October 28, 2008

Farwalking forever…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sensel @ 5:38 pm

I’ve been back home about a week, and while I’m happy to smell the Washington woods, revel in the mountains’ fall colors, and reconnect with friends and family, my adventures already feel far off. The task now, as always after a return, is to keep my eyes calibrated to “seeing fresh” and my wonder close at hand, because I think the joys of travel are as much a function of attitude and approach than actual dislocation. After my African trips, I’ve had to keep telling myself, “see with Africa eyes” — because even roadsides I’ve seen a million times can be beautiful, if I remember to look as though I’ve never seen them before. That’s when I notice color and texture and detail that gets lost in familiarity and context.

No culture shock, somewhat to my surprise, except for one observation — boy, does the U.S. ever have WAY too many signs, billboards, signs, advertisements, and signs. It makes our urban landscapes a lot uglier than they need to be. Oh, well. Everywhere has something that requires active overlooking, I suppose.

I thought I’d post an “after” photo of my boots, expecting them to be in shreds after some 650 miles, but you wouldn’t see the difference from the “before” shot. I should probably to write Vasque and offer to do a commercial for them! :-)

Onward, with farwalking feet and Africa eyes…


October 16, 2008

Photos from the Isle of Wight

Filed under: England — sensel @ 1:23 pm

Views from my  wednesday walk, including “The Needles” at one end of the island. 


   My little boathouse.

October 10, 2008

Lucky meander

Filed under: England — sensel @ 10:16 am

Good things come to those who stray. On my walk the other day, which was originally planned to be an out-and-back, I got to a junction and thought, “well, my feet are tired, but I’d like to walk alongside this woods instead of over that meadow again, so I’m turning here,” even though I didn’t really know where the turn was going to end up or how much it might add to my mileage. I’ve spent a fair amount of time nominally lost, in part because the island uses about four waymarking languages garbled into one, with lots of unmarked stuff in between, but there are so many trails that it works out in the end.

A few minutes later, I saw a little dog up sniffing around up ahead, like hundreds of other terriers and so forth that I’ve seen here in two weeks. Usually it’s just a matter of a few moments for the owner to appear behind.

Then I got closer and thought, “Hmm, interesting tail – hey! That’s not a dog! That’s a red fox!”

And I actually got to within about a dozen feet before he glanced up and went, “Ulp! Human!” and darted into the bushes. I’ve never seen a fox “in real life” before, so I was pretty excited. They’re a little bigger than I imagined, and pretty. And fuzzy-looking. Too bad he didn’t let me pet him. I’ve also seen a cute little mouse – a dormouse, I think – and some interesting birds I haven’t got a clue what they are, including a BIG yellow one, and approximately forty million rabbits. Cormorants and pheasants and grouse, moor ponies and fuzzy highland cattle and too many spiders.

Zillions of famous writers have spent time writing here, including Keats, Tennyson, and Dickens. Not to mention painters and other artists. Easy to see why. Had a great hike under cloudless skies yesterday (well, almost) along the island’s most remote coast, and boy, did I want to climb down the “Danger! Cliff erosion! Trail closed! DO NOT ENTER!” trail so I could walk on about two straight miles of uninhabited orange smuggler’s beach, which I could see from the clifftop had gained one lonely set of footprints while the tide was out. I was good, but it was really hard to resist. My fear of high tide is more than my fear of eroded trails, though, and it was pretty apparent that I’d be swimming if I walked too slow along parts of that beach, so alas. Couldn’t figure out any other way down there, but maybe that’s a project for next week. Somebody around here has to know if it’s possible or just life-threatening.

And I’m actually kinda ready to come home, so I’ll save the life-threatening parts for another trip. :-)

October 3, 2008

Up the down, heroes on the side

Filed under: England — sensel @ 10:27 am

Had a terrific walk today through a very atmospheric chine (on our planet, we’d call it a narrow erosion ravine, though one filled with great gnarled trees, vines, and unusual plants – the sort of place where you expect a toucan to land on a branch and start talking to you – and then along the beach and esplanade for a few miles through typical British beach holiday-land: rainbow beach huts, pinball machines, fake fun, and a universe of ice cream (much of which I tried to ignore, focusing on the beach and the waves). And then up a big chalk down (up the down? gotta wonder why they’re called downs, since they definitely go up). The views were spectacular, the weather briskly great, and the sea hypnotic, reassuring, eternal. It’s paler green here than the Pacific, and clean, and the seafoam at high water, gleaming and backlit by the sun, looked just like silk. I wanted to pet it.

