travel

Vacilando

It started the moment he learned how to walk. Off he went in whatever direction he happened to be pointing, wearing nothing but diapers and a smile, and sometimes not even the diapers. It made no difference where he was going, just so long as he was going somewhere. Had his parents not started keeping him tethered on a modified leash he surely would have wandered away and ended up kidnapped or roadkilled or on the back of milk carton. This wanderlusting continued into childhood and beyond.

When he started school teachers called him energetic or a nomad or threatened to get out the duct tape when patience ran thin. Many made claims of ADHD. The truth was trying to stay seated was totally impossible for him, which made school equally impossible. He just wasn’t cut out for it, because he just couldn’t sit still. He grew tired of being a square peg in a world of round holes. When he turned fifteen he decided he couldn’t take it anymore, and he just started walking toward the south.

When folks saw him walking they had questions. Where was he going? And why? He didn’t know the answers to these questions. He was on a quest, a quest that he didn’t know where or why of. He felt like he would know where he was going when he got there, and as soon as he figured out the where he would know the why. Until then he kept walking.

People started feeding him and bringing him gifts. He garnered a reputation as the walking saint and his reputation preceded his path. He always had a dry place to stay and home cooked food to eat. He walked all the way through Mexico and into Central America.  He crossed the Panama canal and kept going south. He eventually reached the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, and he looked off the end of South America, over the icy waters stretching to Antarctica. It was breathtaking yes, but even this was not the where he imagined would stop him in his tracks. So he turned around and kept walking, to the North.

Almost two years after leaving he finally returned home, having walked thousands of miles and met thousands of people. He learned to speak Spanish and a bit of Portuguese. He wanted to imagine that when he made it back home it would be a relief, that somehow the urge to walk would disappear and he could finally settle into a normal life. He wanted home to be the where he was looking for, but actually returning home made him feel more lost than ever. So he kept going.

Through Oregon and Washington, into British Columbia. He couldn’t stop, not until he got to the place he couldn’t picture but would know nonetheless. Someday he would make it to wherever he was going, and then it would all make sense. He would finally understand why he had walked so far and never been able to stop.

Until then, the walking saint kept walking.


 Vacilando – Spanish (verb) – Traveling when the experience itself is more important than the destination.


Number 2 of the Lost in Translation series

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Signs of the Times

Motel Mt Whitney

A sign can take so many forms.  It can be a reminder, a rule, a law, or a warning. It can be a gesture, action, or graphic presentation meant to provide information or instructions. It can also indicate the probable presence or occurrence of something else, something unseen but to be expected.

The signs are all around us. I just wish I could figure out what they truly mean. I love taking pictures of signs, and have so many I could post hundreds.  But that would be a sign of something else.

Here is just a few.

Posted for the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Too Long in London

The day starts with you in front of a tube station in south London. You and your traveling partner, who has really started to get on your nerves recently, as the two of you nickel and dimed (euroed and franked) your way across certain parts of Europe for the past month. The hostels and camping had turned weary, tired, every night the beds less comfortable and home further away. It is the twenty-first of May, the day of your return flight to America. The plan is to take the tube to Heathrow airport, which for the both of you costs three more pounds than you can scrape together. You knew those last few pints the evening before had been a bad idea. Your last night abroad had been a beer filled celebration, but it was all a blur now.

It is eight in the morning, the bustle of a weekday London morning, the entrance to the London Underground a river of umbrellas and raincoats. Did I mention the rain? The both of you look the part of the greasy vagrant, unshaven backpackers begging money so you could catch the train to the airport. In half an hour you’d only scraped up a few schillings. Then one business-dressed lady stopped for a moment, having a bit of a problem closing her umbrella. Excuse me, you say. Do you have extra money so that we can make it to the airport and get home to America? After she manages to close her umbrella she turns to the two of you and has a long disappointed look at you.  So you’ll be leaving the country then, she asks. She agrees to give you money, all three pounds that you need. But before she hands it over, she makes you promise that you wouldn’t return to Britain. Ever.

So you purchase your fare and take the tube to Heathrow. On the map it looks like Heathrow is very close. Actually it feels hours away. Much like London, the train ride seems to go on forever. At Heathrow you stand in line for an hour at check-in. You study your tickets about fifty times while you wait. Nonstop, London to San Francisco, May 21st. You get to the counter and show the lady your tickets, relieved to have finally made it through all the obstacles, to verge so close to your homecoming. Then she tells you that your flight isn’t until tomorrow.

The 21st of May, you say.

