Nepal and Spain 2019

A destination seems more special when the journey is more strenuous. Getting to Nepal was not excruciating (nothing compared to barfing your guts out on a wind-powered boat for months as was en vogue in old times) but with an eleven-hour layover in Istanbul, it felt a bit layered getting there.

People are not meant to stay in an airport for 11 hours. There’s only so many times you can go to the food court and think about what you will eat when it’s time to eat. After hour four, you start to enter this Andy Dufresne prisoner mode of thinking “maybe I’ll start tunneling through this wall to see where it goes.” More accurately, you literally become Tom Hank’s character Viktor Navorski in The Terminal where he lands in JFK airport to discover his passport is no longer valid since the tiny country he is from dissolved during his flight. While immigration officials figure out what to do with him, he’s forced to wander the airport terminal for several days. Soon he figures out the patterns and rhythms of airport life and creates a funny micro life in the confines of the terminal.

Similarly, by the end, I had a good feel of the Istanbul international terminal. I knew where everything was. I knew where the good food places were. I saw the level of anger a janitor shows when a complete idiot tries to smoke a cigarette in a bathroom stall. I discovered if you find an empty departure gate, you have roughly 45-70 minutes to fall asleep there before it starts to get crowded with passengers waiting for their flight. This last discovery led me to finding an empty gate, reading for a short while, falling asleep for 15-45 minutes, waking up to lots of people around me, and then leaving to find another empty gate. I can conservatively say that I took naps in about 70% of Istanbul’s International Terminal gates. Other people appeared to be doing the same thing which meant you may cross paths with the same travelers every third gate or so. Hopefully this will be as close as I get to being homeless.

For good measure, once up in the air, the Istanbul – Kathmandu leg of my trip was lengthened a couple hours due to an unplanned extension of the flight path followed by too much air traffic at Kathmandu. The latter caused us to circle over Katmandu Valley for 40 minutes, granting us rich views of the Himalayas and Everest multiple times. The reason the flight path was extended was that we were forced to avoid Pakistani airspace. In February, terrorists from Pakistan set off an attack in the Indian city of Pulwama which led India to launch a strike on a terrorist camp in Pakistan which led to a failed Pakistani retaliation. All of this escalation caused a closure of Pakistani airspace, causing delays and longer flights.

When I exited the airport, I got a wonderful vibe from the people. They seemed to have that easygoing, balanced, genuine nature I have seen in Thailand and the Philippines…all countries that have no desire for world domination or at least the domination of their neighbors. The staff at Kathmandu Embassy Hotel was precious as was Nirmal, the owner who also ran the travel/tour agency that arranged my entire trip. I believe he should feel compelled to create an ab workout called Ab-Nirmal: “Ab-Nirmal…if you want abs that are so toned, they’re ABnormal, then you need Ab-Nirmal!”

The following morning I ate breakfast on the hotel’s roof top eating area. As I ate, I watched the morning’s fog slowly get replaced by a haze of dust and pollution. After eating, Nirmal offered to give me a ride to the neighborhood of Thamel on the back of his small motorbike, allowing me to become the white American date he never had or wanted.

As we rode along, I felt like a blood cell flowing through a series of veins, appreciating all the near misses that were not upgraded to collisions. We crossed over a main road into Thamel and motored our way through a network of tight shop-lined streets that gave an overall sensation of eating your way through a Pac Man board. Thamel was the place to go before your trek. It’s loaded with tour guides and shops that sell and rent hiking gear. I bought a winter coat, pair of trekking poles, and water purification tablets for about $70.

Upon the recommendation of many, I walked west and then up to Swayambhunath, a temple home to Buddhists, Hindus, and monkeys. There were monkeys climbing all over this site, probably feeding off the tourists. Less cute and more irritating was another pest who also feeds off tourists. A young man approached me at the base of the long stairway to the temple. He said he worked at the temple and began to explain the place in detail. A couple minutes in and about 100 steps up, I asked, “Who pays you to work here? The government?”

“No,” he said, “people like you do. I asked him how much but he would not answer definitively. I didn’t like where this was headed so I gave him 200 rupees and thanked him for his time. He was upset by this, saying I was supposed to pay him more. I advised him in the future to communicate his system more clearly to people before initiating a guided tour and proceeded up the stairs.

Kathmandu from Swayambhunath

I eventually walked back to Thamel and met Nirmal in his travel guide office. While we chatted, a Swiss man of about 50 named Andy walked in and greeted us. He had known Nirmal for over 20 years and was one of so many westerners that make annual and biannual pilgrimages to Nepal. I told Andy that I visited Zurich and Stein Am Rhein years ago. I commented how picturesque Stein Am Rhein was which caused Andy to reflect on how unfortunate it was that due to its close proximity to Germany, the US accidentally bombed it in WWII. I said I was sorry. He laughed.

As I looked around, I marveled at this robust tourist business that slowly came to life after 1950, following the removal of the Rana regime which essentially opened Nepal up to the world. Before 1950, electricity was only to be found in Kathmandu Valley. Outside the valley, there was no electricity, literacy rates of 2-5%, and a massive death rate. No exaggeration is made when people say that before the 1950’s, most of Nepal was living in a Medieval environment.

One of Nirmal’s employees became woeful when pointing to the Chinese businesses moving in. He expressed the frustration of being a landlocked country caught between the two larger, more powerful countries of China and India, forcing his country to master a balancing act that would maximize good will from each neighbor while minimizing their disdain.

The next morning I took a taxi to the airport and boarded a toy airplane that looked like it was old enough to be used in an Indiana Jones film. And I know this because there was an ashtray next to my seat. I think the last time you could smoke on a plane you could also unethically pat a woman’s behind or drink in front of your boss at the office and suffer no ill consequences. If you’re trying to frighten the feces out of your customers, having ashtrays in your plane is scarier than having an engine blow out over an area flooded with hostile terrorists.

Eat it, Indiana Jones
Nobody fart.
A well placed fan to blow your stinky used butts right onto you.

On takeoff, the pilot did the usual propeller plane parlor trick of applying the brakes, revving the engines, and then releasing the brakes so the plane shot down the runway with a nice pop. The 25-minute flight was flanked by the dry plains on the left and the snow-covered Himalayas on the right.

Down on the ground in Pokhara, I was picked up by a taxi and driven to my hotel where I met my Sherpa guide Lakpa. This easygoing, smiley chap of 43 has the distinction of successfully climbing Everest. I asked him if he’d like to go back to this peak and he quickly said no. He no longer does dicey mountain ascents and instead does trekking only. And I thought I was tough for climbing onto a roof to fix a shingle one time but apparently not.

The two of us walked along the edge of Phewa Lake over to a small restaurant patronized predominantly by locals. After eating, a Tibetan craft lady showed me her wares (that was not meant to be filthy) so I purchased several items for my people. As a gift, she tied a friendship bracelet to my wrist and to Lakpa’s wrist. The trek had not even begun and it was already wrought with awkward dangers.

A view of the lake and my friendship bracelet,
If you need to connect two phone wires, make sure to dangle the connection outside of a hole in the wall, precisely behind where a hotel guest would place their head while sleeping.

After waking at 5:30 AM, I got myself together and met Lakpa in the lobby. Our intent was to head to the airport and board another tiny and probably old plane and fly 25 minutes to Jomsom where our trek would begin. Flying to Jomsom is a bit squirrelly due to its robust elevation in the Himalayas. You can’t fly in or out of this mountain town after 10AM since after this time, almost every day, high winds arrive. If it happens to be windy before and up to 9AM, all flights will be cancelled. Today was such a day so we were forced to remain in Pokhara at least one more day. This was not the worst thing in the world since the weather in Jomsom was 32 degrees and snowing while Pokhara was a sunny, dry 75 degrees.

After a large meal, we walked down to the shore of Lake Phewa and rented a colorful wooden boat that we paddled around the lake for a few hours. I even swam in these fresh waters purely for good measure. On the opposite shore, we parked our boat next to a restaurant that commanded a sterling view of the lake and small city. Lakpa and I shared a beer and I asked him more about his successful Everest climb. He told me it took a few weeks to get to the top due to acclimatization issues that forced the party to go up and back down when someone developed altitude sickness. Lakpa said if it was just him and another Sherpa, they could have climbed Everest much more quickly.

A couple of bums.

Lakpa then shared an amazing piece of information about his ancestry with me: the brother of his grandfather is none other than Tenzing Norgay. Along with Edmund Hillary, he was the first to officially climb Everest in 1953. I’m sure Lakpa’s Great Uncle was rolling in his grave as his Sherpa relative spent the day canoeing instead of trekking.

The next morning our flight to Jomson was again cancelled due to impudent weather conditions. Tomorrow will be the third time we drive down to the airport and attempt this flight. I tried to explain to Lakpa how this repetitive airport/flight cancellation business was like the movie Groundhog Day but this accurate reference fell upon deaf ears. In fact, Lakpa had no idea who Bill Murray was. Upon reflection, perhaps I could have likened our experience to a rejected narrative of HBO’s Westworld, a show where android hosts exist in various repetitive story lines in a large-scale amusement park for the enjoyment of the guests. 

We have only been in Pokhara a couple days and have already racked up a large number of taxi rides due to the back and forth from the airport. I swear that each taxi we get in is smaller than the last.

Nothing to do with his lack of familiarity with Bill Murray, I told Lakpa I would enjoy having separate rooms (we shared a room the previous night and tentatively continued to do so going forward). I stressed the fact of how great of a roommate he was but it was the fact I had trouble sleeping through his snoring (he claimed to never snore which means his wife is extremely deaf or is extremely patient or sleeps in another room). His snoring at times had me thinking that someone was choking him to death. This was followed by a sound that resembled Darth Vader’s crippled breathing after he sustains heavy electrical damage from manhandling the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. There may also have been a few rogue sleep farts but who the hell is keeping score in such matters? It would be monumentally hypocritical of me to complain about these nocturnal winds.

