Sunday, December 24, 2017

Please Don’t Call Me...

Bwana. (Apologies to Bob Hope’s 1963 Classic).

In 2015, I signed up to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Then the entourage was thirteen other guests, three guides and twenty-two porters who performed most of the sweat labor. Read all about these Uber Athletes below. 

It was a great, beautiful and wonderful meander through Mountain Passes, ancient Inca ruins and rain forests. 

In some ways getting to Machu Picchu was anticlimactic. I enjoyed the hike more than the finish line. (I thought MP would be larger.) 

Before leaving Peru, I already decided to return to hike the Salkantay route to Machu Picchu. It’s famous for being a prettier amble with 15;200”Salkantay Pass being the literal highlight. I wanted to experience being this up-in-the-air without an airplane. 

So I signed up again with Valencia Travel. I tossed out some dates, paid my $$$$ and received a nice looking itinerary. I booked my flights after they assured me I was good to go. 

Since that time, I have been emailing Valencia to get more info. (I ask a lot of questions because I wonder too). One question was, “How many other Gringoes will be joining me?” 

Their answer, “So far there is you and Ms. Alyson. However more people can sign up before your departure.”

Well, since that time Ms. Alyson bailed out. (Did anyone of you tell her I was hard get along with?)’ll be me, one Guide, one cook, an assistant cook and two horsemen. I’m assuming they will bring their horses too. That’s five Peruvian and two beasts of burden to take care of one Jewish Gringo. That’s nuts! Hence the title of this blog.

All but the guide will speak Quechua, the indigenous language of the people residing near the Andes. For them Spanish is a second language. My guide will speak English. I hope he’s prepared for an onslaught of questions from me. I’ll use this experience as a full-on immersion of Inca, Peruvian and Cusco potential knowledge. I like learning. 

So...after a Red-eye flight from Miami to Cusco, I’ve been strolling around the plazas, crowded streets and surrounding hillsides. This is what I’ve noticed and learned.

Cusco was once the Capital of the ancient Inca Empire. All paths, rudimentary roads led to and from Cusco. I’ve included a photo of the size of this historic civilization. It was HUGE!

Now Cusco is the epicenter of Peruvian Tourism. In recent figures, two million tourists sucked hard on the thin air while walking its narrow streets and lanes. Most visitors have aspirations (and lots of inhalations) to visit Machu Picchu. I’m one of them.

Tourism is now the new “Inca Gold.” For many locals learning English is their ticket out of poverty. This morning, I took my coffee outside of my nice hotel. A bellhop named Jonathan followed me out. We struck up an English-only conversation. He was practicing his language skills on me. This polite young man went on to tell me he once was a porter on Machu Picchu treks. He made enough money to go to University. What does he aspire to become? A Machu Picchu Trekking Guide. This career path is a game changer in Cusco. It’s steady work and steady income. 

The other thing I’ve learned while walking around here. By and large the Locals aren’t very, well, large. I’ll give you a frame of reference. If the Cuscoans were going to start a basketball team, I’d be asked to be the intimidating shot-blocking Center. Having the chance to look down at peoples faces is kind of a pleasant change for me.

Well, I know you are all BUSY with the Holidays.
So, I’ll blog to you on the other side of the Salkantay Trek.

Feliz Navidad to all my Christian friends, 


Monday, December 4, 2017

I fear I’m losing...

my Mojo for this Wandering lifestyle. 

After my most recent trip to Europe, I’ve been feeling B.B. King Bluesy. I’m worried that the Thrill is Gone. 

With barely a break in the action, I had to come up with a feasible game plan for my upcoming South America trip. 

In a few weeks, I’ll be traveling to Peru to do another trekking route to Machu Picchu. Then a National Geographic (read crazy pricey) ten day guided tour to the Galápagos Islands. Seven of those days will be spent on a boat. (I get seasick looking at a glass of water). 

When all this planning began, I was thinking I’d stay in Ecuador for a month. That was very ambitious with my present mindset. Currently, I don’t have it in me to figure out the how, when and where. I’ve had too many visions of asking for a table for one, getting on buses where my seat mates might be a chicken or worse a pickpocket, or spending too much time alone again in a country where English is a second or third language. I’ll be returning to the US right after seeing Darwin’s Islands. 

Am I running out of gas? Yes, in many ways I am. I’m getting tired of being my own travel agent and going it alone. 

It’s a couples world. I would love to have someone to share the misery of delayed flights, rental car ripoffs, eating lost in translation meals and the joy of going around a roundabout four times until you figure out which exit to take. I need more input than what I’m providing for myself.

