2012-05-21 - Aarau is a lovely little town of about 20.000 souls that has many of its houses in the medieval downtown exhibiting beautiful gables with paintings and other ornaments. Even the McDonalds restaurant follows this pattern.
The Catholic Church, almost all painted in white colors, is also considered (along with the gables) a Swiss heritage site.
I walked along the shores of the River Aar and had another perspective of the city.
There was a tower with paintings and a clock, a library with monkeys painted on its walls, a theater that looked a palace, and many other wonders.
It was a pleasure just to stroll around looking all the time upwards, to the gables of the houses, and feeling the quiet atmosphere.
Late in the afternoon I took a train to Liestal, in the canton of Basel Landschaft.
2008-12-21 - Lovely country Abkhazia. I saw many cows and United Nations cars along the road from the Russian border to Sukhumi.The border in Psou was OK, the Russians let me go in. The Abkhazian authorities were very kind.I had 24 hours to request my visa in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.I visited New Athos monastery and its caves, and also a lake wonderful and Gagra. One week is enough.The weather is good, plus 18 degrees, sunshine and people swimming, while this morning it was cold and raining in Moscow. I paid 4000 rubbles for the ticket to Sochi because platskartni vagon in the train to Adler was not available, and the cupe class costs the same than the airplane. I was given only a small sandwich of kalbasa and a bad tea, on board. Here in Sukhum life is cheaper than in Moscow, and I had a local piva for 20 rubbles, half a litre beer, and a shashlik of khru khru (pig) for only 100 rubbles.Soon I will add more info and pictures.New Athos MonasteryThis monastery is a must during your visit to Abkhazia.I spent 3 nights there like a pilgrim.After visiting Abkhazia, please DO NOT GO TO GEORGIA!!! (I was imprisoned during 72 hours without food, and forced to pay 2000 euro for my freedom after a fake trial) when I tried to enter the country from Trabzon, in Turkey). Georgians are the most corrupted people in the Caucasus, and the authorities have already spent in private houses and sending money to private banks all the money that USA gave them for joining NATO.In the USSR times, Georgians were famous for falsifying documents, wines (even now), and all kind of mafia matters.Change you passport first....................
NEW ATHOS MONASTERY: In 1874 Russian monks from the overcrowded Rossikon Monastery on Mount Athos arrived to the Caucasus in order to find a place for possible resettlement. They feared that the Ottoman Empire would oust the Russians from Athos after the outbreak of the impending Russo-Turkish War. They selected Psyrtskha, and the Neo-Byzantine New Athos Monastery, dedicated to St. Simon the Canaanite, was constructed there in the 1880s with funds provided by Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Eventually Russian monks were permitted to stay in the \"old\" Athos, and the New Athos monastery had much less occupancy than anticipated.
In 1924, during the Soviet persecution of religion, the monastery was closed. It was later used as a storage facility, tourist base, hospital and museum. Its return to the Orthodox Church began in 1994, after the end of the war.
I weas allowed to stay for free for 3 days: I was given a lovely room with a window facing the Blacjk Sea. I could participate in all the ceremonies and eat with the monks in the trapeza.
The monastery was closed to the toruism in the evening, then only the monks and pilgrims (I was a pilgrim) could stay inside.
Some of the monks could speak Greek language for having lived several years oin Mount Athos..................
The Cave of SIMON THE ZEALOT: This cave is at a walking distance from the monastery New Athos through a lovely path across the jungle.
There is a man inside taking care of the cave. Tourists use to visit the place and buy candles. I also bought a candle. Inside there is peace, a quiet atmosphere,. Indeed one feels that it is a holy place.
The tomb of Simon the Zealot is inside a temple not far from there. I visited the temple but could not find the tomb. It seems that I was not lucky and that day the man in charge of the tomb had not appeared and nobody else had the key except him.
2014-01-13 - I took a bus in Rome with destination L’Aquila, a small town rich in history related with Spain.
I went there because I wanted to visit the fort erected by the Spaniards during the XVI century. It is called La Rocca. (The Rock). The architect was from Valencia City, in Spain.
In the year 2009 there was an earthquake that destroyed much of the city and the fort itself was affected. Over 300 inhabitants died during that sinister and many thousands lose their houses.
I was in L’Aquila on December 2013 and the town had not yet been reconstructed. There were works everywhere and some houses could not be visited. Soldiers were in charge of the city.
I managed to see, anyway, the exterior of the Spanish castle (inside could not be visited) plus several churches, the cathedral and two basilicas, San Bernardino and Collemaggio.
Although I did not see the interior of the castle, the purpose of my trip, I was nevertheless satisfied with the visit and returned to Roma by bus late in the afternoon, after having had a light lunch in a cafeteria in the square of the cathedral.
2009-01-02 - I reached Abu Dhabi from Dubai.I had spent two whole days in Dubai visiting its tourist’s attractions during Ramadan times. At sunset I ate for free in the Indian restaurants that invited all the faithful people, and since I had observed fasting, they gave me a lot of food, what I ate all, without liting anything, because my next meal of the day and only would be at 6 PM the next day. In fact in the restaurant they did not ask me anything, not even my religion, and the language spoken among us was English since most of the “customers” were from India, Bangla Desh or Nepal.The first and second nights in Dubai I slept in a mosque, where the porters gave me blankets to sleep on the carpets, a cup of chai (tea), and woke me up 5 minute before the first prayer, before sunrise.The third day in the Emirates I travelled by bus to Abu Dhabi, UAE capital. The driver was from Philippines.I arrived late in the evening and when I asked a man in the street for an open mosque to spend the night (as usual, I was travelling without much money and could not afford a hotel, and sleeping in the beach was penalized with a fine, so I was told), the man invited me to his house. He was from North Pakistan and in his apartment there were at least ten other Pakistanis sharing two small rooms. They all happily welcomed me and were very surprised when I told them that I had visited their country and all the cities from where they came, such as Peshawar, Gilgit, Lahore or Chitral). We created a pleasant conversation and atmosphere drinking lots of chai and eating chapatti bread and sweets until we all went to sleep, over mattresses on the floor.The next day, after visiting most of Abu Dhabi tourist attractions, without missing the Corniche, the Emirate Palace and the Watch Towers, I left for Al’ Ayn where I spent a couple of days, and later on I entered Oman by bus.
2016-07-09 - I had expected troubles in the border between Bolivia and Brazil, because I knew that Spain and Brazil had agreed to request a ticket out of the country to their tourists.
I did not have an air ticket out of Brazil, not enough money for my stay (170 rials per day is the rule), plus a vaccination certificate against yellow fever.
But at the border I was not asked anything,
In fact, Cobija is the border with Brazil but I entered Brazil to the village of Brasiléia, where I spent the night, and was not checked by the emigration authorities, what seemed strange to me. Therefore, in the morning the next day I looked for the emigration office to get an entry stamp of Brazil in my passport, and then I learnt that there is an agreement between Cobija in Bolivia and Brasiléia in Brazil to cross these two cities, plus Epitaciolandia (also in Brazil) without any control.
I headed then to Epitaciolandia and obtained the exit stamp of Bolivia and the entry stamp of Brazil. I was not asked anything, not ticket out, nor vaccination certificate, and did not have to show the money that I carried with me.
The young man at the brazilian department when he noticed that I was from Spain started to commented me how much he would like to make the Camino de Santiago.
There was a bus to Rio Branco. After 4 hours I was left at the bus station.
I headed to the old market, I crossed the river Acre through a hanging bridge to visit the other district of Rio Branco, and also visited a museum for free (Palacio Rio Branco) which in the past had been a palace.
There were many signs about the past of Rio Branco, when many people got rich thanks to the rubber.
I entered the Catholic Cathedral, by the name of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, built like an old roman basilica. In all I spent 4 or 5 hours exploring the city, which is not old, just was founded at the turn of the XIX century by the local indians and therefore lacked the history of the old portuguese cities such as Diamantina or Ouro Preto.
My goal was to embark on a boat from Puerto Velho to Manaus along the Rio Madeira, that is why in the evening I caught a bus that the next morning dropped me in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia.
2015-01-23 - I flew to Manus Island from Madang. I had asked for a ship to get there, but no way, only there were airplanes, in a weekly service from Madang.
Upon arriving there I hitchicked to its capital, Lorengau, which was very far, bearly one hour driving. The few hotels were too expensive, so the first night I was lodged in a hostel inside a Protestan center that gave acommodation for 80 kinas per night, too expensive anyway, so I asked discount and finally we agreed to 40 Kinas per night. The chief of the mission was a German, Simon,, who lived there with his wife and children teaching the Bible.
The next day I managed to find a hostel in an island just in front of Manus, called Pitylu, where I was treated very well, and was shown a special place, called luhu, consisting in a great stone, where the ancestors of the present natives blessed their weapons, spears mainly, to fight against the natives of Manus Island, who were cannibals.
After 5 days in Pitylu, where every day I was brought to Lorengau, round trip, I took in Manus Island a plane to New Ireland, to Kavieng, because there was not a boat service to get to that island,
MANUS MARKET: Some parts of Manus could not be visited, you needed a boat, and near Lorengau there were about 3000 refugees that the australians had transferred from Christmas island. So the main attraction was the market, where I used to go everyday to eat and make friendship with the locals. In those days, december 2014, there was been built a ne w market jusy in the center, so I am afraid that these pictures will not corresponmd with the new market, that will be completed middle of 2015.
2007-04-22 - (Please, read first my Dagestan page if you want to follow my journey around the Caucasus republics)
SEVENTH REPUBLIC: ADIGEA ------------------------------------------ Adigea is the only Caucasian republic where Russians make majority. In the other six Caucasian republics Russians are few and far between. I arrived late in the evening to Maykop, Adigea capital, but in the same square where is located the railway and bus stations there was a nice hostel for bus drivers where for the equivalence to 10 euro I was given a luxurious room. Next day was Sunday. I visited the typical tourist’s attractions, monuments, cathedrals and the like, The main mosque (a gift from a UAE sheikh with Turkish elements inside), was very nice looking. Inside, the faithful people treated me very well and said that the one who build a mosque in this world will receive as reward a palace in the paradise. Besides the mosque there is a huge monument since the USSR times commemorating the 400 years of friendship between Russians and Adigea people. Then I noticed in a square close to the main mosque a group of active members belonging to a nationalist party offering propaganda claiming for independence from Russia and dancing very eye-catching dances, very similar to the Georgian’s. Not a single Russian appeared only black haired people, or “churkas”. Adigea republic is completely surrounded by Russia (Krasnodarski Kray), like an island, without any geographical connexion with another republic, or with Georgia or Azerbaijan. From Maykop I had to take a local train, called in Russian elektrichky, to get me to Belorechensk, in Krasnodarski Kray, from where, within a few hours, would depart a train coming from Astrakhan and heading to Sochi and Adler, in the Black Sea, close with the border with Abkhazia. Once in Adler I took a marshrut to the same border with Abkhazia, Psou. There were lots of people selling mandarins, the only industry in that small rebel republic that wants independence from Georgia to join Russia. The only currency there is the rubble but everybody gladly accepts euro and US Dollars. I passed through customs, no problem; I only had clothes, a few books about religion and a bottle of exquisite Dagestan wine, a gift from the friends that I made in Derbent, plus a horn to drink it given to me by the Ossetians. I went to emigration and the officers let me proceed further. I walked and remembered that the agents had taken my annexed sheet in my passport. It was not important since I had no intention to go back to Russia, but to continue further to visit Gagra, to live like a monk for a few days inside the New Mount Athos monastery, Sokhumi... and to continue by boat to Trabzon, in Turkey, or overland to Tbilisi, in Georgia, and then Nagorno Karabakh, etc., until Spain. For the last time I phoned my friends in Moscow to say Good Bye and.... somebody very dear (and beautiful!) to me requested me to go back to Moscow. I though, I thought, and still thought, and... Abkhazia and Nagorno Karabakh can wait, caramba! I returned immediately to the border and signed a “protokol” to let me go back to Russia, I recuperated my annexed sheet in my Russian visa, and then I bought a ticket to Moscow to meet her. Now my life will take another road, but this time not alone! This time liubov pobedila!
2008-12-06 - I had one sabbatical year and wished to emulate the romantic hippie’s way of the sixties, when they travelled overland from Europe to Turkey and further East towards the Kathmandu valleys with the hope of reaching the “Samadhi”. Afghanistan was one of the most pleasant stops along their way, especially Kabul, the town so loved by Babur, where the hippies rested for a while, enjoying the quietness. Unfortunately, in 1989 the circumstances had changed for the worse because of the war. I had just been denied the Afghanistan visa in Islamabad; nevertheless I tried to enter that country illegally to visit the Bamiyan Buddha statues. However, in spite of wearing a turban, wide afghan trousers, and having not shaved for one month, I was discovered in Towr Kham, just after passing some kilometres the border into Afghanistan, controlled by the Pakistani. The Pakistani border officials forced me to back down to Peshawar, escorted by two soldiers until the Khyber Pass. But I was “un enfant terrible” those days and determined to try a second attempt, this time from the wild Kafiristan, one of the 31 Afghanistan Provinces. My plan was to arrive to Jalalabad, from where I would continue by jeeps to Kabul and then to the Bamiyan Valley. That long journey until the Pakistani post of Arandu, in the border with Afghanistan, mainly on foot, in winter, sharing for a time in the Bumburet Valley the form of living of the Kafir Kalash (believed to be the descendants of Alexander of Macedonia), visiting the fabled towns of Dir and Chitral, admiring the splendid Tirich Mir peak, crossing the treacherous high passes of the Hindu Kush, eating only some raisins along the way, “drinking” snow, sleeping in caravanserais crammed with contrabandists and Patan bandits, and outwitting the Pakistani border posts was, indeed, a very risky one.Below are some abbreviated impressions of my second entry in Afghanistan and the week that I spent with the mujahidins, as I wrote in my diary: First Day, 5th January 1989, Thursday. BARIKOWT - NARAY. Barikowt was protected by mujahidins carryings Kalashnikov AK 47. I met their “commandant” and offered him my Swiss knife as a present to allow me to enter Afghanistan. Then he explained me before a map: “Look! This is the present situation. After eleven years fighting we are about to win the war. Now our front is at the gates of Jalalabad, where you are heading. All Afghanistan is controlled by the mujahidins except Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and some small enclaves in the corridor of Waham, in the Pamir. But the communists only dominate the cities! The rest of the country is owned by the mujahidins!” I walked until Naray where another mujahidin group invited me dinner rice plus a bread called nan. Suddenly all shot joyfully their Kalashnikov and laughed. I asked the reason and was informed that they had listened in the BBC of London transmitting in Pashto that the Russians would leave Afghanistan on 15th February that year.Second Day, 6th January 1989, Friday. ASMAR. That day, in my way to Asmar, I observed the miseries of the war: corpses everywhere with signs of having been pilfered the boots and other possessions, houses bombed, villages razed, women and children fleeing to Pakistan, etc. I will always remember that second day because I saw coming in my direction an armed old man together with a beautiful young girl with lovely green eyes and sensual long black hair, also carrying a rifle. I continued gazing at her and, when we crossed, I turned back and continued staring at her for her unusual appearance in that situation. Then, the man with her also turned his back and directed his rifle towards me. In that same moment one of the mujahidins accompanying me, caught me violently from my shoulders turning me in the frontal direction and yelled me: “Are you crazy? Never put you at the back of an armed man! Fearing to be killed, he will fire at you first. You are very lucky that he did not! Third Day, 7th January 1989, Saturday. CHAGASERAI. Charagaserai was a guerrilla stronghold with mujahidins belonging to fifteen different parties fighting against the Communist Government and, sometimes, fighting among themselves. The village was a festival; there were buzkashi games (two groups of horsemen disputing a lamb) and lots of food. I was introduced to the leader of a minor party who promised to send me in a lorry until Shewah, the gate of Jalalabad. There was a contest to shoot to some caricatures on cardboard representing Russian soldiers. When somebody hit the target, shouted: “One Russian less, ha-ha!” And everybody laughed, except me. I have a little daughter in Siberia, and moreover I felt sorrow for the human being situation. The mujahidins were born in one part of the planet by chance, and the Russians in another part of the same little planet, and now they were killing each other. I went to sleep asking to myself what the meaning of all that foolishness was.Forth Day, 8th January 1989, Sunday. NURGAL. After breakfast I was called to embark in an old Russian lorry “Kamaz” going to the front of war, together with legions of mujahidins. Most of them walked. Having a truck was a privilege of the mujahidin parties receiving help from the Western countries or from the wahabbies of Saudi Arabia. I was not immediately accepted in Nurgal. A Hafiz, who was a kind of spiritual mullah directing the prayers (Hafiz is the one who has completely memorized the Koran), suspected of me as being a KGB agent and called me “duchman”. Then a mujahidin started to talk to me in Russian employing elementary phrases the type of “kak delo tovarish, vse v poriadke?”, but I answered in English that I did not understand. When the nice mujahidins brought me straw to lie comfortably on the floor of the ruins of the building where we all lived, or gave me a candle to write my diary when it became dark, or chai with nan for the dinner, the Hafiz observed disapproving it.Fifth Day, 9th January 1989, Monday. SHEWAH. After the first muslim prayer I was asked: “This is the moment of the truth, engris (all the Europeans are called Engris in Afghanistan), do you come to the war?”Finally I reached the gate of Jalalabad and could even see the city at the distance. Mujahidins took positions and started to shoot. After the dinner suddenly we heard noise of engines. There were the Russian airplanes flying twice daily from Tashkent to bomb the mujahidins mountainous places for one hour each time. We hid in subterranean holes and tunnels forming labyrinths in the mountains. Every bomb impact blew up several houses. Even in the tunnels the earth trembled around us at every blast and parts of earth fell in our heads. The mujahidins prayed in Pashto: “Kher Allah!”. For me that was more than enough, and gave up my plan to travel to Jalalabad. Surely after the Russians retreat there would peace and could then visit the Bamiyan Buddha statues in my way back to Spain. Sixth and seventh day in the frontSixth Day, 10th January 1989, Tuesday. JIBA. The schedule of the war was as follows: - 5 AM Wake up. Toilet. First muslim prayer- 6 AM Chai and nan- 7 AM Russian Good Morning: one hour of bombs- 8 AM Shooting in the front- 12 AM Break for the second muslim prayer. Chai and nan- 13 PM Renewal of hostilities, missiles SCUD and grenades throwing- 15 PM Break for the third muslim prayer- 16 PM Clash intensification, bazookas and machine guns- 17 PM Pause for the fourth prayer- 18 PM End of the war journey. Chai and nan- 19 PM Russian Good Night: one hour of bombs- 20 PM Fifth muslim prayer. BBC news- 21 PM Toilet. SepSeventh Day, 11th January 1989, Wednesday. BAR CHAMARKAND. That morning I left Jiba to Pakistan surreptitiously together with many prisoners. Some of them asked me socks for their bleeding feet. There were all Afghanis; Russians prisoners were decapitated on the spot (most of the mujahidins used Russian belts that they wore with the communist star of the buckle put down). In our way up the mountains bordering Pakistan there were many women and children heading to the Bar Chamarkand Refugee Camp in Pakistan. In the way down came often many donkeys carrying enormous howitzers, heavy shells and other weapons. Of course, they had preference and we (refugees, prisoners and me) had to let them pass first through the narrow, winding and dangerous paths. That evening I entered Pakistan and some weeks later I travelled to India.ONE YEAR LATER. THIRD ATTEMPT TO VISIT THE BAMIYAN BUDDHA. Although the Russians had left Afghanistan the war continued and again I was refused a visa in its Islamabad Embassy. Then I travelled to Quetta, in Beluchistan, bought Afghan clothes, including a silk turban, and entered the uncontrolled country. But I was discovered in Kandahar and sent by airplane to Kabul, where the authorities locked me up. There followed a Press Conference to the journalist accredited in Kabul to explain why I entered the country illegally. Nobody believed me when I said that my only purpose was to visit the Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley; all they were convinced that I was a spy. Then came the trial and I was condemned to five years imprisonment in the infamous Pul-e-Charkhi jail (when the judge uttered the verdict in Dari language “Punch Shar” a shout of indignation passed through my mind). The day of my release I felt as if I was born again.
2012-05-21 - Aguascalientes is a lovely small town protected by UNESCO owing to its many historical wonders and also for being part of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a road founded by the spaniards during the XVI century uniting Mexico DF with Santa fe, in New Mexico, USA. One of the characteristics of Aguas Calientes was its original museum dedicated to the Death. It is called Museo Nacional de la Muerte, located not far form the main square. Besides the cathedral there is a hotel which in the past was a shelter for travelers along that Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (UNESCO wonder), to avoid the attacks from the Indian Chichimecas and bandits. Since I spent a full day in that town, I had opportunity to visit most of its most interesting sights. One of them, very dear for spaniards was the statue of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, in the suburbs of the town, which ixistence I knew thanks to the tourist office (staff is very helpful). In fact don Quijote and Sancho Panza are very much loved by the mexicans. In Guanajuato, a twon that I would visit a few days later, I visited a museum devoted to don Quijote, the best in America dedicated to the Cervantes personage.
