ADVENTURE JOURNAL SPAIN
Dear Adventurers, In case you are looking for something to do these summer days, here are a few free events at the Eighth Street Trekkers’ Lodge for your calendar. You and your friends are invited! Trek or bike or drive over for a tour of the Lodge and a virtual tour of the high Himalayas and the wonderful, magical Kingdom of Nepal. Then while we have you seated and comfortable, we’ll sign you up for the next trip! (Don’t worry, no obligation to travel, just relax and enjoy and imagine the possibilities!)
Thursday, July 10 at 8:00 PM The Vacation of a Lifetime: Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel tour operator, Heather O’Neal, gives an entertaining slide and video-illustrated talk about traveling in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal and trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Learn how to create the vacation of a lifetime. 8:00 PM at The Eighth Street Trekkers’ Lodge B&B, 120 Eighth St. (at Washington), Ann Arbor. FREE. (734) 369-3107.
Friday, July 25 at 8:00 PM Altitude: The Story of the First Cancer Survivor to Climb Mt. Everest. (Heather O’Neal, 2002) Documentary movie (45 min). Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel company owner O’Neal’s inspirational documentary of intrepid Colorado climber Sean Swarner. FREE. 8:00 PM at The Eighth Street Trekkers’ Lodge B&B, 120 Eighth Street (at Washington), Ann Arbor, Michigan. FREE. (734) 369-3107.
Thursday, August 7, 2003 The Vacation of a Lifetime, a repeat performance of July 10 above.
Friday, August 22, 2003 Altitude, a repeat performance of July 25 above.
Treks Have I confused you yet? I have two treks lined up for this fall. Please call for details. It’s not too late. This is the plan for October/November in Nepal:
Trek to Jomsom This trip is a two week tour with an 8-10 day trek in the Annapurna region west of Kathmandu. After sightseeing and touring around the capital city, Kathmandu, and through other towns and villages, we will begin trekking to the town of Jomsom at about 12,000 feet. Part two of this trip will be a 4-5 day visit to Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama of Tibet now lives in exile. Join us for the trek October 6 to October 20 and Dharmsala October 20 to 25, 2003.
Trek to Everest My second adventure will include a 10-15 day trek to Kalapathar at 18,300 feet and Mt. Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. We will first tour around the Kathmandu Valley and then fly to Lukla at 9,000 feet to begin the trek. Surround yourself in a symphony of Himalayan peaks. Join us for this trip October 27 to November 16, 2003.
It’s not too late. Space is limited. Travel is safe.
South Asian Documentary Film Festival I will be in Kathmandu for the South Asia Documentary Film Festival September 25 to 28. I have submitted, Altitude (see July 25 above), to this festival. Whether or not my film is accepted, I cannot wait to see the other South Asian documentaries!
The Of Global Interest Random Acts of Kindness Fund While in Nepal we will have over $700 in the Of Global Interest Random Acts of Kindness Fund with which to spend on random acts of kindness at schools, hospitals, orphanages or other. Come to Nepal and help me spend it!
Friday, July 18, Art Fair, 2:00 to 6:00 PM I’ll be reading palms on Main Street in front of Crazy Wisdom Book Store. Stop by between 2 and 6 PM to see if there is any vacation time in your future.
Saturday, July 19, 10:00 to 5:00 PM The Himalayan Bazaar in my Garage will be open for business. You’ll find a little bit of Kathmandu here in Ann Arbor, imports from Nepal and more. Park in the neighborhood and stop by on your way to the Art Fair.
Now an adventure from Spain:
Barcelona, May 2003 Visions of Spain are still dancing in my head. It doesn’t take much to recall standing on one of many narrow stone steps leading high into the heavens, almost above the clouds (though there were none), hundreds of feet above the tiny tour busses and taxis waiting in the street below. It was a God-like view of the world. I looked down on the miniature town as if in a low-flying plane. Only moments before, I was emerging from the subway. The view from the Metro stairs leading to the street level was awesome.