Remember the origin of the word travel comes from travail for unpleasant work or torment or labor. It’s not always Joy!Joy! Happy!Happy! out there. 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not nauseatingly terrible either. It would be beyond swell to share the hike to get there views, the quiet campfires, the chillin’ with a book moments, the coffee in hand sunrises or the IPA in koozie sunsets with a like-minded woman. 

I hinted at all the above in a blog not so long ago.

On my recent visit to my old hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado I even glanced at Real Estate listings. Is it time for me to settle down?

I don’t know. 

After South America, I’ll return to the United States of Dark Ages, I’ll hang in Florida with my brother and sister-in-law. Eventually, I’ll go on a road trip in the Sunshine State. Then back to the Southwest to begin another three month lap in Barley the Van. In that yearly quarter, I think I’ll figure out whether I’m going through the motions of Wandering and Wondering or am I still Living the Dream. 

Maybe I just need a recharge.

Many decades ago, I took a winter vacation to check out Guadalupe National Park in Texas. When I pulled into a Trailhead parking lot, I noticed an older gentleman sitting in the doorway of his Winnebago RV. His head was cupped in his hands. When I returned from my four-hour hike, he hadn’t moved. He was lonely. He wasn’t a Happy Camper. 

I don’t want this scene to repeat itself with me.

I’m hoping for the best of outcomes,

PS. I’ll be in Scottsdale, AZ until December 18th. Of course, I’ll be shopping! NOT! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

“Would you ever move to Europe?”

was the question Hans and Sonja asked me during a Happy Hour conversation. 

Between sips of adult beverages, we were exchanging stories and information about our respective countries: Nederland, Finland and the US. 

I thought about the question for a moment. “No. I need more space than what I’m seeing in Europe. I would miss America’s National Parks, Wilderness Areas and Monuments.” 

With that said, here’s  the stats for comparative shopping analysis. There’s  743 million Europeans. There’s 323 million Yanks. Europe is slightly larger than the US as far as landmass goes. There’s a lot of humans milling around here. Europeans notion of personal space is a lot tinier than mine. 

Later on when we parted ways, I thought about this question some more. Below are multiple reasons why I don’t think I’m a good fit for Europe. (To my European buddies, the facts are correct according to Google. As usual, I’ll embellish this yarn. Please don’t start WW III over this blog. Unfortunately, America has a President with an itchy nuclear trigger finger)

I would have to take up smoking. Nearly twice the number of Europeans smoke compared to Americans. (29% to 15%.) Yet, most Europeans live longer than Americans. 

I would have to up my caffeine allotment. Europeans swill endless dainty cups of espresso/day and night. On a world wide basis, the US comes in 16th in Java consumption. 

I would have to grow a hipster beard and start sporting a Boy Bun hairdo. (No stats on the next few reasons). 

I would have to wear a scarf regardless of the weather or the season. 

I would have to relearn how to eat. A European will clutch their knife at all times. They poke, plod and shovel food around with it. A sort of multi use tool. Americans only use a knife as a cutting instrument or to butter bread. Most of the time, a knife is in stand-by mode. 

I would have to wear garments that are not quite long enough to be pants but too long to be shorts. 

I would have to shift my daily schedule by becoming a creature of the night. No more early to bed early to rise. I would have to-“Sigh!” - burn daylight by sleeping in. 

I would have to learn lots of languages. The Swiss people use four languages in a country the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. English is already a second language to me the way I get tongue tied at times.

I would have to give up my trail runners and flip flops. I would have to purchase real leather shoes! I have not owned a pair since the late 80’s. I would have to start dressing age accordingly. 

Here’s the toughest thing I would have to change. I would have to slow down. No one has ever said, “Faster than a European Nano-Second.” The Europeans don’t move all that fast. (Except when they are driving!) I say Americans move at the speed of money. That’s fast. 

All in all, I just couldn’t make all these paradigm shifts to become a true European. I barely fit the standards of being a typical or normal American. To quote Eddy Vedder of Pearl Jam fame, “I changed by not changing at all.” 

Alas, I’ve been this way for a long time. It’s my comfort zone. 

I’ll be Stateside soon. However, I shall return to Europe next summer and fall. Like I’ve said so often in this blog. It’s cool being in Europe!

Cheers from beautiful, rugged Madeira on my 63rd birthday. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

“One is the Loneliest Number”

Three Dog Night

Truer words were never sung in regard to a Solo Traveler’s quandary of eating dinner alone.