2011-10-23 - After I visited Abkhazia I came back to Russia (there is not official transport communication between Abkhazia and Ajaria or Georgia), boarded a ferry in Sochi to Trabzon and then entered Georgia. That was a very serious mistake. At the border the Georgians authorities saw in my passport the stamp Adler, when I entered Abkhazia overland. Then they discovered that I had been in Abkhazia, illegally according to them. I was sent to jail in Batumi during 3 days, without food, and until I had not paid a “fine” of 2000 euro through a negotiator that I was sent to the jail, I was not released (after a fictitious trial in a tribunal). After my release the authorities thought that I wanted go back to Spain and forget about Ajaria and Georgia, but I asked an entry stamp in my passport (Spanish do not need visa to visit Georgia). They were surprised and granted me a 90 days visitor visa. It was my intention to enter South Ossetia from Gori, that is why I did not go back home in spite of the bad experience and lack of money. Batumi was much more beautiful in Soviet Union times, when I first time visited the town. I remember the so many gardens around. In 2007, after my bad experience, it looked to me an ugly city. From Gori I crossed the many borders, georgian United Nations, Russian and South Ossetian, and finally entered (camouflaged among women selling apples) to Tskhinvali, South Ossetia.
2011-11-09 - Ajman is the smallest of the seven United Arab Emirates. It is completely encircled by Sharjah Emirate (with the exception of the fragment bordering the sea, in the Persian Gulf). I crossed Ajman twice, in my way up to Ras Musandam and in the way back, when I headed to Dubai. In both times I walked around the bus station (very humble) for a few hours and even had lunch there and consulted my mail in an Internet cafe, but did not spend the night, preferring to sleep for free on the carpets inside the mosque in front of the Dubai airport, where I had even showers.
2011-11-19 - In Miami I bought a Greyhound bus pass for two weeks. I was heading to Los Angeles to fly to Honolulu and then to Midway atoll, but in the meantime would visit interesting places related to the history of Spain in USA. After visiting the Spanish traces in Pensacola, Florida (where we defeated British troops), I took the bus to Mobile. I knew that in Mobile, in 1780, we also inflicted another defeat to the British in the Battle of Fort Charlotte, and expelled them, so helping the Thirteen Colonies to obtain independence. The general of the Spanish troops was Bernardo de Galvez, born in Malaga, Spain, who today has an equestrian monument among the Statues of the Liberators, in Washington D.C. The bus station was in the outskirts of Mobile, but I took a local bus going to the downtown to visit the remains of that fort, but it had been destroyed and partly reconstructed in the XX century. I also visited a suburb of Mobile called Spanish Fort. In the evening, back in the Greyhound bus station, I found in front of it a Mexican restaurant called El Giro, and had dinner in it before embarking on another bus with destination Galveston, in Texas, to follow the history of General Bernardo de Galvez in USA.
2012-05-21 - During my bus journey from Salvador de Bahia to Belem, in Para, i crossed the state of Alagoas and we stopped in Maceio for lunch. Since my gola was to take the boat from Belem to Manaus and further by river to Colombia, I did not stop to get to know better that brazilian state. Instead I proceeded further until Belem, in the state of Para. always by bus............................................................................................
SECOND VISIT JUNE 2016: I arrived to Maceió in June, a month when local people celebrate with petards, folkloric dances and music by the beach the Festa Junina, especially on Saint John's day, to commemorate the nativity of St John the Baptist. Had it not been for that, Maceió looked to me an uninteresting city. Yes, there was a very lively pedestrian street, some museums, like the pretty Museu Theo Brandao, dedicated to anthropology and folklore, situated just by the beach, and still I entered the catholic cathedral Our Lady of Pleasures (built in 1840) and some other churches, not old since Maceió was founded in the XIX century. But coming from Joao Pessoa, with its richness in history and magnificent churches and monasteries (like the lovely Centro Cultural São Francisco), I felt in Maceió that the quality of my visits were decreasing. People made practises of dance by the beach and many shops were selling petards.
The feeling of being on a beach of the Atlantic Ocean gave some exotism to my visit to Maceió.I did not want to miss my evening bus, that is why I did not stay in that beach all night long, but just when the atmosphere started to reach its zenith, I walked back to the rodoviaria (bus station) and traveled to Aracajú, in the state of Sergipe, to visit in Sao Cristobal a UNESCO site called São Francisco Square.
2007-04-24 - In Aland, people speak in Swedish language, instead of Finnish, although they use the euro currency. They have a special status, an own flag, and keep the Swedish language as national, although politically are administrated by Finland. They even issue their own stamps. I reached Aland by boat from Turku, in Finland. Just in front of the port there is a casino and shops, and going up to the main town, Maarianhamina, there is a nice maritime museum. The town is at just a walking distance from the port. In Finnish language, Aland Islands are called Ahvenanmaa, and consist in an archipelago of about 5500 small islands that you cross when going to Stockholm from Turku, or vice versa.
The journey by ship through the Inside Passage, between Juneau and Vancouver Island, is an unforgettable experience. During fours days you will constantly be surprised by the sight of whales, seals, rare birds and the awesome grandeur of the Nature.
Having reached Alaska by chance (I was, literally, expelled from Chukotka, in Russia, and forced to cross the Bering Strait), I resolved to get the best out of that unexpected circumstance in my journey. So I bought a cheap ticket in a regular ferry of the Alaska Marine Highway, called Columbia, through the, so called, Inside Passage, starting in Juneau with destination Bellingham, in the state of Washington, although during the journey I decided to get off in Vancouver to explore that island hitch hiking.
Many cruise ships also offer that journey for tourists, but at a much higher price than the Columbia ferry.
This Inside Passage goes right the way through the Alexander Archipelago, comprising about one thousand islands. After that it reaches Canada, and continues along the Hecate Strait, between Queens Charlotte Island and the coast of British Columbia. Finally it arrives at Port Hardy, in Vancouver Island.
The schedule of the boat was as follows:
- Juneau: sailing at 8 AM
- Hoonah: 2 hours stopover
- Sitka: 5 hours stopover
- Petersburg: 1 hour stopover
- Wrangell: 1 hour stopover
- Ketchikan: 3 hours stopover
- Prince Rupert: change of ferries. A whole day
- Port Hardy: arrival to Vancouver Island at 9 PM. End of my boat journey
On board we would have a Pilipino whose task was to entertain the passengers giving lectures about the places that we had to cross, plus some historical lessons. He would explain us about the Titus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov discovery of Alaska in 1741, about the tribes Tlingit and their traditions, about the gold seekers in the Klondike during the gold rush, about the whales, seals and birds that without interruption we would see.
Every time that the loudspeakers advised of the sighting of whales, all the passengers would run from one side to the other of the boat, with their cameras, to take incessantly pictures of the animals.
The ferry would sail the next day, so I still had time to discover Juneau.
Juneau is considered the most scenic capital in the United States. It is located in front of an island called Douglas, surrounded by high mountains.
Daily cruises with hundreds of tourists invaded the main road buying souvenirs in the shops. Some of them booked a ticket to climb a high mountain in a cable car, but the price was not cheap and, furthermore, it was raining, so I would not be able to enjoy the superb views. Instead, I entered a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, called St Nicholas. It was not dated from the Russian times since it was built in 1893 (Tsar Alexander II sold Alaska to USA in 1867).
Russians are not anymore in Alaska, but still 30.000 Aleutians and other aborigines profess the Orthodox Faith.
Afterwards I hitch hiked to a fantastic glacier called Mendenhall, and a few hours later I walked to the port, spent the night sleeping in a wooden bench and the next day in the morning I boarded the Columbia.
After a few hours of navigation we reached the first port: Hoonah.
Hoonah means in Tlingit language \\\'The Place where the wind does not blow\\\'. It is sited in the island of Chichagof, discovered by the Russians.
Since the stop was not long, most of the passengers got off the boat and walked quickly around the city, called Port Frederick, with less than one thousand inhabitants, all working in the salmon canneries.
I noticed that most of the population was \\\'First Nation\\\', or Native Americans, but everybody could speak English.
It is not an old village. The original one had been abandoned by the Tlingit when a glacier advanced invading their community. Then, they settled down in the present location, and only at the end of the XIX century European origin colonists started to arrive, founding canneries.
Some tourists from my boat disembarked in Hoonah to spend some days fishing Halibut.
When we heard the first siren call, all the passengers ran back to the ship.
We continued our navigation until Sitka.
Sitka is a precious gem in that extraordinary journey.
During Russian times, Sitka, situated in Baranoff Island, was the capital of Alaska, until it was transferred to Kodiak Island, in the Aleutians archipelago. Today it has a population of 9000 citizens.
I visited an authentic Russian built Orthodox Cathedral, called St. Michael (although it was paying, unlike the one in Juneau, but I spoke in Russian and they let me enter for free), then I walked several kilometres until I got very close to the lovely mountain Edgecumbe, which crater looks almost like the Japanese Fuji Yama (In Sitka it is called \\\'Little Fuji Yama\\\'). All around Sitka was beautiful, like the many totem poles, the statues (one of them devoted to Alexander Baranoff, the first Governor of Alaska), the reproduction of ceremonial canoes used by the aboriginal people, and in general the easy going atmosphere. There were many shops and bars selling salmon sandwiches.
The Columbia continued its course until Petersburg.
Before arriving to Petersburg we traversed the Wrangell narrows, an amazingly beautiful channel about 35 kilometres long.
The sight of Petersburg, when approached by boat, is awesome! It is a charming little town of about 3000 people who live thanks to the shellfish processing.
At the pier it was written (partially in Norwegian language): \\\'Velkommen to Petersburg, Alaska little Norway\\\', in honour of the first European origin colonists, having arrived to Alaska from Scandinavia.
Because the previous night had been stormy, the Columbia had slowed down the speed, and consequently the call in Petersburg was reduced to one hour only.
But in spite of that, most of the passengers, the most passionate, managed to visit the most interesting tourist attractions of that pleasant town, considered by our Pilipino lecturer the prettiest in the Alexander Archipelago.
After Petersburg we continued our journey to Wrangell.
In Wrangell, a town established by the Russians at the beginning of the XIX century, the stop lasted one hour only. Fortunately the village is just close to the port.
In a sign I could read that Wrangell is the only place in the United States having originally been Russian, English, Tlingit and American territory respectively, so governed by four flags.
During the Russian times, Wrangell was known as Fort Dionysius, but after they sold it to USA the Americans changed it for Wranglell, an admiral in the Russian Army descending from a German Baltic noble family who made an around the world journey calling in many places of Alaska and Chukotka. He was one of the founders of the Russian Geographic Society, and was contrary to the sale of Alaska to USA. The Wrangell Island, north of Chukotka, was also named in his honour.
I managed to visit some totems and the rest of the original fort Dionysius before running back to the Columbia.
After Wrangell we continued to Ketchikan.
Ketchikan was another great stop in the Inside Passage.
I was anxious to reach Ketchikan because is located in Revillagigedo Island, discovered by the Spanish explorers many years earlier than British navigators, such as George Vancouver and Captain Cook, arrived to those waters.
Revillagigedo was a Earl and at the same time the Viceroy of Nueva España, territory today called Mexico.
The downtown was a little bit far from the port. I hitch hiked and soon a young man took me in his car to Creek Street, a sort of Little Venice, with many houses with balconies supported by palaffitos incrusted in the banks of the river.
It was beautiful!
Ketchikan is known for sheltering the biggest collection in the world of standing totem poles.
I managed to see, at least, twenty totems, and even entered in the small but rich Museum. Just across the gate I visited the Public Library (Internet is for free in the public libraries in USA and Canada).
After Ketchikan we continued until Prince Rupert.
The Canadian authorities checked my passport and, without any compromising question, stamped my passport giving me a three months stay in the country.
I waited in Prince Rupert for a whole day for my ferry to Vancouver Island.
It was a very touristy city with cruises filled mainly with Americans calling in its port and invading the shops to buy souvenirs.
In the waterfront they offered tours by motor boat to sight whales. The price was 100 Canadian dollars per person. Many tourists bought that excursion, but not me because of the price and also for the reason that after having watched so many whales in Chukotka Peninsula and during the journey in the Columbia ferry, I had already enough of whales.
I slept in a wooden bench in a central park, to be awaked several times by the deer, walking placidly around the town. Nobody disturbed them, not me. When they woke me up licking my face with their tongues, I just smiled.
The next day I boarded a new ferry to Vancouver Island.
In this Canadian ferry we did not have lectures, the showers were paying, and the prices in the cafeteria were higher than in the Columbia. But, in compensation, the best views of the whole journey were yet to come.
We traversed the walls of the breathtaking Grenville Channel, the captain slowed down the speed and nobody dared to speak because of the subjugating beauty; we all were in a sort of ecstasy.
At 9 PM I arrived to Port Hardy, in Vancouver Island. The ship would continue to Victoria. A few passengers disembarked and hired taxis. I could not afford it. The town was at about 12 kilometres.
I walked hitch hiking at the same time, but nobody picked me up.
After one hour or so, a car stopped and the driver and his wife cried to me:
- \\\'Are you crazy? In this area there are many grizzlies! Come with us!\\\'
And they took me to Port Hardy downtown . They were \\\'First Nation\\\', the most humane people that I met in British Columbia.
< >I flew to Anchorage during May1991 with the hope to find a job in the fishing factories in the Aleutians Islands to earn enough money to continue travelling around the world. But the time passed and the fishing season did not start yet. In order to save money I stayed for free in a kind of Salvation Army together with many Mexicans and South Americans with the same purpose.
During that time in Anchorage I used to visit every day the beautiful and modern Public Library, and read a lot about Alaska. The first thing that I learnt was that during the Russians colonization of Alaska arrived a bishop called Veniaminov, who stayed there more than 30 years preaching Christianity to the locals. He introduced the cyrillic alphabet, and were written in Russian language the first books about the native people. That is why today there are many Russian orthodox churches in Alaska. The Russians Bering and Chirikov discovered Alaska in 1741 and the Russian Government sold it to USA in 1867 (well, Bering was Danish, but served in the Russian Army, and died in Bering Island in his way back to Russia). The Spaniards were also in Alaska. They made many expeditions with base in Mexico and in San Francisco, California (which were Spanish possessions). Perez y Hezeta in 1774, Bodega y Quadra in 1775, Arteaga in 1779 and a dozen more Spanish expeditions until the year 1795, made many discoveries in Alaska. But the most important was the Alejandro Malaspina expedition, from 1789 to 1794, who named more than 200 geographical points in Alaska. But the English George Vancouver (who named Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada, with his name, although the island had been discovered by the Spaniards), who arrived to Alaska to meet Bodega y Quadra to solve a diplomatic problem in Nutka between Spain and England, changed most of the Spanish names in Alaska by English names instead. That is why today, out of 200, there remain only the following few Spanish names: Cordova, Valdez, Malaspina Glacial, Haro Strait, Revillagigedo Island, Port Angeles, San Juan Islands, Esteban Point, Fidalgo Island, and one or two more.
Finally, after two weeks waiting in Anchorage, I got tired of the cold weather and left Alaska for Cayman Island, in the Caribbean Sea. I did not earn any money in Alaska but I learn a lot of history and made many friends.
KOTZEBUE: I reached Kotzebue by plane, from Nome, because overland was not possible, since there are no roads. You can only reach Nome from Anchorage during the yearly race, called Iditarod. But from Nome to Kotzebue there is no road connection at all. Kotzebue is located within the Arctic Circle, a much exotic place for a traveller. The name originates from Otto von Kotzebue, German Estonian navigator working under Russia, who searched the place at the beginning of the XIX century looking for the North East Passage. The airport is just in the outskirts of the town of Kotzebue, which is very small and you can visit it in a couple of hours or so, and that is what I did. I did not spend the night there since there was nothing much to see. Much more interesting was Nome, where I had just spent four days, living with an Inuit family. From Kotzebue I flew to Anchorage to catch the fantastic train Denali Star to Fairbanks...........................................................
THE DENALI STAR TRAIN: In the summer of 2008 I boarded the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The price was not expensive and I had money enough to afford it. So this time I did not hitchhike. The previous night I slept in the Salvation Army, very far from the downtown, but woke up in time to run to the railway station where bought the ticket to Anchorage in the Denali Star train. I showed my Student card that I had bought in a previous journey in Bangkok, for 4 euro, and then I got discount in the train ticket. The train left at 08.15. The journey would take 12 hours to run about 600 kilometers with the following stops: • Anchorage • Wasilla • Talkeetna • Denali • Fairbanks I saw magnificent views of Mt. McKinley Mountain, which is also called Denali. On board there was a glass dome and even an open wagon where we could admire the landscape. We crossed several bridges over rivers where tourists were practicing rafting. That train journey was wonderful! The stop in Denali National Park was very long and we, all the passengers, had time to walk around the train station to admire the Denali peak and the surroundings. Finally we reached Fairbanks; all the passengers were excited.................................................................................
NOME: I flew from Provideniya, in Chukotka Peninsula, Russia, to Nome, in Alaska.
Thanks to a friend that I made in Chukotka I could stay in the house of her mother, a native Chukchi married to an American. He had given me some presents for her.
During the three days that I spent in Nome the couple showed me around the town, until I flew to Anchorage because by road you do not go too far from Nome.
The most interesting was the history related with that town, especially during the gold rush, the history of the three Lucky Swedes that found gold, or the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The visit to the didactic museum of history is a must. It is called Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum. This excellent museum shows all kind of artifacts since the times of the gold rush, as well as information of the dogs that made the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, plus the dog Fritz stuffed.
It was in this museum that I learnt that Wyatt Earp had opened a Music Hall in Nome.
2011-10-21 - In the year 1996 I crossed Albania in horizontal, from East to West, during one week. Coming from Iran I reached Istanbul (where I got the Albanian visa, a compulsory requisite in those times) and then I entered Albania through Greece and visited Pogradec, on the shores of the Lake Ohrid (where I ate an unique endemic fish). A couple in my bus invited me to stay with them one day in their house and I accepted. For dinner they offered me a fish unique in Albania which is caught in the Lake Ohrid. The next day I continued my journey by bus and reached Tirana, where I would stay four days visiting its market, mosque, churches and, in general, experiencing its atmosphere and making friendship with the kind natives. Finally, the seventh day, in Durres, I took a ferry to Bari, Italy, and returned back to Barcelona, in Spain, overland.
But I felt that it was not enough to get to know the idiosyncrasy of Albania, I needed more, so the second time, in the year 2009 I resolved to cross the country in vertical, from North to South. Consequently, after having visited all the fragments of the old Yugoslavia I entered Albania through Podgorica, in Montenegro. It was hard to get to the first Albanian town, Shkoder, because there was not regular transport by bus, and had to hitchhike. I spent the first night in that town and the second day I continued south until Tirana which I found more attractive than in my first visit 13 years ago. My intention was to visit at least one UNESCO Patrimony of the Humankind and chose Gjirokastra. After two days in Tirana I headed south and in the evening arrived to Gjirokastra, a lovely city-museum. In the morning of the next day I walked up the hill to visit its impressive fortress, or citadel.
I entered a museum devoted to the Army. I saw a tank, an airplane, and an old jail.
The views from that citadel were breathtaking.
I noticed a very nice house with a tower annexed, looking like a castle. I asked one of the Albanian tourists and was informed that it was a Zecate house built several centuries ago.
I descended and entered that house, which was like a museum. I paid the entry fee and visited the two floors with its lovely decoration.
I enjoyed Gjirokaster.
After this second visit to Albania I felt pleased enough and left the country satisfied. With the help of several buses, one day later, I finally boarded my boat with destination Ithaca, in the Ionian Islands, Greece.
2011-10-03 - I arrived during the night to pleasant Peace River, Alberta, and the next day was Sunday (very bad day for hitch hikers), so I resolved to spend that full day there, sleeping in a kind of Salvation Army, for free, since I had little money. I assisted to the Sunday Catholic Mass (when I am abroad I go to the Church much often that when I stay at home) and visited the nice town.
The town was nice; there were some motorcycle drivers that spend half a day on Sunday before driving to Yellowknife. On Sunday I assisted to the Catholic Mass and then ate something in a complex of restaurants In the tourist office I was informed that the town was founded at the turn of the XVIII century by explorer Alexander Mackenzie. That tourist office sheltered a museum with the history of the town.
On Monday, very early in the morning, I was given a ride to nearby Grimshaw, the Kilometer Zero (or Mille Zero) of the Trans Mackenzie Highway, according to a monument and a plaque on the road.
Then I started to hitch hike northwards.
The good thing to hitch hike in large and under populated countries, such as Australia or Canada, is that when you get a ride, the driver takes you for hundreds of kilometers.
And that is what happened to me that day. I got the first lift to Hay River, by the Great Slave Lake, having crossed the Parallel 60, and spent a couple of hours visiting that town.
In fact I got the ride to Enterprise, the junction to continue to the river Mackenzie and the crossing of the river by ferry (there are no bridges), but I wanted to know Hay River city and the driver, at my request, dropped me there, by the lake.
