Tuesday, April 28, 2015
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
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.
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 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
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.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Where can I get quarters? - front desk and solved
Where can I get laundry detergent? - front desk and solved
Eat lunch. - I had the best meal since I got to New Orleans. Yay, sushi.
How will I get to the airport and how long will that take? - taxi, 30 minutes, booked for 3:30 am.
Speaking of lunch, oh my. (Hamachi kama not shown.)
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
I've worked today, but poorly, without much focus or energy.
Food is delivered in.
I'm barely leaving the bed. The room, and my head are dark.
I have a day and a half until I leave the country. I hope I can recover before then.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
It was a quick trip to the passport agency where the weather seemed to have defeated all comers. There were only a bare handful of people, as opposed to yesterday's constant 20+. In and out, 52 page passport in hand.
I stopped on the way back and grabbed food, crawfish etoufee, and a couple po boys, to bring back to my hotel where I'll finish the afternoon listening to the rain and working.
Tomorrow, I'll need to find the hotel laundry if I don't want to travel with nothing but dirty clothes to Spain.
I can't overestimate how much I'm looking forward to returning to Spain. This time, I'll be my own man, and won't be representing the US military. I'll have nothing but myself as baggage.
P.S. New Orleans, what is with your streets? Some of them required a ferry or dive certification to cross.
Monday, April 13, 2015
I get up, and walk to the door. I may or may not be wearing pants. Walking across the foyer, I notice my feet splashing through standing water. "Just a second," I call to the man through the peephole. I pull on shorts while hurriedly searching for the source of the water. It continues into the bathroom. My clothes are hanging on the shower drying from today's earlier escapades. My shoes are stuffed behind the bar in the bath. None of these seem to be a possible source for such a large amount of water.
I open the door and it is maintenance. I tell them, "I don't know where this water is coming from. It wasn't here half an hour ago." He comes in and begins searching. Pulling aside my hanging pants, water is rushing from the overflow below the faucet. It seems to be seeping out from underneath the tub. I leave him to his job as I go back to work.
After a while he tells me, "I'll be back with towels. The water is not coming from your bathroom. It is coming from upstairs." After a while, he returns with towels and cleans up.
I cannot remember when, but he said, "I saw you when you came in earlier." He had seen my drowning rat impression as I stood dripping on the welcome mat before the door. I left what water was in a hurry to depart my company there before I walked across the tiled floor barefoot when I came in.
I guess today, all my adventures involve water. Perhaps I should do laundry and find the pool today as well, or maybe go to the aquarium tonight.
When I left for the office, the weather was nice. I wore my nice shoes, and long pants, and I thought nothing of it. Apparently, the dress code for the passport office today should have been swimsuit and galoshes. I was hit by a torrential downpour of rain on the way back to the hotel. I literally found myself wading through water that was in places up to my calves deep. My nice shoes, well they have leather soles, and the sidewalks of this part of New Orleans are paved with bricks and marble flagstones. I could have skated on ice and had more traction. Before I thought to remove my socks and shoes, I went down to my knee in one of the deepest spots of water, soaking my pants to my hip. The downpour was so fierce that I had to remove my glasses to be able to see.
At the office though, no real problems. Because I'm here in town, they gave me an appointment tomorrow to pick up my passport. I'll be going back sometime after 11:30 am. We'll see what adventures tomorrow holds.
A morning shower and shave can be a good way to embrace the day, and thus I occupied myself.
Last night, I laid out my clothes for today over the top of the television. It isn't like I'm using it for anything else. Unfortunately, the television seems to have imparted an odd aroma to my clothes. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it isn't bad enough to demand a new change of clothes.
I've been debating doing my morning Google Hangout for work from Starbucks across the street from the passport place, or from my hotel room. It is a sub 10 minute walk from the hotel to there, and I don't relish a 30-45 minute conference call in public. I also don't want to take my laptop with me to the passport office. I think I'll stay here. I'll have to watch the time though.
For breakfast, I tried out the hotel's continental breakfast. I don't think I'll make that mistake twice. As long as you are good with a dozen forms of bread with sugar for breakfast, you should be good to go, but if you want something substantial, or protein, you usually need to make other arrangements than a provided continental breakfast. I'm not sure what continent they mean.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
I've had three meals outside my hotel room since I arrived here Friday night. All three at the same restaurant. It isn't that the place is bad or good, but there is so much to choose from here and I'm making the same choice every time. When I'm not eating out at that one place, I'm ordering in and hiding in my room. Sure, it's raining outside, but since when do I hide from the rain? I've never met anyone who embraces the rain more than I do, so that can't be it.