In any event, given all this, it was clear to me that all the friendship bracelets in the world could not keep us together as roommates.

With another pristine day in the mid 70’s, being in Pokhara was not the worst thing in the world. This time we decided to rent a couple bikes and cycle up 350 meters in elevation to the Shanti Stupa where we were furnished with varsity views pf Lake Phewa, Pokhara and the jacked Himalayas behind. Our ride took us through some mildly hectic, extremely non-touristy roadways. The way back proved to be busier with all kinds of vehicles beeping their way past us. My favorite was courageously entering a roundabout loaded with motorbikes, scooters, cars, and trucks. For fun, there were even a few cows walking against traffic in the middle of the roundabout.

Later on I saw a young cow lying in the middle of a very busy road with traffic buzzing by it in both directions. Cows seemed to walk aimlessly all over the country. Lakpa reminded me that due to the Nepalese belief that cows are sacred, they are rarely eaten here. Perhaps these dim animals are just bright enough to know this and feel empowered to the point of screwing with human transportation.

Pokhara to the right, Lake Phewa front and center, and the Himalayas in the background…just where I left them.
For those of you that know my dear friend and former sketch comedy partner Nate Johnson, here’s what he would look like if he wore eyeglasses, a mustache and was a Nepalese shop owner.

I would be remiss if I did not share two important observations with you:

1) Two or three years ago while in the Philippines, I suffered a rare moment of profound enlightenment. After losing sleep and hope to the sounds of so many barking dogs, I suddenly realized that my travels have taught me something unnervingly accurate: the more “worlds” your country has, the more barking dogs per capita will be found (see graph below that I drew while in Philippines). Nepal has supported this theory so strongly that I now believe it must be an “Eighth World” country. I know this is impossible since I believe that anything over a Third World does not exist. This means perhaps there is another factor at play that has escaped me. Regardless, I struggle to convey just how many dogs are barking in this country. And what makes it even more special is that many of these dogs love to save up the majority of their barking power for human sleeping hours. The hotel we stayed at last night, the New United Hotel, was perhaps the first night’s sleep not betrayed by this irritating chorus.

2) People love spitting here. I know spitting happens all over the world but here it nears being an institution. If spitting is sex, the courtship that precedes it would certainly be the loud hocking noise present in almost all spitting engagements here. You can hear the hocking start from far away. It is so passionate you are convinced this is the last spit that this person has been allowed to make. This may all sound a bit base but they somehow do it in a way that does not give off an air of poor manners. What’s  more, they make every effort to spit in street gutters where no one will step.

The next morning I was up at 4AM. Today would be our third attempt at flying to Jomsom. We arrived at the airport before it opened so we waited outside the main gate. I foolishly set my bag down on top of a concrete barrier that was one of two that bordered each side of a short concrete bridge that spanned over a three-foot drainage gutter designed to divert a natural tiny stream. Either one of us bumped into the bag or gravity had its way for I soon found myself running down to the stream eight feet below where my bag was bathing. I then straddled the little stream like an aging gymnast and pulled my bag out. Fortunately I was able to get my clothes out and into Lakpa’s bag before anything got wet and as it turned out, the water was not as smelly and foul as I imagined. Feeling better about this mild annoyance, I went ahead and assumed my backpack was not marinated in fecal matter and yak urine and continued to use it.

The backpack gods may have been frowning on me this day but the deadly mountain flight gods were most certainly smiling. Our flight was finally clear to leave and 25 minutes after takeoff, we were gently landing in Jomson. Twenty-five minutes. The bus ride would have taken over ten brutal hours.

After eating breakfast at a charming restaurant, we walked three hours to Kagbeni where we stayed the night. Walking around this captivating little village, I noticed stacks of wood that lined the edges of the rooves on most of the houses. Lakpa confirmed that the wood was used as firewood but these piles served another purpose: they were also a sort of status symbol. A house with more wood on its roof is viewed as more prosperous.

Leaving Jomsom.
Just when those millennials thought they extinguished every Applebees from the planet, I found one they missed in Kagbeni, Nepal.

Yet again there was an abominable little shit of a dog that barked its way into my hate. The owners of our guest house lived across the slim street/path and had a dog that liked to go onto the roof and bark at every foreign organism that came within 60 feet of the house. Lucky for me, the height of the roof matched the height of my window exactly, allowing for maximum irritation when this little pube barked while I attempted to nap.

Before turning in, Lakpa came up with the good idea of simply moving to one of the rooms across the hall since it appeared we had the place to ourselves. Only one of the rooms was unlocked so I decided to make sure it wasn’t occupied. I looked inside and saw no belongings but there were lots of blankets spread out onto two small beds that had been pushed together. I vacillated for a while, wondering what I should do, even revisiting the room again around 8:30 PM to see if anything had changed. I looked again at all the blankets and thought they were using this room to store extra blankets. In the end, I decided to sleep in the Barking Dog Suite.     

When I awoke the next morning and passed by the room in question, I spotted two sets of slippers just outside the door, one belonging to an adult and the other clearly to one of the small children. Basically, I almost fell asleep in the bed that was being used by a mother and her tiny daughter which is great when you consider the moment they would have opened the door to the compact room to find me be bundled up in my sleeping bag, passed out in their bed, most likely drooling a little bit.

On our way to Kagbeni yesterday, about two miles before, a cute little dog decided that Lakpa and I were his new friends. I told this dog he needed a friendship bracelet if he wanted to hang in our club. He followed us anyways. When we started on our way today, the cute little turd was waiting for us outside our guesthouse and continued to follow us on our way to Muktinath. He traced our steps for another two or three miles until we came to a suspension bridge. Although the pup probably could have made it over the bridge, he would not follow us. It was as if a spell was placed on him by some sort of municipal dog catcher wizard.

I felt bad for our little friend but shortly after crossing the bridge, we ran into about eight friendly Australian trekkers. I told them how we unwittingly abandoned our buddy and they instantly made sounds of sympathy. I was happy to see these lads show their canine affection once they crossed the bridge back to where we left little guy.


As we ascended, I could feel the altitude in the way I would feel the one cigarette a year I used to smoke. Kagbeni was about 3300 meters and now we topped out at about 4000 meters which is probably the highest land elevation I have achieved in my mildly adventurous lifetime. As far as I know, this will be the highest elevation realized on this trip.

Muktinath, with its dirty roads almost has the feel of a town out of the old West, something like the town in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Now place this town in the Himalayas, swap the horses for ponies and donkeys, string up some rudimentary power lines, and allow the buildings to be adorned in a semi-planned Nepalese style.

As with our Kagbeni guesthouse, Lakpa knew the owner of Caravan Hotel in Muktinath. Like all the other guesthouses I’ve seen up here, this place had rough wooden floors, stucco walls and exposed wooden ceilings. The stairways in all of these houses are guaranteed to provide vertigo. Each house also seems to be furnished with a chief lady. She shouts orders and always maintains a volume higher than the rest.

My Muktinath girls.
If you zoom in and look in the cliff area of this photo, you will see the entrances to many old caves that acted as homes for Tibetan refugees over a hundred years ago.
Do you remember that G.I. Joe episode when Snake Eyes went trekking in Nepal? Me neither.
The translator of this poem has a breathtakingly poor grasp on the English language or is a comic genius.

The guest houses appear to be hundreds of years old but in fact are only a few decades old or less. Perhaps levels and tape measure are hard to come by in these parts but the concepts of “level”, “plumb”, and “square” are not to be savored here, giving the look of an extremely haunted structure. Most of the windows are so out of square that the wind joyfully continues its journey right into your bedroom as you try to sleep on a 20-degree Fahrenheit night.

I can’t stress enough just how insane the clearing-of-the-throat-into-spitting is. It is quite literally a part of life here so fundamental that it must be tied to their survival in some way. When I am walking down the street, the greatest interval of time between one person hock-spitting and the next has probably been around 52 seconds.

Also of note is that even though the temperature is below freezing at night and not much above that during the day, the front door will be left open for about 18 hours a day. Perhaps I mentioned that none of these buildings have heat? This causes me to leave my winter coat and hat on while inside and at night, I zip myself up in my -20-degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag and pray for dawn.

This morning provides yet a third ingredient to my mountain travels. Flying up here three days ago, I had no appreciation just how arduous the 10-hour bus ride from Pokhara to Jomsom is. My 25-minute flight completely glossed over the primitive, bruising nature of ground transportation here. The roads are so bad that I can’t tell if they are slowly being built or slowly being destroyed. Landslides seem to be winning the battle for space on these roads.

As we were following the river valley slowly down towards Pokhara, the bus frequently drives on either side of the river. Being from the US, I would envision a bridge to achieve the crossing of a wide rocky area of multiple shallow rivers but no, there are no bridges; here the rugged looking bus plows through the water. I assume and pray the driver is intimate enough with these river depths. Progress is slow as the vehicle cautiously negotiates exciting dips and impolite holes, bottoming out at times and rudely throwing anyone in the back seats into the air.

As I write, the bus has had to pull over and wait a couple hours or more as construction vehicles block off the road for four-hour shifts so they can painstakingly clear and reshape the road after a major rockslide (this writing session happens roadside since any attempt to write onboard results in something similar to baby’s first drawing).

Yesterday, as Lakpa and I walked along a road to Jomsom, there was a constant trickle of small stones and dirt that had formed a massive pile that was in the process of slowly creeping out into the road. Lakpa said there would probably be a landslide here during the monsoon season. This spot was one of an innumerable amount along the road. Dangerous chunks of boulders, dirt, and trees hung over us on much of our journey. It made me respect the absurd amount of time and resources needed to not just build a mountain road but to maintain it.