I can’t describe it. The city sprawls for miles at the base of this monstrous creation. It stands as a beacon of one man’s imagination. It is a cathedral, actually he calls it a church, made of stone but shaped like wet sand with towers and spires and stained glass and heavy stone columns and thin needle-like supports — both modern and old, calm and busy, elegant and clumsy. The tiny stairs circled upwards, almost in darkness, meeting narrow passageways that connected one tower to the other and to more passageways, small rooms and outdoor bridges that held the spires together and where the views caused traffic jams. Candy colored tiles crowned the tippy-tops of more than eight of these giant round and narrow towers.
The place is still under construction even after 100 years. The huge cranes and pulleys are dizzying as they beam from areas that still have no roof. An hour in this church and one’s religion changes. It will make you think and wonder about how far an idea, a dream, one’s imagination, can go. This is the “Segrada Familia”, the greatest work of the “Modernismo” architect Antonio Gaudi. His other creations are equally awe-inspiring. Many, like candy houses, decorate these streets. You’ll find inhabitable art like this church, homes and apartments and a well-designed park on the hill here in Barcelona, a large city on the northeast coast of Spain.
This is the land of “tapas” bars (sounds like topless), street cafes and street performers. From the hotel we walked a few narrow medieval alleyways to the “Ramblas”, the large walking street that connects the Mediterranean port at one end with the rest of the city at the other. Here crowds of people ramble along with an ice cream cone, a lovers hand, a child and his sister in a wagon, a grandparent in a wheel chair and a very care free attitude. Near the huge market where everyone in the city gets their groceries, you will see performers standing still, completely still — until your Euro coin ($1.20) hits the coffee can. Then they move, squeaky in their shoes, they might aim the bow and arrow, fold the newspaper or wield a magic wand. These people are usually painted head to toe, even some a metallic bronze, looking so perfectly like whomever they sought to represent.
The most popular man was dressed in white with a white hat, his skin painted completely white. He sat on a porcelain toilet. (I don’t know how he got it there.) Others were dressed as beasts and Michael Jackson or politicians. Two enchanting fairies sat together wearing glitter and wings. A cowboy and an Indian stood side by side. Dinner at one restaurant in particular was an experience. We got there early since a long line was sure to form once they opened. This place must have been plugged into an endless energy source — food maybe. We sat at stools without knowing just what to order. It seemed this was the way to do it. I asked for the vegetarian option and the others ordered seafood or meat, and soon we were off on a culinary journey not to forget.
Busy and quick, the waiters gracefully danced around each other in the narrow space behind the bar while cooking up the most amazing dishes and aromas. Steam and smoke mesmerized the customers. Each, maybe twenty patrons with twenty more waiting behind them, sat on stools along the counter as the waiters synchronized their stirring, chopping, tossing, pouring, blending on the other side. Between each place mat on the counter was a bottle of red or white wine. My bottle was white and my glass was never empty. One attentive man wearing a white chef’s suit filled my little glass to the rim after every sip. He must have marked the bottle at the start and at the end of every dinner served that night. One pays, not by the glass, but by the amount of wine missing from the bottle at the end of your meal. The deep fried artichokes were better than French fries! You can try “pan con tomate” in your kitchen. (Toast thick bread and sprinkle salt on top. Then rub the cut end of a clove of garlic into the crunchy surface. Then rub the cut end of a tomato into the crunchy surface over the garlic and salt. Pour generous amounts of olive oil on top. Mmmm.)
I led two Of Global Interest trips this spring to Spain. The first was with Gena Fine, my first two-time traveler(!). She and I were together for 18 days. We mainly toured Spain but also spent a day in (on the rock of) Gibraltar, crossed the Straights of Gibraltar by ship and explored Morocco for three days. My second tour was with Marcy and Donald Gray. The three of us spent 12 days together in Spain with one day of serious bike riding. In my next adventure journals, I will describe a few of the highlights of these tours. Thanks for reading. Happy Summer!
Heather O’Neal Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel Ann Arbor, Michigan (734) 369-3107 www.ofglobalinterest.com
Part 2 – South to Granada, Sent August 21, 2003
Hello Adventurers, I discovered something. Go to google.com and type ‘of global interest LLC’. Then hit “I’m Feeling Lucky”, and you’ll be on your way to experiencing the world.
EVENTS Of Global Interest: PARTY Saturday, August 23, 8:00 PM. Of Global Interest Summer Celebration. Help revel in a successful season at the B&B, honor past and present Of Global Interest travelers and trekkers, AND clear a space in the Himalayan Bazaar for new imports coming this fall. Everything 25-50% off. See you at the Trekkers’ Lodge, 120 Eighth Street. (734) 369-3107.
Friday, August 22 and again Friday, September 12, 2003 at 8:00 PM. Altitude: The Story of the First Cancer Survivor to Climb Mt. Everest. Documentary movie, 45 min. Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel company owner’s inspirational documentary of intrepid Colorado climber Sean Swarner. The Eighth Street Trekkers’ Lodge B&B, 120 Eighth Street (at Washington), Ann Arbor, MI. FREE. (734) 369-3107.
The next Of Global Interest world tours: Trek to Jomsom, October 6 to October 20, a two week tour in Nepal. After sightseeing and visiting the capital city, Kathmandu, we fly west to Pokhara and the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. We will trek to the town of Jomsom and Muktinath at 12,500 feet.
Part two of this trip will be a 5 day visit to Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama of Tibet now lives in exile. October 20 to 25, 2003.
Then back in Nepal, trek to Everest, October 27 to November 16, 2003. This trip includes a 10-15 day hike to Kalapathar at 18,300 feet and Mt. Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. We will tour the Kathmandu Valley before flying to Lukla at 9,000 feet to begin the trek. This trail leads to the tallest mountains in the world . . . The Of Global Interest Random Acts of Kindness Fund now contains $716. Help me spend it on random acts of kindness and worthy causes! The Fund benefits children and families in Nepal.
Future Treks: Next spring Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel has the opportunity to be part of another Everest expedition. We have permission to stay at Everest base camp with the climbers. Space on this ‘Everest Base Camp Support Team’ is limited. Travel is safe.
How about a trip to New Zealand next spring? What about Hungary?
OTHER EVENTS Of Global Interest: Thursday, August 14, 1:00 PM. “Khate: The Street Children of Nepal” by Julia Yezbick. 12 minute documentary movie and discussion. Basement of Rackham Building. Saturday, August 23, 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM come downtown for JAZZ FOR LUNCH, Featuring Trio Indigo at the Firefly Club, 207 S. Ashley. ALL proceeds will benefit the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. $20 donation, $10 for students. Tickets available at the door. www.a2.blues.jazzfest.org. Sunday, September 14, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. First annual Kerrytown District BookFest at the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market. A colorful mix of book sellers, book artists, author readings, demonstrations, storytellers (yes, stories about traveling in Nepal), music, food, antique book appraisals and more. www.kerrytownbookfest.org.
And don’t forget at noon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday YOU can play the bells in the tower at Kerrytown Market and Shops between Fourth and Fifth Ave at Kingsley. You cannot do this in Nepal, nor anywhere else in the world except Ireland maybe. . .
Now more adventures from Spain: South to Granada, May 2003
I still feel the rattling, jolting and persistent swaying of the train. I was trying to sleep in the narrow top bunk. The train was moving at high speeds, riding along metal, maybe rusty, rails. At times a loud and long sque-e-e-e-ak grounded all sleeping passengers to a halt as the train came into a station.
Even in the dead of night, the stations were bustling. Night travelers crept on and off our train like the changing of the guard. The door to the couchette swung wide open, flooding the room with dim light from the hall. I heard whispers, shuffles and adjustments, then it was only the sound of the train again and back to blackness. One couchette mate was from Somalia. It was almost like a hotel — actually more like a dorm room on wheels, with four bunks in each.
Twelve hours of Spanish countryside passed by in the blur of a cryptic dream, then the sun was coming up over the olive orchards outside the window, now in southern Spain. Traveling down the eastern coast along the Mediterranean Sea, we had arrived in Granada.
This town is full of several hundred cobblestone alleys in a tangled web, winding around two and three story whitewashed houses. It is always my desire to get lost in such streets. And it is also equally satisfying to find the way out again. But here the Alhambra looms over the opposite horizon like a compass, pointing the way back to the hotel.
We stayed at the cutest hotel with a green garden patio where breakfast was served. A medieval princess would have been quite at home here. The location made it even lovelier, right smack in the middle of the Alhambra itself, the ancient Moorish fort that guards the hill overlooking the quaint whitewashed town. The white peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in the distance make things even more romantic. Every nationality had come to see the Alhambra, meaning long lines and only a few tickets. Mind you, your tour leader was busy claiming her territory in a culture where cutting runs wild. We managed to tour along with several hundred other digital, regular and video cameras. (In my mind I saw stacks of photos spilling off tables around the world a few weeks later.) Still the place was beautiful, with ornately designed Islamic carvings glorifying every ceiling. The central patio of the palace with its delicate one hundred-plus columns brought the fairyland past to real life. This is supposedly the most visited (and maybe the most photographed) monument in Europe.
A day later we were on another short train ride heading on to new sights in Ronda. Someday I will buy a house in Ronda and be the innkeeper of a little B&B near the Guadalevin River by the old bridge. This innocent waterway is a mighty one. It has carved a 330 foot gorge that is an awesome site. The ancient people liked such places, high on hilltops that were hard to get to. In 1793 the New Bridge was built, finally uniting the two sides of the town. Today this bridge is an incredible work of art. Looking down from its sides into the gorge makes anyone dizzy. I wondered if dogs found as much pleasure in such spectacles as humans did. I saw two dogs walking with their owners, struggling to peer over the side.
One day while in Ronda, Donald Gray and I went for an amazing bike ride. Our guide was Raqel. She brought the bikes and the bike helmets. Soon we were off down a narrow, paved country road which had actually been an old train route before World War II. At some point the metal in the tracks had to be pulled up, shipped off and melted down for ammunition and bomber planes. Where in the big world is that metal now? We didn’t think too much about it and instead rode and rode and cycled and cycled, faster and slower, over a few bridges and through several tunnels.
I had a good time filming action footage while pedaling no-handed with the video camera rolling inside tunnels. One was almost a mile long. Though this one had lights, some didn’t. I found my heart rushing to keep balanced on two wheels in the dark. Have you ever ridden a bike with your eyes closed? Don’t try it. So much work had gone into this old rail line. The tunnels were serious, about one every mile. It was all just for us, almost 35 miles of smooth, wonderful Spanish countryside. We only passed two other bikers the whole day.
A few days later on our way to Morocco, Gena Fine and I found ourselves in a town very close to Gibraltar. The lure of this rock positioned magnificently in the straights between Spain and Africa meant we had to go. It is a strategic military position and a quaint, historic town owned by England. Maybe you have heard of the apes that live on top of this rock? We drove up in a taxi to see them.
The younger tourists were there first and were disrespectfully feeding and even holding these wild animals. I was hoping one young man in particular would get bitten! Other monkeys were eating garbage out of the trash cans by the side of the road. Tony Blair should do something about this, the poor monkeys.
The roads at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar were narrow, only one-ways, with cliffs descending at steep angles to the ocean. This rock was impressive. The military officials during World War II must have loved it. England will never give it up, nor will she ever share it with Spain.
The shops and restaurants in the main town took English pounds rather than euros like in Spain. The main walking street paved the busy center. At the restaurant where we had lunch, we met a couple from Texas who were touring on a cruise ship. They had a few hours in Gibraltar and would be back on the boat at six for the night.
Gena and I didn’t have nearly enough time to understand and appreciate Morocco fully. Several weeks of travel time, perhaps even years would have been nice. As it was we only had three days. The countryside is so similar to Spain, with rolling fields of olive trees. And the Moroccan influence on Spain was now totally obvious. However the Moroccan culture is very different from that in Spain. The people speak French, most are Muslim rather than Catholic and all the guide books said, “Watch out for hustlers.”
To get there from Spain, we hopped aboard a large industrial transit ship that took us two hours across the Straights of Gibraltar over to Africa. At the other side, near the port in the town of Tangier we managed to hail a cab and were soon at the train station with Blair, a man we befriended on the ship. What were the chances? He was from Lansing! The train took us on a five hour journey south to a city called Fes. Next time I’m in Morocco, I want to go to Marrakech, several more hours from Fes.
The highlight was exploring the “Medina” in Fes, the market area. Talk about streets being tangled, it was more like knotted thread here. Amazing. A donkeys carrying large loads were one of many hazards. Kids rough housing in the two-inch space between you and the alley walls were also to watch out for. The locals passed smiling, as if saying, look at our charming children. I was worried the ancient and colorful tile work near the edge of one fountain might crumble to pieces as a boy slammed his friend up against it in a Hollywood-type scene. Perhaps I have never watched boys at play in such close quarters. Girls with dollhouses are different.
We learned that every Muslim town should have five public places, the mosque, the bath, the market, the university and the bakery. We stopped to watch the men at the bakery where they bake all the bread for the neighborhood. The houses in this area were too small for big stone ovens. Thus, everyone shared the two huge ovens in the center of town. Youngsters brought trays of dough covered with the family tea-towel. This was the signature of the loaf. When the youngster returned later, she would look for the family cloth and know which bread was theirs.
Morocco was interesting. I will have to go back. Travel is safe.
Heather O’Neal Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel Ann Arbor, Michigan (734) 369-3107 www.ofglobalinterest.com
Part 3 – Seville, Madred and los Pyraneeos – Sent September 21, 2003
Of Global Interest: The Of Global Interest Random Acts of Kindness Fund now contains $1,091.00 (!). During my next trip to Nepal (Sept. 23 – Nov. 17), my trekkers and I will spend this on random acts of kindness and worthy causes! The Fund benefits children and families in Nepal.
Final Adventures from Spain:
Seville, May 2003 The sun is shining and the sky is clear. Colors are vivid and all the Spaniards are dressed impeccably. Some weddings seem to be happening. At every church, rose petals pave the stone steps by the main doors. At one church the bride and groom stand arm in arm. The photographer doesn’t work hard to keep them smiling.
There are so many oranges, bright orange dots in the orange trees lining almost every street. The main cathedral looms large in the central plaza, sprawling historical bliss, architects of the past eager for us to call them mad! And that they were indeed, designing such an indoor and outdoor space of darkness with light, every nook and cranny made of stone! This one in Seville is the largest in all of Europe, so some books say. Inside this stone cathedral, two columns seem to be held together with scaffolding that towers to the ceiling. One hopes such things don’t fall while one is there. Earthquakes are an instant concern as well. Perhaps those columns have several more hundred years worth of engineering value in them, but should they crack or crumble, one small chip means disaster — a nervous prospect when the ceiling is 200 feet above one’s head.
While you’re there, you must climb high into the bell tower, up the ramp, just wide enough for a horse to pull a cart. This was how the HUGE bronze bells got to their perch. The view from the top is nice! We see Christopher Columbus’ tomb, a dark casket guilded with riches from the new world, held high in the air by four bronze pallbearer statues, one at each corner. The toes of these figures are polished so clean by the visitors like me who value the supposed good luck attained when rubbing them.
Every time I am in Seville, I find myself strolling the promenade along this river near the Moorish minaret. The Rio Guadalquivir, I can hardly pronounce it, is famous. This was the river that Mr. Christopher Columbus himself came up with a ship full of treasures! Your history books won’t tell you he brought solid objects of heavy gold in the shape of corn-on-the-cob and beans and other important symbols of food, gifts from the Incan gods. At one point long ago in Spain, someone melted that corn to create the intricate, ornate chalices, crowns and Christian crosses that decorate all Spanish cathedrals today. I like spending most of my time exploring alleys in an attempt to connect familiar courtyards and plazas in the old neighborhoods here. Seville is a very magical and romantic city this way. Leisurely walks are the best form of entertainment. You’ll find yourself in gardens belonging to palaces, along boulevards and in parks and more often, sipping Schwepps Limon in the sunshine at outdoor cafes.
Then one day we’re on the high speed train, gliding basically on air, hovering over the tracks. The eight hour journey from Seville to Madrid by car, takes only two on this train. It is a futuristic link. We are going ahead in time. Madrid was just like it was when I lived there a few years ago. I was happy to know my way around so well. The same streets jogged my memory. I had fun walking on my own. We visited the usual sights, the big museums like the Prado and the one that has Picasso’s Guenerica. This time, while gazing at this super large work of art, I was thinking. Mostly gray and white, this painting tells the horror story of the Basque town in northern Spain that Hitler bombed with fighter planes — as target practice in 1937.
I organized two tours to Spain last May. Both were a success. While on my own between trips, I explored the Pyrenees, the mountains in the north of Spain. After a long train and bus ride, I found the town I was looking for. It was small and NO ONE was there, much like a ghost town! According to my guide book, there was a Refugio (a Trekkers’ Lodge in Spanish) near the French border in this town of Torla. So quaint, I want to take you there. At the Refugio I was the only visitor and slept in the bottom bunk of one of eight bunk beds that were in that particular room. There were more rooms and several more beds elsewhere. I had the bathroom all to my self, five shower stalls, four sinks and four toilets.
I could only imagine the clunking of large hiking boots going up and down the wooden stairs and the muddy tile floors and the snores all night long in that Refugio during the high season. But on this night I was alone, all alone, somehow happily alone. The next morning, I visited the small grocery store in the alleyway outside the Refugio. I bought some lunch, fresh bread, cheese, a tomato and some interesting-looking trail mix with dried banana slices. I ate that up right away. After asking a few locals and referring to my guide book, I found the trail to Ordessa National Park. This area had been recommended by a Spanish friend, and it was my dream to be here finally. Every book, brochure and mountain guide said, never hike alone. They said there could be severe storms at any moment, and I was thoroughly advised to take rain gear, hiking boots and other equipment — just in case. Did I listen? Not exactly.
Sure enough, when I was at least four miles from civilization and in the midst of the most beautiful cliff-faced mountain canyon, the thunder cloud eased its way in and settled directly over my head. It seemed to follow me, to be going my same speed, to be after me in some way. Lightening almost struck a little too close. I could see the light, as if a physical object were there — then gone in the valley next to me. And yes, I found some lasting thrill in this. At first, I kicked myself for not heeding the warnings. Even the huge sign at the park entrance said, “Enter at your own risk!” in Spanish. I entered, and I suffered only for a second. Then I was bravely skipping freely through the storm. I wrote poems in my head about walking with the river. It was loud and rambunctious at my heels when I started and then it dove down to the valley floor as I danced along the trail. Ascending higher, I thought I had lost my river friend, when it reappeared again next to me, along side my trail. I took one short detour to witness the raging waterfall that lifted it so quickly. The river and I were side by side the rest of the way. Beyond the trees, the trail led to a large parking lot.
I pondered hitchhiking back to my Refugio. There were not too many cars but some. The drivers all looked at me with pity as I was drenched head to toe, but no one stopped to offer me shelter. The rain was letting up, and I was hoping the sun would shine. It didn’t. For a while, at the crossroads of some very spectacular mountains and valleys, I paused under a picnic roof. The floor was gravel, no picnic benches, why? Just gravel. I sat anyway. The cars didn’t seem to notice me. I smiled a few times, then gave up. I had walked here, about six miles, traveling on my own two feet through the pouring thunder clouds. Should I hike six miles back on the trail? Maybe it would stop raining.
After passing several giant finger-size slugs! on the trail, and by the time I was at least a mile from the parking lot, the rain and thunder began to pound, full force again. I decided to make the most of my journey. I soaked up all the rain, shook my hair like a dog and skipped like a school girl without a care in the world — all the way home — at times flinching as lightening cracked so loud and near. When I was within sight of the village of Torla, the sun was finally shining again, birds chirping, sheep grazing. This was the Spain one reads about. Mountains in the backdrop, a cobblestone trail gurgling along a beautiful stream, rolling green fields dotted with colorful wild flowers and parting clouds in the sky that looked like the sheep in the fields. I was happy my cameras were still functioning even after all the rain. I was soaked.
Back at the Refugio, I put my wet clothes on the radiator that was blasting out heat. I put on dry clothes and went out on the town. I had two dishes of Spanish olives and one dish of Spanish almonds for dinner that night all alone at a bar. It was the only place open in town. I paused to savor a very satisfying feeling.
Heather O’Neal Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel Ann Arbor, Michigan (734) 369-3107 www.ofglobalinterest.com