Among the things I was reminded of, passing a lifeboat station, were the RNLI stations I saw in Cornwall. From my American perspective, I think of lifeboats as something the Coast Guard (read: government) provides. Here, they have the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, a fully volunteer, 100% donation funded organization with a zillion operations around UK coastlines. They do amazing work out of the goodness of their hearts and, I suspect, a very firm connection to people making their living from and thus risking their lives regularly on the sea. One of the newer lifeboat stations I saw near the Lizard had the boat station, oh, 200 feet up a very steep cove, with a long, long ramp out to the water. You could go down about 150 steps (with a sign at the top warning you that you’ll have to come back up, don’t forget) to a midpoint and tour a mini-museum in their radio office, and they had lots of historical photos. Amazing. When they’re scrambled, it’s of course mostly during bad weather, as in gale force winds, and it’s very hard to get a small boat past the 20-foot breakers crashing in. Used to be, it took 10 or 20 men in the shallows with long poles, practically drowning in the surf, to push the lifeboat out past the breakers before it could get underway to the rescue.(And in the days where they used oars instead of motors, for which there were a few photos or artists’ renditions, I don’t know how they did it at all. We’re talking manly men, here, obviously.) In this modern station, when they deploy the boat (which I’m guessing was probably a 20- or 24-foot vessel or so, spiffy and modern, this one, with an 8-man crew), it shoots down the ramp – maybe a 40 degree angle? –like a one-way rollercoaster and crashes into the water beyond the worst of the breakers. It must be thrilling and scary to make that ride, not knowing if you’re coming back. Not too many years ago, a lifeboat on a rescue was thrown by the 30-foot swells into the boat they were trying to save and all hands went down, not only on the sinking boat but also the 8 people (unpaid volunteers, remember) on the lifeboat.

I know very little about boating, but even if I did, I don’t think I’d make a good volunteer for the RNLI, because reading some of their rescue reports, I’d be hitting the rescued parties with a bat and then drowning them myself. It sounds like a statistically significant percentage have been idiots out beyond their depth in weather they had no business boating in. The RNLI guys are saints for rescuing them.

Had a couple of nights of windy weather here, with the accompanying surf pounding boom, boom, boom against the sea wall all night long – my little rental is not very far from the wall – and it made me wonder what really bad weather here is like. I’d kinda like to find out, but I’m kinda afraid to!

September 30, 2008

A few more tidbits from France…

Filed under: France — sensel @ 7:52 am

Wild roses loaded with rose hips so bright red and succulent I wanted to eat them (can you?)… cow pastures dotted with hundreds of lavender crocuses… a big woodpecker with a red head and bright yellow back… little lizards skittering every which way into the grass… the jingle of bells on bellwethers, both cow and sheep, drifting over the hillsides… the deep, luxuriant silence in the Aubrac whenever my boots stopped crunching along… entire cliffsides of impressive columnar basalt, as well as the side of a small quarry where the columns curved in a shape very like the scallop shell that was the emblem of the Chemin de St. Jacques… pointy-roofed towers on castles (and some regular ol’ houses) that clearly inspired the French tower scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail… the smell of warm croissants in every village, every morning… the edible sculptures in the windows of patisseries, the intimidating and expensive delights in choclateries, and the less beautiful but delicious koign amman in Bretagne – kind of like Breton cinnamon roll, but softer and tastier. I’ll have to see if I can find a recipe online and try those at home!

September 27, 2008

Filed under: France — sensel @ 5:33 pm


Above St. Come


Filed under: France — sensel @ 5:22 pm


This might be my favorite trip photo. Light from the stained glass in an old church, will have to look up the town’s name, they’re all blending together…


and the same little town, from my hotel window.



Joni’s travel statistics

Filed under: France — sensel @ 8:50 am

Number of people who have asked me for directions in a language I barely understand: 10

(I KNOW I don’t look French, so I think that since I’m alone, they assume I must know where I am and where I’m going. Not a good assumption. I think two are less likely to be lost than one.)

