Hey friends, I am so excited to announce that my new Action Jack site is available for your viewing pleasure. Check out all the fun travel stuff at ActionJacksTNA.com.
November 23, 2012
November 1, 2012
Hey friends, do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let’s start with the bad news. This website will no longer be updated and will soon be deleted. Now for the good news. Action Jack will be moving. I have acquired a new site that will allow me to continue posting my travel adventures while incorporating useful information for travelers and other fun stuff that I hope travelers and travel readers alike will enjoy.
The new Action Jack’s Travel and Adventure site will be up as soon as possible. In the meantime, I will leave this site up. Please feel free to browse the archives and catch up on some old adventures. Look for me soon. Until then…
October 20, 2012
Living in a caravan in The Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalucia, Spain afforded me many adventures. Occasionally, there was also time to relax and watch the blue waters of the Mediterranean from my portable home one thousand meters above the town of Orgiva. During one such occasion I got out my memo pad and began making a list, as I often do. I listed my favorite things about my Andalucian adventure thus far. Today I would like to share some of the things that topped my “favorites list” on that afternoon in Andalucia. Here are my six favorite things about my brief time spent living in the Sierra Nevada.
#6- Beneficio and the Orgiva Hippies
After a bus ride through the Sierra Nevada Mountains we came upon a town named Orgiva. I stepped off the bus in Orgiva and took a seat on the bus stop bench. I watched the people in the sidewalks and the dogs in the street. I soon noticed that there seemed to be two very different opinions in this town when it came to fashion sense. Most of the men and women donned clothing that was plain, clean, and pressed. However, every few minutes someone would walk by, usually with a walking stick and makeshift pack, wearing wild, disheveled layers of multicolored clothing. When my ride up the mountain arrived he told me that outside of town, in the valley, there is a group of “hippies” living in a commune called Beneficio. He revealed that he had helped to found Beneficio eighteen years ago. Over the next two weeks I would hear the stories of the commune and even spend time with its residents as I wandered through the teepees and gardens of Beneficio and the streets of Orgiva. For some of the stories involving Beneficio and Orgiva check out my “Spain” section.
Why Beneficio and the Orgiva Hippies made the list:
When I would lay in the grass, high up on the mountain, in the afternoon I would look down into Beneficio and see the hippies working hard and being responsible. Stereotype shattered. If that is not enough reason for them to be on the list then I could just remind you that for almost twenty years these people have turned this valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains into a community that eats together, lives together, and works together.
My friends in the big mud, cement, log house invited me in often for lunch. One day, while having avocado salad I noticed a jar. It sat on a shelf near the ceiling. The liquid inside was blood red and floating at the top was a dark mass. Within a few minutes of me asking what it was I had the jar in my hand and was tasting the bloody liquid. It was Kombucha, a Japanese beverage. The liquid inside was a tea/sugar mixture. The mass floating at the top was a slimy, gray colony of bacteria and yeast. The gray chunk turns the liquid into a lightly carbonated sweet beverage when it is finished brewing, which this batch was not. It was bitter and flat. Obviously, the kombucha’s delicious flavor and appetizing presentation were not what I liked about this experience. So what was it that made me add Kombucha to the list…?
Why Kombucha made the list:
As I drank from the vile-looking concoction I realized that I was living a global experience. I was an American trying a Japanese drink with a British family in Spain. Nice.
#4- The White Villages of Andalucia
Small villages consisting of white buildings can be found scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains. For a few weeks I stayed a fifteen minute hike from one of these traditional villages, Cáñar. There are a few hundred people that populate the village. Some days the only street would be populated by more goats than cars. The two bar/tapas restaurants in the village hold fifteen or twenty people, though I rarely saw more than a few patrons inside. The narrow, winding path that weaves through the village ends abruptly in many places. Suddenly, the mountainside drops off, leaving a 180 degree view of the Sierra Nevada and its white villages.
Why The White Villages of Andalucia made the list:
After a few weeks of near daily trips to one such village I was able to learn a few local phrases and make a few friends while learning about daily life in one Andalucian white village. Also, just look at them. From a distance it looks like part of history has traveled through time and landed in present day without a scratch on it. From up close the scratches and dents of history lend the dignity befitting of such an historical community.
