Hi, I'm Lee. I'm currently walking from Madrid, Spain to Kiev, Ukraine on foot. Click here to learn why.
Apologies in advance to Mark Twain, but the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
Internet acccess is a scarcer luxury than Iīd imagined in the backwater towns I'm passing through, but then so is the ability to buy soap. No joke: some of the villages here have less than 100 inhabitants and no stores. The people buy their goods from trucks that visit the town each day.
I arrived in Madrid last Wednesday, received by my friend Nick Tyrone who flew in from London for the occasion. We took the sights together and he helped keep me centered for the journey ahead. Also laughed at me when I tried to practice putting up my tent in the hotel room.
In Madrid I ate fried brains. Whether cow brains or goat brains or some other brains I don't know, but the menu said Fried Brains and, moved by a certain empirical spirit, I said Yes. They were squishy, and no doubt an acquired taste I had not acquired.
We also met this armless gentleman on the streets of Madrid. Am inclined to feel sorry for him, but he seems to be doing well for himself, considering.
I set out toward the Northeast on Friday after lunch. The learning curve since then has been tending toward steep.
(1) Spain is a hilly country. It will be the hardest terrain I encounter for my entire trip. For that reason, Iīm happy if I can be out of the country before the end of March.
(2) The police in a certain suburb of Alcobendas don't take kindly to strange men dressed in dark clothes wandering their streets after midnight. Especially when this suburb was, as the cop explained to me in a rare burst of English, "the Beverly Hills of Spain." Guard dogs, high hedges, manned security booths for individual houses. The friendly officers checked my passport against immigration records and packed me in a car, drove me a mile away to a hotel and encouraged me to retire for the night. I hated to be breaking the walking rule so early, but I wasn't about to try and explain who Werner Herzog was to caballeros with guns.
(3) What little I can remember of high-school Spanish has proved very, very helpful so far. ĄGracias, Sr. Aylward, Sra. Rybicki, y Sra. Ryan!
(4) Climbing hills makes me tired. Sometimes 10 or 15 miles is just enough for the day.
(5) I should have bought more phone cards in Madrid.
Soon, I think, a day of rest. I want to get up to Logroņo within two weeks so I can begin walking the E3 long-distance footpath there on out to France and beyond. 'Til then Iīm expecting a rough slog.
Let me pause to rub my sunburned face and to thank the most recent Fellow Travelers: John and Pam Prepora, Ginger Cassidy, Ruth Bzibziak, Janice Corbett, Patricia Doell, Steve Yarbrough, Michelle Pham, Matthew Bauer, Mia Bass, Christopher Burgess, Michelle Krumholz, Mehal Shah, Leif Karpe, Kenneth Bartels, Lorne Hobbs, Mark Smalling, Lori Willmer, Paul Berman, and Julie Polivka.
I hope to post again within a week.
No, the trip hasn't been quite that harsh on me yet. Above you'll find one of the friendly patrons who make up the morning crowd of the Bar Guarni in Barahona. He asked me to make sure I included his hat in the photograph.
And now, a day of rest. This is my first complete day with no walking since I began ten days ago. I've been pottering about my windowless hotel room, taking short jaunts to local shops for coffee and chocolate.
Also, today is the first day I've had time to write and send postcards to my Fellow Travelers. So if you were one of the first 30 or so people to donate, expect something in the mail soon.
Anytime I've travelled, I've enjoyed taking pictures of amusing signs. As for instance, this logo for an unfortunately-named ice cream, espied on a moving truck:
Or this, which contains at least three recognizable trademark infringements:
On a darker note, this is graffiti which greets entrants to Congostrina (population 12):
Hard to follow that. How about a photograph of a two-year old child drinking coffee?
The walking becomes less of a chore each day and I can spend more time looking around, taking photos and video and talking to people. It still easnīt easy, but letīs just say Iīm glad the mountainous run from Casa de Uceda to Atienza is behind me.
Olaf Mueller of Duetche Welle TV wants to meet me this weekend and film me as I walk from Logrnoņo to Pamplona for a program called Euromaxx. I will of course report faithfully on how that turns out.
The ranks of the Fellow Travelers continue to grow and grow. My sincere gratitude to the latest donors: Marie Logsdon, Jason Smit, Pat Esposito, Scott White, Mary Koleno, Adam Adler and Jake Bern.
Each Fellow Traveler donation gets me necessities, such as a night in a hostel, two square meals, 30 liters of water, or five DV tapes. I think of your generosity with every purchase.
Subject: Out of the frying pan.
Pamplona is a landmark for me, the last big city in Spain along my route. Am taking a half day of rest and sugary snacks as I prepare for the two-day push through the Pyrenees and into France.
I am finally off the main roads, and can at last stop playing live-action Frogger. But it isn't a free lunch. The first part of the trail that I'm on is more famously known as the Camino de Santiago, the famous Pilgrim's route from France to the cathedral in Santiago at the western edge of Spain.
Many pilgrims follow this route, and they always go east to west. Consequently, and as with most things in life, there are no markers or signposts for those who want to go the opposite direction.
It is possible, though, to reverse-engineer a route by looking out for these white-and-red markers that demarcate the trail.
A word about rain. In my past life I romanticized it, looked forward to drizzles and thunderstorms. Having lived in both Portland, Oregon and London, England, the weather in those places was for me a selling point.
