Sunday, November 1, 2015

Misadventures in Bali - Jimbaran, Indonesia

T - 20 weeks 2 days
My friend that I had been traveling with went back to the US.  I had plans for the next 12 weeks, but beyond that, the future was wide open.  I was choosing my own destinations, and I found inspiration in The Secret Sanctuary, on the island of Borneo, in Kuching, Malaysia.  I sent them a request to stay for 56 days and they said yes.  Then, since I was in the area already, I looked for something in Bali, Indonesia.  I found a yoga studio with a bed, and a kitchen, and a view of the rice paddies in Ubud, and felt like I had found the ideal space.  There was so much open space for movement.  I was excited, and so I booked it.

T - 24 hours
I get an email from the host of the place I was staying in Bali. "I'm so sorry! I don't know how this is still listed. We lost the renewal lease on this and have moved from the property!"  The host went on to ask that I cancel my reservation because "If I cancel on my end I get severe penalties."  Here is a tip: if you are using AirBnB and the host asks you to cancel, don't.  Had I canceled the reservation, I would have received an automatic feedback posted to my account saying that I canceled the reservation the day before I arrived.  This would have negatively affected my reputation on the site, and could have meant getting turned down by future hosts.  Since I currently use AirBnB for nearly all of my reservations, this would have been bad in the extreme.  Instead, I called AirBnB.

 The customer support agent I spoke with was very helpful.  She read the messages I had received from the host, and initiated the cancellation on his behalf.  In addition, the money I had already paid for this reservation went into a hold on the site, so when I booked something else, I would be able to use it immediately instead of waiting for the money to make it back to my card.  They even offered an extra 10% if my next reservation was more expensive than the last.

 Unfortunately, with so little time, I was not able to find an equally inspirational location for the full 28 days I was scheduled to stay in Bali.  I finally ended up booking a small, cheap place, only a couple hundred meters from Jimbaran beach.  I booked it for 6 days, and figured I would look for something else when I got to Bali.  This was probably a mistake on my part.

 T - 12 hours
Because of all the time I lost searching for a new place to stay, I did not finish packing early for the first time ever.  In fact, I didn't really finish packing until 8 am when I needed to leave for the airport at 9 am.  Instead of sleeping well before travel, I drank a bottle of wine, slept for a couple hours, and packed in my hyper elevated state of stress.  All definitely bad choices.

 T - 0 hours
Far too little sleep.  Far too much stress.  A bit too much alcohol.  I left for the airport still damp from a shower, and started sweating immediately.  I never really stopped sweating all day.  I slept completely through the flight from Borneo to Kuala Lumpur, only waking when they made me put my seatback up for landing. The land around the Kuala Lumpur airport seems to be covered in oil palm plantations.  The trees looked surreal to my sleep and exhaustion fogged mind.

 T + 4 hours
I had booked the legs of my flight independently.  I hadn't processed until the landing what that meant.  I had to retrieve my bag, find check ins, pass back through security screenings, and make it to boarding, all in about 2.5 hours.  Considering the problems I've had in the past, this really wasn't wise, but fortunately, I experienced no problems with this process, and even had time to get a sandwich and drink before the flight.

 On the second flight, I had water three ways.  I had a Teh Botol (Indonesian sweet jasmine tea), a water, and a spicy pot noodle.  This helped me achieve true hydration, and I finally managed to get more liquid in than I was sweating out.

 My seatmates on the second flight were an interesting couple on 3 month holiday to southeast asia.  They had been to many cool places I would like to visit, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and more.  Talking to them was a nice interlude.

 T + 11 hours
At the Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar, things continued going a bit haywire. The airport has more open space than I have ever seen inside an airport before.  It was almost as if someone had intended to build and airport 3 or 4 times larger than they needed, then realized it after building the walls, and just put a much smaller airport inside anyway.

 I got through immigration and customs with no real problems, but when I went to withdraw money from the ATM, neither my credit card nor my debit card were working.  I still had a bit of Malaysian Ringgit left over, so I exchanged that at a money exchange for something like 630,000 Indonesian Rupiah.  It sounds like a lot, but it was really only $40 - $50 US.  I paid a quarter of it just on my transportation to the place I was staying.

 I was met at the airport by Mr. Max.  I am not clear if this is a strange combination of cultural respect and familiarity.  I think Max was probably his first name, but I never inquired.  Max drove me to my temporary abode where I dropped off my bags, then he gave me a brief tour around the area, took me to get a SIM card for my phone, and to get a tiny bit of food and drinks for the room.

 T + 13 hours
The room is basic, and strange.  I expected the basic.  I did not expect the strange.

 Where to begin?  We drove down a nearly anonymous street in the dark.  Apparently, most taxi drivers have no idea where it is, and have trouble finding the place, hence Mr. Max. We parked on the street in front of a half open gate. Through the gate was 25m of shared drive, leading up to a two story home with a foot gate to the right side.  We went through the foot gate, down the path, to the left of another building, then turned up the stair of said building, where it was quite dark, up to the second floor, and into Suite No. 1.

 The room is something like a 20' square box with a 5' x 6' bathroom in the back right corner, and a short bar with the smallest mini fridge I've seen, an electric kettle (more on this shortly), a toaster, and some very basic place settings for 2.  The bar appears to have a sink (a stone bowl with tap), but the tap does not produce water.  Even if it did, it would not be deep enough to fill the kettle in, so I haven't missed it.

 The bathroom is a shower.  I don't mean there is a shower inside of the bathroom.  There is a sink, and a toilet, placed appropriately for a slightly room bathroom.  Extending from the bottom of the sink faucet is a hose, which leads up to a mobile shower head hung on the wall right between the sink and toilet, not more than a foot from either.  There is no toilet paper.  In fact, the instructions for the wifi say the password is "wedontusetoiletpaper."  Next to the toilet on the wall is another spray nozzle like you would find in many kitchen sinks.  It is the biday.  Both shower and spray nozzle have very little water pressure, not ideal for the sole means of bum cleaning, but it will have to do.

 There is wifi in the room.  I ran a speedtest and got about 1 Mbps down, and 0.2 Mbps up.  Fortunately, I have my phone which is getting 6 Mbps down, and 0.6 Mbps up.  This is especially good as they asked me not to watch YouTube videos, download anything, or do anything else that uses bandwidth.  This was a huge frustration for me, as the listing said free wifi included and didn't say a thing about not using it for anything significant.  Had it listed that honestly, I would not have booked the place, since my job is online and involves video conferencing with people every day I week, which is often 7 days a week.

 The room also includes supplemental guests, no extra charge.  There are the largest roaches I've ever personally seen.  They are also not nearly as bashful as I am used to roaches being.  They are more comfortable in the open than I expect, and unfortunately, they don't seem to make much effort to stay away from people either.  For three hours on the first night, every time I started to drift off to sleep, I would feel something crawling on me, and wake up slightly freaking out.  Around 1 AM, I sent a very frustrated message to my host.  They never responded.

 T + 23 hours
After sleeping something like 4-5 hours, I woke up fitfully, ate a bag of chips I had bought, and a couple of these strange green rolls that turned out to have some kind of chocolate sprinkles and cream inside, and put the electric kettle on for some tea.  Whoops.  The power went out.  I fired off another message to my host, and they replied that someone would be by within the hour.  The power came back on, and a person stopped at the door.  I asked about the insects, but they didn't speak English, so nothing got resolved.

 T + 30 hours
I spent most of the day working, but somewhere in there, I contacted my bank to figure out what was going on with my cards.  They never notified me of a security hold, but it turned out there was one.  This is a real problem with my chosen style of life.  I cannot count the number of time I have had to explain to banks, or staff of web sites to explain that yes, I am in Malaysia, or Spain, or Indonesia, and could they please bloody stop freezing me out of my accounts randomly every time I change countries.  I've even notified them I am traveling constantly but nothing works.  You have to be prepared to go cardless at any time for anywhere from 1 to 3 days.  Even if you aren't using cash, you need to have a stockpile to hold you over when suddenly none of your cards are working again, but whoever is on the other end of the phone line doesn't feel like answering right now.

 T + 32 hours
I was getting hungry.  I still didn't have confidence in my ability to use my cards, and I had limited cash left.  I decided to try to order food online.  This is when I learned I don't know my phone number.  And that I can't send text messages.  Or place phone calls.  Or find the web site for the phone.  Or use it for anything but a tethered modem.

 I finally got all the fields filled out, registered everything, and completed the online payment form.  I got my mastercard confirmation code, entered it, and things went poof.  I couldn't tell if I had just ordered food or not.  20 minutes later, I got a message to call the delivery company.  I couldn't use my phone.  I couldn't get google hangouts to dial the number.  I couldn't get a local number from Skype.  I finally got Skype to dial the number.  They told me my card had been declined, then that it was still in progress.  They said they would have the food delivered, but it would be CoD.  Unfortunately, I have 430,000 rupiah left, and it would cost 415,000.  Oh well.

 30 minutes later, I got another email.  They couldn't find my place, and since the phone number I provided was not an Indonesian number, they couldn't call to get my help.  Forget the fact that if they had called me, I would probably not have understood them on the phone, and even if I did understand them, and they me, I couldn't direct you to my location any more than I could give directions in the Sahara.  I didn't know where I was.  I couldn't even remember the name of the street.