#3- The Dogs
For anyone who has traveled to the villages of the Sierra Nevada this choice may be a little puzzling. The dogs in many smaller towns wander in the streets with little fear of the traffic. They follow anyone with food hoping something falls to the ground. They are seen as a nuisance. They are sometimes mistreated and most often believed to be a pest but I disagree. I think they are great animals. Most of the ones that I came in contact with were social with the passersby and other dogs. There is only one thing I would change about them… I wish they had a home. In fact, I would like to see that for all the stray dogs out there. If you are in a position to adopt a dog, stop by your local animal shelter to help save a dog from a life of begging or worse. If you are in Andalucia and would like to adopt a dog go to http://www.petsinspain.info/index.htm for information on how to help a down and out Andalucian pup like one of these:
Why The Dogs made the list:
The dogs made the list because even though they were a lot of fun in the street I bet they would be even more fun in somebody’s home.
#2- The Views
This choice should not puzzle anyone who has been to The Sierra Nevada mountains. Whether you are standing in the river looking up the cliffs or gathering firewood at 2,000 meters there is always a vista in Andalucia. Here are a few of my favorite Sierra Nevada scenes.
Why The Views made the list:
#1- The People
I first experienced Andalucia via the Granada bus station. I arrived late in the evening and the next bus to Orgiva did not leave until morning. I arranged my sleeping bag, blanket, and down coat in a fashion that I hoped would prevent a sore neck in the morning. When morning came I woke up to the sound of the cafe opening. It was full of excited people standing at the bar, ordering, drinking cafe con leche, and talking. I hurried to join them. This was one of my first chances to converse in Spanish while in Spain. I will not go into details but it was more difficult than I had anticipated. I did, however, still manage to meet some friendly people and work through a conversation. These people in the Granada bus station would be the first of many groups of Andalucians I would speak awkward Spanish in front of as I learned the language. They would also be the first of many groups of people in Andalucia who would show me why this region has a reputation for beauty in both its nature and its people.
Why The People made the list:
For me traveling is a great way to see amazing things. I am constantly impressed by what people have managed to do here on earth; the monuments they have created and the history they have left behind. However, none of these things impresses me like the people I get to know as I search for the next site. They each have a unique story to tell and I always like a good story so the people have to be my favorite.
As you might imagine, there are other ways you could occupy your time in the Spanish Sierra Nevada mountains but this is what I did. Next month I will be posting an adventure from a hike to the far side of the mountains around Orgiva so keep a look out for that. Until then…
October 5, 2012
I knocked on Yasmin’s Barcelona door in the early afternoon. I had spent the morning adventuring in the Olympic Village, after checking out of my hostel with a RyanAir ticket to Gothenberg, Sweden and my backpack. I made some Swedish friends in Rome last year and stayed in contact with them. Now, I was finally going to see them in their homes. I had been planning this leg of the trip for months. In Rome, the Swedes swelled with the pride of their fine country and its fine people. For the next couple of weeks they would show me why, I thought.
As I walked towards Barcelona’s el Gotic district, where I had spent most of my time since arriving, I thought about how I would get to Gothenberg and then Jonkoping, where I would be staying. The night before my wallet had been stolen with my cash, debit cards, and identification cards inside. This certainly added a level of difficulty to the trip but I was pretty certain I could still make it.
I knocked on Yasmin’s Barcelona door. She opened the door and, with a smile, invited me in. She was just moving into this new flat so I asked how I could help. After hanging a black shelf that ran the length of the longest wall and assembling an Ikea table I was starting to get hungry.
For the past four days I had been wandering in Barcelona’s el Gotic district. The bed I rented for my first four days in Barcelona was on Escudellers in the heart of el Gotic. The buildings began where the one lane street ends. At night I was sleeping on the third floor in an apartment that had been repurposed into a hostel by adding five beds to each of the bedrooms. Below the window of this hostel there was a party that lasted until the sun rose over Barcelona.
Now, here I was four doors down and one floor up helping a new friend from Angelholm, Sweden move into a flat in Barcelona. I could hear the street festivities below. I could smell the fresh samosas that were being sold out of cardboard boxes. My new Swedish friend asked when I was leaving to see my other Swedish friends in Sweden. As was true of most of the people I met from Sweden, Yasmin was certain I would enjoy my adventures there.