General varieties of toilets encountered: 7 (counting the toolie bush, the kind where the attendant is expecting to be tipped, the “old” French kind that basically is a porcelain hole in the floor – although one of these had a flushing mechanism that I thought was going to suck ME down the drain — and the kind where the whole metal room is automatically hosed down afterward, which seems like sanitary overkill to me)

Modes of transportation (whole trip so far): 11, including bicycle, water taxi, and people-mover

Novel pages drafted: 145

Miles walked: Over 520. My boots are holding up great, if you don’t count the waterproofing. I actually started adding detours and extra jaunts to my walks on several of the easier days last week because 12 miles didn’t feel like enough and I’d gained enough confidence in my maps and the waymarking not to get lost. Rambling!

Pretend I’m still in France…

Filed under: France — sensel @ 8:49 am

…where even when I could find 10 minutes of internet access, I had to use a French keyboard. I thought keyboards were universal. Non, madame. So even the VERY few messages I got out looked like this, almost in code:

Qnd I?m hqvinb q greqt ti,e>

But Le Puy and the Aurvergne and the Aubrac “mountains” were spectacular. They don’t look like anywhere I’ve been, and every day, almost, the landscapes were different. One day I was in “kinda like Northern California if there were more leafy trees and much smaller farms and castles instead of cars.” The next day I was in “kinda like Northern Idaho except not so rugged and the pine woods are more open and smaller.” A third day was “kinda like Walla Walla must have looked 150 years ago, but with stone houses.”


Le Puy, where the Chemin de St. Jacques started, at dawn. Big statue of Mary and St. James on the hills. The weather was fabulous, but it was hazy enough that none of my photos do it justice — the camera sees the haze a lot more than my eyes did.


My French is better than it was. Which is not saying much. It almost feels weird to be in London and hear English – and the easier-ness is a relief, but I’m having some trouble switching gears. I keep saying bonjour and merci automatically.

Oddest food eaten: Aligot, which is this HUGE knot of mashed potatoes with so much cheese stirred into them that they turn into silly putty and you can stretch them from the floor to the ceiling. No exaggeration. Tasty, but chewy. And heavy. And voluminous. You could serve 10 people with the dish they brought me alone.

Minor travel mishap: Accidentally ordering a pate (yuk) that I thought was going to be a soup. Yes, I choked most of it down anyway. I’m sure it was good for me, the courteous thing, and I needed the protein.

Fortuitous timing incident: Walking into the cathedral at the start of the Chemin de St. Jacques just as the organ player started his evening practice. A great kickoff to the pilgrim’s way.

Puzzlement 1: How a people/culture can be so vocal about the separation of church and state and so staunchly dubious about Catholic dogma, and at the same time, so molded by and appreciative of Catholic imagery, ritual, traditions … they somehow manage to live at once from what seems to me to be two nearly opposing perspectives.

Unexpected bliss: The whole sub-culture of the Chemin de St. Jacques, including the hospitality and focus on the modern pilgrims on it, most of whom are not there for religious reasons. There doesn’t seem to be any “tourist fatigue” among the locals here, which is amazing, given that they’ve been inundated with tourists for more than 1,000 years.

I came across quotes, carved on signposts, that were perfect:

Sur l’Aubrac, il n’y a rien ou il y a tout. Dans le silence et le solitude, on n’entende plus que l’essentiel.

Basic translation: In the Aubrac [mountains], there is nothing – or everything. In the silence and solitude, one perceives nothing more than what is essential.

Puzzlement 2: How the English and French cultures can be so different, despite geographical proximity and many joint monarchies. I guess I expected England, only in French and with better food. But France – even Paris – is like a small, small town in many ways. The countryside is utterly outside of time, except for the cycles of seasons. There is a crystal clear sense of the value and interdependence of human life, and the grace of the planet in even the most basic of interactions. The pursuit of beauty is a high priority, but fortunately, it’s found everywhere, including the cows and the cheese and the rocks and the orange juice glasses. The French are all about grace, in its various meanings, I think.

France is beautiful. It doesn’t make me want to live here, like England does – I can’t explain that — but I surely would come back to visit.

September 14, 2008


Filed under: France — sensel @ 5:04 pm


A typical (okay, perhaps prettier than average) Breton hamlet, Lehon.


Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress