this doesn't count for each and every person but for me that feeling once every fortnight isn't enough. I need to feel constantly 'alive', otherwise what is the point? For some people this buzz probably comes if they earn/win/steal or otherwise come by sizeable amounts of money. To me this is irrelevant. You really don't need money to be happy. Do you want to die rich or do you want to be able to tell people you travelled around the world using nothing but your intuition and other peoples good will.

As you may or may not know, when I leave for souther Spain, I will be attempting to hitch-hike, wild camp wherever possible, and use resources such as couchsurfing.org. It has been said many a time, that these means to an end improve peoples faith in humanity. There are good people out there, not just rapists and wierdo's as the news would have you think.

The cliche terms referring to 'living like its your last day' and such are used that often that you forget to take heed of what they actually mean. Inside these over-referenced quotes is a genuine meaning. If your life was to be taken away, would you be happy with what you've achieved? Does earning and extra £1 an hour matter? If it makes you happy I suppose you could say it does. But if thats the case I don't know why you've just read this.

So don't be lucky, just get outside of your comfort zone. If you don't like it, at least you've tried. If you do, then don't go back to your normal life, do something radical.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Rhubarb Triangle

Not quite like the Bermuda triangle, not as glamorous, not as mysterious. But closer to home.

Infact, Wakefield's claim to fame, alongside sculpture, is indeed the lowly Rhubarb.

As I pondered this fact the other day, driving past the subtle Rhubarb sculpture on the edge of Thornes Park. You know how they say dogs look like their owners, or visa versa, depending on how you look at it, could it be that the inhabitants of a certain place represent the main association.

Now, I'm most probably just drawing similarities for the sake of it, but it could prove interesting nonetheless. Maybe it will work for your hometown.

Rhubarb is a peculiar plant, a vegetable to most, although there has been some debate around that fact in the U.S (who'd have guessed). The leaves are inedible and although the stem can be eaten raw it is usually cooked. Does this show that there are parts of Wakefield and the surrounding area that you have to discard in order to enjoy it at its fullest? Or do you have to include everything? Council estates, 'fag packet flats' and all. If you cook it down till you are left with the basics, do you get something sweeter and more enjoyable.

Is this small northern city comparable to its vegetable in terms of mundanity? Rhubarb is nothing special, at least not by its self, is Wakefield the same? Is it stupid to draw upon similarities between locations and crimson-stalked vegetables. Probably...Definately.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

To skateboard or not to skateboard...

Sorry for the lack of blog posts lately, I seem to have lacked enough motivation to just crack on and write some stuff that hardly anybody will read. Oh wait it kind of makes sense now, after saying that.

Anyway...

I have the a predicament, although to call it a predicament sounds negative, however I am happy with either choice, I simply can't decide.

I have been skateboarding for nearly 7 years now and still love it as much as I first did.. Last time I was away for a month I took my board but it lay untouched under my WWOOFer bed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

This time I will be hitchhiking longer distances, through France and Spain and then possibly through Italy, Slovenia, Croatia...

I have had various opinions from my friends on this matter, obviously biased depending on whether they skate or not. Some say I have to take it, missing out on a great park to skate or hooking up with the locals (skateboarders around the world have a tendency to help other skateboarders, its a group that you are instantly welcomed into). Others say it should stay at home, hitch-hiking and travelling in general is for me an escape from everyday life, and my skateboard is very much a part of my routine.

There is also the fact that I will be volunteering in the more mountainous regions in Spain, such as the Sierra Nevada and Picos de Europe. In these locations I can almost guarantee there will be minimal skateboarding activity/locations.

Alongside these factors is the awkwardness factor of carrying it all that way to not set foot on it, with it merely taking up space and weighing me down. However, if I find myself 15 miles from a town, on a flat road, it could be invaluable...but then again there is the fact that I [i]will[/i] have a 45l backpack on, which means my movement will be severely limited.

If I had to say whether I am swayed more toward bringing it or leaving it to gather dust at home, I would have to say the negatives seem to outway the positives at the moment.

Monday, 6 February 2012

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tzu

I have spent almost a full day on Digihitch, gathering inspiration to get and just do the deed, start the ball rolling, browsing the forum and reading the various stories from different ends of the 'subcultural movement'. Add to that a soundtrack of Lynryd Skynyrd and you have one 21 year old who is dying for a real adventure.
I think there is so much bad in the world, and if you stay in one place too long, it is easy to get way too caught up in everything, little everyday things that don't matter one single bit in relation to your existence. Sure, some things are necessary, that is a given. But most people never seem to step even a tiny bit outside of their comfort zone. I myself am also guilty of this and have been for most of my life, however I am trying to change this every day...Varying my routines where possible and planning ahead in my spare time.
Every time I drive anywhere locally nowadays I find myself pining for an opportunity to break away from my standard journey, I long for a lonely hitch-hiker that I can pick up and help out, to make my day just a little bit more exciting.
And that is just the start..I want to be that lonely hitch-hiker. I want to leave everything here behind, pack a bag, survive how I can, camping where I want, eating when I'm hungry, working if I need some money or somewhere to stay. Sometimes I doubt this though and that makes me feel peculiar...having lived such a normal existence for the past 8 years, makes me wonder whether I will cope.
Apart from a month excursion to volunteer and a month long Interrail trip with my partner, I have lived like most UK teenagers. However in the back of my mind the whole time has been the dream of getting away from everything.
Who knows, after being 'away', it is possible to return to 'normality'. But that is for after the adventures, if they should end. Best not to think about the finish line before even starting, especially if you don't want there to be a finish line.
Over the past few years, it seems hypocritical to say the most of my inspiration has come from the 'media', but it is true. Although 'On the road' and 'Into the wild' are probably the cliché young freespirit inspirations, then so be it. But what a beautiful cliché, to be no only care-free, but also car-free, money-free,worry-free. Not without company though, as a certain Christopher McCandless noted ; 'Happiness is only real when shared'.
I could transfer a quote from possibly every page of On the road, but that would not do it justice, because its that special feeling when you know that someone is persuing something that is possibly unattainable, yet there will always be people searching...