Then I told her my story about getting robbed at the end of Barcelona’s main promenade, La Rambla. She told me that if you haven’t been robbed at least once in Barcelona then you haven’t really seen Barcelona. We both laughed and then she got serious. She told me that she knew what it was like to get robbed here and it was not fun. She offered me her couch, if I assembled it first, so I reconsidered my trip to Sweden. Without any money the trip to Sweden was going to be slower than I had hoped. It would also mean meager eating and free transportation. Once in Jonkoping I could have someone from my family mail me my new debit card when it arrived at my home. This was one option. This ended up not being the option I chose.
In Yasmin’s flat above the narrow street in el Gotic, Barcelona I assembled a couch. Then, that night Yasmin, James, Walter, Yvanna, Davíd, Jim, Emilie, and I went out together to see the city’s nightlife. While we were out James told me that he knew a guy who would let me work for him doing pub crawl promotions any night of the week. I was hoping to get make some quick cash while I waited for my debit card so the next night I walked over to the Victoria Pub.
I went into the pub and found James’ friend, Jason, who had moved to Barcelona from California. He told me to meet him outside the bar in about a half hour. When I came back there was a small group of people outside the Victoria Pub. They were also working for some quick cash. Most of them were either travelers or new arrivals in Barcelona. No one had any plans to do this work long term. A few of them had been doing it off and on for a month now for extra money. Jason made it very clear that we could take this seriously or not. To him it made very little difference. If we brought people in to the pub to sign up for the pub crawl then he paid us for each person. If we did not then he paid us nothing. He handed each person in the crowd an unopened box of cheap sangria, told them to have fun, and we dispersed.
When I got to Placa Reial I sold my Sangria to an old man from Barcelona for a fair price. I wandered the Placa, full of glowstick salesman and club promoters, reading the flyer I had been given about the “pub walk.” Jason warned the group of us that the police do not allow “pub crawls” in Barcelona. However, they will allow “pub walks.” So, with what information I had I came up with a pitch and began talking to everyone in Placa Reial. I started with the salesmen and other promoters because I knew they would tell me no while I worked out my pitch. After talking to fifty or so people I saw a group of American girls sitting on the edge of the fountain. As I talked to them they grew interested in the pub walk. I escorted them to the pub to sign up and get a drink. Then I went back to work in Placa Reial. I made twenty-two Euros that night but, more importantly, I talked to a lot of people from around the world that night. Most of them had no interest in a pub walk but a lot of them had a few minutes to share a story.
Well, the adventures in Barcelona went on for a few weeks after this and I will share them with you soon. Until then…
September 21, 2012
From the notes of Day 39: 6/18/2011
The jazz band is swinging over the edge of Pincian Hill. Behind them are the piazzas and pizzas of Rome. The Ancient Egyptian obelisk of Piazza del Popolo fills the foreground. Further west there is a dome that covers a sizable portion of an entire country. I am sitting against the railing at the cliff side of Pincian Hill listening to a swinging band and waiting for the sun to set over the Vatican. It is just past noon so I have a while to wait.
I opened my blanket into the grass and took a seat. This part of the park was full of people who were picnicking and napping. I had a difficult time deciding which one to choose so I did both. Success all around.
When I woke up from my nap it was still early in the afternoon. The sun would not set for hours. I packed up my blanket and walked to the east. The path led straight as far as I could see. It also broke off down smaller paths every few sets of steps. I took one of the paths and found that it paralleled a row of marble busts. So did all the other paths. I saw Ancient Greeks and Romans alongside the bust of Charles Lindbergh. I even saw what purported to be the bust of a wizard from Volinor, though I have my doubts. At the end of one of the trails I found a small outdoor sculpture exhibition featuring pieces by Salvador Dali. I circled the exhibit and headed back to the trails. The busted paths opened into sidewalks, boulevards, and bridges.
I took the high road.
I sat on the guard rails of the bridge looking down at the street below. On the bridge behind me were weavers and winders on wheels. They danced and dashed among miniature construction cones on their blades of wheels. A shirtless man with tattoos and a drum provided a reactive soundtrack. The bladers slid one footed along the pavement, whipping left and right around the cones.
As the first cold of evening moved in the bridge emptied. I followed the long, straight path back towards the lookout point of Pincian Hill. The fountains and statues on the path were lit by the gold of the ready-to-set sun. I circled them quickly so that I could see the horizon as it went through the spectrum of colors.
I arrived at the lookout point and was soon joined by many others as we watched the sun set over the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The jazz band had been replaced by the smooth sound of a nylon string guitarist. Rome, never one to give up without a fight, battled back against the darkness. The streets and buildings of the city glowed yellow-orange and hummed electric.