 T + 33 hours
It wasn't until nearly 6 pm that I went out to get cash and my first real meal in Indonesia.  I walked out to the main street, found an atm, and actually got cash this time.  The exchange rate is so foreign that I am struggling to get my head around a sense of prices.  I've finally settled on something like this, price in dollars is about 2/3 the price in tens of thousands of rupiah.  This means 90,000 rupiah is roughly 6 dollars.  It isn't a perfect conversion, but it is pretty close.  (Technically, today, 90,000 rupiah is $6.52 USD.)  It is certainly close enough for a general sense of how much money things cost and how fast your burn rate is.  Assuming, of course that you can get your head around how 10,000 of something is less than 1 dollar.

 I walked to the beach, and had a 1 kg grilled fresh sea bass, some kind of green vegetable that I couldn't identify, rice, condiments, and a couple of drinks.  It was more than enough food for 2 full meals.  I paid less than $11 for the whole thing.  My table was out on the beach, and I watched the end sunset for my meal.

 On the way back from dinner, I walked down the wrong street and ended up back out on the main street in the area.  Along the way, I stopped at, of all places, Circle K.  I just love seeing those American brand names in other countries. Among other things, I grabbed a "single source coffee" from Indonesia.  I think it was a Balinese coffee.

 When I got back to the room, I carefully unplugged my computer, then made hot water for coffee. Whoops.  The power was out again.  This time, only the AC, the electric kettle, and the fridge were plugged in.  Apparently, the AC and the electric kettle cannot both be on at the same time.  Another message to my host.  Then I called, just in case.  They weren't very responsive in the evening the day before.  Calling was a challenge.  I cannot use my phone for anything but data right now.  I don't have a balance for things like text messages and phone calls, and can't figure out what my phone number is, nor how to top up my balance.  I guess I'm going to have to go search that out sometime soon as well.

 They could barely understand me on the phone, but I got a message soon from the host.  First came instructions for getting into the room next door, then after a while instructions for resetting the circuit breaker.  I got the latter about 2 minutes after I had found the circuit breakers at the far end of the building in the back and fixed the problem myself.

 Back in the room, the roaches were taking stock.  I made my peace with them, then bumped one of my backpacks and one scurried out.  I really don't want to think about how many might be in there.  I guess I have to unpack everything and repack it before I move so I don't take any with me.

 T + 44 hours
It is 5 am.  I haven't slept at all tonight.  I can't decide if walking to the east side of this isthmus before sunrise is a good idea or not.  It seems like it should be a bad idea, but it would only be a bad idea if by not going I would get some sleep.  I just don't know how true that is.

 At some point yesterday, I signed up for the Hubud coworking facility.  If they ever approve me, I should be an unlimited member.  Now, I just have to solve the 1 hour commute, without spending $50 a day on taxis.  Either a car or a motorbike / scooter rental is probably in my future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Borneo Paradise - Kuching, Malaysia

I've been here in Kuching, Malaysia for a week.  In such a short time, I already cannot recount all the amazing things I've seen and done.

I am staying at the Secret Sanctuary here in Kuching.  Walk out the front door and you find yourself just moments from the city.  The nearest restaurants, markets, and shopping are just minutes away by foot, or you can dive right into the traffic to go further.

My favorite hammock, conveniently in front of my room.
From inside, however, you cannot tell you are anywhere but in a tropical paradise.  The Sanctuary is difficult to describe.  With the exception of the bedrooms, nearly every space is open to the outside.  Much of it is roofed, but much is not.  The walls are natural walls built of stone, or hanging net, or bamboo lashed together.  There is a fish pond, a fish spa (smaller fish you can soak in the water with), and a pool which includes a full on waterfall.  The bedrooms are interspersed around the premises and feel private despite being right in the middle of things.

The staff of the Sanctuary all seem to live on the premises.  They are friendly, helpful, and thoughtful, and will accommodate any reasonable need or desire.  I felt like they adopted me into their family immediately, and I am more comfortable here than anywhere I have been in the last ten years.

The temperature here is hot and it is humid, but being able to swim whenever you might desire takes the edge off the heat.
I usually work at the low table on the left.

I am comfortable working anywhere on site.  The internet is good (4.5 Mbps down, 3.5 Mbps up),  but latency between here and the United States is terrible.  Video and voice calls with my coworkers, on top of being exactly 12 hours off from their time, has been a challenge.

There has been a powerful haze that has been strengthening since I arrived.  Apparently, burning in the Indonesian part of Borneo has swept across the border to affect Sarawang.  We did get an afternoon of gorgeous clarity after this significant downpour:

Friday, July 31, 2015

Poor Planning & Appropriate Patience - The Hague, Netherlands

Until Thursday of last week, I was convinced I was flying from Dublin to Den Haag (the Hague), on a 6 am flight on Saturday.  I do not excel at dates and times, but when I read a date, thought, "that's Sunday," and had a brief panic about whether the dates for my accommodations and my flight matched up, everything turned out to be on Sunday.  Who knows how I managed to get Saturday stuck in my head.  Once everything was sorted, and I had an extra day in Dublin, I felt a lot of misguided relief.

From Tuesday of last week, work was crazy.  I'm not going to go into it here, but come Thursday, I was struggling to meet a deadline I was afraid I couldn't possibly meet.  I worked a 15 hour day on Thursday, an 18 hour day on Friday, then worked from 6 am on Saturday until after 2 am on Sunday. When I managed to get everything tested, merged, tested again, and pushed, I felt tremendous relief.  I had about 45 minutes before I had planned to leave for the airport.  I wouldn't be sleeping, but I was ready to go.

At 3 am, I logged in to Uber and requested a car.  No cars available.  This is when the fear started to creep in.  I ignored the flashes of worst case scenario.  My computer was packed.  My phone was not great for searching, and my terrible through the floor wifi access was not helping.  I found a cab company online that had merged with some uber like app on another site.

The site swore I could book a taxi online, but I could not find out how on my phone.  I checked Uber a couple more times, figured out how to download the app for the other company, then couldn't register.  They wanted to send a text message to my phone.  My phone had no SIM card.  My iPad had a SIM card, but a text message sent there did not work.  I had a skype phone number but a text there didn't work either.

At approximately 3:50 am, I gave up and pulled out my laptop.  I didn't think I had time to walk to a train station / find a bus to get to the airport early enough.  I was beginning to imagine going to the airport and buying a ticket for the next flight to Amsterdam, no matter what the cost.

I could not register for the site on my laptop either.  Still the problem with no phone.  However, I found the online link for booking a taxi.  While I was fighting with the site, I was also compulsively checking Uber on my phone.  I book a trip on the site.  It says someone will be there in 7 minutes, but it conspicuously says no driver has been selected.  After 10 minutes, I call the company.

They explain there is no driver available, and they are trying.  All the while, I'm checking Uber.  I explain that I have a 6 am flight, and need to get to the airport, and they say they will try.  Just as the web site finally updates to say a driver is on his way, I somehow book an Uber Black car.  (Nicer cars than Uber X and more expensive.)  Now, at 4:15 am, I have two cars on their way, and as soon as I leave the apartment, I can't check Uber, because my phone has no SIM card.

I head down to the street, and a taxi pulls up in front of me.  I get in and I'm on my way, right?  Except that as we approach the first intersection, I notice the keys in my hand.  I was supposed to drop them in the mailbox on the way out.  We turn around, I drop off the keys, and we head for the airport.  During my conversation with the driver, I realize that this is neither of the cars I had booked to come pick me up.  I apologize to whatever future driver has as much trouble or more than I did because I stood up not one, but two taxi reservations.

I get to the airport around 4:45 am, and there are a lot more people than I expected, but not terribly so.  I make it to the gate by 4:50 am, and I start to relax.  The flight was nothing special, but not bad.   Flying in to Amsterdam, I saw windmill farms out in the water.  Not at all where I expected to see them.  Those Dutch are all about the windmills.

At the airport, I zipped over to baggage claim in record time.  And then, I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Half the bags showed up.  The rest just would not show up.  Finally, over an hour later, my bag and another 20 backpacks from some scouting troop arrived.

While waiting for my bag, I had a chance to reflect on some poor decisions in packing.  I expect that at some point on this wild journey I'm on, I will lose one of my bags.  I try to accommodate that possibility when I pack.  Here is how that is supposed to go.

My carry on bag gets a full change of clothes.  It gets my computer which should not be in a checked bag.  It also gets things I expect to use on the flight, like my kindle, and my phone which I will almost certainly use at my destination.  It should not get my iPad.  My iPad is my backup computing device if I lose my carry on bag with my computer in it.  My carry on usually also gets either my hoodie if things might be cold, or my rain jacket if it might be raining.

My checked bag gets all of my toiletries which won't pass through security.  It should get my iPad.  It gets a full change of clothes.  It also gets all of my miscellaneous power cables, and adapters for international travel, including my power strip that I inherited.  It gets whichever of jacket or hoodie that didn't go into my carry on.

Finally, my towel goes into whichever bag has the room for it.  I prefer it in my carry on, for nostalgia reasons.