Afterwards I headed back to Enterprise to continue northwards until Yellowknife, seeing buffaloes on the road.
I crossed the Mackenzie River. The ferry operates from May to October. Out of that period you have to fly to Yellowknife.
In all, four drivers helped me. One from Peace River to Grimshaw, the second to Hay River, the third to the river Mackenzie and then a little bit further, to Fort Providence, and finally the forth one drove me to Yellowknife.
It had been a long day of travel from Peace River in Alberta to Yellowknife in Northwest Territories, from 6 AM to midnight, with a lot of impressions. I was happy!
2009-01-05 - I reached Alderney Island by boat from Guernsey.It is not so easy to get there as it is, for instance, to travel to Herm Island, or to Jersey, since not every day there is boat service. Most tourists prefer to fly to Alderney, either from England or from France. But I love to travel overland and overseas and avoid taking planes as much and possible, and not only for economy, but also because I want o feel the journey, to have direct contact with the planet, the earth or the sea, something that you miss when flying.I took a ferry of the company Îles Express Company, where the staffs were from France and could speak both languages, English and French. I noticed that French people called the island Aurigny, instead of Alderney.The airline flying there from France is called Rockhopper.I saw more French tourist in Alderney that I saw in Sark or Herm, probably because Alderney is closer to France than the other two Anglo-Normand Islands.I walked around the island. The population of the island is about 2.500 souls. The capital is called St. Anne, and what I loved more of this little town was the beautiful church.I saw several concrete bunkers built by the Germans during WWII, when they occupied the Anglo-Normand Islands.In short, Alderney is worth one day excursion to feel its easy going atmosphere and French character.
2007-04-26 - CROSSING THE BORDER BETWEEN MOROCCO AND ALGERIA: I was lucky to obtain a visa for Algeria thanks to paying baksheesh to a tourist company in Barcelona that was sending a group of tourists to Algeria in a scheduled tour, and added me in the list of tourists in the Algerian Consulate in Madrid. Once I got the visa I travelled on my own to Algeria. There was a ferry from Alicante straight to Oran, but I preferred another cheaper way to get to Oran and, besides, more exciting: first I travelled by bus to Almeria, then I caught a ferry to Melilla, and finally a bus to Oujda, the border city in Morocco. I like the cities in the borders; there is much activity in them and many interesting personages, money changers, speculators, people offering transport, contraband goods, etc. Furthermore, for a real traveler getting overland to the countries has more merit than flying into them. I was travelling on November 1992. Two years later that border would be closed for a very very long time… (until today is closed). The next day I joined in Oujda a van filled with Algerian and Moroccan people, and via Sidi-Bel-Abbes we soon reached Oran, where I spent just one day. My goal was to arrive to Ghardaia, the gate to the Sahara Desert, to where I headed the next day by truck.
Père Faucault Hermit in Assekrem
The south of Ghardaia offers you many adventures, such as the Tassili N’Ajjer paintings in the vicinity of Djanet, or crossing the Sahel in camels to get to Niger.
Based in Tamanghasset while waiting during two weeks for a Niger visa (which finally was denied and I was forced to cross the Sahara in trucks selling dates from I-n-Salah to Gao, in Mali), I spent two days in an extraordinary place, the hermit of Père Charles Faucault, in the peak Assekrem of the Ahaggar. He lived there like an ascetic preaching to the Tuaregs from 1905 until 1916, when he was assassinated.
Hitchhiking is bad possibility to get up there because of the few cars in that road.
Never ask for a ride to the jeeps with tourists in a programmed tour; they never help. They think that they are real travellers because they paid a lot of money in a so called “Travel Adventure Agency” and will look at you with disdain.
Finally I rented a motorcycle and spent a wonderful night there, à la belle étoile.
In the year 2014 I travelled back to Algeria and this is what I wrote about the 5 places that I visited:
Tipasa archeological site
I took a bus in Algiers and about one hour later the driver dropped me in front of the ruins of Tipasa, a UNESCO site. I bought an entry ticket for 20 dinar (about 13 cents of Euro at a black market rate) and was left alone to discover by myself the complex, although there were several guardians and they helped me showing me the Phoenician rests, then the Roman ones, and finally the ceramics of an old basilica built during the IV century.
Some of the tiles of that basilica had been brought to the Museum of Tipasa (that is something that I learnt one day later, when visiting the Basilica Notre-Dame d’Afrique, in Algiers).
I also saw an Amphitheatre, the forum, mausoleums, coffins, the zone of the temples, etc.
The situation of Tipasa was wonderful, facing the Mediterranean Sea. I sat for a while over the stones to try to feel the atmosphere of the old times of Tipasa.
A guardian came to see me and offered to show me the plaque devoted to the Algerian writer and Nobel Prize in Literature Albert Camus. I saw two plaques instead of one. On the first one it was written that Tipasa was one of Camus favorite places to get inspiration for his writings. On the second one, a stone stele, there was the phrase:
“Je comprends ici ce qu’on appelle gloire : le droit de d’aimer sans mesure ».
Since I am not very fond of archeology I visited the place for about one and a half hours before heading to the bus station to return to Algiers. Furthermore, it had started to rain harder so walking on the mud was not pleasant.
One hour later I was back in Algiers.
The Kasbah of Algiers
During my journeys to Muslim countries I had seen better preserved Kasbahs than the one in Algiers.
People with whom I made friendship suggested me not to go alone into that Kasbah, because it is dangerous and there are many robberies. Especially, they advised me to avoid it during the night.
My hostel was in the same Kasbah, near the railway station, so I was familiarized with the area and was not afraid. People in that area changed money in the street at a better rate than in the bank. They looked friendly.
The first thing that shocked me was the lack of cleanness in the Kasbah; perhaps there was a strike and lots of bags containing rubbish were not removed from the streets during those days. Perhaps that is the normal situation all year round.
I liked the narrow streets when walking up the hills, the decorated gates of the houses. There were some mosques and markets.
At the top of the Kasbah I found the Citadel and a sign of UNESCO.
I walked back following another way, in order to have a better idea of the place.
In all I spent one hour, plus 15 minutes break during which I drank coffee in a bakery (the best of Algeria is the hospitality of its people).
The suspension bridge of Constantine
The train from Algiers to Constantine took me 8 hours, from about 7 AM to 3.30 in the afternoon.
In front of the railway station there is a statue dedicated to the great Constantine, who ordered the reconstruction of the city. The founders were the Phoenicians.
Just at a walking distance from the railway station I could observe the magnificent suspension bridge, dating from the year 1912. I had already news about it, therefore I walked up there and took a telepheric, or cable cabin across the gorge until a hospital, and then in my way back I crossed the bridge. The views from that bridge were breathtaking. Only for that bridge the visit to Constantine is justified.
There are several bridges in Constantine, but the hanging one is the most spectacular. The view of the natural arch beneath is something that captivates you.
I then headed to the covered market and bought half a kilo of dates. In the cafeteria of the train they only sold me biscuits and coffee plus soft drinks, but nothing more solid, so I was hungry.
There are many hotels around that area. I saw a nice hotel, just in front of Novotel and Ibis that looked like a palace but it was too expensive for my pocket (it was called Grand Hotel Cirta), so I had to go to a modest one, cheap but decent, for about 1300 dinars a single room (I changed money in the black market. For each euro I got 160 Dinars, so I paid for my room about 8 Euros). Its name was Grand Hotel.
People with whom I made friendship advised not to missing the mosque of Emir Abdelkader. I caught a tramway to get there and I was allowed to visit it in spite of being Catholic.
I still visited the Kasbah and when it started to get dark I found a hotel in downtown and had dinner in a small stall besides, I do not remember the name, but it contained olive s, onion, plus carrots, and it was delicious, apart from cheap.
The next day I took a bus to the bus station, near a fragment of an old Roman aqueduct, and boarded another bus to Annaba.
The Spanish fort of Santa Cruz in Oran
I travelled to Oran, where I would spend a couple of days, with the purpose to find Spanish vestiges of the 300 years that Spain ruled the town.
I found a hotel in the downtown, close to the monument of the lions, symbol, of Oran, left my bag and started to explore the city. Not far from my hotel there was the arena round building, or bullfighting, a game that it was popular in French colonization of Oran.
Up the hill I visited the fortress of Santa Cruz. I climbed there, but just before I stopped in a Catholic Basilica. There was a Mass service e, so I could participate. Practically all the faithful people were from African countries such as Mali, Congo, Burkina Faso, etc. Some Europeans were expatriated, mainly from France.
The fort was closed, so I could only see it from outside.
Back in the downtown I entered what I thought it was a Catholic Cathedral, but since Algeria obtained independence from France, it had been converted into a public library.
The old synagogue was now a mosque. People from Israel are forbidden the entry in Algeria.
The next day I still had time to discover a stone plaque with the herb of Spain since the times of Charles V.
The third day I kept on travelling discovering the north of Algeria.
Saint Augustine of Hippo
I specially travelled from Constantine to Annaba in order to pay my respects to one of the wisest men of the Humankind: Saint Augustine of Hippo.
I had visited the Basilique Notre-Dame d’Afrique, Algiers, and inside I was told by a French priest that in the Basilica in Annaba I would find a bone of Saint Augustine. So, I resolved to get there.
I was not disappointed. The Catholic Basilica in Annaba was superb and located in a wonderful place facing the sea, heading to Rome.
At the gate there was an imposing statue representing Saint Augustine.
The priest in Annaba was a national from Congo (Kinshasa) and was very friendly giving us (there were pilgrims) explanations about the life of Saint Augustine.
After that visit I walked to the ruins of the old Hippo, just beneath the Basilica, and then to the downtown, where I found accommodation in front of the railway station.
The next day I took a train straight to Oran.........................................................
THE M’ZAB VALLEY: During a whole day I visited the mosque and the busy souk of Ghardaia, located on the top of a pyramidal hill, and then resolved to travel to the holy Beni Isguen.According to the Algerian people with whom I made friendship in my hostel of Ghardaia, in Beni Isguen I would find the most exotic market of the M’Zab Valley, where the sellers use the cry as the way to offer their products.When I reached Beni Isguen I declared that I only wanted to visit the souk, and then the porters let me go in. The visit to the rest of the walled city was off limits in those days (December of the year 1991) to foreigners and Algerian alike, unless you were accompanied by a local.I sat down on the floor of a centrically located square and waited. Little by little I observed how the mozabites arrived, some of them riding donkeys. They carried items such as an old washing machine, a prehistoric mattress, a used pan, the leg of a wooden chair… and so on. It rather looked a second hand market. I noticed that many objects were made in China. Some also were selling fruits, mandarins, pomegranates, and so on. They all offered their things screaming very high.In the afternoon, after surreptitiously visiting the forbidden town, I went back to peaceful Ghardaia and two days later I boarded a truck to Tamanrasset, in order to visit the hermit of the Père Faucault in Assekrem.
TASSILI N\'AJJER: In Illizy, in a cafe in the main square, I made friendship with two foreigners who were having tea. We started conversation and they told me they were Swiss. The next day they intended to start a trip to the paintings of Tassili n\'Ajjer. They had an own jeep that they had brought from Switzerland. I requested them to join them. Then they said that I would have to share the expenses of a guide that they had already hired. I agreed and the next morning we left for the National Park of Tassili n\'Ajjer. The National Park was at about 25 kilometers distance. Our local guide, a Touareg, had brought with him his young son. He showed us around the site. I soon realized that the Swiss were more interested in the lizards and other small animals than in the archeology, while I was more interested in the frescoes and drawings. I took with me a leather bag containing 5 liters of water and we separated. I saw paintings on the rocks, letters in Tamasheq alphabet, plus drawings of giraffes, elephants, goats, birds, ibis, rhinoceros and still other animals. But the most amazing was the drawings of the shepherds, looking like Egyptians. When I finished my water I returned with my companions and soon later we drove back to Illizy. It had been a very didactic excursion.
IN TRANSIT TO THE FORTIFIED VILLAGES OF THE M’ZAB VALLEY: I woke up early in the morning in the Youth Hostel of Oran, said good bye to the owners (who had been very nice and friendly with me the previous night) and walked to the bus station, where soon I caught a bus to Laghouat.
I hesitated in Laghouat. My intention was to cross from Algeria to Mali, and further south to Cape Town, in South Africa, always overland without never taken an airplane. But not immediately; on the road I also wanted to know some interesting places related with history and archeology, like the Tassili n\'Ajjer.
I did not find interesting Laghouat, a city in the desert. Anyway I visited its downtown, especially its busy market, for a few hours. Then, instead of sleeping there I considered traveling that same day until Ghardaia, in order to explore historical places of the M’Zab Valley, such as Beni Isguen, a most exotic fortified village.
Therefore, in the afternoon, after having a lamb couscous as lunch in the market, I caught a bus and left to Ghardaia, where I would stay a few days making round trips to several places nearby, including the market of Beni Isguen....................................
FORGOTTEN REFUGEES: I crossed Southern Algeria in 1992, in my way to Mali by buses. And in April 2007 I visited that country again. This second time I flew from Barcelona, in Spain, to Tindouf and spent seven days in a refugee encampment where about 170.000 Saharawi refugees live since the time when Spain left the Sahara. Immediately Morocco invaded that area and the Saharawi were forced to escape to Tindouf. Until now. Every day we, the Spaniards who flew to Tindouf, were shown museums and the way of life of the refugees. We lived in families. I was sent to one of them together with several other Spaniards and one traveller from USA. The day when we flew back to Spain we were very sad, both sides, the family members and the Spaniards. During seven days we saw the hard living conditions. Practically nothing grows in that part of the Sahara desert, and they mainly live on humane help. They still keep Spanish as the second language, after the Arabic. Spanish families used to invite children to spend summertime in Spain. The same did Italian families. They hope that in the future they will recuperate their lands and then will leave Tindouf forever.
2011-10-08 - I was hitchhiking around Germany when I decided to stop in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace region, France, to have a look at the city and spend the night there since it was becoming dark. The last car dropped me at the border with France and I crossed it on foot. Immediately I walked around the town, which was not too large. I saw the medieval bridges on a tributary of the River Rhine, the Gothic Cathedral, the Place du Marché and the main tourists’ attractions, such as the Petite France.
When the night fell, I was able to find a quiet and safe place behind a tree in the central park where I spent the night, and nobody molested me while I was sleeping. The next day I continued hitchhiking to the south of France. .............................................................................................
IN SPANISH: ESTRASBURGO - GRAN ISLA
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Rodeada por dos brazos del río Ill, la Gran Isla es el centro histórico de la capital alsaciana. En una zona bastante reducida alberga un conjunto de monumentos de calidad excepcional: la catedral, cuatro iglesias antiguas y el palacio de Rohan, antigua mansión de los obispos-príncipes. Estos edificios no están aislados, sino que se articulan con un barrio antiguo que ilustra las funciones desempeñadas por la ciudad medieval y la evolución de Estrasburgo entre los siglos XV y XVIII.
Comencé de madrugada mis visitas turísticas a Estrasburgo. Frente a la plaza de la estación de trenes había una calle que me conduciría a los sitios que aconseja visitar UNESCO.
Por el camino encontré una cafetería abierta donde desayuné un café au lait y un croissant.
La Catedral Notre-Dame sería mi primera parada. Hacía mucho frío, era el mes enero, así que me vino bien entrar en un sitio caliente. Se estaba celebrando misa, así que me quedé allí sentado y al concluir el servicio le compré un cirio al monaguillo.
Antes de salir admiré un antiguo reloj astronómico, situado a la derecha del altar. Esa catedral merecía mucho más tiempo del que yo le presté. Algunos turistas pagaban 3 euros para poder ascender arriba de ella, pero yo no lo hice. Preferí en cambio dedicar más tiempo a estudiar las figuras del tímpano central.
Estaba asombrado redescubriendo esa ciudad (había estado en ella por primera vez en 1972, llegando una noche en autostop). Todo lo encontraba bello, el interior de la catedral con sus cristaleras, la decoración exterior de las casas alsacianas, los palacios. Al barrio más histórico de Estrasburgo se le denomina “La Petite France”, y sería allí donde pasaría la mayor parte del tiempo.
Deambulando por las calles encontré a un grupo numerosos de turistas japoneses que hacían fotos a una estatua metálica en medio de una plaza. Me acerqué y descubrí que la estatua representaba a Johannes Gutenberg. Una placa indicaba que había nacido en Maguncia, hoy Alemania, pero fue en Estrasburgo donde inventó la imprenta.
Mi siguiente visita fue el Palacio de Rohan, que está incluido en el Patrimonio de la ciudad. Lo encontré fácilmente. Su interior albergaba diversos museos, entre ellos el de Bellas Artes o el de Arqueología.
Siguiendo mis visitas sistemáticas, ahora me faltaban las cuatro iglesias antiguas de UNESCO, de las cuales sólo localicé dos esa mañana, y dejé para la tarde las otras dos.
En La Petite France cruzaba los puentes sobre el río para apreciar el “Quai des Ponts-Couverts”. Subí a uno de ellos y allí me quedé un buen rato, saboreando el paisaje que se desplegaba ante mí.
Hacia la media tarde, tras la visita a las dos iglesias que me quedaban por ver, exclamé para mi interior: “prueba conseguida”, y regresé a la estación de trenes para proseguí mi viaje.
2011-10-21 - I have been three times in Altai Krai, in 1990, 1991 and 1994, always round trip, going as final destination to the Republic of Altai and coming back to Biysk and Barnaul. The first time I went to Barnaul, a city with about 600.000 inhabitants, was just to admire the nature and in search of edelweiss and to know more about a secret city called Belovodie, where Old Believers, escaping from the dogmas of Patriarch Nikon in the XVII century, reached a mythical place (Belovodie) with legend similar to that of Shangri-La, or Shambhala. The second and third time I was not alone in Altai Krai, but with groups of Spanish ornithologists whom I helped as translator from Russian to Spanish and to practice rafting along the Katun River. You can get to Barnaul, Altai Krai capital, by regular trains from Novosibirsk, and then by a local train to Biysk, a much smaller town than Barnaul. Near Biysk the River Katun joins the River Obi. Biysk is the gate to the Altai Mountains.
I had transited Barnaul in three previous journeys, where I would go to practice rafting in the Katun river. But never paid much attention to that city, founded in 1730. Then in my recent trip to that area (august 2015) I leart that Barnaul is twinned with the Spanish city of Zaragoza, the place where my mother was born, so I decided to spend a full day there.I was coming from Mongolia, overland. I arrived about 9 PM, by bus, from Biysk. In the same bus station there was the railway station and since I was short of money I tried to sleep there, on the benches, for free. There was a Police control at the entrance and was told that I was allowed to spend the night, but the waiting hall was very busy. Then I was advised to climb to the second floor where a kind of communitary hostel offered me two kind of lodgement, on a chair for 280 rubles, or in a dormitory for 700 rubles.I took the bed in the dormitory, shared by two russian passengers, because it was quiet and had shower and bathroom included. Sleeping on the sofas was very noise for the announcements of train journeys to Novosibirsk, to Biysk, to Kazakhstan, etc.I woke up very early the next day and would walk the whole city for half a day, thus admiring all its tourists attractions, especially along the Lenin street.I entered three different churches, the most interesting was the oldest, built in 1730, then I visited the one devoted to the saint and music composer Dimitry from Rostov. Then the rest of the first russian fortress, monuments to writers, such as Puskin, beautiful old wooden houses, the Demidovsky Pillar or a monument devoted to the mining, the river Obi...In short, I enjoyed very much the town.After lunch I headed by train to Novosibirsk to continue my journey back to Barcelona, in my dear Spain.
2007-04-24 - The Golden Mountains of Altai have been declared in the year 1998 UNESCO Patrimony of Humankind. They are located bordering Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. In these mountains is allegedly hidden the Russian version of Shangri-la: Belovodie.
I have been several times in the Katun River, practising rafting, in the Russian Autonomous Republic of Altai.
To get there will take you several days. First you have to go to Novosibirsk (by train is the most exciting way). Then, you still have to get into another train until the town of Barnaul, of almost 1 million, founded in the XVIII century as a silver melting point (there are many minerals in Altai area, including gold). Today they exploit the wood and chemicals. From Barnaul you catch what Russians call \"elektrichki\", or a short distance train to Byisk and then a bus to Gorno Altaisk, the capital of Altai, one of the 21 autonomous Russian republics (Russia is an incredible rich country in races and culture). From Gorno Altaisk, where people are related with the Mongolians (although everybody speaks Russian), you have to fly by helicopter to the Sayan/Altai mountains, and if the pilot is nice, (bring a bottle of vodka with you as a present to give it to him) he will call for a few minutes in the beautiful Teletskoye Osera (lake), and you will see the Belukha mountain, the tallest peak in those mountains (4506 meters), where some people think that there exists a forbidden and fabled city called Belovodie (the Russian version of Shangri-la, or Shambhala). Now it will take you a whole week to get back to Gorno Altaisk rafting (category IV), sleeping in tents and preparing in the night the Russian \"bania\" with hot stones, an unique experience, and eating \"shashliki\". You will have to bring food beforehand, althought there are some small villages along your way where you can buy mainly \"kasha Herkules\" and vodka. That area is very exotic and mysterious. Take into account that you are in the border with Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and the unknown Russian republics of Tuva and Khakassia (I told you, Russia is a giant country and we know very very little, too little I would say, about it). The Katun joins the great river Obi in Byisk, and together with the river Irtish form the longest rivers system of Asia. That trip in the Altai Republic will thrill you, specially the nature and the edelweiss flowers all over around you. If you are lucky you will meet the snow leopard...! .................................