Rome stayed alive as the night began. My plans this night were far to the north so before the final train ran I walked down the forever flights of stairs to the Flaminio stop. I saw the last train warning and people scrambling up and down the platform looking in the cars for an open spot. I knew that getting a seat would be impossible but I was nearly as certain that I would be getting on this train. I did.
By the time the train reached my stop most of the passengers had deboarded. When I arrived back at the campground a new adventure had already begun. I will share that story some other day. Until then here are some pics from the day’s adventure…
And now the view on Pincian Hill as the sun sets…
September 14, 2012
From my notes of Day 41: 2/20/2012
I have been staying with Julia and her family for about a week now. Everyday discussions about gardening, the new Rhodesian Ridgeback pup, and past travel destinations have become comfortable and revealing. Julia has good ideas, with a proven past, on how to build a community. She started a weekly yoga class in the one room stone house above the driveway. There were a dozen or so attendants every week. After the class was finished there was a social time with baked goods and tea in the house. Everyone was invited. There were always a few more people at the social hour than at the class. I was one of those people.
While the group was working on their chakra I was out on the property working on a garden. Near the middle of the winding driveway there was a path that led to a few rectangular gardens. One of them was bisected by an olive tree. The broad beans that had sprung up under the olive branches weeks earlier were now in danger of dwindling. Weeds had grown up around them. The shade of the olive branches deprived them of the sun. I could not move the olive branches but I could move the weeds and beans. I have been working on this area when I have had a chance for a couple of days and today I noticed new leaves sprouting on the weeded beans.
Usually when I was working on that garden Rupert would come over and tell me how much better it looked than the last time he saw it. He would come over and work with me until he was needed somewhere else. He was always telling me to take breaks when I got bored. He could never understand how I did not mind working alone. Today, though, he didn’t come over to that garden. I was watching a prickly white caterpillar that I had found when I heard him down in the driveway. I looked over the cliff. He was on the phone, pacing in short circles.
I could not tell what was wrong. I went down to the house to see if there was anything I could do. The class had just finished. As everyone walked into the house Rupert waited silently. He explained that Fernando, a member of their community and one of the most experienced construction men around, had been injured in town. While he was driving in the narrow streets of a nearby village he had clipped the mirror of a parked car. He knew who the car belonged to and decided it would be best for him to leave with his newborn baby in the back seat before anyone saw him there.
Before Fernando reached the corner the man came out of the carneceria shouting. He saw Fernando speeding off towards the bend so he got in his car and chased after him. The mirrorless man and his accompanying convoy encircled Fernando outside of town. Fernando stopped and tried to talk to the man as they approached his car. Then a brick pierced his rear window and landed in the seat next to his infant son. Fernando hit the gas and when he hit the car in front of him he kept the pedal to the floor, trying to push the truck out of the way. Then his car died. A gang of men pulled him out of his car, kicking him and beating him with their motorcycle helmets. They left him in the dirt with his unharmed baby boy in the back seat of the car. After he regained some strength he drove back to a friend’s house and then went to the hospital. It sounded like he had a painful, but promising, recovery ahead of him.
I went into the sun room that opens out over the mountain valley. Wim was in there playing table tennis with someone’s smart young son. The kid always had an answer for Wim’s seemingly impossible questions. He was clever but could he play table tennis? I called the winner. The speed of Wim’s next backhanded smash across the table froze the youngster. That was the end of the game. I was the next challenger.
We never kept score. We played until we were finished talking about History, Mathematics, and Science. Some days we only talked about History. Today we talked about going for a hike around the village. The game ended soon after with Wim winning. We grabbed Bubba the Ridgeback and headed up the mountain to the village of Cañar.
Wim attended the school near the top of the mountain when he was younger. He said there were only about thirty students at the school when he was there. There are still about thirty students attending the Cañar school. We passed the “fascist bar” and the Farmacia. We went into the tapas place in the village and watched a replay of the Valencia V. Madrid soccer match. We ate different cheeses, olives, and fish along with biscuits and breads.
On our way down the mountain I watched the sun as it neared the horizon. Wim and Bubba were ahead of me but I was in no hurry. I was in no hurry, that is, until I remembered that I had not gathered any wood for my burner tonight. I grimaced with the memory of the last bitter night I had spent without a fire. I hurried down the decaying mud-board steps. Wim was almost inside the house. I told him I would be in shortly. He did not respond.