While not busy having my spinal discs sadistically crushed on this bumpy bus ride, I had a wonderful conversation with a pleasant Indian gentleman of 65 named Rajesh. Like so many Indians travelling in the area, he had made a pilgrimage to Muktinath, home of a sacred Hindu site and temple. Hindus come to Muktinath to pray for passed loved ones and to collect special black rocks at the confluence of two mountain rivers. Before explaining this, Rajesh spent the first 30 minutes of our conversation to explain the many relatives he has that have lived in the US since the 1960’s. The details of their professional successes and domestic minutiae represented a load of data impossible for me to pass on to you. Sorry. From what I have seen here, Indians take great pride and pleasure telling you of the great accomplishments of their relations. I have yet to hear about any Indian black sheep family members.

Rajesh was also pleased to report to me the total cost for a six-week European tour that he and his six relatives recently completed. The total sum of all travel expenses was $19,000. While this impressed me, I was equally impressed that Rajesh took the time to tally the final travel cost for his seven-person party.

Rajesh the conversational beast.

Lakpa has just told me that this part of the road, from Muktinath down to Beni (about 60 miles) is only ten years old. What this means is that before this road, only ten years ago, all vehicles had to stop at Beni and unload all supplies and people. From there, people had to walk 60 miles through the mountains to get to Muktinath (unless they had money enough to fly to Jomsom and then walk five to seven hours to Muktinath). Like all the supplies, they could also hop on the thousands of donkeys making the trip up. Although Jomsom could take in some supplies, this area still had depended largely on donkeys and human porters to bring supplies to them.

The apocalyptic bus ride came to an end for us in Tatopani. After dropping my things at the hotel, I walked over to the hot springs and soaked my frightened figure into a burning stew for a while. When I rose from the water, I gathered my things off a rock wall by some older Nepalese ladies that were preparing to enter the spring. One of them was incredibly sassy and upon seeing my uncovered body, she smiled devilishly and shouted many Nepalese words my way. All I could do was point to myself and proudly say, “Yeti!”, hoping she had mistaken me for the mythological furry creature supposedly roaming the Himalayas.

Seen on the grounds of the hot springs. In this case, “Massage Room” is Nepalese for “We take your western genitals and sell to Himalayan witch”.

Later that night, I visited a small craft shop right next to our guest house. The tidy shop was piloted by a pleasant Tibetan lady. Having a fine hold of the English language, Tsering and I were able to have a robust conversation. Although Tibetan, Tsering has never seen Tibet. She was born in a refugee camp in Pokhara where she still lives with her siblings and brother when not in Tatopani. Her mother arrived to the camp at the age of one, trying to escape the aggressive Chinese Communist regime. Although her life seems to be simple and happy, Tsering informed me that growing up in a refugee camp was no pleasure cruise. She did extend an offer of having one of her family members show me the camp when I returned to Pokhara but with my short stopover, I did not make it happen which a large part of me regrets.

The next day I gobbled a couple pills in effort to curb the pain and inflammation of my right knee. Luckily, it was enough to allow me to make the six-mile, 900 meter rise to Shikha. We passed through dozens of terraced farm villages that were immersed in the ways of spring. I noticed these lower mountains were more populated by both humans and plants than the Mustang District we just came from.

Rhododendron trees were in full bloom, their brilliant red colors only challenged by that of the colors of the ancient Hindu Holi festival being celebrated in every village we passed through. Powders of all colors were on the ground and faces of many of the villagers. The festival seems to have a broad purpose but it does celebrate love in the general sense, the arrival of spring, and a good spring harvest. Water fights also factor into this festival for some reason. As I write, the local residents are screaming at the tops of their lungs, throwing water balloons and dousing each other with water any way they can. At an earlier village, a little boy stood crying because he got soaked by someone. About eight other people stood around the boy laughing as he cried, hopefully a good character-building experience for the young man.

Adding to the color was a 70-year old Chinese man who was a trekking beast. He claimed to have done a very challenging 5000 plus meter hike up a nearby mountain pass. It was easy to see he spent a lot of time outside in the sun trekking since it looked like he stuck his face into an oven every day for 20 minutes.

The Sherps walking ahead of me.
A bleepin’ bloomin’ rhododendron tree.
Each of these kids said I was the coolest person they’ve ever seen.
There he is…oven face.

Taken from the “About” section of “When Owner and CEO Chris Coxen was nine years old, he had a dream about making blue tables and yellow benches in the Himalayas. Thirty years later, after unhappily making a lot of money in the US stock market, Chris decided to put this young boy’s dream to the test. Although everybody said he was crazy, Chris has proven them all wrong: only six years after the firm’s inception, Himalayan Blue Tables Yellow Benches has become the number one provider of blue tables and yellow benches in the Himalayas.”

I have ordered dumplings eight or so times since coming to Nepal and every time, there are exactly ten dumplings in an order. I am fascinated how this dumpling code is adhered to no matter where I am in this country. My fascination only grows when I then reflect on how the structures in Nepal might look if they were as committed to a building code as they are to their dumpling code.

This morning we woke in Ghorepani at 4:15 AM and hiked up another 350 meters to the summit of Poon Hill, giving us an elevation of about 3200 meters. It was completely dark except for the near full moon and once on top, there were eventually 150 or so other people who came to watch the sunrise. People have been climbing up to this spot for years to watch the sun rise due to the incredible and expansive mountain view that could only be captured with the “pano” option on a camera.

It was below freezing so everyone was wearing warm clothing except one odd fellow with a shaved head that had no hat or gloves on. He wore only a thin shirt. As everyone else laughed, conversed, and took pictures; this slim chap that almost looked like a Buddhist monk was sitting cross legged on a stone wall doing Tai Chi or some similar discipline as the rising sun shone on him poetically. What makes this really special is that he smoked a cigarette while practicing this ancient art.

Poon Hill at sunrise.
Some Poon Hill pano.

The past couple of days of trekking were not being polite on my knees and the over 2000-meter descent today was not what the doctor ordered. Over half of this descent was more or less one giant staircase down.

Since Tatopani, the trail was often a seven-foot wide stone path that winded through villages, a path that was often filled with chickens, horses, donkeys, and buffalo. Buffaloes are usually calm but Lakpa informed me that he has been attacked by them a few times. But the story he told me that really blew my mind was how many years ago, an ox attacked him and threw him down a steep 100-meter hill. Badly banged up and furious, he dragged himself back up to where the ox was, threw a large rock at the ox, stunning it and then pushed the big beast over the edge of the same 100-meter hill, killing it. This is my kind of Sherpa.

After many hours, we finally reached the small town of Hille. Our rustic digs for the night was Green View Hotel, a guest house riddled with poor craftsmanship but how can I even complain when they charge $4.50 a night for a room, a fascinating price for a room especially when you consider that the price of a beer at this guest house is $5.50.

My $5.50/night method of repairing a hole in the ceiling.
My $5.50/night bed sheets.

Via two hours of walking and a comical two-hour cab ride in a beat up old little Indian-made economy car along desperate, dusty roads, we arrived back Pokhara. We visited our favorite little restaurant, Himalayan Cuisine and then paddled through the lake again. Everyone in the boats and along the shore was in a festive mood on this sunny, 80-degree day.

The next morning, Lakpa and I boarded a bus bound for Kathmandu. Lakpa took the bus to the final destination while I got off about halfway to embark on a river rafting tour and then on to a jungle safari in Chitwan. The bus took us through the usual scenes of hectic third world life. Old ladies swept, young nice punks looked at their phones, dogs slept, horns honked, children played, and unattended trash fires burned. In the seat in front of me a young American man and woman in their early 20’s spoke in young fresh tones. They seemed to be part of a group whose purpose I was not able to determine. The chatty young man seemed bent on winning the affections of the quieter, more reserved kitty.

The exchange between them at first seemed sweet but with a light shade of desperation. At first, he showered her with all of his knowledge and experience of mountaineering. Later on he realized the wise move was to choose a topic that she had more intimacy with. Once he introduced rock climbing to the conversation, she opened up and her personality blossomed like a spring flower. I was a whisker away from launching into a very calm, serene David Attenborough narration of this young, tender mating scene taking place in the back seat jungle of this Nepalese bus.

With no warning the bus pulled over to the side of the road and people started shouting at me to get off. I guess this was my stop? I hastily pulled my things off the shelf and scrambled down the aisle. I’m almost certain I hit a couple people in the head with my trekking poles.

I made a quick sloppy goodbye to Lakpa and told him we should try to meet in Kathmandu later that week. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself floating on a raft down the Trishuli River, seated across from a more or less socially awkward 62-year old man that looked like Sean Connery after four months of a high carb diet. Victor was his name and he was from Latvia. He seemed unable to find conversational comfort with the other Nepalese and Indian tourists on the two rafts so I did my best to speak with him often. Something about Victor made me think he was a pickpocket’s dream no matter where he went. Although relatively well travelled, he had this slight mad scientist, math club champion, isolated way about him that made me wonder how he survived alone in such a foreign environment.

After rafting, one of the guides led us back up to the main road and told us to sit at a table while he waved down our buses. The tiny little area we waited at was perhaps some accidental rest stop combined with a micro village. The table we sat at was partially occupied by a young woman looking at her phone and conservatively speaking, about 100 flies.  Underneath by my feet, a chicken loitered. At one end of the table, about a couple feet in the air, a sleeping baby in a semi-transparent red cloth hammock hung from the roof that covered the small area. Logic told me the baby belonged to the young woman but at one point, she got up and left so I have no idea who this sleeping baby belonged to.