Here are the things I did wrong during final packing at 2 am after 20 hours of work on the back of 2 days of short sleep.  I put the power adapter for my laptop in my checked bag.  If my checked bag didn't arrive, I had power for my laptop for the life of one battery charge.  I think this is normally 2-4 hours of heavy usage, and believe me, my laptop experiences very heavy usage.  I put all of my electronic devices in my carry on bag, and all except for my iPad power cable, all cables were in the checked bag.  At that point, I had compromised most of my backups for electronics and could have been in a very bad place if I lost one bag, or a not great place if I lost the other.  I think I need to write out a packing guide for myself.

I also need to plan out my travel better.  I should have already had a car booked to take me to the airport if that was my plan.  I'm not sure if I can really say lesson learned or not, but lesson lived through.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Packing Game Conclusion - Dublin, Ireland

I finished the packing game.  Here are the results.  Apologies for the low quality of the images.  I'm not much of a photographer.

What I'm not taking with me.

The clothes I am taking.

Everything before I pack it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Small Things - Dublin, Ireland

No matter where you are in the world, the ability to take pleasure in the small things can make your life better.

Here in Dublin, since moving to the second apartment, nearly every night, I've seen a gorgeous sunset.  Dublin is on the coast, and the apartment looks out over the Liffey river.  The frequent cloud cover, and unblocked sun from all around makes for gorgeous colors and a daily art show.

In addition, I'm often awake for the twilights at the beginning and the end of the days.  Despite the short nights, the pleasures of these skies are worth every lost hour of sleep.

I've also had the pleasure of watching the early moments of life for the pair of seagull fledgelings only 50m from my window.  I've seen ups and downs, as they fell from their nest, beat their wings furiously trying to get home again, and finally began flying.

The gulls fly around here constantly, and roost on the roof of the college next door.  They reel and dance and caper constantly, and their voices are a song throughout my day.  Often, they will fly almost straight at my window, just topping the roof above me.

What have you noticed lately that made your life better?  Are you seeing what is right around you?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Packing - Dublin, Ireland

It is T-4 days until I have a 6 am flight from Dublin to Amsterdam.  I've been in the same apartment for approximately 6 weeks.  Everything I own has exploded all over the apartment.  It's time to start packing.

Tasks for the day, laundry with any clothes that take a long time to dry.  This is primarily my hoodie.  I can't wash it at the last minute, and don't want mildew smell in my bags.

I am also starting the game of "What do I leave behind this time?"  So far, I've left something behind, intentionally, with every change of locale.  This is one of my favorite games.  I'm slowly paring away the objects I own, until there is literally nothing left to get rid of.

Right now, I'm looking forward to colder climes, and thinking I need space if I'm going to prepare for them.  Among the things on the chopping block: 1/2 to 2/3 of the clothes I own; every physical book I own;  all or most paper products, like envelops, notebooks, etc; some of my excess toiletries; excess spare/reusable bags.

Some things I'm thinking about adding to my bag that weren't there before: my jar of coconut oil; my new pumice stone.  I have begun to replace most of my toiletries with coconut oil.  I've used it variously as shaving cream, moisturiser, cooking oil, conditioner, and aftershave.

Hopefully, there will be pictures soonish of the things I decide to leave behind.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Squeeeeee! - Dublin, Ireland

For a long time, I've been a fan and supporter of Lindsey Doe and Sexplanations.  Last year, before Subbable was subsumed into Patreon, I was a 1% supporter.  My individual support was equal to 1% of all the support of their monthly goal.  Around the end of the year, I quit my old job and had to cancel basically every monthly expense I had.  When I started to get paid by my new job, I could start supporting all the things I wanted to support, and I started supporting their new Patreon at the highest level they had.

Over the past months, I've exchanged a few messages with Lindsey over Patreon, in response to reward levels, polls, etc.  I never really thought much about it, except to be a bit excited to get messages from her and respond to them directly.  You see, I have a rather large crush on Dr. Doe.  She is intelligent, playful, cute, silly, and an amazing and honest communicator.  I don't generally get crushes on celebrities, but of the few I do get, she is right at the top of the list.

Last night, I was up way too late.  At 0241 am, I see a message from Patreon with a link to a YouTube video.  Lindsey is doing a live hangout.  One thing leads to another, and I find myself in a Google Hangout, live, with the object of my crush.  Still, not quite an oh, jeez moment, but bloody close.

Then, this happened:  mid thought, she pauses for a second and a half then says, "Sean Carley, like THE Sean Carley is here?"

"Uh, the Sean Carley," I laughed, "I'm the only one I know, but there are more online."

"The Sean Carley whose packages are accumulating...."

"Yes, that one."

"Coooool.  It's so good to meet you."

At this point, my heart felt all fluttery and I may have ceased to be a rational being for a while.

Watch the video (and try to imagine what it would feel like to have your celebrity crush treat you like you are the celebrity.

After this, Dr. Doe cubed me and a handful of others on a live hangout.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Juvenile Seagulls - Dublin, Ireland

Seagulls over the National College of Art & Design, DublinBehind my apartment in Dublin, right outside the window where I sit most days, is the National College of Art & Design.  I look out directly onto the huge skylight in their library, and I can see a massive chimney.  Every day, I see seagulls atop that chimney.  Now, I see seagulls everywhere; the ocean is only a few miles away, and the River Liffey is only 300 yards away.  There are gulls capering about all the time.  I've worried quite a few were going to fly into my window.  Atop this chimney though, there always appear to be a few seagulls.  Now, I know why.

There seems to be a nest there.  The last few days, I've noticed a pair of juvenile seagulls, faded grey in color, like smoggy smoke, wandering around.  They don't seem to be old enough to fly, but it can't be too long now.  Until then, I have their companionship from 50 yards away, new life in Dublin, just beginning to explore its world, much like I am beginning to explore mine again.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Internet Troubles (or why you want a backup for your backup) - Dublin, Ireland

Today's lesson, if you have fewer than three ways to connect to the internet, you will be spending some time without.


After some of the trouble I had in Spain, I've been determined to have at least two backups for internet access in addition to whatever my primary access is.  So far, I've failed to have two backups almost universally, but I suspect that my determination to have two has led to me having at least one backup at all times.

My ideal situation would be high speed wi-fi available wherever I am staying, plus a SIM card with mobile data for my iPad, plus a SIM card with mobile data from a different provider for my phone.  As ridiculous as this sounds, I hope to show with the following anecdote that it is indeed called for.

On Tuesday, I moved into a new flat here in Dublin.  My instructions were to pick up the key from the pub below the apartment.  I had no trouble picking up the key, but upon arriving at the apartment, I had no instructions for internet.  At the time, the only access I had was my iPad with mobile data.  I don't have a reliable way to place calls from my iPad at this time.  I had to contact my friend on Google Hangouts, and have him request wi-fi access details from the owner of the property.  At that point, I had not yet figured out how to tether my laptop to my iPad.  Fortunately, credentials were obtained quickly, and I had internet access on my laptop 20 minutes after arriving.

Over the next 12 hours, I figured out that the internet in the flat sucked terribly.  The router is in another flat.  The connection will randomly drop out for 5 seconds to 5 minutes, and I can almost never keep any device but my laptop connected to it at all.

On Wednesday, twenty minutes or so in advance of my normal day, my boss contacted me.  We connected on screenhero.  Three minutes later, my laptop lost internet.  On my iPad, I turned on mobile data, started to connect on Slack and my mobile data went down.  At this point, I had nothing.  The only way I could talk to anyone was to walk up to them on the street and say hi.  At this point, I admit I felt a bit of panic.  Then, my mobile data came back.  We connected on Slack, and then we switched to Google Hangouts.  Ninety minutes later, after multiple hangouts with various collections of people, I finally had a chance to contact the property owner.

My laptop still had no internet, so I couldn't use my computer to place a call.  I finally thought of placing a call with Google Hangouts on my iPad.  It was $0.08 per minute, but I didn't care.  I needed internet.  Of course, I forgot that I only had $0.10 credit on google voice, but oh well.

I reached the property manager, told him I had no internet, and lost the call.  My minute was up.  Fifteen minutes later, he called me back on my Google Voice number.  Thank goodness for caller id.  Since he called me, time wasn't a problem.  We discussed the problem, and he told me a new router was scheduled to arrive on Friday that would be more powerful, and faster, so my internet should improve greatly then.  I asked how I could connect in the meantime.  He said he would try to have someone reset the router but he wasn't sure they could get there on Wednesday night.

Several hours later, every bit of which was spent on Google Hangouts voice chat, I finally figured out how to tether my computer to my iPad.  I switched to the laptop, relaxed, and got to work.

Fast forward to Friday night.  I still have no wi-fi in the flat.  The modem was delivered to the property manager after 9 pm, and he will be around to install it around 10 am on Saturday.  I used 4 GB of mobile data between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday night, over half my allotment.  I spent literally hours Thursday night trying to add credit to my SIM card so I could buy more data when I ran out to no avail.  Nearly 20 hours after starting that particular exercise in frustration, I got someone on the phone (from skype - Are you calling from a landline in Ireland or a mobile in Ireland?  I don't know.) who could help me.  I've got credit to spare, and the ability to top up online now if I need.  They had to contact me directly (except I contacted them) because I'm using an American credit card, and those things don't work right in Europe don't you know?