Supper time is the social meal. It’s the end of the day to hang and Happy Hour with friends and family. It’s the time to say to a significant other, “Honey! How’s your day been?” It’s the worse meal to eat alone in any country.

In Portugal, it sucks even more. 

For the most part, eating here seems to be a matter of function over form. Cafes, restaurants and bars are white light lit like a Walmart Store. Tables are squeezed together awaiting paying customers who don’t arrive in this off-season. The few locals who just occupy space without spending money get a full-on look at the Lonesome Loser amongst them. 

Dinner is not a Happy Meal for me in Portugal. 

Portuguese Proprietors and chefs must also be stressed because the meals are subpar as well.

At the same price I was paying in Spain for a three course meal with a bottle of Vino Tinto, I’m receiving an anorexic fish and fries on my plate. Not very filling or satisfying.

 The other day, I decided to go Native. I ordered a supposedly traditional Portuguese meal of white bean stew with shrimp and mussels. By the consistency and taste of those creatures, I’d say they hadn’t seen seawater since the Truman Administration. The next morning my stomach was gurgling. Nothing debilitating, but annoying. 

That evening, I decided to forego surf for turf. I ordered a pork chop. (Might not be the wisest choice for a Jew). The other white meat had the texture of a baseball’s cowhide. A chainsaw would have been the tool of choice to dissect it. A nibbled on a few ends. 

The following morning, my gut was in full rebellion. I was losing weight and not in a good way. I paid a visit to the local pharmacy. I’m now downing Maalox tablets like M&M’s. I think I’m turning the corner to a quiet stomach. I hope so. That way I can return to those brilliantly lit Portuguese cafes, restaurants and bars. 

I’ll say this. I’m missing simple American bars. There, I’m an IPA sipping, burrito eating, chillin’ out Dude totally engrossed in watching a sporting event. I’m a Man with a reason for being alone. I’m not a Lonely Loser. 

Cheers from way down South and West in Portugal,

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Different Sort...

of Camino. 

The Roto Vincentina consists of over 400 plus kilometers of marked routes in the Southwest of Portugal. 

It’s the brainchild of local merchants, hoteliers, restaurant owners and municipalities who woke up one Autumn Day to exclaim, “Hey! Where the heck did all those Euro spending tourists go now that summer’s over! Eureka! (Or the Portuguese equivalent of that). Let’s establish a trail system to get us through the lean low season.” 

Thus, the Roto Vicentina was born a few years ago. The locals traded the Bikini/Speedo crowd for the bearers of backpacks. So far, there’s not an awful lot of hikers. A smidgeon here, a dollop there and a few guided groups. From my observations the walkers are mostly European. 

It’s no Camino de Santiago. 

That’s a good thing. I haven’t seen a shell flopping on the outside of a backpack. I haven’t overheard any New Agey conversations where the concepts are as foreign to me as Quantum Mechanics. I haven’t had to say, “Pardon!” or “Excuse me!” as I hustle past. There are no Yellow Arrows to chase. It’s mostly scenic, sandy and quiet. It’s  a pleasant break for me. 

The villages and towns are virtually empty. Many restaurants and hotels are shuttered. The owners apparently are sitting it out until summer and the bathing beauties return. It’s off-season and I’m happy to be here. 

The Roto V is divided among three choices of hiking. There’s the “Fishermen’s Way” which consists of mostly seaside slogs through or over sand dunes. There’s lots cliffhanger walking too. It’s not easy or fast getting from point A to B. 

There’s the “Historical Route” which is more inland. It connects the small Portuguese population centers. The trails are Terra Firma. It’s easier walking. A Wanderer gets to breeze past cattle, cork trees, eucalyptus forests and hay fields. It’s quiet too (except for the occasional roadside walking). 

There’s also “Circular Routes” for the day hikers. 

All the routes are well marked complete with signs, painted arrows and 4X6 posts to follow. The Roto Vicentina Folks did a great job of putting this together. 

Before you book a ticket to Portugal, let me say this. It’s not Wilderness hiking. One is always close to a dirt track, a tarmac road or a cultivated field. Hey! It’s Europe! It’s been settled for a long time and there’s plenty of people here. It’s the European idea of two National Parks. 

I’ll take it.

Cheers from Almograve, Portugal 

The last photo is the most ecstatically pleasing WC in Europe.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

There’s City People...

And then there’s me. I’m not a City person. Unless the City has a baseball team and accompanying stadium. Then I’m cool with the temporary inconvenience before, during and after the game. 