In the middle of the open area that was surrounded by a sheep and several structures, was a man squatting over a power saw who was in the process of cutting up about 50 twenty-foot lengths of metal rods into shorter lengths. His work created a powerful performance of shrieking sound and sparks that somehow did not wake the sleeping baby only 20 feet away. But then again, this baby slept only 25 feet away from a non-stop parade of loud honking buses, trucks, cars, and motorbikes. The whole scene was wonderfully chaotic and made me feel like I was somehow temporarily trapped inside Victor’s mind.

At that moment, a small local bus pulled over and the rafting guide waved Victor over. In a mildly confused state, he awkwardly steered his large figure into a bus packed with Nepalese. The bus door closed and it was as if the bus and the crowd inside swallowed him whole. As the bus drove off, I couldn’t help but think, “…and that was the last that anyone heard or saw of Victor the Latvian.”

My bus was waved down soon after and I had to jog down the road to reach it while it waited on the side of the road and caused a low level of irritation to passing traffic. I took a seat in the sparsely populated bus and watched/listened to Nepalese music videos that were blasted from the vehicle’s sound system. Yet again the bus stopped abruptly and I was rushed off and into a private taxi that dropped me at my hotel near Chitwan National Park.

I wasn’t kidding about Victor or that sleeping baby hammock deal.
How many American truck drivers you know that would put “DREAM GIRLS” on the back of their truck? The answer: not enough.

Employed by the hotel, our safari guide Suroz (I’m probably spelling that wrong) was top notch. Before the government moved all houses and hotels out of the official park area, Suroz grew up in a house in the park. With his camouflage hat, binoculars, square jaw, sharp nose, and eyes that would have made an eagle envious, he looked like an intense, taciturn, confident Indian colonel in the midst of a military campaign. The way he constantly scanned the horizon and identified animals no matter how distant was legendary.

He was always on, always alert. Before the safari started, I saw him standing on some steps that opened up to the 5000 square foot courtyard on the hotel grounds that contained some trees and flowers. Seeing something of interest in the small confines of this space, maybe 40 feet away, he decided that binoculars were necessary and meticulously raised them to his eyes, inadvertently giving birth to a humorous moment. One of the few times over the three days I saw his serious veneer compromised was when we spotted a sloth bear on a few separate occasions in the park. For a brief spell, he became childlike, unable to contain his joy.

Chitwan sunrise.
Chitwan Sunset.

From Chitwan, I took (by Western standards) a painfully slow bus ride back to Kathmandu. Per usual, the driver of the large coach had no reservations with making dicey passes by large trucks around blind corners on a road constantly flanked by dangerous cliffs on one side. Every small bridge we crossed over seemed to have a large section of railings torn open where a vehicle clearly plunged over the side. Peering down one such spot, I could see the crushed remains of a car far below on the bottom of the cliff. At another spot, a large truck had been in an accident, with most of the front cab dangling off the edge of a cliff. This journey of 100 miles that would have taken under two hours in many countries took seven hours here. But this is standard fare in a country with limited resources forced to build and maintain roads on such a challenging topography. 


The following day I visited the incredibly old and unique World Heritage Site city of Bhaktapur and soon after was on a flight to Delhi. The Nepal leg of my trip had come to an end and now it was time to meet my wife Pam in southern Spain for a week. I had to lobby pretty hard to get three weeks in Nepal on my own so a romantic reconvening in Andalucía was a concession I was happy to make.

We don’t want to come across as overconfident but our beer is “Probably the best Nepalese Beer”. I am convinced that this advertisement is aimed at American junior high students.

Due to the continuing closure of Pakistan airspace, my connecting flight in Delhi was forced to depart two hours earlier forcing me to arrive in Delhi 20 hours earlier. Without an Indian visa, I elected to stay in a transit hotel in the airport. It was like sleeping over in a mall; when I exited the hotel, I was free to wander around the food court, duty-free shops, and departure gates. In the morning, I luxuriously sipped coffee in the large private dining area while watching planes take off. From a distance, I must have looked like a boring but content human in an architect’s rendering of a potential future airport hotel. I love the people in those architectural drawings; no one is fat and everybody’s shirt is tucked in.

The Spain part of this journal will be somewhat brief. The trip was culturally vibrant but tame. This is a good thing. Since Pam and I would be reuniting for eight days, I was in the mood for a week of calm. I flew into Malaga a day before Pam and was able to walk around the city; I even managed to ascend the sobering number of meters to the Alcazaba only to find they did not accept credit cards as a form of payment of the entry fee. With no ATM’s or exchange services, I was forced to sulk my way down to city center.

When I did pick up Pam in the rental car, I was unfashionably 40 minutes late which seriously watered down the joy of our reunion after three weeks apart. I told her that Google erroneously told me that her flight was delayed. Thankfully, it only took five minutes for Pam to lose her gurl-none-too-pleased face.

On our way to our guest house, Perla Blanca near Ronda, I savored the absence of every bump and hole in the road. I too savored the absence of impending landslides, traffic, noise, pollution, and litter. Nepal is a lovely, one of a kind place (especially in the mountains) with some of the kindest people on the planet but the cleanliness and order of Spain (never thought I would say that) was a thing I wanted to hug.

Cliff side romance in Ronda.
Oh boy.
Parque natural de la Sierra de Grazalema. It’s amazing Pam trusts me at such heights.
Parque natural de la Sierra de Grazalema
I give you castle ruins in Zahara de la Sierra.
Filing cabinet-styled cemetery in Zahara de la Sierra.
In the foreground, two modern lovers. In the background, the birthplace of bullfighting. Above, as a friend pointed out, a nuclear explosion.

After a few days in Ronda, we stayed at a nice guest house near Rio Gordo. One day we made a day trip to Comares. Getting to and from this little gem of village required some winding road driving. After several days of such driving, Pam’s equilibrium had said “no more” and once returning to the guest house, Pam promptly barfed her way to the top for the next couple of hours.

The last destination of our Andalucía affair was the hyper romantic and picturesque village of Frigliana. Like so many small villages in the south, all the buildings were white and huddled together, producing narrow, often maze-like corridors. Cats and flowers were to be found everywhere in this dream-like place.

To complete the pursuit of romance, Pam and I made plans to watch a Flamenco show in nearby Velez-Malaga. That night we decided to arrive a couple hours early to eat dinner and walk around. We parked our car near the performance space and elected to walk by to make sure we had the right address. Standing in front of the door was a man who could not have personified the veteran Spanish artist any more than our soon to be friend, Pedro. At 49, his hair was full of just the right amount of gray although it was mostly covered by an obligatory beret. His beard was shorter on the sides but gradually faded to a goatee area that was slightly longer and came to the perfect peak on his chin. A thin scarf was wrapped around his neck and draped over a wool jacket that, like his pants below whose pattern almost had a pinstripe look to them, were gloriously second hand. After we realized we would be going to the same show later, Pedro asked if he could join us for dinner. Pam was thrown off balance by this bold invitation but I was not going to pass up this chance of breaking bread and making chat with an authentic local.

He took us to a nearby restaurant with well-made cuisine and when I offered to cover the bill, I met little resistance. Pedro was an artist to the core and could not be bothered by the pursuit of financial stability. I’m still unsure how he made money but I know that photography, Iyengar yoga, and travel were among the many passions in his life. Pedro could talk to anybody and made friends with alarming ease. When he discovered Pam was from the Philippines, he excitedly called his one and only Filipina friend, Belen, and gave the phone to Pam so the two could talk.

After dinner we walked back to the performance space. It turned out we needed a reservation but unsurprisingly, Pedro talked to the doorman and made quick work of this obstacle. I enjoyed watching Pedro in action. He was a man not to be found in the US. His confidence was refined by an older world and culture.

The show itself was easily the best flamenco I’ve ever seen. In a small space in a basement, the performance felt less like a show and more like an unplanned spectacle. A guitarist and singer did their part while a female dancer in her early forties profoundly and mercilessly dominated the consciousness of every single audience member. Although the entire performance was little more than 70 minutes, I’m convinced those present could handle no more. We said goodbye to Pedro and drove home. Pedro, true to form, lingered at the club until four in the morning, socializing with the performers and other artists he knew.

The following day we met Pedro and his Filipina friend Belen who brought her Israeli Moroccan Spanish husband Gil along. We decided to meet up at a flea market that happened every Saturday along the coast below Velez-Malaga. As I shouldered my way through the tight corridor between the straight quarter-mile of stalls selling crafts, clothing (much of it used), vegetables, spices, food, and housewares, I could see that this market probably provided the lion’s share of Pedro’s wardrobe.

On our way to a beach side restaurant, we encountered a fascinating artist friend of Pedro’s who lived in a small home right on the water. Although only 48, Javier looked closer to 70. Rail thin, his face was heavily populated by creases. His premature aging I assume was due in large part to his 23-year contest with Parkinson’s disease. Gil told me that Javier was having a “good day” and was able to move around better than normal. Gil and Belen had only known Javier for a year or two but made an admirable effort to include him on various outings and activities.

From left to right: a dog?, Pam, pure desire, Javier, Pedro!, Gil
From left to right: a gremlin?, Pam, pure lust, Javier, Belen, Gil, and the Juggernaut
From left to right: Pam and pure desire/lust wearing Javier’s “Natural History Museum on a hat” hat.

Before we walked the short distance along the boardwalk to the restaurant, Javier opened the door to a sort of storage shed and began to show me the incredible things he’s collected and filed away in this small structure for the past 38 years. There were incredible seashells, bones, dried up old sea turtles, and a six-inch sea fossil that was over 65 million years old. He closed the door to this special private little museum and walked with his uneven but determined gait into his adjoining house where he lived with his mother. A minute later, he returned with a small piece of white coral that had three small seashells glued to the bottom which acted as a stand. He handed it to me and said, “un regalo.”

Portugal, Spain, and Sweden 2011

Monday, December 19th

After spending 10 months hunting the elusive comedy career yeti in the London jungles, I decided to end my campaign and head back to Boston.  I had heard rumors of this beast and even caught a brief glimpse of her on top of Audition Mountain but I had not the patience or mountain climbing equipment necessary to continue my pursuit. But before my return to Boston, I made it my duty to perform a month tour of Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Florida and then onto Boston.  And by Florida, I don’t mean the sensational vacation destination of the town Florida, Massachusetts.

On the day of my departure, on the way to the airport, I met my friend Howard for tea at the café called Eat near the Holburn tube station in London.  Howard has produced a few of my videos and a radio show pilot that I was neatly a part of.  Although it was cold and raw outside, the front double doors were open.  After obtaining permission from an employee, I closed the doors but the well-dressed, coldly attractive manager lady promptly opened them again.  She repeated this action again after someone else closed the doors.  As the chill barged into the café, I began to suspect that this café was a training ground for James Bond movie villains that would learn to be immune to pain and suffering.

Howard and I left the café and gave each other a hug that was heterosexually balanced with a gloved handshake.  I then made my way to Gatwick Airport and boarded a plane to Faro, Portugal which, per my instructions, located itself on the southern coast of Portugal.  Once in the Faro airport, I took a bus into the city and to Hotel Sol Algarve, my elaborate camping tent for the next two nights.  I entered my tiny room that seemed to be intended for 2-dimensional people or small ghosts.

Eager to eat, I recklessly left the hotel without a shower and found a nice restaurant by the name of Tasca Do Ricky.  Upon entering, I saw only one group eating at a table.  As I walked further, one of the men eating stood up from the table and approached me.  I was surprised and cautiously psyched that a random customer was so vested in my Tasca Do Ricky experience that he decided to show me around.  It turned out that I had won the Tasca Do Ricky lottery since this was Ricky himself.

Winning the TDR lottery was no small thing.  As I was the only customer, Ricky made my face sample so much food (half of which was not charged for).  Before my main entrée of grilled sea bass, he peppered me with bread and olives, tasty carrots, sardines and after dinner was complete, he gave me some of his wife’s homemade chocolate.  Throughout the meal, Ricky and I chatted like chat champs.  When I told him I was a comic, he told me some joke that a Portuguese comedian did that involved comparing his guy device to a cinnamon stick (whatever it takes, people).  So basically, Ricky was a walking, talking high-5.

I settled up with Ricky and wandered the quiet streets of this small city like a hooker that is terrible at attracting customers.  I then returned to the hotel and did the sleep thing.

Tuesday, December 20th

Some days you awake and today was no different.  It all started with a free continental breakfast on the ground floor.  No morning eating awards were in danger of being won by this continental cruise.  And the sign that told me that all food must eaten in that room had little effect on me for a ham sandwich and apple awesomely made their way into my pocket, soon to become “lunch”.

I was taught by the best at a young age to exploit buffets.  When driving to Florida, my father liked to get on the road right away in the morning without even entertaining the thought of breakfast.  It made me think he was made of some strange matter that only needed coffee and maybe a vodka and tonic if there was time.  When finally we did stop for food, we would stop at an all-day breakfast buffet where my five older siblings would instruct me on the art of maximizing your buffet experience: putting biscuits in purses, fruit in pockets, pancakes in mouths….it was guerrilla eating at its finest.

I then walked around the city and purchased some necklaces for my little nieces.  My thought was to tell them I got the necklaces from a lovely princess I met near a mountain lake in Portugal and that the necklaces give you the power to slam dunk.  I haven’t made any decisions on this so this might change.

From there, I took the bus to Faro Beach and walked a couple miles down a long thin peninsula.  On my walk up the beach, I passed by a guy that was taking pictures of a girl dressed in a tiny sweater, a thong and rubber boots.  She would jog down the beach 30 feet while the fella took pictures, walk back and repeat.  No matter what the situation: studying in the library, a sex scandal, farming after heavy rains…this lady’s outfit had it covered.  I’m not going to lie, she looked good in her thong, classy even but it was those rubber boots that made her appear to be an alien space traveler who came from the Slut System.

On my way back, I walked along a boardwalk that took me by tiny residential cottages and shacks, many of which were a mile from the road, making this the place where pizza delivery men go to die.  Further down, I stumbled upon yet another photo shoot on the beach but this one was of a fully clothed young couple in love.  It was as if some wholesome Christians decided to protest the alien, rubber-booted slut.  Pictures were taken while they lie in the sand and sometimes touched.  The whole scene made me never want to fall in love again.

Viewing a flamboyantly sexual photo shoot followed by the repressed Christian rock photo shoot left me a hungry man so it was off to Tasca Do Ricky for one last meal.  This time I ordered a dish whose name escapes me but I’ll describe it now: a sandwich filled with chorizo sausage, beef, and ham, topped with an egg, coated in cheese and resting in a pond of some illicit gravy with a side of fries.  When I was done, I felt the need to go to confession.  With every bite, I was half expecting the devil to handcuff me to a supernova.  I finished up, said “peace out” to the Ricker and enjoyed a professional-strength sleep.

Wednesday, December 21st

Holy crap!  The last day on Earth!  We’re all going to die like gnats on a light bulb…oh wait, that’s next year.  Once calm, I breakfasted and boarded a bus to Sevilla.  In Sevilla, I checked into a room in Pension Vegara that was somehow smaller than my one in Faro.

Just like my visit in 2001, I decided to stay in the maze-like, charming neighborhood of Santa Cruz where roads are more like very narrow hallways, sometimes not more than four feet wide.  I then walked to a car rental agency to pick up my car and drop it off at a parking garage because that’s what I like to do: rent cars in cities with tiny, undrive-able streets and pay to park them in a garage.  Silly things aside, I planned to leave Sevilla the next day and actually saved $100 by renting the car a day earlier…so lay off!

I then walked around some more, stopping at small store to buy a Romeo y Julieta No. 3 Cuban cigar and smoked while deciding to trade my walk in for a stroll.  Eventually I ended up in a restaurant named Catalina and took down some tapas that were so good; they made me like people again.  Afterwards, I sat in the corner of a small bar with a beer and wrote these words like some kind of tiny, tortured, aspiring writer.  Sleep.

Thursday, December 22nd

This morning I ate some breakfast at La Decana.  Upon sitting down, I noticed a very repetitive, annoying sound.  I looked at the TV and there was live coverage of the Christmas Lottery.  With most lotteries, some stiff chooses a number, somebody wins and you move on with your life.  With this lottery, there were two enormous cage balls with several hundred balls.  Two children would remove a couple balls and sing the numbers in a simple melody and repeat this procedure until the little stinker’s lungs gave out and two new children were installed for this same purpose.  Not only was there a large audience watching this event but it went on all day and was being broadcast on multiple TV and radio stations.  I don’t know what the prize was but I hope it was not having to listen to that repetitive child number chant ever again.

I then hopped in the car and drove south towards Vejer de la Frontera.  On the way, I get to see something that perfectly captures the idea of how Spaniards are more laid back than most.  Ten feet from the highway was a guy taking a piss.  The great thing was that had he moved an extra five feet away from the highway, he would have been hidden from view.  His spy-like method of concealment was merely turning his back to the oncoming cars.  Good thing there weren’t any Roman emperors driving down the road behind him or that show of a turned back could have gotten him killed.

Soon after seeing the one-man rest stop, I made it to Vejer de la Frontera.  I checked into the lovely and yes, cute small hotel or “casa rural” named Casa Leonor.  One of the owners, Paco, showed me to my room and looked exactly like a Boston comic named Chris Pennie but the Spanish version complete with a mustache and a small triangular patch of hair that clung victoriously beneath his mouth.  This small patch of hair looked like a yield sign and that’s exactly what one must do when presented with such a mustache: you yield to the stache or get run down like a golf cart pulling onto a highway right in front of Optimus Prime who’s in 18-wheeler mode doing 120 mph.

After rapping like a native with Paco.  I walked around this absurdly picturesque whitewashed town that was perched on a hill and full of tiny streets and alleys.  I went to the top of Casa de Mayorazgo and savored some Top 40 views of the town and surrounding areas.  Back at Casa Leonor, I wrote my words with the TV on and let me tell you, Texas Walker Ranger is just as lethal when it’s dubbed in Spanish (more so even).  I also think that Chuck Norris was given a brand new pair of jeans for every scene.  They look like an artist’s perfect rendering of jeans done with a brand new navy blue magic marker…flawless and crisp.

I then erratically walked around like a ball in a pinball machine, looking for a place to eat.  I found a very average place that gave me bread (which I didn’t ask for) and charged me for it (which is very beat).  All of this equals a very scientific and dependable equation for “no tip”.

Afterwards, I went to a great theater/performance hall next to my hotel to take in some flamenco Christmas music.  There were a large ring of musicians that took turns singing in the traditional flamenco style.  Another noteworthy element to the night was the older hombre walking around with a gray mustache and massive yield sign on his chin.  In the midst of watching this passionate display of Jesus’ birthday music and yielding to the great gray tache, I struck up a conversation with a baker named Juan Ramon.  As great as the chat was, the peak of the experience was the combined Flamenco clapping that Juan Ramon and I executed.  We parted ways and I made it sleep time.

Friday, December 23rd

This morning, Paco made me a nice simple breakfast and helped me locate a few points of interest on my map.  He also indicated a great place to watch the sunset.  Only in Spain could a man tell you such things without it being a challenge to your masculinity.