On any given weekday, I spend two to eight hours online in voice chat or video chat.  A number I expect to go up as they just made me a team lead, and I'm fielding many of the questions my boss used to handle.  Oh, by the way, that was why my boss contacted me early on Wednesday.  I've spent over twenty years running from being put in any official leadership capacity.  It finally tracked me down in Ireland, and I couldn't get away.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance in Ireland - Dublin, Ireland

Things I've noticed in Ireland that try to turn my head inside out:

  • Light switches are often not inside the room the light is in.  Some can't even be reached from the doorway of the room they are for.
  • Showers with pushbutton on / off.
  • Even stranger, a shower with a pushbutton on / off that won't work until you pull the cord outside the bathroom to give power to the shower.
  • A wall switch that completely disables power to the stove and oven.
  • Washing machines in the kitchen instead of dishwashers.
  • Streaky rashers look like bacon, but aren't quite the same.
  • Bacon isn't bacon, but it might be Canadian bacon, though I think the Irish would say it isn't Canadian.
  • Temperatures are in Celsius, weights are in pounds, and money is in Euros.
  • So far, the bathroom in every flat has had a light with a pull cord that did not work, with a plug only for shavers that can be set to 120 or 240 current via a switch.
  • Turning the bathroom light on will start the fan ... eventually.  Turning the light off will also turn the fan off ... eventually.  Eventually can be 30 seconds, or 3 minutes, and may or may not be consistent.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Stress of Travel - Dublin, Ireland

Travel can be stressful.  Transportation to and from airports, not to mention check in, security, interminable lines, bad food, infrequent breaks and chances to stretch your legs or change your body position in positive ways, tight quarters, noisy neighbors, finding food, communicating in foreign languages.  There are endless ways that stress can occur and build up.  This doesn't make traveling not fun, but it does mean that if your tolerance for stress is low for any reason, it can really start to get to you.  That is what happened to my friend that I've been traveling with.  Things piled up, and suddenly, he needed a break from his break, so to speak.  He hopped a plane back to the states this morning.

Now, I'm on my own in Dublin.  On Tuesday, I am moving from my current place to another place just a block or two from the Guinness Storehouse.  I'll be there until I leave Ireland at the end of July.  I'll miss having my friend around, but I'm excited at the prospect of travel alone.  I wouldn't be where I am if he hadn't prompted me to join him, but now, I'm free, and I'm loving it.

I'm in a peculiar position.  In the past, I've always lived month to month.  I generally need the paycheck closest to rent to pay my rent.  Now, I've booked my lodgings through to the end of November.  I'm over four months ahead of myself.  And I've booked all my flights through September.  It feels like this is getting easier.

So far, since leaving the States, I've been to Spain, France, and Ireland.  I've already booked the Netherlands, Spain, Malaysia, and Indonesia for the future.  I've met friends from online for the first time, and have more planned to meet already.

I need to get better at sleep, particularly around travel weekends.  By barely sleeping around my trip from Paris to Dublin, I beat down my body enough to leave me sick most of my first week in Dublin.  I'll pay more attention to that.  I'm learning.

I'm also going to work more on integrating my physical and mental practices into something akin to a schedule.  This is not my forte, but it is important, and it is going to happen.  Every day, I will spend at least an hour walking, twenty minutes meditating, and perform something for strength training or exercise.  I admit that some days, strength training will be just letting my body rest.  Consciously resting is part of growth and health.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Two Weeks in Paris

I've been in Paris for two weeks, and I'm leaving in just a few hours.  I've posted almost nothing here, not because there is nothing to say about Paris, but because I've been too absorbed in life to write about it.

Things of note that happening here in Paris:

  • Four or five days of bouldering in the best bouldering gym I've seen.
  • A 10 km day of foodie walking.
  • The first time a pizza genuinely surprised me in a long, long time.
  • Temptations resisted.
  • Temptations not resisted.
  • Slacklining.
  • A bottle of wine that had been submerged in the ocean for at least a year.
  • Friends, new and old.
  • The most eclectically decorated apartment I've ever stayed in.
  • Bento boxes, and wonderful vegetables.
  • Great cooking, not my own.
  • Bone marrow, and head cheese, not at the same time.
  • A fleeting sense of family.
  • A chain of stores that sell nothing but frozen foods.
  • More butcher shops and bakeries than Starbucks in the US.
  • A shower I was convinced would not allow me to take a cold shower.  I was wrong.
  • A bar run by a self named Troll.
Paris, the place, was okay.  I'm not a tourist.  I don't care about seeing sights.  I doubt I ever got within a couple kilometers of the Eiffel Tower.  I passed by the site of the Bastille, and didn't care.

But, Paris, the people, were friendly, interesting, talkative, and not at all rude.  Despite me taking most of the time here to stop wanting to respond to everything in Spanish, no one ever seemed annoyed when I said I couldn't speak French.   My terrible, broken French skills were met with patience and understanding.

France was beautiful, interesting, and satisfying, and I look forward to returning in the future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What to Do in Paris?

My first full day in Paris.  Whatever did I do?

First, the day was some kind of holiday, specifically the day off for Pentecost Sunday, I believe.  This appears to be a bank holiday, but not a public holiday, a distinction that exists in the United States but that I've never known a name for.  A bank holiday appears to be one in which it is not mandatory for a company to allow their employees off, but during which you can expect most public and private services to be unavailable.  A public holiday is one that everyone has off.

My activities for the day were eat, eat, go to Blocbuster for 4+ hours, then go to a new friend's apartment for a few hours where we ate again, and had wine, beer, and played a bit of MarioKart 8, then walk back to my friend's place where I crashed like a runaway car on a San Francisco street.

At Blocbuster,  I attempted to climb many a yellow route, and practiced mounting and falling off of a slackline, not to mention drinking a couple beers, and enjoying being surrounded by beautiful women and men.  I love climbing so much.  It is a shame I don't climb more often.  It will probably feature prominently in the next couple weeks.

Who Has Two Thumbs and Sucks at Packing?

That's right, this guy.

My friend left Spain on Wednesday.  I was by myself in Cunit until Sunday.  Left to my own devices, I had no idea what would happen.  What happened is I hid like a hermit for 2 days, and then started going out more on my own.  Note to self, I need to spend more time wandering around by myself.  I need to stop being lazy when people are around.  That little extra psychological impedance of another person is enough to give me excuses to just sit around like a lump.

Friday, work was basically a 6 hour conference call with my boss and the other senior developer on the team.  Many good things will come of it, but it left me feeling rather unproductive.  I also finally figured out how to lay out in the sun while I was working on Friday.  Much sun was had.  Much vitamin D was produced.

Saturday was packing day.  I really felt like this time I had things well in hand.  Early in the day I started with a timer.  I would pack or clean for 10 minutes, then get 20 minutes to do whatever I wanted.  I really didn't have that much to pack, and over the last few days I had moved everything I owned except bathroom stuff all into the same room.  Pack, rest, pack, goof off, pack, the wheels left the rails.

A friend contacted me.  She needed some support, and I was the right person to give it to her.  I am always happy to help out a friend, but it meant I wasn't packing, and I didn't set the next timer.  Eventually, I got back to packing.  If I would just pack for an hour and clean for an hour, I would probably have been done, but no, I'm never that motivated or that organized.

Around 5 pm, the landlady showed up.  Apparently, I was supposed to have left Saturday morning, but through a misunderstanding, I thought I was not supposed to leave until Sunday.  I admit I was in a panic.  I had moved a lot of furniture around.  I fully intended to put it all back, but I didn't want her to see.  She left, but she seemed a bit miffed.  I can understand.

I went out to eat for all three meals that day.  I finally got back from my dinner around midnight.  I finished my final packing, but it was getting late, and I did a piss poor job of cleaning.  I had to be on a train, with a ticket I had not bought yet, at 6 am.  That meant I planned to leave the apartment around 5 am, and meant I planned to be awake at 4 am.  Instead of sleeping like a normal person, I passed out before everything was done around 12:30 am.  I slept for an hour, woke in a panic, and cleaned a bit.  I was fairly out of it by then, and not always making rational decisions.  I tried to top up my data plan, because I was out and not sure if I would be able to contact my friend when I arrived in Paris.  I failed.  I cleaned.  I took out a lot of trash.  I threw out a lot of food from the fridge. I slept from 3:30 am to about 4:00 am.  I moved furniture around.  I realized I was not going to finish cleaning, and left dirty dishes neatly stacked in the sink.  I finally packed everything up, left money on the table (because I had been supposed to leave a day earlier and because I did a poor job of cleaning), and left for the train.

I arrived at the train station well before it was open.  I watched some television that was downloaded on my phone and waited for them to open.  Eventually they did.  I muddled my way through the ticket machine and bought a ticket for Barcelona.  Then, I tried to guess which platform I needed to be on.  There were three.  I could see no labels anywhere.  My stress level was elevated, as I needed to depart from Barcelona around 9 am, but I figured I could catch the next train if I missed the first and hopefully still make it.