Yes, today is the 20th

Rainy Day In London (by oatsy40 on Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

The Convenience of Paradise

You had come to Mexico to find paradise, but that was before you couldn’t make it home. Now you realize that paradise is a convenient place. In paradise there are flushing toilets with toilet seats. In paradise the coffee is hot and the beer is cold. In paradise there is electricity on demand and remote controls. In paradise there is cell phone reception and free wifi. In paradise there are familiar faces and hot showers. In paradise things come easier than they really should.

At some point the novelty of it begins to fade and the pining for convenience begins. Things that should be easy grow daily harder, and a hundred pesos suddenly feels like so much more than ten dollars. When it rains your stuff gets wet and never dries out again, ever. Perspiration and dirt cover all surfaces. Piles of rusty corona bottle caps are reproducing faster than the cockroaches. The humid breeze is the opposite of refreshing and actually makes it harder to breathe. Men with guns seem to be studying you closely despite your attempts to retain anonymity. The mosquitos swarm. The bathroom stinks. The sad excuse for a bed is a puddle of sweat. The tacos make your digestive system self destruct. All you want to do is go home and remember the easy convenience.

But every day home feels further and further away.

viva mexico


Daily Prompt: Let’s Go Crazy

(Not really impulse, but definitely going crazy)

The Road to Whitney Portal

It was spring break, and we had driven for hours in the rain. At some point as our elevation climbed the rain turned to sleet, something halfway between rain and snow. We drove though miles and miles of wasteland blurred by storm and fogged windows. But once we reached the backside of the mountain range the storm clouds disappeared suddenly. We had reached the desert, the rain shadow created by the jagged peaks we had just traversed. The clouds would unload all their water and snow and precipitous fury within the elevated peaks, and the clouds would evaporate into the atmosphere as soon as they passed, all their piss and vinegar beat out of them by the altitudes of the mountains. The sky was a piercing blue, but we could still see the clouds swirling into nothingness as they passed the snow covered peaks.  The mountains on either side of seemed to be growing taller and steeper, and the shadows longer and darker. Finally we reached our ultimate destination — The Motel Mt. Whitney in Lone Pine, CA.

Having been cooped up in a truck most of the day we all were anxious to get out on the road. One quick little excursion before dark. We unloaded the motorcycles from the trailer and made a quick check of the map. Less than ten miles from out current location we saw a jagged and enticing road that wound up the backside of Mt. Whitney named Whitney Portal. Though Mt. Whitney and surrounding peaks were still enshrouded in the remnants of the storm clouds, we could see the snow at the base. We didn’t know how far we could get, but decided to make the effort and set off through the upthrust boulder fields commonly known as the Eastern Sierras.

To give an idea of the topography of this place without a personal visit is difficult. The land has been folded into steep and jagged and dangerous looking shapes. Mount Whitney is the tallest point in the Continental U.S., and less than 100 miles away is Death Valley, the lowest point, and in between there are many other valleys and peaks. The landscape makes you feel very small and insignificant, and creates a sense of uneasy wonder as you ponder the forces that could create such rugged beauty.

When we reached the bottom of Whitney Portal Rd. we found it closed due to the extreme weather, so we turned around and went back to the Motel. All I could think was that it felt lucky somehow, like that icy, mountain road would have been nothing but heartbreak and trouble. I didn’t feel ready for such extreme adventure yet. Better to ease into such things. But I didn’t have long to acclimate. The destination the next day – Death Valley.

Welcome to paradise.


Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes

See more photos of the Eastern Sierras HERE

Weekly Photo Challenge – “Selfies”

“Your ego is not your amigo.” – Tony Alva

I take lots of photos, but rarely any featuring myself. Every once in a while a selfie sneaks into my photo roll, but it is never a direct attempt. I see my students take hundreds of selfies in the course of a few minutes. They exalt in the fact that the word “selfie” has been added to the official lexicon of the English language. I know because they tell me about it every time I question their motives. Sometimes it seems that their main purpose in possessing a powerful portable phone in their pocket is to take pictures of themselves and their friends. How many different pictures with pouty lips and finger signals can one person take? More and more it seems that kids are truly the centers of their own universes.

I like this challenge because it gives me a a chance to share some of the things I have done and continue doing, and some of the amazing places I have visited during my doings. But I will never be the center of my own photos, but rather a small and after thunk accent. Sometimes I think I take so many photos because I have such a horrible memory. The photograph stands of proof that I was there, and helps me remember all those moments muddled in the memory banks. Why the hell do I need to be in it? I took the photo after all, didn’t I? I was there somewhere. I may not remember taking the photo, but it got on my camera somehow.

And despite my best attempts to quell my ego and lose myself in the moment, these photos stand as proof that even during my attempts to stay hidden, the evil amigo sometimes makes an appearance. I must try to remember that I am not the center of the known universe, despite the illusion of such provided by my unique and limited vantage point. 

Easier said than done.