I said thank you and walked over to a nearby “castle”.  After seeing a sign for the castle by an entrance, I went into a small courtyard and encountered no castle employees or any information on what I was looking at.  And from what I could tell, there were also entrances into people’s homes in this same courtyard.  Eventually I located a sign pointing me up some stairs so I walked up and found a bunch of crappy rooms, some of which were being repaired by workers.  The rooms looked like people had lived there anywhere between one month to 30 years ago. One room literally looked like a crack house.  There were a few pieces of old furniture carelessly placed throughout the space, a couple mattresses, a ladder and a TV so old, it looked like the original knights of the castle watched the 1284 Olympics on it.  Indeed, it was the strangest castle I’ve ever seen and made me understand why we don’t build them anymore.

But this is something so fun about Spain or at least this town.  As with Casa de Mayorazgo, it’s all so casual.  There’s little distinction between museum and someone’s private residence.  A small sign indicates there is a historical thing you can see on the premises, you go in and you end up in someone’s living room.

From there I headed over to my car.  As I walked down a tiny walkway in the old city, a man heading towards began to laugh.  I was the only other person there so I wondered if my fly was open or there was bird crap that was about to strike my awesome head.  Instead, he said, “¡Mira!” (Look!) and pointed down an alley that was only visible from his perspective.  There were three dogs hanging out, two of which appeared to be having sex for the first time in their lives.  They looked stuck together and pretty bummed out about it.  If they weren’t different breeds, I would have thought they were Siamese twin dogs.  I told the man that I was too young to see this (but in Spanish since I’m blisteringly international).  All that was left to do was to walk away from this unwanted dog sex so I did so and stepped into a market that was managed by a guy that looked exactly like David Cassidy (haircut included) but again, the Spanish version.

Once in my car, I drove seven miles south to the coast and walked around the desirable Trafalgar Beach.  While I sat at the point and ate/scribbled, a fog rolled in quickly, brushing my figure like a pickpocket and soon rolled away.  I checked my pockets and fortunately this frisky fog did not steal my wallet.  I then drove over to Palmar Beach, opting to walk in the sand without shoes like a poet.

When I returned to Casa Leonor, I showered, took in a few precious moments of Texas Walker Ranger, ate a meal nearby and walked over to Bar Topolino to watch some more Flamenco Christmas music.  Many of the town’s locals were standing just outside of the bar, around a fire while a large group sang, clapped their hands and played guitar.  Various people took turns dancing, making it a very special thing for a red-bearded gringo like myself to take in.  Beginning to feel like a Christmas voyeur, I decided to head home where I entered a final state of relaxation via the powers of “Nuns On The Run” (in Spanish).

Saturday, December 24th

This is my 38th Christmas on this handsome planet and the very first not spent in the same house I grew up in.  Although a touch sad (especially after my mother told me she came to the same realization after putting my Snoopy decoration on the tree that I made in kindergarten), I was looking forward to experiencing Christmas in a different place.  After breakfast and a long chat with Paco, I hit the road towards Zahara de los Atunes.  I walked around the small town and stumbled upon a large outdoor tent where the locals watched a live Christmas production composed of people dressed up in various Disney characters.  From what I could tell, the voices were prerecorded and played over a large sound system; a sound system large enough to support Santa’s big voice that sounded exactly like Jabba the Hut (HA HA HAAAA…FELIZ NAVIDAD, SOLO!!).

Next was Alanterra where I scaled a steep hill to a taster’s choice lookout point and lighthouse.  This action caused my body to heat up and I wanted to protect my forehead from the sun so I removed my shirt and wrapped it around my head, becoming the urban turban legend that you’ll someday hear about and wonder, “Is that true?  It sounds too crazy to be true.”  It’s true, folks.

Tarifa was the following stop whose historic, old district was much like Vejer but not as awesome since I was not staying there.  Although it was sunny, it was not clear enough to see Africa, only nine miles away.  This further proved my conspiracy theory that Africa is indeed an urban turban legend.  So off I was, back towards Vejer but made a stop at a tiny village named Bolonia where I sat by the sea and scribbled.  Chaperoning my writings were the town kitties and the town dog that attacked me with love.  All of these creatures orbited around me like canine/feline satellites.

I was also attacked by the smell of pot which, in Spain, is a smell more common than the smell of the Dewey Decimal System in a library.  As I walked down the beach, the dog followed me so I decided he needed a name.  I chose Menudo.  I’m pretty sure he liked it.  The two of us walked over to some Roman ruins that were only 60 yards from the ocean.  Unfortunately, these neat ruins that even included an old theater had a fence around the entire area.  However, Menudo was able to find a Menudo-sized hole in the fence that he exploited vigorously.  I initially wouldn’t have taken Menudo for such an ardent archaeologist but he seemed determined to examine (and probably pee on) the site.  Menudo and I sadly parted ways and in attempts to fill this new emotional void, I watched the sunset and made my way back to Vejer.

With all of the intention of going out to witness the midnight Christmas celebrations in town, I showered, read, watched a little “Groundhog Day” in Spanish but then fell asleep like a dream weaver that had woven too many dreams in one day.

Sunday, December 25th

I realize I didn’t have a chimney in my room nor did Santa have my forwarding address but I still expected to see some presents from the fat guy.  Fortunately, Paco was able to deliver some edible gifts in the shape of breakfast accompanied by some chat.  All of these chats were in Spanish so my mind had to be sharp like a chat ninja (a ninja that kills with a vocabulary blade, grammatical throwing stars, pronunciation punches and grenades).

Upon Paco’s recommendation, I decided to take a certain road south that lead to a desired seaside location.  I realized the road would get a tad rustic but I did not realize one would need an Imperial Walker to traverse it (if you don’t know what an Imperial Walker is, think of a huge robot horse that’s 15 stories high and doesn’t exist).

Somehow my car held together and I made it to a small parking lot where I left my car and walked along a path on top of a sea cliff.  On my way, I came across a guy staring at a cactus.  He pointed at the brush around the cactus that had been cut back and told me this was to allow this somewhat rare cactus to grow.  He was clearly psyched about this cactus and just as I was about to make fun of him, I remembered I’m a 38-year old guy that still watches the original Transformers cartoons.  Besides, it’s great to see someone stand up for the little guy, even if it is a cactus.  I finished my walk and returned to Vejer.

After napping like a Born Again Napper, I had an extremely mediocre tapas experience at some small bar.  With a partially nourished body, I decided to completely nourish my soul at an 8:00pm mass at an old church.  Although I didn’t understand all of the words, the mass was similar to any Catholic mass I’ve attended in the US.  Just when I thought I got through a normal mass, something slightly odd happened.  The priest went behind the altar and came back down with a fake, golden baby that looked like a rich, Victorian child’s toy.  Do you remember the lady in Goldfinger that was killed because she was coated in gold and suffocated?  Imagine if she gave birth to a baby right before she died and you would have some idea of what this baby looked like.

People lined up and kissed this baby, one by one, on its lower stomach.  As much as I love to kiss things, I stood off to the side and behind a pillar but I lingered for a moment to make sure this was happening.  After watching 20 or so people kiss the Goldfinger baby, I decided it was indeed happening.

The only logical thing to do was to drink some wine so I brought a bottle to the kitchen of Casa de Leonor and shared some chat and wine with Paco’s brother in law, Gustavo.  This was followed by sleep.

Monday, December 26th

I enjoyed my last breakfast chat with Paco, settled the bill and drove north through some very gnarly mountain roads.  I eventually arrived in a small town in the mountains, known as Grazalema which is also the name of the national park I was now in.  The town is perched up high, giving its peeps superb views.  Behind the town are peaks of rock, making the town look like something, as my guide book noted, from Lord of the Rings.  Perhaps it was time to put my Hugo Weaving forehead to use, become Elrond the elf and tell everyone in the town that we have to leave since we’re moving to a magical place to live forever (if this doesn’t make sense, just imagine more stuff that doesn’t exist).

After checking into the Casa do Piedras, I walked around the town and my ears were again touched by something that seems to be quite common in southern Spain and that is traditional music being played over prison camp-styled speakers in the plazas or older parts of town.  All the speakers and music are the same so I assume this is some town or government initiative.  Perhaps there’s subliminal messaging in the music that orders you to be awesome.  Well, it’s clearly working (I’m saying that I’m awesome).

When I returned from dinner, I decided to read my book in a common area by the fire.  Next to me was a German family composed of a couple in their late 50’s and two fellas in their early 20’s, sitting around a coffee table in comfortable, living room type chairs.  The weird thing was that the mother was reading a book in German to her husband and boys that were all warm and cozy underneath blankets. I was as if the power went out a year ago and reading became the last resort for family entertainment.  The fact that this intimate family moment was happening in such a common area made me feel like I was watching a play.  If all of this wasn’t enough to take me to 1930’s Germany, between all the German words I didn’t know, I often caught the words “Hitler”, “Stalin” and “nein”.

While this was going on, I was reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography while drinking some red wine.  And the funny thing was that I was reading a page where Nelson mentioned Hitler, helping create a perfect storm of a situation that would never happen again no matter what scientists or weathermen say.  All this action made Nelson and I quite tired so we slept (separately).

Tuesday, December 27th

After eating, I left the hotel and got to enjoy, for the last time, the weirdness in the front outdoor foyer which was a triple car seat from a caravan.  I have absolutely no idea why they would want this to be the first thing that their guests see but it gave the place a great post-apocalyptic flare.

I then drove through the towns tiny, narrow streets that gave one the feeling of being in the motorcycle game in Tron where you weren’t sure when you might run into a wall and perish.  Making it through, I pulled into a parking lot and hiked through some mountains for a couple of hours because it’s what my body told me it wanted.