As I stood by the first platform, I noticed every other person seemed to be going to the third platform.  After 20 minutes of watching people accumulate on a different platform, I decided to risk it and follow suit.  It was the right choice.  I caught my train and a long day of travel was started.

I was tired.  Very tired.  I kept nodding off on the 50 minute train ride to Barcelona.  There were pretty women on the train.  They also slept.  The beautiful coastline meandered by, and I fought sleep.  Finally, we arrived in Barcelona-Sants, and I departed.  Time to find my departure gate.

None of the displays I looked at showed my departure.  It was 7 am, and my departure wasn't until 9:25 am, so I wasn't that surprised, but it didn't help me find my gate.  I stopped by McDonalds, but their system wouldn't recognize my card, so I skipped them.  I didn't really want McDonalds anyways.  I just wanted the machine that would take my order so I didn't have to speak to someone who had no idea what I was trying to say.

I finally figured out that it looked like platforms 1-6 were international.  They had security before you entered, and after attempting to decipher the forbidden objects sign, I entered.  Not a word was uttered as I passed my belongings through the scanner, and there was no search of my person.  I supposed I could have just carried my pocket knives in my pocket, instead of throwing them out.

After going through security, there was one last cafe, and I got coffee and a sandwich.  By this point hunger was gnawing at me, so I'm quite glad they were there.

I found the last waiting area before the platform and waited.  There were some American girls on their way to Nice talking nearby, so I moved to where I could talk to them a little.  It was nice to understand and be understood again for a bit.  They left an hour before I would.  I read a bit, doodled a bit (I'm learning the Paper app on my iPad.), and generally just waited around until I could board.

Boarding the train, I learned that my car was the very end of the train.  It wasn't completely clear which way the train would be leaving, but I thought the way it would be going made mine the last one before the caboose, except that these days, instead of a caboose, there is usually an engine at both ends.  Up to my first class seat.  The car was a bit full, but the seat was spacious, comfortable, and altogether pleasing.

The trip was nice.  I slept a lot, courtesy of the 2 hours of sleep I had gotten in the night, but every time I was awake, the view outside the window was of something I could spend days exploring.  Castles, mountains, hills, sail boarding, kite boarding, and probably the largest train station I've ever been in, Paris Gare de Lyon.  I've never seen so many train tracks in one place, much less so many trains, running and otherwise.

Once we arrived, and I debarked, my friend in Paris was only a few meters away.  She hardly recognized me, as the last picture she had seen had no hair, and a fair amount of beard, where today, I have no beard, and my hair is growing back.  I recognized her immediately though.  It was an exciting meeting for me.  I've known her online for nearly 3 years, but this was our first time meeting in person.

One thing conspicuously missing from my trip was any kind of customs controls.  I'm sure all you experienced European travelers are used to this, but inside of the Schengen zone, it is apparently passport free travel.  I think I can be forgiven my anxiety upon experiencing this as the last time I was in Europe, there was no European Union.

Monday, May 25, 2015

When the Mundane Is Anything But

A week ago, I ordered food on the phone.  Normally, this is a pretty mundane activity.  In fact, it is something most people do without really thinking about it.  It is one of those conveniences of modern life that we tend to take for granted.  This experience was a bit different though.

I was in Spain.  I speak barely any Spanish.  I had never ordered food in Spain before.  I was uncomfortable with my address.  I wasn't sure how to say which apartment I was in, even if I got the address right.

I ordered a special with 3 donner kebabs, 1 chicken, and 2 beef.  Well, I think that is what I ordered.  The conversation went a bit like this:


Hola. ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

(I scramble around on the menu and finally repeat what I think means delivery.)

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Umm, sorry, I don't really speak Spanish.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... !

(Maybe he wants an address?)

Numbers, street, floor, apartment (possibly butchered beyond comprehension)

... ... ... ... ... ... ...! ... ... ... ... ... ... ....

Umm, (oh crap, what does he want now) sorry?

... ... ... ... ... ...! ... ... ... ... (why the hell did this guy call me when he can't speak the language) ... ... ...!

(maybe he is ready for me to order)  special 3 tortilla?  1 chicken 2 beef

... ... ... chicken or beef?

1 chicken 2 beef

... ... ... ... ... ... coke?

Si, coke.

... ... ... potatoes ... ... ...?


... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ....


Then, we waited to discover if food would actually arrive or not.  It did.  We were both suitably astonished.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

One Week - Cunit, Spain

We've been here in Cunit for one week as of yesterday.  The first blush has worn off the new place, and yet, it keeps growing on me.

We are still 250 meters as the crow flies from the water, and only 500 meters walk.  The balcony is still overwhelmingly large.  The weather has been gorgeous.

Here are some things that might not usually factor into your first impression of a place though:

I could probably hit the nearest grocery store with a rock from the balcony.  I don't have a firm grasp on when Spanish stores are open, but I can literally look at the front of the grocery store from the balcony and see if they are open right now.

There is a restaurant a couple blocks away whose tagline is "Tapas, tapas, y mas tapas".  A grandmotherly woman seems to own the place, and keeps us fed with a wide selection of tapas goodness.  It is neither the closest place, nor the fanciest, but I enjoy having someone who recognizes me when I walk in the door. delivers next day and the European equivalent of Prime is only 20€.

Our internet works.  It isn't great, but it is good enough.

I can walk to the beach barefoot.

The stove works, and there is a pan suitable for making omelets in.  I have one for breakfast nearly every day.

The bathroom leaves enough room for sitting on the toilet.  Believe me, this is not always the case.

The washing machine, though it hates me, works, and my clothes dried in less than half a day.

The people here seem to be friendly.

I like Spanish toilet paper better than American.  The sheets are 50% longer and I find it to be a more convenient size.

Exotic locations are nice, but it is important to remember that even when we are traveling, we are still living, with all the challenges that entails.  You still wake up in the morning, and ride life's waves both up and down.  It is fortunate when you can appreciate the things which make the ride more enjoyable and easier to endure.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Some days, you wake up and learn you are winning. Like when you look out on the balcony at 6 am to find out what the bustle is and find a farmers market springing to life on the street below.

So far, I've seen produce, flowers, and clothes, and they seem to all be setting up around our block.

I guess I now know why we can't park on those streets on Thursdays.

Where's Waldo - Cunit, Spain

This time, we are in Cunit, Spain.

Zoom out to see how close we are to the ocean.  And yes, that dot is smack dab in the middle of our balcony.  No, the address shown by Google Maps is not right.

Things Which Amuse Me

While traveling, you get these beautiful moments of incongruence, where expectation and reality meet and find each other lacking.  These moments grow your mind, and leave you living in a larger, more interesting world of experience.  Here are a few of my recent moments:
    Cemetery outside Barcelona
  • My 12 egg omelet which smaller than  of a 3 egg omelet.  Did I mention the eggs were quail?
  • The GPS demanding you take your van into the cut between buildings where two full grown men would have trouble walking past each other.
  • Seeing this tiny motorized vehicle with 3 people in it drive out of one of those tiny cuts between buildings.
  • Realizing there are multiblock neighborhoods of these impenetrable streets where only pedestrian traffic is practical, but there are still occasional cars going by.
  • Milk Aisle
  • The vertical cemetery on the side of the hills.
  • Heading out for dinner at 10 pm and realizing that in Spain you aren't strange.
  • Finding out that on a Tuesday night in Cunit, you really are still strange.
  • Realizing the butter knives have sharp enough edges to cut a steak, and maybe they were meant to.
  • Learning someone else loves milk as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Long Day of Travel

We left Chulilla around 6 am.  I had slept a couple hours in there somewhere, and my friend had slept not at all.  We drove to "the" train station in Valencia, navigated the parking lot to find the rental car drop off, and found it closed.  We parked the car, unpacked the bags, and dropped the key off in the night drop.

Next, we navigated the train station.  I noticed that there was a security checkpoint and we were a bit worried that it looked like pocket knives weren't allowed in our bags, but we grabbed breakfast while debating what to do.

After breakfast, I noticed that the departure listings didn't seem to include our train, nor anything for our destination leaving at the time I was pretty sure we were supposed to leave.  We stopped in to customer service and through our broken Spanish, learned that not only were we not in "the" train station, but we were not in the right train station.  We were directed to a shuttle between the train stations, that is free for people with boarding passes.  We were also told that while there was security in this station, there was no security screening in the other station.

We waited around in what we assumed was the right spot with time pressure building.  It was getting on to 9 am and our train was scheduled to leave around 10:30 am.  I wasn't sure how long it would take to get from one station to the next.  After 10 to 15 minutes, the shuttle arrived.  They scolded my friend for not putting away the rental cart, then we headed to the other station.  It was a long, tense ride of 5 minutes from the station we were in to the north station.

At the north station, we found what appeared to be the gates, then settled in for a wait.  After a while, I realized the machines that were letting people in did not have readers that would read the tickets on our phones.  We got a couple boarding passes printed out from a large kiosk machine, then waited some more.  Then, I realized the machines would not read our boarding passes either.  Stress really wanted to mount.  We were directed to the far end of the gates as where we would board, but our instructions weren't terribly clear.  We thought someone would let us in if we needed help.