CROSSING OVERLAND (HITCHHIKING, ON FOOT AND BY BUSES) MONGOLIA UNTIL THE REPUBLIC OF ALTAY: I entered the Republic of Altay from Mongolia, hitchhiking, on foot and eventually by shared taxis since there are no bus services. Anyway, Russians do not allow to cross the border with Mongolia on foot, only into a car.
It was my third time in the city of Gorno Altaysk, but in those 3 times I did not make any picture of the town since I only recently use photo camera, so in this time, my fourth trip, to that city I made several pictures during my several hours that I spent there (half a day).
During the journey I saw powerful rivers (like the Katun), high mountains with snow (it was august) and magical fountains where shaman people pray and perform rites.
The church of St Makary of Altai was the most beautiful building that I saw in Gorno Altaysk.I would not sleep in Gorno Altaysk because it was midday when I arrived there and I wanted to reach Biysk or even Barnaul to sleep (inside the railway staion, where it was allowed). In these two cities there is a train service to Novosibirsk, the first goal of my travel. From Novosibirsk I would continue by trains to Moscow stopping in interesting cities along the journey. The trip overland from Ulaanbaatar to Novosibirsk took me seven days with six nights.
2012-05-21 - In Belem, state of Para, I bought a hammock and boarded a boat with destination Manaus. The boat made many stops during the five days of journey to Manaus, being one of the first ones besides the town of Macapa, the capital of Amapa state. During those stops the passengers had time, even hours, during the uploading and downloading operations, to get ashore and visit for a while the cities that we crossed........................................................................................................................................
In june 2016 I arrived to Santana, the port of Macapá, after a long voyage by boats from Porto Velho, en Rondonia, to Manaus, then change of boat to Santarem and finally Santana. In total I spent 11 days on the road, or better said, 11 days on the rivers. Now I had a whole day to explore Macapá, what seemed enough to me, and then the next day I will finish my long river journeys when reaching Belem. From Belem I would continue travelling around Brazil using buses. Santana is a dangerous place, especially when dark and several crimes are perpetrated regularly in that area. I waited drinking coffees in the harbour and at about 7AM I boarded a bus, first to the Marco Zero Monument, or a monument situated exactly in the equator. I was given explanations by a guide who accompanied me around, and all was free of charge. Then in the bus journey to downtown Macapá I saw on the way a fantastic fortress. I immediately got off the bus and explore it. It was called Fortaleza de São José do Macapá. Again, the entrance was free of charge and inside I could visit everywhere, even the museum devoted to that fort. Then I learnt that the fort was constructed according the techniques of well known French architect Vauban, whose fortresses in France are declared Patrimonies of the Humankind by UNESCO (for instance those of Besançon, Arras, Villefranche-de-Conflent, and so on until 12 groups. I was happy, I felt that Macapá was a very interesting and enriching city. Once in downtown I entered the old cathedral, much more interesting than the new one. For lunch I visited the restaurant of a fantastic museum, Museu Sacacá, with gardens and reproduction showing the way of life of the indians before the portuguese and spanish arrival to that area during the XVI century. It was there that I drank for the first time the delicious juice of açai, fruit very popular in state Amapá and also in Pará. Before returning to Santana I spent some time in the river banks and saw the Pedra do Guindaste, a pillar into the river representing Saint Joseph. Back in Santana I was informed that the boat to Belem would delay one day, but finally would be 3 days the waiting time. The worst was that I was not told that I would wait in Santana 3 days. Everytime that I asked I was given a different excuse, first that the level of the waters was very low, then that there has been a problem with the engine of the boat, etc. So I could not make any plans to discover some interesting area in Amapá state. Fortunately, I could sleep in my hammock on board the boat, for free during three nights. There are no roads out of Macapá in direction to Belem, only to French Guiana. The only way to travel to Belem was by boat or by plane. Crossing to Marajó island, to Breves, for instance, was still worse since in that island there are no roads and the boat service with Belem was very unpredictable. I had to wait and have patience, like Job. The other two days were spent in Macapá revisiting places and discovering some others of less importance from a tourist point of view. The fourth day I traveled by boat to Belem.
2007-04-22 - One of the best journeys that you can make in Brazil is the one by boat along the Amazon’s River from Belem, in the State of Para, to Iquitos in Peru, via Manaus, although you can do it in several parts. Manaus, for instance, the capital of Amazonas State, deserves a couple of days visit.
Here is what I wrote in my diary during my visit to Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira with four more travellers:
After five days of navigation from Belem to Manaus through the Amazonas, sleeping in hammocks, I made friendship with four intrepid companions: Fernando had been travelling for about six months around South America and now he was heading back home to Mexico D.F. together with a friend, an Argentinean Jew called Diego; Manfred and Heinz were from Munich, and wanted to travel overland until USA to culminate their around the world journey flying over the Pacific Ocean to Japan, and back to Germany through the Tran Siberian train. Arriving to Manaus we soon found a cheap dormitory behind the splendid and famous Theatre Palace. My four friends had planned to continue the journey by river until Tabatinga, followed by Iquitos in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and further north until Mexico. Then I proposed them to reach Colombia throughout an exotic way that no other traveller since the times of Alexander von Humboldt ever dared: across the unknown jungles bordering Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Once in Bogota we would separate. They would continue their journey through the Darien gap and I will descend to Peru to visit the Machu Picchu. They agreed. We were travelling on a budget (I was almost broken) and had arranged the following to travel on the cheapest way sharing the minimal expenses: Fernando, who was the tallest of us, would pick up the fruits from the trees (papayas, bananas, mangoes, etc.) and would fish; Diego would prepare the food since he was cook by profession; Manfred and Heinz would collect firewood and would wash the dishes, and I would negotiate the prices of the transport with the captains of the boats carrying garimpeiros (gold seekers) going up the River Negro until Pico da Neblina, the accommodation with the chiefs of the villages, and the permissions with the authorities of the FUNAI (Fundaçao Nacional do Indio).
AMAZONAS. We left Manaus by boat and stopped for a few days in Barcelos, then Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, and finally spent one week in beautiful Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira (Cachoeira means waterfall in Portuguese). Our objective now was the small town of Mitu, in Colombia, but it was not easy to get there. Only after drinking several bottles of cachaça with a Greek garimpeiro who owned a motorboat, and beating him in an exciting chess game, he agreed to take us until the border with Colombia in a journey that would last ten days, sleeping in villages inhabited by leprous and eating piranhas and coconuts. In some villages we were the first Europeans that the Indians had seen in their life. They looked at us with naïve curiosity and touched our body, arms and the hair of our chest. At the border there were neither military control nor FUNAI agents nor garimpeiros, so we paid to the Greek and crossed the River until a village called Yavarate, in the Colombian Indian Reserve of Vaupes.
2007-06-01 - I thought that American Samoa was like Hawaii or Guam: North American citizens everywhere, English spoken, hamburgers and coca colas in the fast food restaurants, etc. But I was completely wrong. Apart from the currency, the US dollar, nothing else reminded me the USA. The men wore lava-lava, they spoke Samoan language (although everybody could understand English), and the food was typical Polynesian. I felt a palagi (foreigner), as people called me. Pago Pago is a nice town situated in a bay with a fiord, and the main island, Tutuila, has waterfalls and some historical places, such as Tula, from where the old Polynesian embarked to discover other Pacific islands, such as the Marquesas, in French Polynesia. It is also worth a visit Aasu and its monument to La Perouse, the French explorer of the XVIII century who had a battle with the natives losing 12 men (the Samoans lose 40 men). Some time later La Perouse and his men lose their lives in the Solomon. My last day in Pago Pago I took a boat to Apia, in Western Samoa.
2007-08-20 - It is not easy to visit Amirantes Islands.
I was in Victoria, Seychelles capital, in August 2007, and asked in a travel agency for a ticket by boat first, or by air second, to Aldabra, Farquhar and Amirante islands.
It was my intention to visit all these archipelagos spending a few days in each of them, to admire the famous Aldabra turtles and the white sand beaches.
The girl in the travel agency looked at me astonished, because in the Seychelles Travel agencies they mainly sell tours and airplane tickets for the Inner islands, that is, Praslin and La Digue.
I insisted and then she checked in her computer and told me that those islands are, either private, or National Parks, and are off limits, especially for individual travellers on their own.
After consulting with her boss I was told that, presently, there is a hotel in Desroches Island where they accept guests, but it was fully booked for the next two weeks, when there will be a room free for a single night.
I immediately made the reservation. (It was very expensive, I feel ashamed…, but I saved money sleeping those 2 weeks in Beau Vallon beach, for free, eating wild coconuts and having showers in the waterfalls).
Meanwhile, in the Tourist Information Office, I learnt that there are a few cruises (expensive) every year to those archipelagos during autumn and winter (when the waters are calm in the Seychelles), but not in August.
In fact, these islands form part of National Parks (Aldabra is protected by UNESCO), or belong to private tourist companies from Mauritius (Desroches Island), Maldives islands (Alphonse atoll), or United Arab Emirates (D’Aros Island).
After 2 weeks I flew to Desroches in a small airplane with only 8 places (I was the only passenger, the plane was sending cargo to the island).
I spent a lovely day in Desroches enjoying the hotel facilities and riding a bicycle around the island, where I observed the presence of about 150 workers, mainly from India, preparing copra. I asked them how they traveled to Desroches and was informed that they were sent there by boat with special permission form the Island Authorities.
I do not know why the name Amirante was given to those islands. In Spanish and Portuguese is Almirante (the Almirante Vasco da Gama discovered those islands in the year 1502) and in English is Admiral. Probably the name derives from the word Amir, which means Commandant in Arabic.
The next day I flew back to Victoria satisfied to have been in an island discovered by the Almirante Vasco da Gama.
2007-04-22 - AMSTERDAM ISLAND Amsterdam Island was first sighted in 1522 by the Spanish navigator Juan Sebastian Elcano (captain of the caravel Victoria after Magellan’s death in Philippines), when returning home during the first circumnavigation of the world in History. He could not disembark because of the bad weather conditions. Our Marion Dufresne too had difficulties reaching the island. The base there is called Martin de Vivies. The characteristic of Amsterdam are the seals; there are hundreds, thousands of them besides the base and walk around undisturbed. Although they do not fear the humans they do not allow to be touched by them. The males are two metres long and weigh about 165 kilos. They form harems of up to 15 females, and when they show sign of weakness immediately are challenged by a young exemplar to fight for the harem. Sometimes one of the two dies. They eat krill, calamari and fish, and recognize their children by touching their noses, in a way that reminds the Maori manner of New Zealand.
SAINT PAUL ISLAND
Saint Paul consists in a volcanic cone with a caldera, has a surface of 7 square kilometres and is located at 54 kilometres from Amsterdam Island. We stopped for a few hours to replace the food and medicines in a wooden refuge, as the maritime laws stipulate, just in case some sailing boat in trouble could need of help or shelter. In Saint Paul, apart from seals, there are thousands of Rockhoppers penguins. They are called thus because they jump until the top of the hills, and are also known as crested penguins, or macaroni, for the brightly coloured feathers on their heads. At one time Rockhoppers and other penguins were hunted for their oil, but today are protected. They have a stature of about 60 centimetres and a weight of 4 kilos, while in Crozet and Kerguelen live the Royal penguin, with a size of 90 centimetres and a weight of 13 kilos. In the Antarctic continent lives the Emperor, the tallest of the 17 kind of penguins in the Antarctica, reaching a height of 120 centimetres.
2009-10-16 - During the summer of 2009 I visited two towns of the Amur Oblast. The first one was Tynda, a stop in the BAM (Baikal Amur Magistral) railway line. From Tynda I left the BAM train and after spending a whole day in the town (I slept in a dormitory in the railway station for 300 rubles) and I continued northwards, to Tommot, also by train, in a new line called Amuro-Yakutskaya Magistral (AYaM), that within a few years will reach Yakutsk (capital of Yakutia), then Magadan, in a future Anadyr, in Chukotka, and then a tunnel will be constructed under the Strait of Bering to Alaska, thus uniting by train New York with Madrid, for instance. Tynda was not an exciting town. Its population was about 40.000 inhabitants, and the main industry is timber.
Much more interesting was Blagoveshchensk, the capital of Amur Oblast, a town that I would visit one month later, in my way back overland from Russian Far East to Spain, and would explore it during two days. The train station of Blagoveshchensk is at about 3 kilometres distance from the downtown. After leaving my small bag (weighing 3 kilos) in a dormitory (very nice, clean, cheap, only 400 rubles per night, and with helpful and polite staffs) next door to the railway station, I walked to the centre to discover the city. I noticed the presence of many Chinese nationals. Just at the other side of the River Amur I could distinguish the Chinese city of Heihe, with about 120.000 inhabitants (in Blagoveshchensk live 220.000 persons), with big signs announcing Chinese products in Russian language. But the two towns are not united by a bridge, which is why there was a ferry service several times a day, for about 50 US Dollars one way. Russians do not need Chinese visa to cross to Heihe for a stay of 14 days, and many buy houses in China because are much cheaper than in Russia. I asked in Russian Emigration if I could cross to Heihe, in Heilongjiang, just for a day, and they said that then I would lose my Russian visa, so I did not. During my two days visit I observed a pretty looking Triumph Ark. It was new. I had been recently erected to commemorate that Tsar Alexander II ordered to construct Blagaveshchensk in the XIX century. In fact it had been restored; the Communists destroyed the first one, and only after the Perestroika the local Government decided to build it again. I also noticed the great amount of Chinese who crossed the River Amur everyday to bring cheap items to be sold in Russian markets. In Blagaveshchensk there were even hotels only for Chinese, very cheap, and did not accept Russians or foreigners. I was told that there were many illegal Chinese trying to find a job in Russia, mainly in restaurants or in small business. In a sign in the railway station, I could read in Russian and in Chinese languages: “Forbidden to spit” what was in fact an insult against the Chinese.
In m my second day I discovered that Blagaveshchensk turned out to be a very historical city, in spite of having been founded only in the middle of the XIX century. For instance, during the Boxer Upraising (from 1899 to 1901) the Chinese, tired of the negative interference of foreign powers in their country (mainly Japanese, French, English and Russians), revolted, and some insurgents crossed to Blagaveshchensk. They were stopped by the Russian Cossacks. After that the Russians decided to expel all the entire Chinese community, peaceful citizens who lived in Blagaveshchensk before the events, and were forced to swim to Heihe. The result was about 3000 Chinese drowned. Chinese feel that Russians invaded the north of the Amur River with trickeries and due to superior military forces. That is why in every Russian (especially Siberian) mind there is the fear that in the long run, perhaps during this XXI century, the Chinese will push northwards. Human being exists before the borders, so moving to a better place to survive is a Natural Law, a Humankind Law, and it is unjust that a few millions Russians enjoy a territory twice bigger than China, a country overpopulated, with one and a half billon people. So the Nature will intervene in due time, that is sure, even if the governments concerned make wars to avoid it. Humankind is first. After Blagoveshchensk I took a train to Chita, in Zabaykalsky Krai. ..............................................
I arrived to Tynda by train, from Saint Petersburg.
I had to spend one day and one night there while waiting for my next train to the Sakha Republic by means of the AYaM (Amur Yakutsk Magistral). I found a bed in a dormitory in the same train station, for scarcely 300 rubles.
Tynda is small and I noticed that many shops were selling weapons for hunting and items for fishing, the main hobbies of the people in the whole of Siberia. There was a statue devoted to Lenin and a pretty Orthodox Cathedral called Holy Trinity. The people had migrated there for 10 or 20 years because of the higher salaries. Then when they save enough money they move and buy a flat in other less remote cities and better communicated with the rest of the country.
Tynda was founded in 1917, when constructing the BAM (Baykal Amur Magistral), and presently its inhabitants, basically Russians followed by Ukrainians, work in the timber industry. Even 1500 North Koreans live in that town very miserably, like slaves, cutting logs in the forest and their salary is sent directly from Russia to the Government of their country; the North Koreans receive just enough for an Spartan life in Tynda plus a small remuneration that they will receive back in North Korea, while the North Korea government keeps the difference with the real salary, much higher, paid by Russia. I saw their buildings at the distance, but did not go there; it was an empty area with no people in the streets. North Koreans never mix with the Russians; they live apart in buildings made with blocks. It was sad.
The next day I continued my journey to Neryungri and further by train to Tommot in the River Aldan, and finally I hitchhiked and soon boarded a truck to Yakutsk.
2007-06-01 - Three wonderful places to visit in Turkey:
1 - Konya, Rumi and the whirling dervishes
If you happen to be travelling during December (from the 10th to the 17th) in that fabulous country that is Turkey enjoying the fantastic Capadoccia region and Aksehir, where Nasrettin Haca was born, then, please, do not miss to spend at least one day in Konya, the capital of the Seleucid Empire and the old Iconium of the Hellenist period.
During that week takes place the yearly festival of the world famous whirling dervishes’ dances, a performance that you will never forget. You can also visit the old tekke (kind of monastery) of the founder of that whirling dervish’s order, the Afghan born Jalal ad Din Rumi, known as Mevlana.
In Konya you can buy good quality kilims, a copy in English of Mevlana main book called Mesnevi, and CDs with dervishes’ music. Mevlana used to call the people, indistinctly of their ideology, to go to his tekke with these words: Gel, gel, ne olursan ol, yine gel (Come, come, whoever you are it does not matter, come).Ani Harabeleri archaeological site
Very few tourists venture to go to Ani Harabeleri; at the most they visit Kars. It is located at about 50 kilometres from Kars. Ani was the ancient capital of Armenia, but now is a shepherd little town. Its ruins are great. I saw fragments of the old fortress, two Armenians churches with frescoes (Armenian is the first Christian state in the world, before than the Roman Empire), one mosque, one palace, plus a caravanserai surrounded by the river Arpachay in which other bank I distinguished Armenia. Ani comes from Anahita, Zoroastrian goddess. It was a time, under Byzantium rule, when in Ani there were one thousand churches.
Ishak Pasha Saray is located at 6 kilometres from Dogubayazit
I discovered the amazing Palace Ishak Pasha by chance. I had been travelling around Iran paying homage to the poets Sadi and Hafiz in Shiraz and Firdawsi in Khorasan, when I returned to Spain overland stopping in interesting places along my way. Crossing the border up in Turkey all the women removed with relief their chadors from their heads, and the men bought bottles of different liquors in the shop besides the customs to drink them without coercion. Then I resolved to spend the night in Dogubayazit in my way to the Lake Van. I slept in a cheap caravanserai and when the next morning was about to leave to the Lake Van, I looked back and: Oh Mama mia, what was that marvel! And some Kurdish explained me that the breathtaking construction of the distance, called Ishak Pasha, was a palace at about 1 hour walking, erected in the XVII century. I headed running to that place and spent the whole morning visiting all its ins and outs. That place was unbelievably beautiful, even more than the terraces of Pamukkale!
AKSEHIR: Travelling by bus from Bursa to Konya I decided to break the journey and to spend half a day in Aksehir, the old Philomenium in Roman times, in order to visit the tomb of a legendary wise man, Mullah Nesruddin (known in Turkish as Nasreddin Hoja), who was a follower of the XIII century Sufi master Seydi Mahmut (which tomb is also in Aksehir), who in his turn was a follower of Rumi, whom he met in Konya.
In the bus station everything reminded the sage Nasrudin; he was depicted everywhere, with his jokes or simply driving his donkey backwards. Then I walked to the downtown and visited its (supposed) tomb inside a cemetery. Besides that cemetery there were many shops selling Nasreddin related souvenirs, postcards, statues, books with his wise jokes, his donkey, etc. And in the boulevard there were at least 50 metallic statues devoted to Nasreddin representing his most famous pedagogic jokes, full with wisdom that made me laugh.
Every year in Aksehir is organized a festival devoted to Nasreddin.
One that I liked very much wand I copied from a plaque that was written in Turkish and in English, said:
A neighbor came to the gate of Mulla Nasreddin\\\'s yard. The Mulla went to meet him outside.
\\\"Would you mind, Mulla,\\\" the neighbor asked, \\\"lending me your donkey today? I have some goods to transport to the next town.\\\"
The Mulla didn\\\'t feel inclined to lend out the animal to that particular man, however. So, not to seem rude, he answered:
\\\"I\\\'m sorry, but I\\\'ve already lent him to somebody else.\\\"
All of a sudden the donkey could be heard braying loudly behind the wall of the yard.