Lisbon, Portugal doesn’t have a baseball team. What it does have is a hard up, shambling appearance. On my way into the city proper, I noticed abandoned buildings where bricks had replaced the glass windows. (A possible deterrent for squatters?). Graffiti was more prevalent than trees. 

In the short time I was there, I began to recognize the beggars. Many were physically deformed. Later on I noticed them sleeping on the sidewalk near my cruddy overpriced guesthouse. 

Restaurant owners added Euros to the bill with no explanation given. When I began to go “New Yorker” on them, they rescinded. 

To me, Lisbon had a seedy vibe.

For European standards the city has that fresh paint smell. It’s somewhat new. The reason? The Great Earthquake of 1755 leveled 85% of the structures. An estimated 10,000 to 100,000 locals lost their lives in building collapses, fires and tsunamis. 

Lisbon rebuilt but the end product seemed to be lacking something.

Now I’m in Porto Covo. It’s a seaside resort/fishing village of 1,000 residents where the buildings are whitewashed. The windows and doors are trimmed in neat indigo. The roofs sport red tiles. It’s a place that’s easy on the eye. From my palatial apartment rental, I can hear seagulls mewling and a soothing surf. 

I love it. (Even though there’s no baseball team here.)

Now in a totally different direction: Have any of you readers been to Ecuador? If so please contact me through the Comments portion of my blog. I’d be interested to hear if a W W J can drive, hike and not get lost there! OR to recommend a tour company who might prove helpful to a solo traveler like myself.


PS. I like this village so much, I’m not moving for three nights. For me, that’s equivalent to taking up residency here. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Chasing Memories and...

 Yellow Arrows through Spain is how I’d sum up my Camino de Santiago Third Edition. 

The physical places I remember are still there, but the Pilgrims who made them special  have all gone missing. Sadly for me, there were few human replacements to be found on this latest Pilgrimage. So...I sighed a few times and changed my game plan.

Here’s what I did: I lowered my social expectations. I immersed myself in just being in Europe. I reveled in the daily joys and Simple Life of walking the Camino. 

I found solace in washing my cloths in a sink and hoping they would dry before my next day’s mosey. I got into the morning routine of packing my thirteen articles of cloths into my dusty sweat-stained backpack. I enjoyed the brisk Speedy Gonzales walking pace I maintained for 3-6 hours a day. I relished the strong earthy coffee I drank beforehand to achieve this. I took Siestas. I became giddy when my food order was what I actually wanted. If not, I ate it just the same without complaint. I chalked up miscommunications with the Locals as another episode of “Lost in Translation.” I avoided being an “Ugly American.”

I found happiness in eating tapas in cozy cafes. I spent hours people watching in warm sunny Plazas. I never grew tired of strolling through the narrow twisty streets of Spanish cities, towns and villages. I marveled at the Spanish people’s high regard for the concept of Family. 

I visited the Local’s bars where men pitched playing cards with a manly “Twack!” The elderly women card games were docile in comparison. They seemed more content to talk about their families. 

I loved sleeping in hotels that were older than the US. In León, an over 400 year old accommodation had its original staircase. It’s shiny wooden steps were beveled from being trod upon by four centuries worth of ascents and descents. I laughed every time I used them. 

To sum it up, it’s way cool to be in Europe.

As far as the Camino de Santiago goes, I’ll say this. The more the merrier might not apply to Pilgrimages. There’s less Random Acts of Kindness. The innocence and intimacy seem to be a thing of the past with the added numbers. At times, I got lost in the sauce of the mass of Pilgrim Humanity. Then again, I might be more of an introvert then ever before. Who knows? 

There were  42,188 “Graduates” in the month of September alone. 2017 has already set a new yearly record with a few months left and thousands still en route. 

For me, It’s just wasn’t the same. 

Do I have any regrets? None whatsoever. (Except not encountering a potential First Lady)

I met a few nice people. Got plenty of exercise. Ate lots of three course meals complete with a bottle of Vino Tinto all for $12! I slept in clean rooms with indoor plumbing for less than what a fill-up of gas for Barley the Van would cost. (Barley doesn’t sport indoor plumbing either). I relaxed a lot. I gained back the weight I lost (and then some) from my Alps endeavor. If I weren’t Camino-ing here, I’d be walking somewhere else in Europe. It’s all good. 

Next European stop for this journey will be Portugal. Those gregarious Aussie women told me to sample the Portuguese Tarts when I’m there. Sounds like fun to me! Oh Wait! Maybe they were talking about the pastries. 

I’m a short day’s walk to the End of the World.
See you next on the Other Side,