More waiting, then I noticed that some of the kiosks were for short trips, some for medium trips, and some for long trips.  Apparently, you have to know how far someone else thinks your trip will be to choose the right kiosk.  We also noticed that our bags did not obey the rules printed on the backs of the boarding passes that we had never seen before.  Additional stress mounted.

Finally, our platform was assigned and people were allowed to pass the gates for our train, though the train had not yet arrived.  It turns out that people traveling long distance are let through security at a gate much similar to boarding a plane at the airport, except that there is no security screening.  We walked out to our platform and waited with the mob for our train to magically appear before us.

We had assigned seats in an assigned coach, so when the train appeared, we found our coach and began to navigate the baggage problem.  Since I had shoved everything I owned (including 2 backpacks and a laptop bag) inside my large suitcase, it was bursting at the seams.  I would have had trouble finding a place for my bag, but two people were incredibly friendly and made room for me.  There was no way it was going in the overhead shelf designed for the smallish carry on bags.

Our seats were terrible.  They were painfully narrow, and the layout of the car was nothing like what we had seen on the website when we booked.  Instead of across from each other, we ended up next to one another.  I sweated the entire trip, but thankfully, we were both so tired that we managed to sleep through part of the four hour trip.  When we were awake, we got some spectacular views of the coast passing by.

Eventually, we realized that we were going to pass within 300 meters of the place we were staying, then travel another 30 to 45 minutes into Barcelona before we stopped.  Adding insult to injury, there seemed to be a train station nearly on top of the place.  If we had stopped there, and hadn't been picking up a car, I think we might actually have disembarked.

Finally, we arrived at the bewildering Barcelona Sants station.  We arrived underground, and took a tiny little elevator up to the top.  Europe is an amazing place, but they do not seem to go in for spacious elevators.  If you are claustrophobic, I recommend the stairs.

Upstairs, none of the signs seem to direct you anywhere.  We found several signs mentioning the rental car company was in the building, but not that actually indicated where it might be.  We passed all the way through the building, then walked all the way around the building, then went back inside.  We had seen evidence that Enterprise was upstairs, on top of the station, but no evidence of how to get there.  On our third pass through the station, someone half heartedly pointed us toward something, and walking that way, we discovered the rental car companies clustered together in an unmarked section of every map in the building.

Renting a car in Spain has been an interesting experience.  It seems to be standard policy to rent you one type of car online, then hard upsell you to another car in person.  Fortunately, my friend is good at resisting upsells.  Unfortunately, they really didn't have the car he booked.  They wanted him to upgrade for 50 euros a day on a 100 euro a week car.  When he declined, they put us in a mini-van, for no extra cost.

The rental agent directed us on how to get to the roof with the cars.  Walk outside of the building.  Find the marked door that shows it is the entrance to a fitness facility.  Walk up this dark ramp, zigzag around two corners, then take another unmarked, miniscule elevator up to the hotel.  At the hotel, lobby, walk out onto the roof of the building, then all the way around the hotel and dividing walls, until you arrive at the rental car parking lot.  I'm surprised we missed it before.

The rental agent, who apparently took some unmarked shortcut to beat us there, showed us to our van, and we set out for Cunit.  By this time, we were running late to meet the owner of our next lodgings, so I didn't mention that I was ravenous.  We drove 50 minutes out of Barcelona, through two unexpected toll stations, and found an approximation of our lovely seaside destination.  Parking was sparse, so we dove into the first spot we saw, then walked the last 4 blocks to the address we had.  It was not the address we had been given by AirBnB.  We were not sure if we were going to meet the woman at home, and she would show us where we were going, or if we were going to the address of the apartment.

Once we found the address, we called her up.  She said she would be right there.  We still had no real idea what to expect, so we hung around like a couple of thugs scaring off old women, until she arrived.

Elsa (I think?) seemed nice.  She showed us our current apartment, and gave us a brief tour.  The balcony is huge.  I really struggle to describe it.  The balcony is wider than the apartment, and just as deep as it is wide.  It extends from the back of the building out on top of the floor below, and then continues around the end of the building and approximately two thirds of the way to the front of the building.  In addition, there is a metal spiral staircase that takes us up to the roof of the building, where we have even more room on top of our apartment, and a full view of the surrounding area.  The balcony overlooks a pair of walled, community pools, and just 500 meters away, is a clear view of the beach and the Mediterranean Sea.

I gave up on finding an angle or angles that would do the place justice and just made a video.  I apologize for my terrible camera work.


On top of everything else, it turned out that we had arrived just in time for fairie, which is basically a fair.  It has food vendors, flamenco dancing, and amusement park rides.  This would be why there was so little parking.

Finally, as Elsa was getting ready to leave, we asked about the wifi password.  Slight problem.  There is no internet in the apartment.  Since we have to have internet, this is a huge concern.  She tells us we can go to the other apartment, but the internet there is broken today and won't be fixed until tomorrow.  She says she can get internet installed on Monday in this place, and the other place won't have a view of the sea.  When she leaves, things are in an uncertain state of hopefully internet Monday, but tether to our phone's data plans until then.

Finally at our destination, even if it might only be for a couple days, we bring our bags up to the fourth floor (tercer, above baixos, primer, and segond) via the tiny tiny little elevator that barely holds the two of us without bags, and settle in just a bit before going out for food.  On our way in, we had spotted a restaurant whose name I never noticed, but under the name it said, "tapas, tapas, y mas tapas," and that seemed just like my kind of place.  We had half a dozen tapas including caricoles (Spanish snails), beer, soda, and coffee, then headed back to the apartment.

At this point, I was about ready to give in if my friend did not want to go out to see fairie (fair-ee-uh), but I made the mistake of going up to the top of the spiral staircase.  Of in the darkening distance, I could see the glowing colorful lights, and I was hooked.

We went to fairie, had French crepes, and gawped at all the people, lights, and action.  Then, honoring our poor exhausted bodies, we returned to the apartment and passed out.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Night Before Travel

Once again, the night before travel is one of little sleep.  I procrastinate, delay, and dilly dally until the hours slip away and I have too little time for too many things to do.

While I was here in Chulilla, I took an inventory of everything I'm traveling with.  Depending on how I count, I have between 52 and 139 things.  To get a number as high as 139, I counted every card in my wallet, every component of my laptop's power cable, etc.  I have 9 pens.  I don't really understand why, but I have had trouble whittling it down.  Regardless, it turns out I can pack everything, including the 3 extra bags into my suitcase.  Since travel today will be by train and not plane, that is just what I've done.

In a couple hours, we hop in the rental car and drive it to Valencia, where we turn it in at the train station.  Then we take a train from Valencia to Barcelona, where we will rent another car, and drive to where we are staying.  We will be about halfway between Barcelona and Tarragona, right on the coast.  In fact, if google maps is to be believed, we will be only 500 meters from the beach.  I expect to swim in the Mediterranean Sea daily for the next few weeks.

Yesterday, Friday, May 1st, was International Workers Day, which is celebrated as a holiday in Spain.  This meant lots of people around.  As we headed down to the bakery, I was looking at a pretty girl instead of where I was going, tripped on a step, and badly stubbed my toe.  I headed back to the apartment so I wouldn't bleed all over the place.  I'm sure the stubbed toe is going to feel great in the salt water, but I expect it will help it heal.

I didn't hike in Chulilla nearly as much as I wanted to.  I'm badly out of shape, and as I have had to remind several people, I'm not on vacation.  It isn't a great idea to exhaust myself before I work an eight hour day on my computer.  It can make it really hard to stay awake.  Still, the hiking I did was wonderful.  I'm looking forward to coming back.  Americans, particularly overweight, non-climbing Americans, are not the norm here in Chulilla.  It is primarily a rock climbing destination, and not so much a tourist one.  It is a great place to experience a taste of true Spanish lifestyle.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fear and Mosquitos

The first time I visited Charco Azul, fear kept me from swimming in its jeweled waters.  Fear kept me from seeking out the board trail clinging to the cliff face as well.  Fortunately, my friend went out there first and so I did it as well.  He didn't go swimming though, and I left with that whisper of self doubt and shame.  Fear beat me.  I told myself I was tired and didn't need to swim in the water.  I was tired, but the fear got the better of me.

Today, I raced the sun to Charco Azul, and beat it to the bottom of the canyon.  Facing the water, fear gripped my heart.  The unknown depths with anything lurking beneath seemed to mock me.  The water was impenetrable to my eyes.  Where the water in the canal was clear to at least six feet deep, I couldn't see more than three feet down into the emerald water.

I was determined to swim today.  I headed to the left around the shore, looking for a place where I wouldn't have to walk through a thicket of reeds to get to the water.  I found a place where I could use rocks at the shore as steps to enter the water.  The water right next to the shore was so deep that I cannot even guess how deep it was.  The bottom rock I used as I slid into the water was about two and a half feet deep, and I could barely see it.

Standing with my legs submerged, I could tell the water was cold.  As I launched myself fully into the water though, I was not prepared for the full body shock.  My chest constricted, and my breathing instantly became gasps.  If I were not so comfortable in the water, and well experienced with the body's reaction to shocking cold, I think it could have been a very dangerous situation.  As it was, it took me a minute of carefully treading water and breath control before I was breathing comfortably again.