\\\"But Mulla,\\\" the neighbor exclaimed. \\\"I can hear it behind that wall!\\\"
\\\"Whom do you believe,\\\" the Mulla replied indignantly, \\\"the donkey or your Mulla?
His anecdotes may be understood at many levels, from the mere joke to a mystic message.
After that half a day pleasant transit stop I headed by bus to Konya
SAFRANBOLU: At the entrance to the Safranbolu, descending on foot a deep ravine, I saw the following phrase written in one of the walls: World Heritage City 1994.
I soon noticed that Safranbolu was a pleasant but at the same time a very touristic place. I met dozens of Japanese, some Europeans, Americans, and especially many Turkish tourists.
One of the interests of Safranbolu is its houses with original balconies. I tried to visit as many as I could during half a day through the narrow streets.
People in the tourist office were friendly and supplied me several maps and booklets about the history and the tourist attractions of Safranbolu. I learnt in that office that the great Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta stayed in Safranbolu in the year 1332 and described his visit in his book Rihla (The Journey).
In the past the town prospered thanks to its saffron production, and because of that activity it was known as the Saffron city (Safranbolu), but today the saffron is being produced at about 20 kilometers distance from there. Now the local people live mainly on tourism. I saw many shops selling souvenirs, such as miniature reproductions of the typical houses, or decorated pumpkins. Saffron was also sold.
Apart from its mosques and the medieval atmosphere, another interesting place in Safranbolu was the Cinci Han, or Kervan Sarayi (Caravanserai), built in the middle of the XVII century that was one of the greatest caravanserais in the historical Silk Road from China to Anatolia. It was used as a caravanserai until the XX century. Today it shelters a hotel. I asked the price and it was expensive by my budget. Even for entering the patio to have a look you have to pay 1 Turkish Lira. The prices to drink a tea or a soft drink inside are twice more expensive than in any cafeteria.
I found a dormitory for backpackers for 25 Turkish Lira a night, but after thinking for a while I felt that those 4 hours visit had been enough to get to know the most important of the town, so I proceeded my journey back to Spain overland and left Safranbolu to Thessaloniki, in Greece, by bus.
NEMRUT GOLU: When you arrive to the sanctuary of Nemrut Dag you feel immediately that you are before a most important place of our planet.
In the hostel where I stayed the previous night they convinced me to wake up at 4 AM and then to go, together with some other guests of the hostel, by jeep to the Nemrut Dag premises, in order to admire the sunrise.
After paying the entry fee I climbed a mountain until the main promontory besides several statues representing gods and animals.
There was a wooden path helping the tourist to walk up easily, and some locals offered you rides on donkeys.
On the top there were at least 50 more people, all foreigners, who were also waiting the sunrise. Half of them must have spent the night there, judging by their sleeping bags and blankets.
A sign at the entrance to the site explained that Nemrut Dag sanctuary was built as a mausoleum during the first century BC during the reign of Antiochos I, king of the ancient Armenian kingdom of Commagene (within the Armenian Empire). By some writing found in Nemrut Dag, Antiochos I is supposed to have been a very pious king.
The tomb of Antiochos I has not yet been found in spite of the many excavations made for that purpose.
I saw statues representing lions and eagles, plus heads of gods from the old Armenian, Greek and Persian religions (Ahura Mazda, Apollo, Hercules, etc.).
After the sunrise I made the whole tour to the mountain and found many more statues behind the main complex, representing persons and animals. It seems that the eastern side of the mountain had been used to perform religious ceremonies and astronomical calculations.
When I felt that I had visited the place well enough, I descended, returned by jeep to my hostel (the driver had been waiting for us) and headed by bus to Diyarbakir.
DIYARBAKIR: I stopped for half a day in Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Kurdistan, on my way to Mardin, in order to visit its famous Citadel and de walls, plus other tourist attractions.
From the bus terminal I took a local one until one of the four gates to the Citadel. Since I had read that the black basalt walls of Diyarbakir, first built by the Romans at the turn of the III century, measured almost 6 kilometers, being the largest in the world after the Great Wall of China, I expected more, much more. But although I was not disappointed, the walls of Diyarbakir did not produce me the same feeling of exaltation as I had experimented in Avila, or even in Lugo. Nevertheless I practically walked around the whole wall, external and internally, with its watchtowers, scrutinizing all the details, and then I entered the Ulu Camii, (Great Mosque) another wonder in Diyarbakir................The Great Mosque was first a Christian temple, until the Arabs conquered that area and built. It is the oldest in Anatolia and one of the holiest among the Muslims around the world. It was built at the end of the XI century over and old church devoted to Saint Thomas.
I removed my shoes and entered in the mosque premises. Nobody prevented me of doing so, in spite that I did not look a Muslim. Some faithful people were sleeping, while some read the Koran loudly. The stonework and the Roman style columns were super.
Finally I had some snacks and one tea in the XVI century Caravanserai Hasan Pasa Hani, on the Gazi Road, just in front of the Great Mosque. I loved the medieval atmosphere inside that old Caravanserai......................At the entrance to the Caravanserai there was a plaque saying about the visit of a Polish traveler in the XVII century:
“The Polish Simeon, who came and visited Diyarbakir in 1612, has written the following lines about the hostel in his travel book: I went to the Hasan Pasha Hostel after I arrived to the town. The magnificent stone building had two stables for 500 horses, a gorgeous fountain and several stone chambers on three floors”.
Diyarbakir deserves at least two days to visit all its interesting places (Armenian and Syrian churches, more mosques, exotic bazaars, the River Tigris, bridges, palaces, museums, etc.) but I had to leave, so those three places (the walls, the Great Mosque plus the Hasan Pasa Hani Caravanserai) were enough for me.
I left Diyarbakir satisfied; I have had enough impressions and boarded by bus to Mardin.
MARDIN: I loved Mardin at the first sight! It is located on the slopes of a rocky mountain and it looks like a biblical town. Somehow it reminded me Matera, in Basilicata.
The buildings were of Arab and Armenian styles, with narrow lanes, people riding donkeys in the streets, and a very exotic atmosphere.
I found a hotel at a very affordable price, inside an old castle, for about 22 Euro with breakfast including eggs. Then I travelled to the nearby Syrian Orthodox Deyrul Zafaran Monastery, which was located at 5 kilometers on the east of Mardin.
The entry fee was 6 Lira, or about 2 Euro. We gathered some Western tourists and were assigned a guide speaking English, since none of us could understand Kurdish or Turkish, and still less the Aramaic language.
The monastery was first a temple devoted to the sun, then it was used by the Romans as a citadel, and in the V century, it became a Syrian monastery. It is considered one of the oldest of the world. Deyrul Zafaran means Monastery of Saffron, because the color of its stone, but it is also known as Mor Hananyo, or even Saint Ananias. Inside the monastery premises there is a cafeteria and a shop selling religious items related with the monastery, books, medals, postcards, crosses, etc.
During one hour or so we were shown the most interesting and historical places and liturgical instruments of the monastery, including old frescoes, the hall where the sun was worshipped, the almost 700 years old Patriarch Throne, some of the tombs of the first Patriarchs of the Syrian Orthodox Church, etc. Sometimes we saw monks coming and going. It is said that the Apostles Saint Judas Thaddeus and Saint Bartholomew stayed in that monastery.
After the excursion I asked our guide to recite the prayer the Holy Father, in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, and he agreed, but not in the patio of the monastery but inside the church. We, all the tourists, followed him and listened with great emotion that holy prayer.
After the monastery I still explored Mardin and had dinner in a restaurant close to the great Mosque (Ulu Cami).
In the morning, after breakfast, I headed by bus to Erbil, in the Iraqi Kurdistan.
THE SYRIAN ORTHODOX DEYRUL ZAFARAN MONASTERY: I loved Mardin at the first sight! It is located on the slopes of a rocky mountain and it looks like a biblical town. Somehow it reminded me Matera, in Basilicata. The buildings were of Arab and Armenian styles, with narrow lanes, people riding donkeys in the center streets, and a very exotic atmosphere. I found a hotel at a very affordable price, inside an old castle, for about 22 Euro with breakfast including eggs. Then I travelled to the nearby Syrian Orthodox Deyrul Zafaran Monastery, which was located at 5 kilometers on the east of Mardin. The entry fee was 6 Lira, or about 2 Euro. We gathered some Western tourists and were assigned a guide speaking English, since none of us could understand Kurdish or Turkish, and still less the Aramaic language. The monastery was first a temple devoted to the sun, then it was used by the Romans as a citadel, and in the V century, it became a Syrian monastery. It is considered one of the oldest of the world. Deyrul Zafaran means Monastery of Saffron, because the color of its stone, but it is also known as Mor Hananyo, or even Saint Ananias. Inside the monastery premises there is a cafeteria and a shop selling religious items related with the monastery, books, medals, postcards, crosses, etc. During one hour or so we were shown the most interesting and historical places and liturgical instruments of the monastery, including old frescoes, the hall where the sun was worshipped, the almost 700 years old Patriarch Throne, some of the tombs of the first Patriarchs of the Syrian Orthodox Church, etc. Sometimes we saw monks coming and going. It is said that the Apostles Saint Judas Thaddeus and Saint Bartholomew stayed in that monastery. After the excursion I asked our guide to recite the prayer the Holy Father, in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, and he agreed, but not in the patio of the monastery but inside the church. We, all the tourists, followed him and listened with great emotion that holy prayer. After the monastery I still explored Mardin and had dinner in a restaurant close to the great Mosque (Ulu Cami). In the morning, after breakfast, I headed by bus to Erbil, in the Iraqi Kurdistan.
TARSUS: I arrived in the evening to Tarsus, by train from Konya, after transshipment. In the railway station I asked the people for a cheap hotel nearby, but it was incredible, there was none! Usually, in every city you find lodgment close to the bus and train station, but not in Tarsus. I asked no less than five persons and everybody sent me to the downtown, to where I walked during 20 minutes or so, and finally I found one, called Ogretmenevi, at a reasonable price (about 18 Euro a night in a single, with breakfast, including eggs). I bought some food in a supermarket close to the hotel and, since it was already dark to walk around, I stayed in my room until the morning, when I visited Tarsus during half a day.
I noticed several ruins in the central streets; there were several archeological sites and people excavated to discover Greek fragments of the old Tarsus, a city 6000 old. I saw fragments of the two concentric defensive walls that protected the city in ancient times.
During my walks to discover Tarsus I entered a mosque that had been in the past an Armenian church. There were Ataturk monuments, as in every Turkish city. Also I went to the Church of Saint Paul, but it was closed and could only visit it externally. Then I stopped in front of the huge Cleopatra Gate, through which Cleopatra and Marco Antonio entered the city in the first century Before Christ.
But the best were the Tarsus old houses with balconies and just next door the Roman era stone well of Saint Paul. I paid the entrance fee and entered the place.
Inside I saw plaques with the history of Saint Paul and his travels, some archeological fragments, ruins and several columns. But the most important was the well. The employee of the site suggested me to drink water from the well, and even she helped me to extract it from a bucket. I was thirsty, so I drank to glasses.
At about midday, after having visited still some other places in Tarsus, I left the city by buses to the fantastic ruins of Nemrut Dagi, where I would arrive in the evening.
ANKARA: I spent only half a day in Ankara. The first visit that I made was the one to Anitkabir, or in Turkish language: the Mausoleum of Kemal Mustafa Ataturk, the father of the Turkish Republic. From the bus terminal I caught the Metro and descended where the passengers had advised me. Then I walked several hundred meters and reached the gate of the complex. I had to leave my bag there. The entry to the site was free of charge.
Then I walked. There were soldiers on the way. The road to get to the mausoleum was flanked by statues of lions.
Finally I reached the main esplanade. It was on a hill. The views offered were superb.
There were frequents changes of guards, and the tourist, Turkish and foreigners alike, were happy to take pictures of the soldiers.
I started to visit every building, every tunnel. Everything was huge in that mausoleum.
Inside the main building everything was explained in a very didactic way explaining the life and history of Turkey during Ataturk times. There were representations of wars, speeches given by Ataturk, maps, paintings, statues…
But I did not see Ataturk tomb; it was in a sarcophagus several meters underneath the Hall of Honor. It seems that ordinary visitors are not allowed to go there.
At the exit there were shops selling souvenirs related to the Mausoleum and the history of Turkey.
Back to the center I still visited two mosques, being the larger the one called Kocatepe Camii (mosque), and strolled along the pedestrian streets.
I was in a hurry to go back to Spain overland, so after four hours or so exploring Ankara I headed to the bus terminal and travelled to Safranbolu, and the next day to Istanbul and Thessaloniki.
BURSA: Coming by bus from Gallipoli I arrived to Bursa bus terminal. The downtown was far away; a local bus took almost one hour to get to the Green Mosque. Inside I asked to the passengers to advise me once we arrive near the Green Mosque.
Bursa is a large city, the forth by population in Turkey after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. It was the first Ottoman Empire capital after it was conquered to the Byzantines, then the capital was transferred to Edirne and finally (in 1453) to the recent conquered Constantinople, that the Turks renamed Istanbul.
One of the passengers of my bus descended with me in the eastern part of Bursa and showed me the way to the Green Mosque. I walked for about 100 meters and soon I found the mosque inside a Kulliye, or complex around a mosque with other service buildings, such as a bakery, a clinic, a barber, the hamman, the medresa, etc.
I spent about one hour admiring all its buildings, especially the Green Tomb, sheltering several sarcophagus containing the corpses of notable people, like a sultan and his family.
The mosque and tomb are so called because its green tiles, although I noticed that the blue tiles predominated over the green ones in that complex. A plaque in its exterior of the mosque said that it had been built in the year 1421.
Then I walked to the Great Mosque, called in Turkish Ulu Cami. It was not so far from the Green Mosque and preferred to walk than boarding again a bus because they make many detours. Besides, by walking you get to know the city much better.
Ulu Cami (the Great Mosque) was, indeed, great. It was flanked by two high minarets. Inside you feel insignificant. The most stunning were the almost 200 signs of calligraphy (in Arabic alphabet) over its walls, columns and plates. Many consider that the Arabic calligraphy inside that mosque is the most beautiful of the world.
I read in a sign that the mosque had been finished in the year 1399.
Inside the mosque, as usual, people slept, read Koran, prayed or just made their ablutions in a fountain situated just in the center of the mosque.
Visiting these two Kulliye, darkness fell. I felt satisfied with what I had seen, so I went back to the terminal without remorse for having missed more interesting places in Bursa, and caught a night bus to my next destination: Aksehir, the town devoted to the sage Mullah Nasreddin...............................
IGDIR: In my way from Istanbul to Nakhchivan by bus I first crossed Erzurum, and then reached Igdir hungry and tired, which is why I resolved to stay in that city for the day. I would enter Nakhchivan the next day. I ate a pizza, later found a hostel and went out to explore Igdir. While strolling around without any goal, a high monument attracted my attention. It was unusual. It consisted in five gigantic swords standing and forming a peak which, presumably, symbolizes the Mount Ararat. Inside there was a museum in the form of a chapel. No entry ticket was needed, and the person in charge was very kind. The atmosphere inside provoked in me a kind-hearted feeling. I saw documents and pictures showing atrocities committed by Armenians against the Turks during WWI. That museum was in response to the genocide claimed by the Armenians, perpetrated by the Turks between the years 1915 to 1922 killing systematically one and a half Armenians. According to that museum, it was the opposite: the Armenians killed over one million Turks. Just a few weeks earlier I had been in Erevan, Armenia, where I visited the Memorial to the Armenians killed in 1915. Whom to believe? Over twenty countries around the world recognize that the Turks exterminated one and a half million Armenians, among them Armenia, France, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Canada, Argentina, Russia… etc. In Spain, two out of seventeen regions recognize the genocide. On the other side, the genocide against the Turks people is only recognized in the world by two countries: Turkey and Azerbaijan. Genocide is a word coined in the year 1944 to refer to systematic massacres against a race, or political, or religious adversaries. That monument and museum in Igdir was a shock to me, it was like visiting a museum in Munich claiming that the Jews exterminated 6 million Germans in Hitler times. The next day I reached by bus Nakhchivan.
........................................KUSADASI: I arrived in the night to Kusadasi. It had been a long journey from Igdir, near Armenia. The bus was comfortable and the food in the stops good. I looked for a hostel near the port. Two days later I had to travel to Greece, and then back to Barcelona, in my dear Spain, overland and oversea. I slept next door to the beautiful and expensive Hotel Karavanserai, an old Sultan Palace where a room costs 100 US Dollars. I wanted to sleep in the beach, but in the port I found a man selling peanuts in a kiosk and asked him for a hostel at “Turkish price” (I never travel with “tourist guides”, because I am not a tourist). He then sent me to 50 meters distance, to a shop selling skin bags. There, the owner ruled a hostel, wonderful, simple but clean and spacious, and asked me how much money I could afford for the room. I said 5 euro because I had money problems, otherwise I will sleep in the beach. Then he agreed and gave me the lovely room with breathtaking view. I left my bag and went out to have dinner. There were many tourists in Kusadasi, mainly Germans, even in the evening. I liked the atmosphere of the town. Early in the morning the next day I climbed to the top of the hill to pay respects to Kemal Ataturk (or Mustafa Kemal). Ataturk means Father of Turkey. The third day I left Kusadasi by boat, to Samos Island, in Greece.
2009-11-02 - If you only have time to visit one of the 17 Spanish autonomies, then, do not hesitate, go to Andalucia! the most historical, exotic, pleasant and beautiful part of Spain. Andalucia is a work of art, is a land unique in the world. In this territory we preserve a living folklore, old traditions, flamenco music and dancing (do you know guitarist Paco de Lucia?), delicious gastronomy and wines, the Caliphate route, the Washington Irving route (the first north American ambassador in Spain, who wrote a book called Alhambra Tales), the Feria de Sevilla and Feria del Rocio, the 3000 years old legendary Kingdom of Tartessos, and etc., etc., etc. Indeed, Andalucia is rich in every cultural aspect beyond imagination. I will list you below the eight Andalucia provinces and my suggestions to visit:
ALMERIA is famous for the beaches and its fortress, called Alcazaba, in its capital. From Almeria city you can catch regular ferries to Melilla, a Spanish enclave north of Africa. -------------------------- GRANADA was the last territory held by the Muslims invaders until 1492. Its main tourist attraction is the Alhambra, a marvellous palace constructed during the XIII century by Muhammad I. In Granada cathedral you can admire the mausoleums of the Catholic Kings, Isabel de Castilla and Fernando de Aragon. In front of the Alhambra lay the charming quarter Albaicin (UNESCO Patrimony), with spectacular views of the Alhambra, in particular in the night, when it is illuminated. A good restaurant in Albaicin is Kiki, where you can try a bull tail dish. Apart from the Alhambra, another very interesting visit in Granada consists in the magnificent Cathedral and the Capilla Real, a holy place in the history of Spain. Within this Royal Chapel, in a beautiful marble mausoleum, lay the rests of our Catholic Kings (Isabel and Fernando) plus their daughter Juana with her husband Felipe (son of Emperor Maximilian) and their son Miguel. In is interior you will also admire the Sacristia and the museum, which contains many valuable paintings by Sandro Botticelli (La Oracion del Huerto), Alonso Cano, Pedro Berruguete, Rogier van der Weiden, etc. The entrance fee is not expensive, but you need to pay two separate tickets to visit both the Capilla Real and the Cathedral, which is next door. ------------------------ MALAGA is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and in its capital you can visit the museum dedicated to this genius. Marbella has one of the best Andalusia beaches, while if you want to visit something exotic, then go up to Mijas, in the mountains, and hire a burro-taxi. Ronda, further up in the mountains is one of the most spectacular villages of Malaga, especially its stone bridge and the first Spanish arena for bullfighting. ------------------------ CADIZ city is known as La Tacita de Plata (the silver small cup). In the past, about 3000 years ago, Cadiz was called Gadir, the oldest European city, and was founded by Phoenicians sailors from Tiro, in Lebanon. The carnival of Cadiz is considered one of the most important and humoristic in Spain. ----------------------- HUELVA has its Costa de la Luz, with lovely beaches and fishing villages. In Palos de la Frontera, origin of the Columbus travels, you will see a monument dedicated to this great explorer. Other highlight in Huelva is the Donana Natural Park, the greatest in Europe, while if you want to go to Sevilla by an original way, then take a boat in Sanlucar de Barrameda along the Guadalquivir River. ------------------------------ SEVILLA city is the eight wonder of the world! Strolling around the labyrintical streets of Barrio de Santa Cruz is something that you will never forget. By the way, in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, in the Plaza de los Venerables, you should have lunch in the restaurant El Hostal del Laurel, with motives of Don Juan, and jamones (ham pig legs) and garlic hanging from the roof as decoration. The Sevilla cathedral is a treasure and in its interior you can visit Columbus tomb and Goya and Murillo paintings, and the more braves should climb up to the Giralda, one of the Sevilla symbols, for great views of the city. Finally, for a romantic night, go to the Kiosk de las Flores, in Betis street, besides the Guadalquivir River bank, and ask for pescaditos with La Ina wine.
Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla: This museum, free of charge for European Union citizens, is located in an old convent dating from the XVII century in mannerist style, with three patios and the first floor. The impressive paintings collection includes works of such as remarkable artists as Zurbaran, Murillo, Valdes and Velazquez. Today, this museum is considered one of the bests of its kind in Spain.
CASA PILATOS: An Andalusia marquis travelled to Jerusalem in the XV century and when he returned home, in Sevilla, reformed his palace and the result was a beautiful house that he named Casa Pilatos, with a mixture of mudejar and renaissance styles. It is not a reproduction of the house of the famous praetorian. You enter through the Marble Portal. The patio is wonderful, with lovely gardens, a fountain with fours dolphins and statues representing Minerva and Roman emperors. ------------------------- CORDOBA walled city has an old synagogue (today a museum), a walled quarter with the second greatest mosque of the past (only after Meca in Arabia), today converted in Christian cathedral, and the beautiful museum dedicated to the artist Julio Romero de Torres. Furthermore, Cordoba is the birthplace of some of the most famous philosophers of the world, such as Seneca, Averroes and Maimonides, and in Cordoba city you can admire their monuments. ----------------------- JAEN is the olive oil world capital. Interesting historical towns in this province are Ubeda and Baeza (UNESCO Patrimonies of the Humankind). Jaen capital has an imposing castle and a cathedral containing Jesus Christ relics.
In September 2013 I bought a ticket to UNESCO Doñana National Park for 29 Euro in a hotel in Matalascañas. At 3 PM I was in the place where a bus would pass to pick up several passengers. I had the opportunity to talk to them. They had paid from 30 to 35 Euro per ticket, so I guessed that every hotel charges what they like.
The bus came and picked us all. It was a big jeep. The guide was at the same time the driver and could only speak Spanish as he said when presenting to us. Fortunately we all were Spanish.
The tour would last 3 and half hours. We would have two stops of about twenty minute each, to walk around and take pictures or going to the toilets. The first one was soon, on the dunes besides an oasis where the pines were being covered by the sand.
We saw many animals, from horses to deers, apart from hundreds of birds, but not a single lynx. I asked to the driver and he told me that they never promise to see lynxes, since there are only about 50 living in the whole park and it is hard to sight them.
We reached the Guadalquivir River, where we had another break.
We met another group of tourist who had come to Doñana by boat along the Guadalquivir, from Sevilla. You can also visit the Doñana Park from San Lucar de Barrameda.
We even saw a cortijo or residential place where our kings, from Alfonso XIII to Juan Carlos I, used to rest and even to hunt (although today it is forbidden to hunt) and Spanish presidents invite special guests from time to time.
During the last 30 kilometers our jeep ran along the shore of the River Guadalquivir until its delta in the Atlantic Ocean. On the way we saw a turtle dying. The driver said that it was due to the plastics bags thrown by the tourists that the turtles eat believing to be medusas.
In the whole it was a fine excursion.
2007-04-22 - To get to Andaman there are boats from Calcutta and Madras, and flights as well. If you take the boat to Andaman then you need a permit before embarking, which will be issued to you in Calcutta or in Madras, but if you fly it will be given to you at the airport, in Port Blair. The air pass of Indian Airlines includes Andaman (but not Lakshasweep). For your guidance, Nicobar Islands, famous for the elephants working together with the locals, are, unfortunately, off limits to the tourists. The airport is just in the town. Do not take a taxi; just walk until the seaside for about fifteen minutes. To travel outside of Port Blair you pass through several check points where the soldiers will register your name in a notebook. The buses leave very early, at about 4.30 AM and a soldier with a rifle always board every bus. Practically there are no beggars in Port Blair. I met a few sadhus in an Indian temple besides the port. I did not see Buddhists or Sikhs or Jainists in Andaman, only Hindus and some Muslims. Indians from the mainland need a permit to visit or to migrate there.
I visited the infamous jail constructed by the English colonialists in the upper side of Port Blair. It looked much more sinister than the one in Devil Island, in French Guyana. In the evenings there is a show of light and sound, the type like in the Pyramids of Egypt. Inside the cellular jail there are many pictures of the Indian Fighters for Freedom. It is a kind of patriotic pilgrimage for Indians. There are many tourists’ resorts with nice beaches in the small islands near Port Blair, where you can travel by boat.
The best was the aboriginal people that I met in my way to the north of Andaman Island. Since there are no bridges between the Islands forming Andaman, we had to wait for the ferries. Then, in the small island on Baratang, suddenly appeared from the jungle about forty natives of the tribe Jarawa practically naked, with their arrows. They did not make any difference between me and the Indians travelling in my bus (well, I have black hair, like the Indians; maybe if I had Scandinavian features would have been different). They do not speak Hindi or any other language apart from theirs. For them everybody was a foreigner. They where curious and touched the hands, arms and hair of some people. We stayed quiet. Then one of them asked a tea shirt to an Indian and he gave it away. Everybody laughed, aborigines and us, because he did not know how to put it on.
IN SPANISH: CÁRCEL CELULAR, ISLAS ANDAMÁN (Inscrito en la lista indicativa de la organización UNESCO)
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este lugar candidato a devenir en un próximo futuro un Patrimonio de la Humanidad: La histórica cárcel celular de Port Blair fue utilizada por los británicos para exiliar al remoto archipiélago de Andamán a los prisioneros políticos durante su lucha por obtener la independencia de la India. En la actualidad, el complejo carcelario sirve como un monumento memorial nacional…
(UNESCO sigue su larga descripción, que yo abrevio para ir al grano)
No viajé a las Islas Andamán y Nicobar con el objetivo de visitar la histórica e infame cárcel de Port Blair, aunque al final la visité, de día y también de noche, cuando se ofrece un espectáculo de “luz y sonido”.
Tampoco viajé a esas islas para disfrutar de las playas, como suelen hacer los pocos turistas extranjeros que allí viajan.
No, yo sólo me interesaba por las tribus Jarawas, las Sentinele y otras más que allí moran, en un completo aislamiento del mundo occidental. Las tribus de las islas Nicobar, donde los elefantes trabajan transportando troncos, no se pueden ver por nadie, exceptuando los pocos antropólogos enviados especialmente por Gobierno Indio.
Además, el gran viajero Marco Polo describe esas islas, aunque no está claro si escaló en ellas y conoció a sus indígenas.
Volé para llegar a la capital Port Blair. Había barcos que te llevaban a las islas Andamán desde Calcuta y Madrás (hoy llamadas Kolkata y Chennai) pero se tenía que conseguir previamente un permiso (que tarda días en ser concedido), pues esas islas son consideradas un territorio especial; hasta los propios indios necesitan una autorización para viajar a las islas Andamán y no se aceptan mendigos ni sadhues hindúes renunciantes de la vida.
Sin embargo, si se vuela a Andamán, el permiso te es concedido en el mismo aeropuerto de Port Blair tras un breve interrogatorio por los servicios secretos indios IB (Intelligent Bureau), y como había comprado un airpass de Indian Airlines con escala también en las islas Lakshadweep, volé a ellas una buena mañana.
El aeropuerto de Port Blair está en la misma ciudad. Caminé y encontré una especie de YMCA donde me alojaría por varias noches.
La famosa cárcel no se puede evitar, está localizada en una zona bien céntrica y visible de Port Blair, y es grande, de tres pisos de altura con siete alas. Me pareció siniestra, más que la que se halla en la Isla del Diablo en la Guayana Francesa, o los viejos penales de Australia.
No soy en absoluto un amante de las cárceles, tengo recuerdos infaustos de ellas; si acabé visitando la de Port Blair fue por “matar tiempo” y porque mi primer autobús hacia el norte, hacia la isla vecina de Baratang, no saldría hasta las 4 de la mañana del día siguiente.
En esa cárcel muchos revolucionarios y presos políticos, llamados Indian Freedom Fighters, sufrieron largo arresto en sus celdas microscópicas con las manos y pies encadenados, latigazos, trabajos forzados, ejecuciones, agua salada para beber, y trato inhumano y vejaciones practicado por los ingleses, por lo que los presos caían como moscas y sus cadáveres eran arrojados al mar. La cárcel llegó a ser tomada por los japoneses en el contexto de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y muchos indios ayudaron a los japoneses para liberarse del yugo inglés.
Me levanté por la madrugada y embarqué en un autobús hacia el norte. Un soldado con el rifle en ristre nos acompañaba, era obligatorio, y continuamente se comunicaba con otros soldados con un transmisor. En el pasado se habían dado casos de ataques de con lanzas y flechas de los aborígenes a los indios, con alguna muerte que otra.
Hubo diversos controles militares por el camino, donde registraban los nombres de los pasajeros en una libreta.
La naturaleza de la isla era hermosa, exuberante, en ella habría vivido feliz King Kong.
A veces veía nativos Jarawa por el camino, iban desnudos, algunos pescaban. Nos miraban con curiosidad, pero se notaba que ya estaban acostumbrados a la presencia de indios. Poco antes de llegar a un río, esperando un ferry, aparecieron unos cuarenta Jarawas que nos rodearon, incluyendo mujeres y niños, todos desnudos, y los hombres portaban arcos y flechas, debían ser pescadores. Yo me sentí exaltado, en un estado lindando el éxtasis. Los Jarawas estuvieron con nosotros hasta que apareció el ferry que nos transportaría a la siguiente isla, todo el rato sonreían, eran muy curiosos e ingenuos.
Durante ese tiempo nos tocaban la cabeza, las manos, la nariz. A mí me acariciaban los pelos del pecho con curiosidad, pues ellos son imberbes. Para ellos yo era un indio más, pues no distinguían de nacionalidades ni hablaban siquiera el idioma hindi. Un indio le regaló una camiseta a un Jarawa, y éste no sabía cómo colocársela por la cabeza, y todos nos reíamos de su torpeza al intentarlo.
Fue una hora mágica la que pasé junto a ellos. Los sentía mis parientes lejanos, muy íntimos. Sus antepasados prefirieron aislarse de las demás razas humanas y se instalaron en esas islas idílicas, sin aventurarse a explorar otras islas más al sur. Sus hermanos son los aborígenes papúas y los australianos.
Los ingleses, en su historia sobre esas islas, describen una lucha contra los Jarawas, los cuales iban armados con lanzas, arcos y flechas, y se vanaglorian de no haber sufrido ni una sola baja. A los Jarawas y nativos de otras de las seis tribus que viven en esas islas los mataban como conejos, como un ejercicio de puntería con sus rifles. Cuando leí la reseña de esa “batalla” un grito de indignación hacia los ingleses pasó por mi mente. Esos Jarawas son nuestros ancestros, nuestros padres, las entrañas de la Humanidad, y matarlos para robarles sus tierras es un genocidio, que es lo que realmente fue esa “batalla” ganada por los ingleses.
Por lo menos los indios, al mantener aislados a los Jarawas y otras tribus de Andamán y Nicobar, los dejan vivir a su aire y no los masacran, como hicieron los ingleses en Australia con los aborígenes, a los que casi exterminaron por completo.
Me sentí muy triste cuando nos separamos de ellos.
Y aunque visité otras islas del archipiélago de Andamán y vi costumbres que me llenaron de satisfacción, lo mejor de mi viaje a esas islas fue ese encuentro de una hora con los cuarenta Jarawas.
Días más tarde me marché para viajar a otra parte.
2011-10-22 - I traveled to Mantralayam with only one purpose: to pay my respects to the sacred burial place of Guru Raghavendra Swami.
In 1989 I had participated in a Kumbha Mela festival, in Allahabad, and known a Yogi (Yogi Shanti) who took care of me and told me that his master was a guru that in the XVII century had entered in samadhi and his body was buried in Mantralayam, but his spirit was still alive for 700 years (until 2300 or so).
I felt curiosity to visit that Guru and the ocasion came in 2014, in my way to Auroville. I decided to spend a whole day with its night visiting the holy place where the phisical body of Swami Raghavendra remains.
He was born in 1595, and in 1671 entered samadhi.
I took my shoes and shirt off and visited the place. There were thousands of pilgrims. They believe that Swami Raghavendra fulfill all the desires of the peope who have faith in him. There are even schools where you can study Swami Raghavendra teachings.
I slept in a hotel owned by the organization, whcih was very cheap. I had the opportunity to sleep for free, as a pilgrim, in dormitories, but I prefered to have intimacy.
The next day I left to Auroville, feeling that I had completed the wish of my friend Yogi Shanti. I felt in peace with myself.
In my way to Auroville something happenned and decided to get off the trian. This is what i wrote about that event: In my way by train to Auroville I was lodged in a carriage with several dozens of pilgrims. They were heading to Tirupati in order to catch a bus to Tirumala, the holiest of the holiest, the most visited temple in India and in the world. They said that it is the riches temple in the world and that every year is visited by about 40 millions pilgrims, or 100.000 ever day, and not only from India, but from the whole world. It was located near Tirupati, up a hill, in fact up to seven hills, that is why it is also known as the Temple of the Seven Hills.
Inside, they assured me, there was free accommodation and food, theaters and shows, and many wonderful temples.
So it was enough to hear that to change my mind. Auroville can wait, I thought.
And I descended with them in Tirupati and boarded a bus up to the Temple of the Seven Hills. There were Police controls on the road and the Police searched the bags looking for alcohol, because it was forbidden in Tirumala Temple.
When we arrived to the Temple, it was already dark. My friends immediately found a place to stay, but I was alone, and no rooms for single people were given, only for couples, for free, so I decided to spend the night in front of the theater, watching Ramayana shows, together with hundreds of pilgrims that also decided to sleep on the floor.
I made line to enter several holy places. They did not prevent me to enter the places because I was a foreigner, nobody asked me my religion. Anyway, there were so many thousands of people that it was impossible to ask them questions, so everybody got inside the holy temples to make ceremonies and sing songs.
When I was hungry I ate some vegetarian food and then went to the theater to sleep.
In the morning I still visited other places and received blessings from elephants and gurus. I saw many pretty statues devoted to several Hindu gods. Most of the people were like possessed, and my friends in the train did not recognized me when I met them after one hour or so, they were in ecstasis.
One day and one night were enough for me. Most pilgrims stayed there for days, but my wish to get to Auroville was very strong, so the next day in the afternoon I returned by bus to Tirupati and soon afterwards boarded a train to Auroville.
2008-12-21 - Andorra is a small principality that in the past was shared by Spain and France, and paid them a yearly tribute. In 1993 obtained membership in the United Nations, although it still depends on Spain and France. In Andorra there is no army, no trains, and no airports.There live about 70.000 inhabitants, the greatest part of them are immigrants from Spain (two thirds), and there are also some French and Portuguese. It is very hard to get Andorran nationality. In fact, Andorran nationals are a minority in their country, because they specially impose a too very strict and many many years long procedure to discourage the people from applying the nationality, and although the Andorrans speak among themselves a local language (the catalan), which is official, everybody speaks in the streets mainly Spanish, followed by French.Tourism is the main industry, followed by the banks (Andorra is a fiscal paradise). Most of the tourists (12 millions yearly) are one day visitors from Spain or France, who go there for shopping products at low price, being a tax free country. Many go in winter time to practise ski.In short: Andorra is a very beautiful and original country, and I strongly advise you to visit it during your way to Spain/Portugal, or France.
2007-04-28 - In Luanda there is a place you should not miss: the beach of Chicala in an island just at the end of the town, called La Ilha. It is united to Luanda by a kind of isthmus. Around there are many kiosks selling sardines on the grill, so delicious! Buy also a Portuguese beer Sagres to accompany the sardines. Everything is very cheap, just a few kwanzas. Dominating the isthmus there is a fortress constructed by the Portuguese in the XVII century that you can visit. It is called Sao Miguel and the entrance is free. Today is a military casern. In the other side of the Ilha there are several hotels, apartments, and a small village more pleasant and less dangerous than Luanda. That area is called Bairro da Ilha do Cabo.
Barra do Cuanza
------------------This is a very pleasant place very frequented by rich locals and Portuguese expatriates. It is located at the border with the National Park Kisama, at one side of the River Cuanza. It is situated at about 70 kilometres south of Luanda and you will need to change buses in Gomes e Irmao. For the second part of that journey it is better to hitchhike because the buses are few and far between. Count a whole day to get there and back to Luanda, but it is worth. The atmosphere besides the powerful River Cuanza is unforgettable; you will hear unknown sounds from exotic birds. There are many military controls along the way but they treat foreigners very well. Ah, by the way! food in Kisama Restaurant, just there, is stupendous! And the beers are Sagres, directly imported from Lisbon.
2007-06-02 - I took a boat to Anguilla Island in Marigot, the French part of Saint Martin Island (the other part belongs to Holland). A few decades ago Anguilla formed part of St. Kitts and Nevis, but today is a british colony, like others in the Caribean Sea: Montserrat, Turks and Caicos, Bermudas, Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands. Other british colonies around the world, are: Pitcairn, Tristan de Cunha, Ascension, St. Helena, Gibraltar, Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands), and Chagos Islands. The Spanish explorers gave this name to the island because of its long form, like an anguila, or eel. From the port you can walk or take a short ride in a taxi to The Valley, the main village, and not far from The Valley there is a lovely beach called Crocus Bay, where you can eat delicious and fresh fish (what I did). In the evening I returned back by boat to Marigot.
2011-11-22 - After visiting the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, I travelled in a night train to Hefei in order to pay respects to an admirable man: Bao Zhen.
The history of China is rich in such wise men.
Bao Zhen, better known as Lord Bao, or even Bao Gong (God of Justice) was born in Hefei in the last year of the X century. He is praised for his incorruptibility and rightness. He fought corrupt officials and punished them. At the same time he behaved compassionately towards the rightful people. In short, he was severe with the wrongdoers butkind with the righteous. He is represented in many Chinese operas with a black face because, it is said, he was extremely ugly.
There are temples around China devoted to him, as the incarnation of Justice.
I walked from the railway station until I reached an island with an isthmus in the middle of the River Baohe. There it was located the Bao Park, which entry fee was 15 Yuan. I bought one ticket and enjoyed the elegance and harmony of the place.
People around the park were Chinese dancing and others practicing Qigong, what is very common in Chinese cities.
After the park I entered another complex to visit the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao.
In the night I travelled by train to Qufu, in Shandong, to know more about the great sage Confucius
2007-04-28 - During February/March 2003 I hopped across twenty fascinating Small Antilles islands. I thought that they would be boring and repetitive, but I was wrong. Practically all of them were discovered during the four Columbus travels from 1492 to 1502. The Greater Antilles: Cuba, La Espanola (Dominican Republic plus Haiti) and Puerto Rico remained in Spanish hands until the second half of the XIX century; Jamaica was ceded to England in 1670 and Trinidad and Tobago in 1802. The rest of the Caribbean Islands were so insignificants for the Spaniards that they did not inhabit them and therefore were soon the refuge of pirates, until French, British, Danish, Swedish, Dutch and the Order of Malta occupied them. Today most are independent except a few that still belong to England, France, Holland and USA. In Puerto Rico I bought an economical air pass with the Company LIAT (Leeward Islands Air Transport) which allowed me to visit their about thirty islands during 30 days. I made a selection because some islands deserve a longer stay than 1 day, and disregarded those that I considered less interesting. Many islands (except French’s and USA’s) charge 10 or 15 US Dollars as airport departure tax, but if you spend in them only 1 night you are exempted. I planned my journey taking this fact into account to save money. Out of 30 nights I slept in marvellous hotels only 3 nights, where single cost 120 US Dollars, plus 50 for a sophisticated dinner. The rest I ate in the stalls of the local markets and slept in golf courses, black people invited me to their houses or sometimes I admired all night long the starry sky from some of the most beautiful beaches of the world. I am very grateful to LIAT, my favourite Caribbean airline. I will never get tired to recommend it to my friends. Since their flights are often cancelled they compensate the customers with free accommodation and dinner in sumptuous hotels. This happened to me 3 times. I list below my eight favourite Caribbean islands:
ANTIGUA capital is St John’s, where is located the Head Office of LIAT. Not far from LIAT there is a Catholic Cathedral, one of the prettiest in the Lesser Antilles, which was erected in the site of two older ones. The situation of the town is very attractive, dominated by two fortresses; there are many lovely wooden houses with old balconies in the downtown. I hitchhiked to the Indian Town National Park, in the other side of the island, in which museum I saw vestiges of the Ciboneys, or native inhabitants before the European arrival. I was told that apart from the two islands composing the country of Antigua and Barbuda, there is a third one, very small, uninhabited, called Redonda, which some claim to be a Kingdom pretended by three candidates to be its King. One of them is Spanish and has granted the title of “Caballero” to our film producer Pedro Almodovar. I asked how to get to this island, but the only way is hiring a boat, so I gave up. One day I flew to Dominica via Montserrat.
2011-10-17 - Hitch hiking from Crans Montana, in the canton of Valais, Switzerland (where I had worked during a few months washing dishes in a restaurant in a ski resort called Crans sur Sierre) in direction to Italy with the intention to learn the language of Dante, a truck picked me up. The driver was Italian. He was heading to Torino, so I accepted to go with him until that city.
On the way we crossed the Valley of Aosta, already in Italy, and we stopped for coffee in the city of Aosta, and I could see for two hours or so the city. It was a very short time for that nice town, I know, but that was better than nothing.
I remember that there were many Roman ruins, such as the Theater, that I sighted from the distance, the Porta Pretoria, the statue devoted to Caesar Augusto and the Arc of Triumph, apart from the Town Hall. All the signs were in Italian and in French languages.
I was told that Aosta is a stop in the pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. That pilgrimage on foot is called Via Francigena (because it crossed France) and it crossed the Great Saint Bernardo Pass.
After Aosta the driver dropped me in Torino.............................
In another journey to Aosta, in the year 2014, I wrote the following:
Being in Aosta I planned to reach Annecy, but there was not train, only buses. First I had to travel to Courmayeur and then three hours later to Chamonix, where I had a train to Annecy.
The journey by bus from Aosta to Courmayeur, still in Italy, was great. The bus made several stops in small villages, such as San Pietro, up on a hill.
The views over the Mont Blanc were breathtaking.
It was snowing in Courmayeur. During three hours I had time enough to visit the small village, of about 3.000 souls.
There were many tourists practicing skiing. Most of them were foreigners. Among the tourists I heard German, Russian and French languages, apart from Italian.
I entered the Catholic Church of San Pantaleone, the Guides club, and even ate a local ice-cream.
When the French bus came I boarded it and crossed the border with France through a tunnel over 11 kilometers long.
2014-03-24 - I arrived to Harisau by train, from St. Gallen. The station was at some kilometers from the downtown, my ticket was not valid to catch the bus, and I did not want to spend much money, so I walked.
I reached the downtown; there were many houses decorated, the Appenzeller Lebenswelten Museum (translated by “Worlds of Life”, closed at the times when I was there) and an imposing Protestant church.
I was interested in visiting that church because owing to irreconcilable religious differences among the people of the canton of Appenszell, it was split up in two cantons, forming the Appenzell Ausserrhoden with capital in Herisau, protestant, and Appelzell Innerrhoden with capital in Appenzell, catholic, which I would visit later. Both cantons have a coat of arms showing a black bear, but with a little difference in each canton.
These two cantons reminded me the fictitious Spanish villages of Villanueva de Arriba and Villanueva de Abajo, which are always in disputes.
After a couple of hours visitng the downtown I judged enough and went back to the train station to travel to Apppenzell Innerrhoden
2014-03-24 - I took the train in Herissau and soon I reached Appenzell, the capital of Appenzell Innerrhoden, the smallest canton in Switzerland by population.
As soon as I left the station I was greatly surprised to note that practically every house showed fantastic murals in their façades, even the belfry of the Catholic Church.
With great enthusiasm I started to walk around the town admiring the painting. Appenzell seemed a fairy tale village. Several of its houses are considered national heritage sites by the Government of Switzerland.
Some of the houses that I loved more were the Gasthaus, the bakery with the paintings of the three Kings (Biblical Magi) Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, the church and a restaurant with an igloo.
After my visit to Appenzell I headed by train to Frauenfeld, in the canton of Thurgau.
2011-10-03 - The first time that I travelled across Apulia I was not conscious, so that visit did not have value. I just arrived to Brindisi by boat from Patras, in Greece, and crossed the province without seeing more than the countryside from the window of my train heading to Sicily. Next time, many years later, I learnt how to travel properly and made a long full day stop in Brindisi visiting its tourist attractions, such as the Column on Via Appia, and the next day I reached Bari, the capital of Apulia, seeing the downtown and especially I visited the Basilica di San Nicola, containing the rests of the Saint. Saint Nicholas is very venerated by Orthodox Christians. When I visited the Basilica there were many tourists and pilgrims from Russia. The third day I headed by train (I did not hitchhike, I had enough money to afford the train) until San Giovanni Rotondo, to visit the church containing the uncorrupted body of Padre Pío. A few years earlier I had worked in a hotel of the Costa Brava, northeast of Spain, where I met many Italian tourists and some of them had a medal with the figure of Padre Pío on it. When asked for him they replied with deep respect, that Padre Pío was much venerated in Italy and his tomb is located in San Giovanni Rotondo. That is why I resolved to make one day stop in San Giovanni Rotondo, to pay respect to that holy Saint. Upon doing it, I cried with emotion. After Apulia I headed northwards, to the Abbazia di Montecassino, in Lazio.
2011-10-06 - The first time that I visited Aquitaine was back in the year 1974, when coming back to Spain from a 2 years journey through eleven countries in Western Union. I had to go to the Army; otherwise I could not come back to Spain during the next 7 years. I hitch hiked from Paris to the south of France and after two days I stopped in Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz for a short visit, afterwards I entered Spain. The next time that I crossed Aquitaine was in the year 2006, when I started the Camino Francés, on foot, from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, to pay homage to the tomb of Saint James. I spent the night in a shelter for pilgrims in lovely Saint Jean Pied de Port, got my Pilgrim Credential stamped and the next day I started my pilgrimage on foot, crossing the Pyrenees until Roncesvalles, in Navarra region, Spain. Saint Jean Pied de Port is a lovely fortress village founded in the XII century. It is also called in Basque language Donibane Garazi. There are four Caminos leading to Santiago de Compostela, all start in France: Paris, Vezelay, Arles and Le Puy. All four join in Puente la Reina, in Navarra, and then become a single one.
When started my pilgrimage on foot the next day, I remember that suddenly I crossed to Spanish territory, then French, then again Spanish and so on. The border was not right but in zigzag. When I reached Roncesvalles, in Navarra Region, I asked for a bed in a dormitory and assisted to the Mass of the pilgrim in the church. After that we, all pilgrims, had trout as dinner in a restaurant and went to sleep in the dormitory. The next day we should walk until Pamplona, capital of Navarra, or (as it was my case) to Cizur Minor, to a shelter ruled by the Order of Malta caballeros. .......................................
In the year 2014 I visited again Aquitanie and this is what I wrote about the city of Biarritz: I had been in Biarritz in the year 1973, hitchhiking from Paris, and I remembered that I slept on the beach. Then in 2014 I resolved to spend a whole day with its correspondent night in that city to really appreciate its many tourists’ attractions.
Spanish born Empress Eugenia de Montijo (wife of Napoleon III) built in the year 1854 a royal palace, today hotel, in Biarritz, and since then the quiet whalers’ small village was transformed into a royal and artist resort to relax by La Grande Plage, then a casino was added and, eventually, it became a surfing paradise.
Apart from Spanish, English and Russians princes and queens, Biarritz has been visited during the Belle Époque by Russian writer Anton Chekhov, and by the opera singer Fiodor Chaliapin, also Russian. And before Biarritz was a famous resort, Victor Hugo already stayed there and wrote the following:
Je ne sache pas d’endroit plus charmant et plus magnifique que Biarritz… Je n\'ai qu\'une peur, c\'est qu\'il devienne à la mode... Alors Biarritz, ce village si agreste, si rustique sera pris du mauvais appétit de l\'argent : sacra fames… Alors Biarritz ne sera plus Biarritz. Ce sera quelque chose de décoloré et de bâtard comme Dieppe et Ostende
During my one day visit I could enter the Synagogue, the Russian Orthodox church (just next door) and, of course, Catholic Church and cathedral, by the local market. Another jewel of Biarritz was the pretty Chapelle Impériale, with Spanish and Moorish elements.
Biarritz is a Basque city and Basque cuisine is present everywhere; Tapas and Sangria are offered in almost every restaurant. It is easy to find Spanish and Italian food, but rarely did I see an authentic French restaurant during my visit.
The next day I left by bus to San Sebastian, in Spain.
2009-11-02 - You will be delighted when discovering Aragon. Its history is amazing, and there was a time when the Corona de Aragon (Aragon Crown) dominated the whole Mediterranean Sea and many territories in France and Italy, apart from the today's Spanish autonomies of Valencia, Catalonia and Balearic islands. The aragonese people even have a local language, called aragonese, mostly spoken in the north, around the beautiful town of Jaca. The Pirineos (Pyrenees in French) mountains in Aragon are the most beautiful and spectacular in Spain, with its highest peak (3404 meters), called Aneto in Spain and Nethou in France. Other Spanish autonomies, such as Navarra, Catalonia and Basque country, also share these mountains. Aragon has three provinces: Huesca in the north, with its natural beauty, Zaragoza in the centre, and Teruel in the south. Huesca has many ski resorts, while Zaragoza province is very rich in historical buildings. Teruel is famous for its MUDEJAR style, a unique and impressive architecture in the world, which is a mixture of Mauritanian and Spanish styles combined. Aragon does not have good roads or railway communications with France; they are still fighting to get a train connexion with Toulouse, which was interrupted several decades ago. That is bad for their economy and the reason why the few tourists who visit this autonomy will be more than welcome. One of the Camino de Santiago starts in Somport, north of Huesca province, and pass near the cradle of the Kingdom of Aragon: the startling monastery of San Juan de la Pena (rock in English), which is a must for every pilgrim and tourist alike, and according to the legend, it contained in the past the Holy Grial, which is now in Valencia Cathedral. While in Zaragoza (the lovely capital of Aragon situated in the banks of the river Ebro, the longest in Spain), you should visit one of the holiest places in Spain: the Basilica del Pilar, a place for pilgrims, like Fatima in Portugal or Lourdes in France. Inside you will see two frescoes painted by famous aragonese artist Francisco de Goya. Another interesting highlight in Zaragoza is the Palacio de la Aljaferia, which was a muslim fortress in the XI century (see picture) and today represents the seat of the Aragon Government. While in Zaragoza capital you should buy Aragon Fruits, or delicious dried fruits with chocolate, just for 3 or 4 euros a 300 grams bag, and try the good Cariñena wine together with a good dish of aragonese ternasco. ------------------------------ ZARAGOZA: You will be charmed when discovering Zaragoza. Its millenary history is amazing.
There was a time when the Corona de Aragon (Aragon Crown), which capital was Zaragoza, dominated the whole Mediterranean Sea and many territories in France and Italy, apart from today's Spanish autonomies of Valencia, Balearic Islands. Aragon does not have good roads or railway communications with France; they are still fighting to get a train connexion with Toulouse, which was interrupted several decades ago. That is bad for their economy and the reason why the few tourists who visit this town will be more than welcome. Zaragoza was called in the Celt and Iberian times “Salduba” and was founded on the banks of the Ebro River which was navigable until the Mediterranean Sea in the Romans times, but today owing to the many dams, is not possible anymore. Romans came and gave the name of Caesar Augusta, which was shortened to present Zaragoza, pronounced by some like “Saragossa”. Moors invaded it until our King Alfonso I El Batallador expelled them forever in the XII century. Zaragoza is, by population, the fifth city in Spain after Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla. One of its heroes is the Spanish Jeanne D’Arc: Agustina de Aragon, who has a square named after her. She was so brave that started fighting against the Napoleonic troops that invaded our country from 1808 until we completely expel them back to the other side of the Pyrenees in 1814. But unlike Jeanne D’Arc, she lived happily and died when she was very old. Zaragoza is famous for its MUDEJAR style, a unique and impressive architecture in the world, which is a mixture of Mauritanian and Spanish styles combined. Many of its buildings observe this style: the old cathedral, several churches, our arena for bullfighting, the Main Post Office, etc. Aragon’s people even have a local language, called Habla, mostly spoken in the north, around the beautiful town of Jaca, in the Pyrenees Mountains. Basilica del Pilar While in Zaragoza (the lovely capital of Aragon situated in the banks of the river Ebro, the longest in Spain), you should visit one of the holiest places in Spain: the Basilica del Pilar, a place for pilgrims, like Fatima in Portugal or Lourdes in France. According to the legend, Saint James, the Apostle of Jesus, came to Spain and preached Christianity. Virgin Mary appeared and requested him to erect a Basilica in Caesar Augusta (Zaragoza). First it was a simple temple and in 1685 it was rebuilt in its present form. Inside you will admire frescoes by Francisco de Goya and other artists, a huge altar of alabaster from the XVI century and many evidences of miracles occurred in that Basilica, such as the well known Milagro de Calanda (Calanda Miracle), when a young man from the Teruel village of Calanda, whom had just being amputated his leg, was staying in his bed when appeared the Virgin Mary together with two Angels; she talked to him and suddenly the leg started to grow again.
Restaurants ----------------- For restaurants my first choice is the “Club Nautico”, just in front of the “Pilarica”, by the River Ebro, name that derives from Ibero, the first Spanish ethno that together with the Celts formed “Celtiberia” in our Peninsula, the present Spain and also Portugal, which formed a single country until the Portuguese preferred to get definite independence from Spain in 1640. This Club Nautico has also an Officers Club in the basement, where from time to time gather the Generals and high Officials of the Spanish Army. You have to try the “ternasco” which is a delicious entrecote. Aragon fruits are dried pears, peaches, cherries, etc., covered with chocolate. They are delicious and cheap; just for 3 or 4 euros you will be given a 300 grams bag! And try Carinena wine, very similar to the famous Rioja wine. You have several more restaurants in the Plaza de la Pilarica. In the corner with the street Jaime I there is a self service (eat as much as you can), inexpensive, which offers excellent food. Aljaferia and Jaca The Aljaferia was a fortress/ palace consisting on a walled quadrilateral architecture bordered by 12 cylindrical tours plus a rectangular Homage Tower. In its south eastern side was the mihrab, with a caliph horseshoe form. It was erected in the XI century during our historical period of the “Taifa Kingdoms” by the Muslim kings of Zaragoza. In those times it must have been one of the most sumptuous buildings in Europe. When Zaragoza was re-conquered by our King Alfonso I El Batallador, it was used by him as residence and enlarged with adjacent buildings. Our Catholic Kings (Isabel of Castilla and Fernando of Aragon) used it as the Royal residence, then it became a jail in Inquisition times, and during one of our frequent civil wars in the XIX century the chapel was destroyed. It was also a kind of military quarters. Today is the seat of the Junta de Aragon Government. They accept tourists with a determinate schedule; inside there are lovely gardens and richly ornamented Arab rooms.
JACA ------- Jaca is the gem of the Pyrenees Mountains. It is situated in the North of Zaragoza, at about 2 hours by bus, near the border with France. It is a well known ski resort and was candidate to organize the Winter Olympic games of 1994, but we lose (The winner was Lilihammer). Jaca was the old capital of Aragon before Zaragoza, and its cathedral was erected in the XI century. The Pyrenees Mountains of Aragon are the most beautiful and spectacular in Spain and France. In the Aragonese Pyrenees lays the highest peak (3404 metres) called Aneto in Spain and Nethou in France. One of the Camino de Santiago (Saint James pilgrimage) starts in Somport, north of Jaca, where we have a shelter for pilgrims. Then the Camino pass near the cradle of the Kingdom of Aragon: the startling monastery of San Juan de la Pena (rock in English), which is a must for every pilgrim and tourist alike and, according to the legend, it contained in the past the Holy Grial, which is now in Valencia Cathedral.
2011-10-23 - The Antarctica Peninsula is pretended by three countries at the same time: Argentina, Chile, from near South America, and far away England. All these three countries have bases on its territory and even Chile has gone further having sent women to their bases to procreate. The first Chilean citizen to be born in Antarctica (in the Chilean base Villa Las Estrellas) was Juan Pablo Camacho Martino, in 1984. Two more Chilean citizens have been born since then. Chile and Argentina are like the dog and the cat, always having disagreements for everything, like for instance the islands in the Magallanes Strait (the Pope of Rome had to intervene to avoid war between these two countries). Regarding Antarctica, Argentina claims that they possess the first permanently inhabited base in Antarctica, in Laurie Island (Orcadas del Sur, or in English language: South Orkney Islands) established in 1904) and based on that they pretend the whole of the Antarctica Peninsula. Meanwhile, the British, in spite of being a country so far away from the Antarctica, compared with Chile and Argentina, also claim that peninsula. In their advantage, the British have more weapons and warships than Chileans and Argentineans to maintain their pretension. During my journey to Antarctica, on board the cruise Marco Polo, I had the opportunity to navigate around the perimeter of this Peninsula and to visit (or at least see) the bases of the British (Port Lockroy), Chileans (Base Gabriel Gonzalez Videla), and Argentinean (T. Cámara Bahía Luna), although this one was dismantled at that time.
2011-11-03 - In the year 1983 I was hitchhiking across USA visiting the most interesting places of this huge country. The driver that picked me up in Albuquerque, along the High Road number 40, was a man looking for a job in Las Vegas. I convinced him to stop first in Flagstaff and spent a couple of days admiring the Grand Canyon of Colorado. After that we drove to Las Vegas and stayed in the Salvation Army. While in the Grand Canyon, my benefactor bought coal and some food and prepared an improvised dinner in a barbecue in that fantastic place.
The second time that I was in Arizona was on 29th May 2010, in my way to California. I passed through Phoenix and decided to get to know that city during a full day. I visited the very didactic Heard Museum, the stadium, Public Library, and then I was astonished at seeing a manifestation with thousands and thousands of people, most of them Spanish speaking, from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, but also from Chinese and USA citizens of European origin. The signs were mainly against the Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his law against illegal immigrants. Other signs said that Pilgrims were the first undocumented citizens in today USA. The next day I continued to California in a Greyhound bus. .........................................................................
THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM (MIM) IN PHOENIX: This is a wonderful museum, probably unique of its kind, devoted to all the instruments of the world, and indeed, practically all the 193 countries of the United Nations are represented. There are maps and art objets before every country. Especial mention deseve countries such as China, India, and the Silk Road countries. Spain is poorly represented with only the flamenco and a guitar, but some others are much richer in exposition of instruments, like Congo and other African countries.There are videos showing musicians playing and singsing, and a hall where people, mainly children, can play instruments. And I even saw a laboratory and hospital for dammaged musical instruments.In short, it was a very didactic visit. I spent inside about 3 hours.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT\'S TALIESIN WEST: A friend of mine living in Phoenix, Arizona, invited me to an excursion to visit the winter home and school of architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright\' Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, not far from his home (by car).We paid the entrance fee and joined a group composed by eight or ten more tourists. We were assigned a guide (a nice lady) who during one hour or so showed us around the buildings explaining us about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and his Russian wife (Olga Ivanovna).The buildings were original, using the stone of the area, integrating architecture into the local nature.The building that I most loved was the one looking a Tibetan monastery, with s Buddhist statue in one of the windows.Frank Lloyd Wright loved very much Japanese art and I noticed several Japanese ceramic works around the complex.Besides the complex there were shelters where the students slept during the courses, but we did not visit any of those shelters since they were a little bit far, in the desert.There was a tower with a bell that called for the students to go to the restaurant during the meals times.In the theater there were old pictures of the activities that took place there, like dances, because Wright wife , who was a follower of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, organized movements based on the teachings of that Greek-Armenian mystic.There was a shop selling books and souvenirs related with Wright, but I did not buy anything.After one hour visit our guide left us and immediately she took charge of another dozen of tourists that were waiting for her for a tour.
2011-11-21 - I was travelling in a Greyhound coming from Oklahoma and would cross the whole State of Arkansas, from west to east. In the way I made a day stop in Little Rock. No more than a full day was devoted to visiting that city because I was at the beginning of a long 3 months journey to USA and the “second floor” of Canada, as I called it, which means all the states of the north of Canada, from Yukon to Nunavut (Baffin Island) plus Newfoundland. In Little Rock I saw the Arkansas Capitol, the downtown and the Bill Clinton Library, where I could consult my email. In the evening I continued my journey and took a Greyhound bus to Memphis, in Tennessee.
2009-10-18 - Archangelsk is today one of my most loved Russian Oblasts. The main reason is the Solovetsky Archipelago, a real wonder, a Patrimony of the Humankind by UNESCO. In the past I had crossed Archangelsk Oblast, stopping for half an hour in the railway station of Kotlas (in my way by train to Vorkuta, in the Republic of Komi) and, fooling myself, I had noted it as “visited” in MTP. What an shame and ignominy!
But in July 2009 I corrected and expiated this unpardonable error with a visit of five days to the Archangelsk Oblast. Three of them were devoted entirely to the Solovetsky Monastery in the main island of the archipelago (composed by six islands, known as Solovki), where I lived as a pilgrim, inside the monastery premises, sleeping in the dormitory, having breakfast, lunch and dinner with the pilgrims and monks, and participating in all the religious services, some of them lasting four and five hours. For your guidance, in the Orthodox Masses, faithful people do not sit down in a bench, like in the Catholic Churches, but stand up all the time….! So, sometimes (in fact very often!), I was tired to pray so long.