Next, I drove 18 miles east to the neat town on a massive plateau known as Ronda.  In 2001, I traveled here so it was lovely to be back.  What was not lovely was the 100 Euro ($135) ticket I received for making an illegal left turn which did not seem to be posted.  I explained to the cop that I was lost, trying to make a U-turn and didn’t realize I couldn’t turn left but he wasn’t having it.  I didn’t fight him on it too much since he almost cited me for not having an international driving permit which technically you don’t need in Spain but if a cop wants to be a record-breaking douche about it, he or she can be.  Fortunately he backed off that point and required me to pay the fine immediately in cash so I had to follow him to an ATM, get 100 Euros and hand it to him.

Thank God I don’t smoke or smuggle weed since this experience could have been a hamster’s heartbeat away from the film “Midnight Express”.  I looked at my Nelson Mandela book and he said, “Cops are pretty shitty, huh?  Welcome to my world.”

Surprisingly, I wasn’t too pissed off about it and checked into my hotel.  To lift my spirits, I visited the same, great, little tea café I visited almost 11 years ago named Tetería Al Zahra and savored the same delicious Jamaican tea.  I highly recommend this jazzy brew whose components are vanilla tea, cinnamon and some sort of coffee liqueur.

Then, like a baby stroller with the brakes off, I strolled through the newer part of the city and over to the old where streets were narrow and touristy.  Between the old and new city is a massive 100-200 meter gorge with a river at the bottom.  The gorge averages 80 meters wide and is connected by three bridges, making it a fantastic place to dispose of heretics and salesmen.  I then ate lots of for $11, went home, researched my next travelling moves and slept.

Wednesday, December 28th

After eating a sandwich at a food place, I walked along the part of the city that lies along the edge of the cliff and savored this city’s ability to chill in such a precarious spot.  I then maneuvered my car west along some wild mountain roads that made me feel like a goat on wheels.

My plan was to stay in a town called Alora for the night so once I arrived, I walked around this town that was perched high on a hill.  On my walk, I climbed a hill to view an old castle.  In the small parking lot that provided a lookout point, there was a moldy old man that said many unintelligible things to me.  At one point, he pointed down the steep hill and over to a small settlement and said, “¡Discothèque!”  A dirty smile came over his face and he said “niñas” (girls).  As he kept repeating “discothèque” and “niñas”, he hit the back of his ears and made some odd motion with his right hand in front of his stomach.  He basically looked like a really perverted third base coach that was telling you to go for home and then have sex with something.

I’m not sure if it’s a government initiative to install a dirty old man in every tourist attraction parking lot whose function is to point you towards statutory rape opportunities but if it is, somebody may want to put that on the chopping block first when budget cuts are next discussed.

Perhaps it was that I felt nothing drawing me to this lovely town or perhaps it was my encounter with the rape sensei, but I decided to continue driving north 12 miles to a small village next to a dam in a valley, known as El Chorro.  I checked into a very unique hotel named Complejo Turístico Rural La Garganta which was once a flour mill.

My room was cooler than a go-kart.  It had a neat living area with a small spiral staircase leading up to my bedroom and bathroom.  The ceiling went all the way up to the roof, giving me that well-deserved cathedral effect that has eluded me up until now.  And the view was classy enough to take home to meet your parents: it lead down to a reservoir and accompanying dam and then up to some beefy mountains that clearly didn’t take guff from anybody.  The only thing that spoiled the view slightly were the heavy duty power lines that ran throughout the area that slightly diminished the beauty like a few acne scars on the face of a prom queen or a few gray chest hairs in a proud sea of brown on the chest of a youthful man-champ (don’t ask me how I know).

I then got back into the car and drove up a mountain that delivered a high-5 of a view and looked directly down on my hotel, giving me the sensation of a person that was in a hotel, died, started to ascend to heaven, looked back down and said, “Hey, that’s the hotel I was staying in before I died.”

I then cleaned my figure, wrote some words and looked for food which was found at a casual bar that was also part of a camping ground.  I ate my meal right between a wood burning stove and a couple guys playing pool because that makes no sense.  I couldn’t decide which thing warmed me more.  At one point, I had to move my chair so a guy could take a shot.  The only thing that could provide the perfect nightcap to this was watching a couple of “The Simpsons” episodes in Spanish.  It was at this point that the dream stork delivered a sleep baby to me.

Thursday, December 29th

I went back to my camping ground bar for breakfast and then drove east to Torcal Park to witness some strange rock formations.  I then headed south, then east, then north and then east again so I would have something to write about that would annoy my readers (and by readers, I mean Microsoft Word spellcheck).  The other reason I traveled like this was because it was the best way to reach my next destination, Capileira.  With an elevation of 1400 meters, Capileira is a tiny little village on the side of the Sierra Nevadas Mountains in a region known as Las Apuljarras.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to kick ass at this altitude but that was not the case.  Soon I settled into a simple hotel that, besides smelling like pesticide, wasn’t too bad.  Making up for the smell was the little veranda and stellar mountain view.

After walking around the village, looking for dinner, I decided to eat in the restaurant located in my hotel.  As I sat down to write in the bar area, I looked to my right and saw a beautiful rotating rack of CD’s for sale.  Although they were the kind of CD’s you would find in a vacant apartment, they were asking $10 each for them.  Most of the covers looked like the type you would find on a blog that is dedicated to crappy album covers.

This CD tower of power was next to a TV that sat on top of a freezer filled with various ice cream treats.  Next to that were two kegs of beer.  So basically, the purpose of this corner of the room was to someday explain to aliens why humanity failed after we went extinct.  Hanging from the ceiling were about 20 cured pig legs for sale.  Even though this is common in southern Spain, it’s still pretty damn weird and is probably the initial reason for vegetarianism.  And then…bed.

Friday, December 30th

This morning, I walked across the street to a small restaurant and made it happen with some breakfast.  And yet again, I was given a tiny tea.  I don’t know why, but every time I order a tea in Spain, I receive a thimble of liquid.  If two GI Joe action figures can’t bathe comfortably in my tea, it’s too small.

I checked out of my hotel and did a slammin’ five-mile hike that took me north of the village.  The halfway point was a tiny deserted collection of houses and buildings, tucked away in a gorge by a river that was built in the 1950’s for people working at the hydroelectric station located right next to the village.  Oddly enough, I didn’t see any Decepticons filling up any energon cubes which is weird because if you watch the cartoon, Megatron is a big fan of hydroelectric energy.  Wow, that’s two Hasbro references in one day – just trying to get them out before 2011 expires like some sad, neglected boloney in a convenience store.

After the hike, I bought some castanets for my nieces which will be well-appreciated by my sister and brother in law as they try to enjoy some quiet.  I then carried on south to the coast and then east to the small beach town of San José which is located in the National Park, Cabo de Gata.

I felt a tad like a tumbleweed (or a tumbledude) blowing through this semi-occupied town.  Without all the resort humans, all that remained was a skeletal crew of locals.  I checked into a hotel and walked around the town.  By the beach, I passed by a guy playing guitar for money with almost no one around.  As he played “All Along The Watchtower”, I wondered why he chose this sparsely populated town to play for money.  Maybe he played guitar for the government, had a great career playing guitar next to a toll booth coin catcher thing (which is great because people used to throw so much change into his guitar case by accident) but then he pissed off the wrong person and got reassigned to a ghost town.  Either that or he simply had bad judgment.

I then popped into a restaurant with, as always, Nelson.  He chose to remain in book form and watched me eat an okay meal and drink beer.  Back to the room it was for me for some of “The Housekeeper” in Spanish where I’m almost certain I saw Boston comedian Tony V briefly portray a bus driver.  Tony V is a very funny chap that was on an episode of Seinfeld and on the Discovery Channel so if you don’t know him, you should consider getting a life transplant.  I then slept (in English).

Saturday, December 31st

The last day of 2011 began with two fried eggs, bread and tea (just as I always envisioned it would).  I boarded my car which, by the way, has an engine so weak that it isn’t measured in horsepower.  Rather, it is measured in ant power or AP.  My Corsa is about 10 AP (bad).  I drove south to see some fairly secluded beaches known as Los Genoveses and El Monsul.

I then headed north to an old, semi-abandoned mining town called Rodalquilar.  The houses and mining structures were from the 1950’s and were in serious decay.  It was so funny to me how tourists were allowed to walk through the crumbling concrete structures and down cracked stairways.  One tiny little fart of an earthquake and this place would fall like a house made of wet crackers.

I carried on north through another beach town known as Agua Amarga where I saw the oddest RV vehicle of all time called the Tanis II by Steyr Puch Pinzgauer.  It looked like a lunar vehicle from the movie Moonraker.  It even had two rear axles for apparently no other reason than it looks really cool.  About 30 minutes later, I arrived in Mojácar, a cute old town atop of a hill that I also visited in 2001.

I settled into a room in a tiny hotel called Mamabels that had French doors which provided an electric view of the Mediterranean Sea.  It was Mamabel herself that showed to me her room.  Her real name is Isabel but when you remove “Isa” and add a Mama to the mix, stuff happens.  Mamabel was residing in the age territory known as “late 60’s to early 70’s” but still had a sense of style about her.  My retro-hottie radar indicated that she most likely took center stage in the Hot Show back in the day.  And I could be wrong but I could have sworn I smelled a faint trace of cannabis in the air.  Mamabel’s raspy voice convinced me she was smoking something.

After re-acquainting myself with the town, I went into one of the very few restaurants open.  The name was Rincón de Embrujo and I literally had the place to myself.  The agreeable owner, Antonio, was in the midst of making a meal for his sons but he was more than happy to personally make me a very tasty meal and converse with me about Mojácar, ladies and other crucial matters.  Upon finishing, I thanked Antonio for such a custom, unique dining experience and returned to my room.

It was about 10pm and the beginning stages of Mamabel’s private New Year’s Eve party downstairs.  I was not warned of this and when I decided to sleep, I was challenged to do so as music began to crank on a sound system that would upset the dead.  It was a professional seamless dance mix dating from the 80’s through early 90’s.