I swam around in the frigid water for a couple minutes, but far less than I had intended.  Instead of exploring the full extent of the water, I opted for feeding the mosquitos as I dressed.  Just a couple minutes exposure was enough to turn my skin bright red.  I'm not at all exaggerating when I say that water was stunningly cold.  Even now, hours later, I still feel like it is a little challenging to take a full breath.

I'm looking forward to coming back in summer, when a dunk in frigid waters will be a welcome retreat from the baking heat.

Fear is a battle you fight, but do not conquer.  Facing it does not make it go away.  Even as I was swimming, I was still battling the fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the cold.  Fear of being unprotected.  Still, today I faced a fear, and moved through it.  I'm really glad I did.

I know the mosquitos did not get their fill, but my body was tingling with the effects of a dozen or more bites on my back.  It felt like a tickle party where you cannot get anyone to stop.  It isn't that surprising when you consider that I was the only CO2 producer within a kilometer, at their favorite time of day, right next to standing water in reeds, their prime breeding ground.  It must have seemed a bonnie buffet to those little buggers.

On the way back, I hiked about a kilometer in my favorite shoes.  When I met my friend at the airport in Valencia, he commented that he hoped I had better hiking shoes.  I was wearing my huarachas, and they are definitely my prefered hiking shoes, but I lied and said they were all I had.  The truth is that I had a secret.  I was carrying the best pair of hiking shoes man has ever invented.  They aren't well broken in yet though.  I spent some time today breaking them in.  My Mark I Bare Feet performed admirably, but I slipped back on my huarachas before I began the climb back up to Chulilla.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Charco Azul

As I may have mentioned, we are currently in Chulilla, Spain.

That's our balcony highlighted in red.  We are at the north end of town, on the only road that actually goes north out of town.

Chulilla is small.  I believe the population is roughly 700 people.  You can tell it is small from looking at a map.  What you cannot tell from looking at a map is just how three dimensional the layout of the town is.  As you walk through town, two parallel streets can be as much as 50 feet or more apart in elevation.  The town is on a saddle between the backing mountain to the east, and a peak to the west which has an old fortification on top.  This can also mean that down could either be northwest, or southwest, and on the right street corner, you can choose two downs that are actually away from each other.

Down to the southwest leads to farmland, and a clear view of the valley for miles and miles.  Down to the northwest, well that is why Chulilla is a prime rockclimbing destination.  You see, to the northwest is the gorge.  Sheer cliffs of rock, often overhanging, and none of it more than a single pitch high.  (If you aren't a climber, this means it isn't taller than a single rope can protect you all the way to the top.)  Many interesting features, and most, if not all, of them are kitted out for sport climbing.  There are even some areas, like the wall directly across from our balcony, that are kitted out with top roping stations you can walk out to before you climb.  It's like a natural climbing gym, but on a huge scale.

As you descend the saddle to the northwest, you pass from the white streets and buildings of the town, first to dirt road and switchbacks, and then to loose rock and dirt trails.  Slightly before you hit the bottom, you cross an aqueduct.  This manmade, slightly elevated channel of water presents a straight course of mostly unobstructed waterflow, and is carved through the meandering gorge, running in and out of tunnels through the stone without ever deviating from it's course.  The water inside is deep, beautifully green, and perched right in between inviting, and frightening.  If I had to guess, I'd say it looks like 60 to 80 percent of the water passing through the gorge is in the aqueduct instead of the Rio Turia.

Descending the saddle, you hear the Rio Turia burbling and babbling through stones, across woods, and around all manner of plants.  I love the sounds water makes when it interacts with its environment.  I can think of no other thing in nature but water which sings or hums to itself quite so much or so often as it goes about its day.  The sounds invite you down to the base of the gorge, and draw you to the water.

Once the trail reaches the bottom of the gorge, and fulfils the promise of discovering the source of song, it turns to follow the river both towards its past and towards its future.  The past of the river at this point is Charco Azul, and what a past it is.  Charco Azul is Spanish for Blue Pond.  Google it, and you will find dozens of pictures, nearly all of higher quality than what I've taken myself, but here are a couple of mine anyway.

If you look closely, you'll not only notice the board and rebar structure precariously clinging to the face of the cliff, but you'll see that it has literally fallen off the face at the far end.  Only the adventurous swimming can find out where it used to go.

The water here is deep.  Rocks below the surface disappear completely from view a mere five or six feet deep.  Particularly by the cliff face, the bottom is hidden in its green depths, conjuring the fear of the unknown monsters that could lurk below.  You could imagine a leviathan from loch ness taking refuge here, away from the bustle of paparazzi plaguing its home.

If you are brave enough, you too can traverse this rickety structure and peer down into the scrying surface of Charco Azul.  I followed in my friend's footsteps, crossing swaying planks and holding rusted metal, but was not brave enough to take my camera with me.

The most amazing thing about Charco Azul to my mind is not how beautiful it is, but how close it is to Chulilla.  Round trip, without running, but without including all the time you'll spend enjoying your location, the whole hike from town to blue pond, and back, will probably take less than an hour.

There are actually two trails wending their way through the gorge on the way to Charco Azul.  The first, as you would rightly expect, is along the side of the river.  The second has just as many twists and turns as the first, but they are up and down, and not left to right.  It runs along the aqueduct, and where the waterway is open to the air, you walk a path along its side, but where it passes through tunnels, the trail clings to the side of the gorge, and though more direct, and shorter than the trail at the bottom, I would probably call it the more challenging of the two for all the elevation changes.  Where you are alongside the water, it is quite beautiful to behold.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I've come to realize something about why I love to travel so much.  This has a lot to do with my particular strengths, and even more to do with my weaknesses.  I am inherently lazy.  I do not mean this as self judgement.  When my energy flags, when I struggle to keep up, I tend to seek ways to make life easier.  In a lot of ways, this is a strength.  My desire to optimize, thus lessening effort, makes me a better software developer.  It pushes me to become more efficient, and thus better, at anything I do.  But it also pushes me towards disengaging.  Given the option, in the modern world of the United States, where my every need can be met without leaving the confines of the small world I've made for myself, I tend to retreat from the world.  I do not enjoy that retreat though.  I get joy from engaging with life and with people.  Traveling, especially in a country where I do not speak the language or know the customs, forces me to engage.  I cannot meet my needs without fully embracing the world around me and using my wits to the fullest.

I was in New Orleans for a week, during which time, I barely did anything.  I never ranged much more than a few blocks from my hotel.  I didn't get to the French Quarter even once, despite it only being a 15 minute walk away.  I had the bulk of my meals delivered, and lived inside the box of my hotel room.  Now, being fair to myself, I spent several days ill, and much of my time regenerating my energy.  I'm inherently an introvert.  I can find interacting with people enervating, and I needed the time I took to recharge.  I do not regret how I spent my time there, because I needed the extra energy for the adventures that were to come, but they were not the happy days I've had here in Spain, nor for that matter, on my trip.  Despite the exhaustion and depletion of my reserves, I've had non-stop adventure since leaving New Orleans, and I've loved every minute of it.

I am forced to use my wits continuously, and I love doing so.  From navigating streets when I cannot find street signs, to speaking with people when we lack common language, from pushing my limits physically in rough terrain, to solving critical technical challenges on the spur of the moment under pressure, from figuring out what new foods are, to learning to use appliances, doors, bathrooms, and myriad other tiny tasks that are suddenly new and unfamiliar instead of common and uninteresting, I am challenging myself, and constantly finding that I am up to the challenge.

I love that I can disengage to rest and recharge when I need to, but I also love being engaged with life.  I am thankful that in this new stage of my life, I can recognize this and take advantage of such wonderful opportunities.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Where in the World Am I? - Chulilla, Spain

If you wanted to play a game of where's Waldo, this is a super close in view of the building I'm in right now.

Turia River Gorge - Chulilla, Spain

A panoramic image I created from the trail next to the Turia river.

I apologize for the poor stitching at the edge. I managed to get an extra gap that isn't there. I need practice with this technology.

Click on the image to get a panoramic player that lets you explore the image or cycle it around automatically.

First Day of Work - Chulilla, Spain

Last night is a blur.  I know I slept about 3 hours, but then I was wide awake until after noon.  In the morning, I went out for a walk, looking for the only ATM in town.  I found the prior site of the ATM, I think, but there was no longer a business there and there was no ATM to be found.

I've been using a card since I got here, so hoped everything would turn out okay.  On the way back, the market right by the town square seemed to be open.  I went in and picked out a fair bit of groceries.  Milk, sardines, wheat toast (sold by the bag), some microwave vegetable dish, lentils, ground black pepper, jam, uncured manchego cheese.

Then began the attempted conversation with the shopkeeper.  I've been relying heavily on the google translate app on my phone.  I feel guilty for using it, but it helps me get by.  The conversation included things like me thinking she was saying I could only use my card after 10 am, when she really said I could only use it for purchases of 10 euros or more.  I thought I had more than that, and I did, but her machine wouldn't run my card for some reason.  I roughly communicated that I would be back in 15 minutes, then went to steal 20 euros from my friend.  I made it to the apartment and back pretty quickly, added a dozen eggs, and paid cash.  I really need to find an ATM.