"I love you and I love these people. But there is something I have got to find, and it isn't here. Where it is exactly, I don't know myself." Anne Lee Waldo

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Man

"He sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; He lives as if he's never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived"

Dalai Lama in response to what surprises him most.

Found on Relatively Uncensored

Why we're all doomed...or...how badgers and their torturers teach us valuable lessons.

Big claim really isn't it...that we're all doomed..
I think a lot of people would like to imagine that the human population will go on for many many happy years, with their childrens children having just a joyous life as they once did. Ok maybe not joyous, maybe pleasant, ok maybe not too pleasant but bearable.
How does this have anything to do with badgers..well, this article form the Guardian newspaper 'Barbaric' gang jailed for badger baiting
which I read the other day, made me think about the relations between animals, yes, believe it or not, humans are actually animals too.
There are a lot of branches of different arguments that stem from these relationships between animals, predatory, evolutionary, etc. However it seems to me that no other animal on earth commits such acts of 'barbarity' as frequently or as widespread as humans do. Yes, cats drag in half dead mice and seem to 'play' cruelly with them, but to deliberately slice open the carcass of a defenseless animal and hurl its offspring around a meadow is quite a different matter altogether.
Upon reading of this article, you may think this reaction is a bit over the top, in fact I heard somebody state that 'badgers are vicious bastards anyway', now I don't know too much about badgers, or badger baiting for that matter. But that argument doesn't hold any truth when the people commiting these acts of heartless-ness breed dogs specifically for their 'vicious' temperaments, apparently cross-breeding for the speed of the lurcher and the 'aggression' of a pit bull.
And what does this have to with the human race...well, I'd assume that after reading that article you recoil slightly and think that luckily its just a minority committing these acts of atrocity. But thats exactly why it will be the downfall or humans, because there are people who do this sort of stuff, and I'd take a guess that there will be people doing acts such as this or similar until they can act no more.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Travel Plans

I set this blog up initially so I could write stuff from my travels, maybe I won't be writing them straight onto the world wide web, but hopefully they'll be getting on here eventually...
Personally I find reading travel blogs alot more interesting than the ones of people who sit at home and do day-to-day update of their lives.

So the basic plan was to get a lift down to Spain with a guy who contacted me via Helpx.net, however I had to let him know today that I've had to give it a miss, partly due to him not being easily contactable (this is a journey to Spain we're talking about, not just down the road..) and because I would like to try and push through another 3-4 weeks torture...I mean, work, in order to have a decent bank balance when I set off.

It was hard to turn that lift down, it seemed like it was going to be the spark that set the adventure motor running, but sometimes good things come to those who wait. It will also make it a bit easier for me and my girlfriend, who is planning on joining me mid-July, wherever I am.

So the plan is still to get to Spain by mid-March, now its just a case of figuring out how. I have had romantic visions of me getting a ferry to Amsterdam and hitch-hiking down, counting on the good hearts of other and good fortune of myself to make it to my destination. But in reality, I don't speak much French at all and it could take alot of time and patience. One day I will do it, I promise.

I really do not want to fly, although it is without a doubt the easiest and cheapest option, it seems like a complete cop-out, there is only a few miles of water between England and mainland Europe, only a fool would skip out all the good bits inbetween. So I'm still undecided on that one, but, however I end up getting there, I should hopefully end up in Andalucia, Spain. A place that holds a special place in my heart, after spending 6-7 months living in 2 remote mountain houses in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Since that time spent galavanting through the wild mountains, seeing hundreds of vultures circle up on vertical air currents, watching snakes slither into dry-stone walls, I have longed to be back there.

In 2009 I spent a month volunteering at a lovely little cortijo about an hour away from where we used to live. This was a fantastic time and I met many amazing people, however a month was just not enough and my longing to travel has no subsided since then. As I never fancied the prospect of university, coupled with the fact that I picked what I now see as the wrong options at college, travelling has become my major concern. Who knows, I might go to university someday in the future, but for now, while the world is still a reasonably normal place and I am lucky enough to have a European passport allowing me to travel almost completely freely, I feel it is my duty to see and feel as much of life as possible.

The cliche that travelling in 'infectious' is overused to put it lightly, but all cliche's are formed from truths and it is the uncertainty in this case that one craves, not knowing who you will be volunteering with, or where you will be tomorrow. For some people this is not even an option, they thought of having to pitch a tent somewhere in an unknown country to them is terrifying. But that surely is living. More so than 'living for the weekend'. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-party by any means, but theres partying and theres being a drunken lout just because you've got nothing better to spend your money on.

So after having my fill of Andalucia and all it has to offer, there is a possibility to head to Portugal, a place I have never been, to stay with and English couple I met whilst volunteering 3 years ago. Another location on my agenda is Asturias, Northen Spain. A place compared more to Scotland than anywhere else, its beauty is in its rugged-ness. A place where bears still wander the barranco's. I found a HelpX host who is renovating an old hamlet with a group of volunteers. They forage for food and sleep under the stars, in what sounds to me like a mini-paradise. I like to think they haven't got back in touch yet because there is no internet connection, although we will have to wait and see...