I'm hiding from life. I'm hiding from interacting. I'm isolated.
The past few months, I've been surfing a couch with a friend. It was good for us both. I had an apartment back in Arizona that I was still paying for, but it was an empty box waiting for the lease to run out. My friend needed me in her life, and I need to be there for her just as much as she needed me. But there wasn't a place for me to retreat. I couldn't disengage and recharge. I was a laptop with no power cable. Sometimes I had to be on, and other times I was in sleep mode, but I was never truly off, and I could never get more power. Right now, I think I'm charging. That's okay. It won't be forever, and even if I don't suck the marrow from New Orleans, I'll get through this and be ready to do so someplace else very soon.
If I approach this nomad lifestyle the right way, there doesn't have to be any pressure. I can recharge, refresh, and reinvigorate from the world around me. Let go of expectation, Sean. Release it and accept.
Tomorrow, I have an appointment with the passport agency. I don't foresee any difficulties, so I could quite possibly have a passport by tomorrow night. I've printed, filled in, collected, and otherwise prepared all the things that must be prepared, and I'm ready to go.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
I don't mind these somnolent hours, despite being in the heart of New Orleans. A rested nomad is far more capable of enjoyment and travel than I was only yesterday.
Friday, April 10, 2015
I'm a lot older than I look. Most people guess my age at least 10 years younger than I am, and I've had guesses at literally half my age in the last couple years. This is only relevant because I grew up in a different world than the one I live in today. For example, when I graduated from high school, no one had ever had a cell phone at school. I'm not even sure I saw my first cell phone in person until after I was out of the Navy. Things were different. Case in point, when I was growing up, trains were romantic. A leisurely journey cross country, staring out the window at the passing scenery as you were gently rocked to sleep. If you've been riding Amtrak in the last 10 years, you'll know that the experience had gone downhill a lot. Well, until now. My trip from Lafayette to New Orleans reminded me of the romance of my youth.
I've seen first class compartments in planes that didn't have as much room as every seat had on this train. The seats were large, comfortable, and not only leaned back, but also had adjustable leg support and foot rests. There were two 120 volt wall sockets for every pair of seats. You were free to walk around at any time, and the large windows had curtains. There was plenty of leg room, and the trays were large and accomodating. Sound was well insulated from the outside. Despite the near constant running of the whistle, it was barely background noise and not at all oppressive. As I sat on the upper level, the train rocked nicely. Despite a small girl just shy of talking age throwing a fit almost the whole trip, sound was not a problem. I put my headphones in and listened to the sounds of oscillating brown noise (Simply Noise app) that sounded a lot like the ocean lulling me to sleep. The train arrived late at my departing station, where I watched a spring thunderstorm pour rejuvenating waters on the earth, and listened to the crashes of thunder. And despite being picked up late, we reached New Orleans a little early. If this is any sign of things to come, Amtrak will feature in more of my future travel plans. Assuming, of course, that I make it back to the states to travel.
And that brings me back to being the new nomad. I was born into the military way of life. My father was in boot camp when I was born, and retired at 30 years. Until I was 25, I had never known a way of life that was not nomadic. Every few years would find us in a new place, be it a new state, base, or even country. As a result of the frequent moves, and my personal proclivities, I became a tumbleweed. I have no roots anywhere. There is no place that has a hold on me. I have no reason to stay.
After I was discharged from the Navy, 5 more years of the nomad lifestyle, I spent nearly 16 years in Missouri, first in Springfield, and then in St. Louis. Despite being there for so long, I never belonged. I never put down roots, and I felt the horizon call. Staying in one place drained me. It left something lacking that is essential for my soul. In 2011, I broke free. Since then, I've lived in Florida, Indiana, Arizona, North Carolina, Louisiana, and now, I'm on my way to Spain. After Spain, Ireland. After Ireland, who knows. Maybe Thailand, or maybe Great Britain. The thing is, I'm leaving the United States, and I have almost no reasons to come back. I am heading for the horizon. No looking back. I may stay somewhere for a week, a month, or even a year, but I'll leave when I feel the urge, make plans on helium balloons, and go where the wind takes me.