I slept for a couple hours before my "morning" meeting at 1530.  I set everything up on my computer and 5 minutes before my meeting started, bam, no internet.  The router, which is not in the apartment, is down and not accepting connections.  The owner of the property is 4 hours away in Madrid.  No one is home there, and they won't be for a day or two.

I called in to my morning meeting over google hangouts on my phone.  I spent the next 3 hours on chat with someone non-stop.  I got 1 GB of data for 1 month for $15.  I got other things with it, but the data is what I care about the most.  I've had it for less than 3 days.  My data is over eighty percent gone.  This seems likely to be a problem.

Now, it is 2230.  My eyes are barely open.  I'm heading to sleep.  I hope I can stay there for a while.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chulilla, Spain - Balcony

The last couple days of travel were rough, but when you look at the view from our balcony, they were oh, so worth it.


Thursday, I worked a normal day, starting at 0830 with the morning hangout.  At around noon, I went out for lunch (posted earlier), then got back to work.  I worked until about 1730, when I switched to getting ready for travel.

I found time to wash my clothes, which had me walking around the hotel in nothing but a t-shirt and a towel with nothing under it, barefoot.  I bet that would have surprised anyone who saw me.

Unfortunately, I was still pretty beat from being sick most of the week, and my pre-travel procrastination was rearing its evil head.  I had planned to be up at 0100 Friday morning to shower and get breakfast.  At 2100, I realized I probably wasn't going to be sleeping.  I convinced myself that just meant I'd sleep more on the planes.  While this was possibly true, I don't recommend going into 30 hours of travel on no sleep.  By the time I reached the airport in Valencia, any cast member of The Walking Dead would have been well justified in shooting first and asking questions later.

I finally finished packing everything around 0030.  I took a shower, shaved, dressed, and went out for breakfast. I dressed for travel with pants, t-shirt, huarachas, and a hoodie.  I do not understand what possesses me to prepare for the possibility of being cold.  My comfort zone is so much lower than anyone I've ever met that I'm beginning to believe if it is habitable by modern humans, I won't be cold.  Anyway, yeah, I wore a hoodie.

The weather was odd.  It wasn't exactly raining, but everything was wet, and water was coming down from the sky, and from the buildings.  It was like a mist, except with giant drops of water.  Not really enough to call rain, but still, everything stayed mostly soaked.

On the way to Daisy Duke's Express where I had planned breakfast, a homeless man tried to panhandle me for something to help him eat.  I told him I couldn't help him with money, but that I was on my way to get food if he wanted to come.  He seemed bemused by the proposition but joined me.  This was how I became Greg for the next ninety minutes or so.

Harold had never been inside the restaurant.  I don't think he was comfortable.  In the end, the only thing I could get him to order was water, and that in itself was an achievement.  I ended up ordering a gyro (excellent), and a breakfast sandwich (terrible), thinking maybe I could get him to eat the breakfast sandwich.  It turns out that he doesn't eat cheese.  Honestly, I don't blame him.  This was toast, with two slices of american cheese, topped by a good fried egg, over medium, another slice of toast, two more slices of american cheese, and two smallish sausage patties.  If the american cheese hadn't been there, I probably would have liked it, but the sea of half melted processed plastic was unappealing.

A man overheard my conversation with Harold, and heard me say that I had been in the Navy.  This man was apparently a retired gunnery sergeant in the Marines.  Now, I'm not saying he wasn't, but most Marines I've known are pretty clear on the difference between attention and parade rest.

I want to be clear.  I was in the Navy from 1990 through 1995.  I was not an ideal, or a typical member of the military.  I memorized ranks and the chain of command in boot camp, then promptly forgot them.  I really only ever cared about one thing, do I salute, and beyond that, never saw that rank much mattered.  Add to it that it's been 20 years since I was discharged, and I can't remember a bloody thing about ranks and insignia.

Mr. Retired kept saying things like, "you'll know the significance of ...," which was inevitably followed by something I had no idea what it's significance was.  Eventually, he tired of commiserating with me over our time in service, and left me (Greg) and Harold to our conversation.  It was a few minutes later, when Mr. Retired was standing at a particularly rigid parade rest, something I'm quite used to seeing from Marines, and he declared to his brother, "I'm standing at attention.  We don't talk at attention."  I mentally shrugged my shoulders, and continued my breakfast.

Harold was an inquisitive sort, and asked me all sorts of questions as I ate.  His memory wasn't quite what it once had been though, and some questions were asked repeatedly.  He did ask my name once, but when he settled on Greg as my name 30 seconds later, I went with it.

Our conversation touched on politics, current events, and finally devolved around religion.  I occasionally insisted on clarifying things, such as Darwin not being who suggested the big bang.  Nor did he say man was descended from fish.  I can be absurdly pedantic about incorrectly attributing things.

I finished breakfast, paid, then started back to the hotel.  Before we parted ways, I gave Harold the rest of my cash from my wallet, $15.

I made it back to the hotel room at about 0245.  I had an alarm set for 0300 because I had a taxi scheduled for 0330.  I managed to nap for a bit, then at 0315, I checked out of the hotel and waited for my taxi who took me to the airport.

The conversation in the taxi was interesting and engaged as well.  Apparently the flooding of the streets of New Orleans is solved by pumps.  They aren't on all the time, so right after weather starts, there is some flooding, but usually within an hour or two, the flooding is gone.  I guess it was my impatience that led to my aqueous adventures in the streets.

At the airport, I couldn't get the automated kiosk to work, so I waited for people to show up at the desk.  When someone did, he grilled me about entry requirements for Spain.  He said he was supposed to make sure I wasn't going to have any problems at JFK later.  I ended up booking a plane ticket from Barcelona to Dublin in June for about $75 to use as proof of intent to depart.  I wish I could tell the man that his fears were unfounded.  No one asked me a single question about anything related to my stay, up to and include the customs people in the Valencia airport.

My first flight was New Orleans to John F Kennedy airport in New York.  I had a couple hours layover at JFK, then took a 10 hour flight on Turkish Air to Istanbul.  The layout of the seats in the economy section were 2, 4, 2.  I was blessed with an inner seat in the 4.  Fortunately, the other inner seat ended up being unoccupied after the industrious man next to it found a more comfortable arrangement for its occupant.  That helped quite a bit.

In Istanbul, I ended up having a 5 hour layover.  We landed right around 0600, having compressed an entire day, night cycle into 10 hours by flying into the sunrise.  My body was not fooled.  On landing, I went in search of my next gate.  Unfortunately, the terminals in the Istanbul airport only show 1-2 hours of departures.  As my plane was not scheduled to depart until 1055, it didn't even make it onto the board until 0840, and didn't have an assigned gate until 0855. I completely failed to navigate the Turkish internet sign in pages, and my phone was not aware networks existed, so I spent the time in a communications blackout.  Finally, a gate was assigned and I began my trek to the gate.

The walk from gate 207 (where I had guessed my flight might end up) to gate 325 (where it actually ended up) was long, surprising, and educational.  As I get tired and cranky, I start to get more stubborn.  I refused to use the motorized walkways by that point, so I traveled every foot of the distance manually.  Along the way, I passed kiosks, cafes, many travelers and gates, a mosque, and a couple acres of shopping mall.  I'm not even joking.  Literally dozens of shops, including Victoria's Secret, and a Hugo Boss outlet, and at least 3 full scale restaurants.  I am not even kidding when I say I've seen entire outlet malls with a smaller footprint, and all of it was duty free.

My last flight was about 4 hours, wedged into the window seat of a 3 & 3 short haul plane.  The sun was beating on the window the entire time, and I cooked my shoulder.  I had already been traveling for 24 hours by the time I boarded, and I was cranky, miserable, and felt sick to my stomach for the whole flight.  I drank a lot of water, and avoided all offers of food.

When we landed in Valencia, I started trying to connect to the internet.  From the runway, I had 1 bar of "Free Airport Wifi".  The process of signing in on that included, "watch this 20 second advertisement to get 30 minutes of free internet," which wouldn't play because I had no internet.  I continued fighting with this and finally managed to view the ad just before showing my passport to customs in Spain.  The man looked at my passport, stamped it, then waved me through.  Zero hassle.  Clearly, this man has not played Papers, Please.  Inside, I waited for my bag, which was among the first to show up on the carousel, then headed for the exit.  At the exit, there were two ways to go, one that said declarations, and the other that said nothing to declare.  I shrugged, and walked through nothing to declare.  I found my friend waiting for me right outside.

We headed to a kiosk where I purchased a new, local SIM card for local internet access, 1 GB of bandwidth for $15. My friend helped me set up the local service on my phone as well.  This was when I learned my friend and his dad (visiting from the States) were planning to go to Gibraltar.  I was game with only one condition.  I had to either get a shower, or go to a beach.  We chose beach, and I spent a few minutes swimming in the Mediterranean Sea before we tried to find our way to Gibraltar.  Unfortunately, a confluence of events to which I added some frustration culminated in us going back to Chulilla for the day instead of driving across Spain to Gibraltar.  I feel bad for my part, but I'm thankful for last night's rest, and for the chance to walk around Chulilla and get some groceries.

Now, I'm here in Chulilla (which I think is pronounced chew lee yah), and I feel like I won Christmas.