I now hate rain. Not only because it tends to be wet, but because it conspires with dirt to create mud. Mud sticks to my shoes and slows me down. And two days ago, after I made an ill-advised shortcut through a field of trees, mud grabbed both of my feet up to my ankles and rendered me completely immobile for almost an hour. I couldnīt move without losing my shoes, and to lose my shoes would have made for a worse problem if I'd sank again. I had to stand there, screaming my head off like an idiot until three people came to help pull me out. This picture should suffice to tell the story:
My favorite part about the trail is the people I meet coming from the other way. I found a kindred spirit in Danique, a man who seemed to have walked straight out of the Gospel but comes in actuality from Belgium. He left 10 weeks ago because he was "sick of it all", began in Geneva and walked through winter to Spain.
They all walk for their own reasons. Jessica and Carolyn, a mother and daughter from California, sold their house five months ago and have been travelling ever since. Alex is a musician from Nottingham, England and is walking the trail because he hopes it will inspire him to write an album. And Pablito from Azquieta, pictured below, hasn't walked the Camino for years, but now opens his house to Pilgrims passing through his little village. He gave me a large walking stick that he made himself.
The Euromaxx piece on me was shot over the weekend. It was somewhat unnatural for me to be filmed as I filmed, and I made sure to film their filming so as to complete the postmodern moebius strip.
The hotels in Pamplona are too expensive, so I'm going to leave now to walk for a few miles to the next town. I will remember Pamplona for its music, for the street performers I saw here and also for the 82-year-old man who grabbed me by the arm, stuck his face two inches from my camera lens, and sang to me.
Above image is for Chris Marker. My thanks to the latest Fellow Travelers: Anya Antonovych, Beth Klutcharch, Camille Curry, Nancy Frothingham, Cherie O'Brien, Carmen Greco, Alan Adler, Anastasia Makarenko, Ken Olsho and Rebecca Olsho.
Oh, and I'd like to set up a mailing list to send email notifications when I update the site. If you have any tips about how to automate this, please send me a note.
As I crossed into France, I made sixteen new friends.
A group of nice people visiting the countryside for the weekend welcomed me with sweet liquers and sausage.
"God save the queen!" one man said when he heard me speak. I told him I was American, not English. He neglected to offer a similar benediction for my nation's head of state.
I asked them what I should see and do while in France. One woman said I should see Paris. "Oui," I said, "Je t'aime Paris." This did not mean "I love Paris" as I intended but rather "I love you Paris." Her husband, standing nearby, took it in good humor.
And so it's been since I passed through the mountains Saturday evening. One needs a certain amount of hospitality after climbing 1,500 feet in the morning and descending 3,500 in the afternoon.
I received it from people like Irazabal, whom I saw smoking outside his two-room house near Arbouet. I told him I was walking toward Kiev. Irazabal liked my plan, and made me a sandwich for my troubles. I ate it there and he gave me two more for the road. Here's a picture of him that I snapped as he told me about his nephew who lives in San Francisco:
Later that night, I arrived in Arbouet to find the only hotel there closed. I met some locals who told me I could sleep in the municipal building that the town's dance troupe used for rehearsals. It was four walls and a roof, and a jerry-rigged network of chairs overlaid with my sleeping bag served for a bed.
Without doubt, getting lost is now the sharpest thorn in my side. Whether from bad trail markers, a misread map, or directions lost in translation, there's nothing more frustrating than losing an hour or more because I've got to double-back and take the other road. Last week I wandered for three hours from the town of Estelle, unsure of exactly where I was but confident I was at least going in the right direction, only to find that I'd made an almost perfect circle back to Estelle.
And so it was quite urgent that I find a useable map of the footpaths in France. The one I want goes up to Bordeaux and Tours before cutting over to Paris. All commonly-tread paths, and yet I couldn't find a good map on the internet or in any of the stores in Spain or France.
I asked at the Friends of the Pilgrims Society in St. Jean Pied-de-Port and even they didn't have it, but as luck would have it a man named Jean happened to be stopping there, too. He had just the map I needed, had bought it in Germany and used it to walk from Le Puy.
"Will you sell it to me?" I asked. He said he'd rather trade for something. He'd told me he was going to Spain for the next three weeks, so I offered my Spanish-English pocket dictionary.
I gave him something for which I had no more use and got something useful in return. He gave me something for which he had no more use and got something useful, too. A textbook-perfect barter. Here is a picture of Jean:
Jean is a French-Canadian paramedic who works half the year and travels for the rest. He asked that I send this photo to his son and daughter via email.
I'm quite sure that I've seen enough horses, sheep, goats and roosters in the last week to pass a veterinary exam. Here is a throng of sheep who fled from me as I walked through them:
I should be no more than 30 days from Paris. Once I pass through the Arc de Triomphe I'm about a third of the way to Kiev. I do not know if my web updates will be as long in coming as the last one has been, but if they are I will compensate by making them lengthier, as this one is.
That girl is excited about a particular brand of French candy. And I'm excited to report the joining of the new Fellow Travelers: Kseniya Yarosh, Ping Hae, John O'Haire, Frederic Bonn, Jeff S., and five donations from the Aleck Family of Frankfort, IL, including one in memory of their son Kevin.
The Frenchman at the internet cafe here is giving me menacing looks, so I've got to go. Until next time.
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Dec. '05 - Jan. '06.
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writing, photographs and video all rights reserved, etc. etc.
Dec. '05 - Jan. '06.
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writing, photographs and video
all rights reserved, etc. etc.