After gathering my firewood I went into the house. Julia was the only one out in the living area. I sat at the counter with her. We discussed the usual gardening stuff and Bubba’s escapades. Then we talked about what had happened to Fernando today. Then I asked Julia what she thought about politics in Spain. She told me that she felt the same way about politics in Spain as she did about politics in the rest of the world. The political systems of the world occur inside a bubble. She chooses to be outside that bubble.
Rupert joined us and we talked about the books of Tolkien and educational techniques. Many hours later I stepped out into the darkness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at night. It was a short walk to my caravan. The wolves howled and a dog cried from across the valley. I started a fire and laid down on my bed. The cool wind came in gusts through the open door. Soon the smoke would be clear and I could shut the door. Instead, I left the door open and let the fresh air in.
September 10, 2012
March 31, 2012
A curly haired man in a dirty pink dress came running down the knoll. He was swinging his arms and shouting at me. ”Stop! Stop!” he insisted as propelled towards me. When he got near me he jumped in the air and upon his landing was planted squarely in front of me.
When I arrived at the park with the knoll that afternoon my first sight was a group of performers on slacklines. They tied the line between two trees to create a kind of lineal trampoline. I was about to take a picture of one of them when the man in the dirty pink dress came running down the knoll.
“You cannot take that picture. It is a waste of your time. It is a waste to have it on your camera. You have to wait. Wait for the man in the black pants. This is his event and he is the only one worth the time and space.”
After this brief encounter the man walked away. I stood watching the slackliners. The man returned and asked if I would like to have a seat with him and his friend on the knoll. He pointed to the knoll and a dark haired girl wearing a headband with leopard-print ears on top waved to us.
I walked with the man as he told me the first of what would be many interestingly difficult stories. I sat on the hill where I was introduced to the girl with the leopard-print ears. As we all listened to the man I got the feeling that sometimes even he was waiting to hear what he would say next. I gathered that the man was from London and the girl was from somewhere in Sweden.
After watching the man in the black pants we all headed towards the pond so we could rent a boat to float around in for a while. I took the oars and as I neared a small island the man tried to jump to it. He hit the muddy side of the steep-shored island and fell to the shallow water below. He pulled himself up to the dry earth of the tiny, tree covered island. He tightened the bandages on his foot and tiptoed into the trees.
As he disappeared I heard the furious beating of wings, squawking of fowl, and screaming of the man. The man jumped off of the island and into the boat as I passed by. Once I had put some distance between us and the island that was inhabited by the nesting geese we began floating again.
Two old men laughed when the man in the dirty pink dress smiled and asked them if they were looking at him because they thought he was pretty. He made no attempt to look pretty. He looked like a guy with a hairy chest and unshaven face who put on a pink dress this morning. The wound on his foot was badly infected and he often walked with a limp. He not only walked with a limp, though. He also skipped, danced, jumped, ran, swam and spun with a limp. He seemed to know someone in every group of people we passed on the sidewalk and if he didn’t he would get to know someone. Barcelona was a social event for him.
Before the sun went down I headed back towards my hostel to drop off my bag and valuables. I was planning to meet my new friends at Placa Real after my brief stop. When I arrived at my room there were five guys from Germany drinking beer and shouting to the crowds of partiers in the streets below. As soon as I introduced myself they knew I was from America. They all told me that they wanted to visit the United States some day. They asked me a lot of questions about my home country. We mostly talked about the similarities and differences between real Americans and Americans as portrayed in Hollywood movies. Bruce Willis and the Die Hard series were a major focal point for the conversation. I explained to them that almost everyone in America is like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, sort of.
Then they headed to the disco and I headed to the Placa. Performers juggled and twirled fire. Merchants did the same with their glow sticks. I met a group of old women selling pottery to fund their travels and a team of Brazilian football players. Shopping cart races were being held in one corner of the Placa while the football game was in another.
I stayed for a few hours and then I thanked my new friends for showing me a side of Barcelona I could never have found by myself. As I left the Placa I thought about where this adventure had started. I had been watching a few people jump on a rope when a man in a dirty pink dress came charging at me. I spent the rest of the day making great friends and having great fun. I was only a few miles from my hostel so I hopped on the open footpath by the water and headed off towards my room.
Oh yeah, then I got mugged by twelve unarmed prostitutes at the end of La Rambla.
Here are some pictures from this adventure…