Before I go on, I need to tell you about Spanish pillows.  No matter the width of the bed, there is only one pillow that matches the width of the bed.  So the few times I’ve had a queen-sized bed, my head was resting on a very long loaf of pillow.  I’m usually not a fan of this pillow design but on this noisy night, it proved useful since I wrapped it around my head and achieved just enough sound proofing to sleep through Mamabel’s bash that went past four in the morning.

Sunday, January 1st

Anyways, after I woke and left to secure breakfast, I passed Mamabel who apologized for the noise.  I couldn’t believe this older kitty still had the powers to party like a teen (great name for a song, by the way – Party Like a Teen).  I then began to wonder if she was as old as I thought.  Maybe her partying habits made her appear older than she really was.  Maybe she was only 30.  Maybe I should hit on her.

I decided not to hit on her and did the next best thing which was eat some healthy snacks in Plaza Nueva while enjoying some great views and more stories about Nelson’s life.  I’ve noticed something about Nelson.  He just blah blah blah’s on about his life but he never stops to listen to what I’m going through.  I know he’s just a book but he should pay more attention to my life passages.

This was followed by some more strolling around and a small lunch at Rincón de Embrujo with Antonio again.  It was clear to me that today would be a lazy day so I napped, read some more and went back out to eat again.

This evening’s selection was a small establishment called Le Sartén which means “the frying pan” and this frying pan was frying up nothing but British ex-patriots.  The owners, Chris and Toni, were both from England as well and served up good simple food for low prices.  On my way out, I ended up getting into a chat with a gentleman from Manchester, England by the name of David.  He kindly bought me a couple beers which is always the right thing for anyone to do.  I asked him about the ex-patriot bar that I visited in 2001 called Tír na nÓg.  He told me it changed hands and that sadly, one if it’s more colorful patrons named Indy, passed away.

Indy was from Indiana and when I spoke with him 11 years ago, he wove some wild stories about gun-running, the CIA and other Tom Clancy novel-inspiring things.  These ex-patriot bars, especially in a small town like Mojácar, are always more entertaining than laser tag.  I always find that they’re basically like a living room for a small, tight community; a community that is living in a self-imposed state of isolation and loves talking to other English-speaking people.

Then there was Jimmy from Ireland/Scotland (who was psyched I was from Boston), Juliette who claimed to be David’s daughter (even though she wasn’t), her man Ron (complete with killer stache) and Paul (who was Irish even though he had a British accent).  Later on, a dude from Norway came in who, when he was in neutral state with his mouth closed, looked like a normal handsome gent but when his mouth opened, crazy teeth and wild words were the order of the day.  Once he discovered I was American, he asked if I could tell my government to stop messing with Norway or the world or something to that effect.  His drunken state and teeth that looked like a heavily bombed village made it hard for me to concentrate on what he was actually saying.

Paul began to intellectually tool on the guy so I figured it was a good time to make an exit.  I bid farewell to my new friends and headed towards Plaza Nueva in search of something sweet to eat.  I found a restaurant that was in the process of closing but two young Romanian waiters named John and Vasi were kind enough to stay open in order to equip me with a fine mint tea, an extra-large portion of tiramisu and a complimentary shot of Amaretto.  When finished with this effective nightcap of drink, food chat, I thanked John and Vasi.

So it was a great night, one in which I couldn’t go wrong.  Even though most everything was closed, I somehow found the right places that were waiting to give me exactly what I wanted.  I guess this is how Jedi’s always feel when they vacation.  Sleep.

Monday, January 2nd

After waking and breakfasting, I drove north towards Alicante which would be my exit point from Spain.  On the way, I stopped off at a natural park know as Sierras Espuña which is a tidy collection of small mountains.  Hoping to go on a noteworthy hike, I drove all around this stupid park finding no maps or information points so I was denied a hike that could rival my rugged nature.  To make matters lamer, once I reached the highest, deepest point in the mountains, my car started making a strange banging noise near the front driver’s side wheel.  This made my winding, steep, cliff-edge descent more exciting than putting wet bread in a toaster (and the toaster would be on).

I eventually made it out of the park safely and stopped for gas.  As I already paid a premium rate for a full tank of gas when I picked up my rental car and was told I could bring it back empty, I put a small amount of gas in.  Annoyingly, this car had the habit of taking a while to reflect the addition of gas so the needle did not move up (even though it should have).  As time went on, the needle never corrected itself and continued to go down to the point that I was now wondering how much gas was actually in the tank.  When I finally parked it at my hotel, a couple miles from the airport, the low fuel light had gone from steady to an angry epileptic seizure-producing blinking.

I checked into my hotel which I dubbed The Noise Inn since I could hear people thinking in the next room.  The walls were so ineffective at stopping sound I was convinced they were merely holograms.

Dinner was delivered to my body by Bar Avenida and for dessert; I chose something on the menu that spoke of cake, ice cream and whiskey.  The waitress brought me a premade ice cream thing in a dish.  She then took the top off of it, put it down in front of me and dumped a shot of cheap whiskey on it.  I was thrilled.  More sleep.

Tuesday, January 3rd

Even though my room was smaller than a geek, it was so perfectly faced south that I was able to watch the sun set the previous night and the sun rise this morning.  Because of this, my room became known to me as the High-5 Suite.

After a slim breakfast, I got in my car, excited to see if I would have enough gas to make it to the airport.  I did pass by a couple gas stations but did not stop as I was determined to make my fantasy of running out of gas as I hit the rental return garage a reality.  I would push this car to the airport if I had to.  The rental company would be lucky if there was a teaspoon of gas vapor in the tank when I was done with it.  I did make it to the airport with a few ounces left in the tank (damn it!) and boarded a plane to my next destination: Sweden (via Copenhagen).

When the plane landed, I walked over to the train platform and took a train over the ocean and into Sweden where my friend CB was waiting to bring me back to his house in Höör.  There waiting for our awesome arrival was CB’s wife, Margaretha.  This lovely 250-year old Swedish farm house that was full of warmth and Christmas decorations did slightly ease the pain of going from 15 days of pure sunshine with temperatures around 70 to a cold, cloudy, rainy, windy environment that struggled to get into the high 30’s.

As we always do, we enjoyed fine whiskey, food, petit cigars and remarkable conversation.  My theory is if you indulge in whiskey, cigars, red meat, cream sauces, wine, chocolate mousse and brandy as I did, some of these vices cancel each other out.  It seemed to work.  Zzzzzz…zzzzz…zzzzz…

Wednesday, January 4th

This morning brought a healthy breakfast that did not involve brandy or cigars.  As dull as that sounds, it was probably for the best.  The rest of the day was lazy.  I read.  I caught up on my sitting.  I think I walked in the woods for a while but I can’t be sure.  The purpose of the day was the evening when the decadence was eaten, drank and smoked.  To ease our digestion, “Broken Flowers” was watched on TV.

Thursday, January 5th – 8th

After breakfast, more sitting and more Nelson, CB and I did some food-shopping.  On the way back, we stopped into a small glass blowing studio by the name of Incendi Glasblåseri.  Here we met the owners, the lovely glass blowing couple known as Helena and Espen.  Espen asked CB and I to sit down while he made a glass bird right in front of us.  As he crafted the bird, he instructed us on the process and even asked me to help at one point which made the experience feel like my wildest, most opulent Science Channel fantasy come to life.

With the exception of the glass blowing and “Broken Flowers”, the next few days were like another Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day”.  Each day, I was like a plane joyfully caught in the same flight pattern that consisted of nothing but clear skies, zero turbulence and jazz winds (tail winds).  I’m still not able to discern where the cigars began and the brandy ended.  I think Nelson even got buzzed on some whiskey at some point.

One thing I must comment on happened on my final night.  As Margaretha, CB and I were sitting in the living room, pickling ourselves, CB heard footsteps in my bedroom upstairs.  CB thought it may have been a ghost since he believes the house to be haunted.

On the way up to investigate with CB, I looked for some sort of weapon in case this ghost was a burglar that could experience pain.  I settled on a cane with a metal handle since I like to attack ghosts with the one thing they’ll need most when I’m through with them.  As long as the ghost didn’t have a crossbow or bigger cane, I felt confident I could handle him or her in a fight.  But my chance to prove myself in ghost battle would have to wait for we encountered no life forces in the bedroom.

CB also told me that when their daughter Pernilla slept in the same bedroom, she sometimes heard someone chopping wood in the middle of the night, 15 feet away in the attached barn.  And while I slept that night, I dreamed that I was doing exactly what I was doing at that moment: sleeping in the bedroom.  But in my dream that now began to blend into reality, I felt and heard something crawling onto my bed.  I struggled to pull myself out of the dream but felt paralyzed as the presence drew closer.  Finally, I summoned all of my will and woke myself up to find nothing. Was this a ghost’s revenge for my potential cane attack?  If so, it worked marvelously since I never fell back asleep and took in about four hours of sleep total that night, giving my body a feeling the next morning that was squirrely at best.

So when the sun did rise on the 8th, I began my journey back to London where I stayed one night before flying back to the USA.  As I landed in Tampa, Florida, I realized that I had not been to the states in 11 months which made me feel like a drug czar trying to sneak back into the country to attend his child’s confirmation or something. I chose Tampa so I could visit friends there and then seamlessly move on to see my parents near Jacksonville.  On the 21st, I finally made it back to Boston where I began the grim task of figuring out what next to do with my life.

As CB drove me to the train station that final morning in Sweden, he told me that he once awoke in the middle of the night and saw what appeared to be two ghosts, an old farmer and wife, watching him.

“You must have been freaked out!  Were you awake the rest of the night?” I said.

“No,” CB replied. “I fell back asleep.”

“Well these ghosts sound like perverts to me.”

“Yes but Margaretha and I were not doing anything so it was alright.”