I reached the Solovetski islands first by train to Kem, and then I took a bus to the port and boarded a boat to the islands. Unfortunately, I did not know that there is a boat for pilgrims, practically for free, sailing at about 5 AM in the morning. In fact I arrived to Kem at about 3 AM and decided to stay for a while in the wooden benches of the waiting room, together with many pilgrims who spent two hours signing religious songs and rejoicing very much. Then at about 5 AM they left and I slept for a while, until 7 AM, when I drank a coffee, ate a bulochki, and afterwards took a bus to the port (it is very far away from Kem, in another village), arriving at about 8 AM. But at that time the daily Pilgrims Boat had left, and there were only commercial boats. There is a Spanish proverb that says “A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda” (en English, more or less, means: “God helps those who wake up early). So, because I slept until 7 AM, I had to pay an expensive boat ticket. The navigation took about two and a half hours. The monastery was already seen from a few kilometres distance before arriving. It was simply WONDERFUL, one of the most beautiful monasteries that I have seen in my life (and I have seen hundreds of them). From the boat I counted eight solid towers and seven gates to enter the monastery, which looked like a Kremlin, or a fortress. I also distinguished the domes of the churches. The entire complex enclosing the monastery offered a visual image like a beautiful tale place with exquisite architecture. When I disembarked, I rushed to the monastery to request being accepted as a pilgrim to the monk in charge of the visitors. I was allowed to stay there for three days, free of charge. Outside the monastery there were several hotels for the tourists who arrived to Solovetski by plane, plus a hostel for students, but I preferred to sleep inside the monastery, and not in order to save money, but to breathe its holy atmosphere.
The Solovetski Monastery was founded in the XV century by monks from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, in Vologda Oblast (monastery that I would visit in the town of Kirillov a week later).
There is a negative aspect (sacrilege) concerning Solovetsky archipelago. In the year 1921 Lenin inaugurated in those islands the first prison camp (Gulag) of the many hundreds of them that would follow (especially during Stalin times) in the coldest and most inhospitably places of the Soviet Union.
The Solovetsky Monastery has suffered because of the wars. One of the most fatidic was the one against the English (in the Crimean War context), when three ships of the British Royal Navy bombed without pity the monastery, during 9 hours divided in two days, destroying treasures and a unique architecture, not to count the monks casualties.
Inside the monastery there is a museum showing manuscripts and old religious relics. There is also a shop selling religious items for the visitors.
The atmosphere with the pilgrims in that monastery was very intimate and warm and made me feel at home. I made friendship with pilgrims coming from all parts of Russia and also from Ukraine, who spend most of their lives on pilgrimage, from monastery to monastery, from holy place to holy place, often on foot. Pilgrim is a high category of traveller. First is the one who makes business with the travels, so downgrading the noble activity of travel. Then comes the tourist, who travels for pleasure (although the individual tourist is very close to the traveller). Then the traveller, who travels to learn, to know why he is in this world and enjoys the treasures of our planet, made by men and made by the Nature. Then there is the Pilgrim. After the Pilgrim comes the noble Missionary, who travels far away to help poor people, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or Father Damian in Hawaii. And finally there is the superior category of traveller, the Nature Emigrant, who travels for necessity following Nature Laws. Such Emigrant leaves a place in search of survival. Our ancestors were such kind of superior travellers when many, but many thousands of years ago, they left the caves looking for better places to survive, until today. Because of the Nature Emigrants, Humanity did not disappear, and we, today, contemporary human beings, are living in our planet.
The pilgrim with whom I made more friendship was called Alexander Vashchenko. In the card that he gave me it was written: “Pilgrim – Photographer”. Alexander was born in Ukraine and had made many pilgrimages to the most remote monasteries of Russia, taking pictures that he sold for a living. He was lame, but in spite of that he walked in his pilgrimages, and during the religious services in Solovetski he always kept standing, during several hours, only helped by his stick.
After Solovetsky I left for Arkhangelsk city, a very pleasant town with many tourist attractions that I visited on foot during a whole day.
The city of Arkhangesk looked nice, I saw a monument to Mikhail Lomonosov and many signs related to him.
The city owns its name to a monastery built during the XII century, called Archangel Michael Monastery, in the estuary of the Northern Dvina River.
It is not a large town. It has about 400.000 inhabitants.
I tried to get to Nenetsia, but there were no oads to get there, only planes, but the prices were high, that is why I did not travel there.
I would not sleep there, since after 5 or 6 hours discovering the city I felt that I had seen the most interesting. Therefore in the evening I took a night train to Vologda to visit Ferapontov Monastery......................................................................
IN SPANISH: Es cierto el proverbio que afirma “A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda”.
Había llegado a la estación de trenes de Kem hacia las 4 de la madrugada, junto a un grupo de peregrinos rusos. Subimos a la sala de espera y ellos se pusieron a cantar canciones religiosas, mientras que yo eché una cabezada. Antes del alba se levantaron y se fueron sin despertarme. Yo me di cuenta de su partida pero pensé que exageraban saliendo aún oscuro y determiné dormir una hora más, hasta el amanecer. Fue cuando abordé un minibús hasta el puerto de Rabocheostrovk. Al llegar, justo vi en la lontananza el único barco diario, propiedad del patriarca, que traslada a los peregrinos al monasterio de las Islas Solovetsky los de manera gratuita. No llegué a tiempo por unos 10 minutos.
¡Qué rabia me dio! Me tuve que quedar en ese puerto unas dos horas tomando cafés y bollos de nata, hasta que se reunieron otros peregrinos y junto a ellos embarqué en un barco grande, privado, de pago, hacia el archipiélago Solovetsky, compuesto por seis islas, siendo la principal Bolshoi Solovetsky, donde se localiza el famoso monasterio. La travesía duró dos horas y media.
Al llegar me dirigí al monasterio y rogué ser aceptado como peregrino, cosa que conseguí y me mostraron mi cama en una gran sala comunal donde ya estaban instalados los peregrinos cantores. Las tres comidas estaban incluidas en la invitación, de manera gratuita, allí el dinero estaba considerado como una materia vil, aunque se aceptaban donaciones voluntarias por la estancia, dependiendo del presupuesto de cada peregrino.
Además de ese dormitorio dentro del monasterio había hoteles y restaurantes en el pueblo, fuera del reciento amurallado del monasterio, y eran de pago, naturalmente, para los turistas ordinarios.
Entre los peregrinos hice amistad con un ucraniano que era cojo. Él, Alexander, durante los tres días de mi estancia en Solovetsky me explicaría acerca de ese monasterio, donde él ya había estado varias veces, pues hacía muchos años que caminaba a pie por toda Rusia europea visitando todos los monasterios. Se financiaba tomando fotos de los monasterios y los monjes que vendía en su página güeb.
Participé de todas las actividades del monasterio. Las misas eran larguísimas, de varias horas de duración, y nadie se sienta (en las iglesias ortodoxas no hay bancos de madera), sino que el fiel permanece en pie, incluso Alexander, a pesar de los esfuerzos que tenía que hacer manteniéndose de pie con ayuda de su bastón.
Tanto la travesía en el barco con la visión del monasterio en la lontananza, como su visita interior y exterior era de una belleza sin par.
Vi las campanas en el patio, las torres y la fortaleza que se asemejaba a un kremlin, los frescos .
El monasterio fue fundado en el siglo XV por dos monjes venidos del monasterio Kirillo-Belozersky, en el oblast de Vologda, que visitaría varios días más tarde, tras Solovetsky.
Hay un aspecto siniestro en ese monasterio y fue el haber sido utilizado, por orden del propio Lenin, como GULAG, el primero de la URSS (el año 1921), al que, desgraciadamente, seguirían varios centenares de ellos, produciendo la muerte por exceso de trabajo de muchos millones de presos, o zeks. El entonces GULAG de Solovetsky era uno de los más fríos e inhóspitos de todos los archipiélagos GULAG que se fueron creando por toda la URSS, sobre todo en Siberia. En ellos, la poca alimentación y los duros trabajos forzados, hacía que los zeks cayeran como pajaritos.
También vio los impactos de centenares de bombas lanzados por tres barcos de la Royal Navy británica a mediados del siglo XIX, en el contexto de la Guerra de Crimea, matando a varios monjes y destruyendo muchos tesoros del monasterio.
El cuarto día me despedí de mis amigos monjes y también de los peregrinos, sobre todo del bueno de Alexander, y proseguí el viaje con destino al monasterio de Kirillo-Belozersky, a seguir peregrinando por los monasterios de Rusia.
2008-12-21 - The situation of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, is original. From it you can observe the peak Ararat (5137 metres), which is very dear for Armenians, but today, is located in Turkish territory.The Memorial to the Armenian genocide during the XX century, not far from Yerevan, will impress you.Echmiadzin, near to Yerevan, is considered the oldest monastery of the Christian world, founded in the IV century. Take into account that Armenia was the first country to accept Christianity in the IV century.If you are fond of chess (I am), then you should visit the Chess Club Tigran Petrosian, in the centre of Yerevan.Visit Lake Sevan in the way if you are coming from Tbilisi, in Georgia. There are frequent shared taxis between the two capitals. Beside that lake there is a nice restaurant where you can eat fresh and delicious fish. Armenian cognac is considered the best of the world. But the wines too are superb, even if they are not as famous like the Georgian ones.The enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, inhabited by Armenians, has produced a recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. You need a visa to get there. Better to obtain it at the border.After Vatican and Escorial libraries, Matenadaran is the one with the richer collection of old Illuminated manuscripts in the world, reaching nearly 17.000 exemplars plus about 300.000 archival documents comprising all areas of Armenian culture and science: medicine, geography, law, history, cosmology, alchemy, music, miniature painting, etc. It also shelters manuscripts written in Arabic, Persian, Ethiopian, Greek, Syrian, Latin, and in many other foreign languages.The Library existed since the V century, and in the XV it was moved to the monastery of Echmiadzin, the religious centre of the Christian Armenian Faith (Armenia was the first country in the world to accept Christianity, in the year 301 AD), at a stone throw distance from Yerevan, and only in 1939 it was transferred to Yerevan.Matenadaran was named after Mesrop Mashtots, the monk who created the Armenian alphabet in 405, and whose huge statue stands in the front of the gate of the attractive building of this Library.
In the year 1987, during Soviet Union times, I was in Erevan ready to travel to Gyumri, even without the appropriate travel permit from the OVIR (Office of Visas and Registration), but in the last moment something happened, out of my control, that spoilt my plan. The second time, in December 1988, I was exploring the ruins of the millenary Ani Harabeleri, the old capital of the Kingdom or Armenia, just at the border between Turkey and Armenia, but to cross the River Arpa Chai (Akhurian River in Armenian language) was impossible. Besides, Gyumri had just suffered the consequences of a sinister earthquake two weeks earlier that almost destroyed the whole town and killed many thousands of people. Finally in the year 2007 I was able to visit Gyumri. The town looked still half destroyed; many buildings had not yet been reconstructed. The cemetery was full with tombs of the victims of the catastrophe. I visited the Black Church, the Russian round fortress (it looked like a bullfighting arena!) plus several other historical places that were saved from the earthquake. Arriving the night and having only a few euros left, I found a garden where I wanted to spent the night into my sleeping bag. It was inside the beautiful and most interesting museum devoted to Sergei Merkurov, which I had visited in the morning. Sergei Merkurov, born in Gyumri, was, apart from an extraordinary man and free thinker, an artist and sculptor of Armenian-Greek descent which specialities were the postmortem masks. He had prepared those masks and also monuments for important personages in Russia and later in Soviet Union, such as Lev Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov, Lenin, Marx, Stalin, etc. Soon after I lay down on the grass two men who were working as porters of the museum woke me up. I explained them that I had been despossesed of practically all my money in Batumi, when in a Immigration control they deducted by the stamps in my passport that I had been in Abkhazia entering from Russia, what was considered a crime, and put in jail in Batumi during three days and three nights. The fourth day I was sent to the Judge where, after a fake trial, in the middle of which I was forced to pay a very high penalty, I was released. Then the men took me to the Berlin Guesthouse, just next door, and after conversing with the director I was given a free night stay with dinner and breakfast. The Guesthouse Berlin is seen as a humanitarian institution in Gyumri. Their staffs helped people during the sinister earthquake of 1988, and during those times the hotel was transformed into a kind of dormitory, free of charge, during long time, for those who had lost their houses. In the morning, after thanking the director of the hotel and the porters of the Museum Sergei Merkurov, and as a sign of gratitude, I went to the old cemetery because I had read during my adolescence a book of adventures, titled “Meetings with Remarkable Men”, where his author, the half Armenian and half Greek Georgi Gurdjieff, cousin of Sergei Merkurov, writes that his father had been assesinated by the Turkish during a pogrom, but he had never seen his tomb, and asked the lectors of his book that, in case that any of them ever could find his father’s tomb, in Gyumri, kindly write in the headstone of his grave the following epitaph: - I am Thou Thou are I He is ours We both are His So may all be for our neighbor Thanks to a man who was historian I could find Gurdjieff tomb in the cemetery, but it had already the epitaph written in Russian in the year 1974 by some of Gurdjieff relatives. The next day I left Gyumri with a feeling of gratitude and undescribable happiness to be alive. With that high state of spirits I started my long way back home, overland and oversea, experiencing many adventures on the way, until Barcelona, in my dear Spain.........................................
MOTHER CATHEDRAL OF HOLY ETCHMIADZIN: I reached Erevan, Armenia capital, by bus from Tbilisi, and found a room in a private house, what constitutes a normal practice in Armenia. The situation of Erevan is fantastic. From that city you can admire the snowing peak of Mount Ararat, which is very dear for Armenians, but today is located into Turkish territory. I would spend four days making daily excursions to interesting places nearby, such as the Lake Sevan and diverse monasteries around. Inside the city of Erevan I visited the fabulous library Matanadaran. After Vatican and Escorial libraries, Matenadaran is the one with the richer collection of old Illuminated manuscripts in the world, reaching nearly 17.000 exemplars plus about 300.000 archival documents comprising all areas of Armenian culture and science: medicine, geography, law, history, cosmology, alchemy, music, miniature painting, etc. It also shelters manuscripts written in Arabic, Persian, Ethiopian, Greek, Syrian, Latin, and in many other foreign languages. But the visit that I enjoyed most was the one that I made to the Etchmiadzin, near to Erevan, which cathedral is considered the oldest of the Christian world. It is known as the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin and it was founded in the IV century. Armenia was the first country of the world to accept Christianity. From Erevan I travelled by bus to Gyumri.
TRAVELLING BY BUS FROM EREVAN TO THE NAGORNO KARABAKH CHECKPOINT:I travelled to Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh capital, by direct bus from Erevan. I had in my passport the correspondent visa that had been issued to me the previous day in the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, in Erevan. I had paid for that visa 50 US Dollars. The bus made several stops along the way to rest for a while, to eat and drink. In some of those stops I made friendship with several boys that were heading to the University in Stepanakert, who eventually would invite me to stay in their dormitory, what I gladly accepted. When we reached the border between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, there was a passport control in a checkpoint. Then I learnt that I could have arranged for my visa to Nagorno Karabakh kin that checkpoint, or in the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs in Stepanakert, where anyway, I had to go to register my passport. The visa in that checkpoint of in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was much cheaper than in Erevan. Then I remembered how the lady in the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh in Erevan sold me a map of Nagorno Karabakh insisting that I would not find it in Stepanakert, and I saw it in that checkpoint for half the price that I paid in Erevan! But now it was too late to regret. I forgot about that trickery and enjoyed the journey, having watched the Ararat Mountain at the distance (today in Turkey) and admiring the magnificence of the countryside in Nagorno Karabakh territory.
2007-06-02 - While travelling around Venezuela I decided to visit the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. I bought a cheap ticket in Caracas and started with Curaçao, which is a wonder, one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean Sea, and spent three nice days there. Then I flew to Aruba and in the airport, in the customs, I was requested to show all the money that I had in my pockets. I showed 300 US dollars cash plus my credit card. I had no hotel booking and because of that they made me wait in the airport for a few hours, where I was not well treated and because of that I will never go back to Aruba.
Finally I was given three days stay (so, bring enough cash with you in case you land there without a hotel reservation!). After Aruba I flew to Coro (UNESCO Humankind Patrimony), in Venezuela.
Apart from English everybody speaks Spanish and a kind of hybrid, containing about 90 % of Spanish words, called PAPIAMENTO, which is funny for us. For instance: Mi ta contentu means I am happy, but in Spanish we write: Yo estoy contento. Poko poko means slowly. In Spanish we say: poco a poco, or despacio. And woman we say mujer, pronouncing the letter J strongly (like kh), and in Papiamento they write muher with a weak J. It is like broken Spanish spoken by children, but very nice, I liked it and always smiled when I listened it. Officially Dutch is also spoken, but in the streets you only listen Papiamento, Spanish, and some English. Venezuela is so close that all the vegetables, fruits and other products come by boat from that country.
2008-12-06 - During the bus journey from Tezpur I made friendship with a native of Arunachal, a Monpa, ethno that is like the Tibetans, including the language. I expressed him my intention to enter Arunachal Pradesh. When we arrived at Bhalukpong, the border with Arunachal, I said to him:“Indians are jealous of you. You have so many beautiful places in Arunachal Pradesh that if they allowed the foreigners to visit them then many, instead of travelling to Jaipur, Taj Mahal or to the Kerala Backwaters, would come here”.Then my Monpa friend replied me:“You are right; I will help you to visit my state. Indians are not good”.We crossed together the border line, to the Bhalukpong arunachali, because it was a divided city, like Nicosia. The Indian soldier looked at us but since my friend was covering me, they only saw a black hair man accompanying a local Monpa and did not stop me.Finally I had entered my seventh Sister!In Bhalukpong arunachali, without delay, I entered a cafeteria to order chai meanwhile my friend arranged a fair price with the driver of a minibus (only 80 rupees) to transport me to Tippi, a quiet Arunachal village at 6 kilometres distance well inside Arunachal Pradesh territory, where he knew of a hotel where nobody will ask me questions or to see my passport to sleep.In the hotels of the forbidden states, if you are a foreigner, or even Indian, you need to fill a supplementary form indicating the number of your Restricted Area Permit or the Inner Permit which is delivered to the Police every night. At 5 AM I was ready to board the first minibus passing through Tippi with direction to Tawang. There were some other passengers with me. Soon a minibus stopped.First the driver filled the interior of the minibus with great quantities of women, even on every leg of the driver there was a woman sited. I was installed in the last row. He asked me if I have the Inner Permit and I nodded my head affirmatively.I did not mind to be caught by the Indian Army and sent to jail. I have been in half a dozen of them for crossing to forbidden places, and use them as meditation monasteries where I clean improper thoughts. I heard that in Indian jails are very humane and they feed the prisoners with tali gujarati, dhal, chapatti, chai, and lassi on Sundays. In Bahamas prison I was allowed to play golf, but in Asuncion, Paraguay, the first two weeks I was only given water, and nothing of food. I could write a guide for Lonely Planet titled “Across the jails of the five continents on the cheap”.There are hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers everywhere around Arunachal Pradesh. In 1962 the Chinese invaded that state and there was a fiery fight. Arriving to Bomdila a soldier looked inside the minibus where I was. I made as if sleeping. He touched my shoulder and asked me something in Hindi that I did not understand. With cold blood I replied: “Acha” and he went away!Acha is a very useful Hindi word, it can mean yes, OK, I understand, oh I see, but also: yes but please leave me in peace.After crossing some villages where the natives practiced archery, I arrived about 6 PM to Tawang and at once headed to the Buddhist monastery on the top of a hill dominating the town. I was accepted immediately by the monks to live there. Everybody was interested for the Rumtek Gompa news that I brought. The monastery belongs to the Gelugpa and was even more stunning that the Potala of Lhasa. There lived about 500 monks, and also some workers in the houses in the middle of the monastery. It was founded in the XVII century by the 5th Dalai Lama, and precisely there was born the 6th Dalai Lama.The 14th Dalai Lama will visit Tawang Monastery again in 2007 during the Padmashambhava dances in the full moon of May.The views from that monastery were superb! Tawang is the second largest monastery in Asia, only behind of Potala, in Tibet.When I was about to leave for Kolkata, one of the monks, Lama Champa, decided to accompany me because he feared that in the way back to Assam I would not have the unbelievable luck with the Indian soldiers that I had when entering Arunachal Pradesh. If asked, he would reply that I was a guest of the Tawang monastery.Lama Champa travels every year to Europe, where remains for a few months teaching Buddhist meditation techniques in Buddhist centres in Warsaw, Berlin and Murcia, in Spain.One morning at 5 AM we embarked in a minibus and at about 6 PM we reached Tezpur, back in Assam, from where we both travelled in a night bus to Guwahati. Then we separated. Lama Champa took a train to Delhi to organize his new trip to Europe. I travelled by night train straight to Kolkata.
2007-04-22 - I only spent several hours in this island during the call of ST. HELENA ship on my way to Saint Helena Island. It was a Sunday and I went to the church, just for curiosity, since it was anglican. I made a trekking to the mountains and in my way back I hitchhiked successfully. Everybody picks you up at the first try. I even entered a military base and nobody controlled me. It was my second visit to a military base (apart from Spain). The first one was in the Isle of Guam. Saint Helena Island, with about 5000 people, is much more interesting than Ascension, with only about 600 inhabitants. In Ascension Island they control the trajectory of the Ariane rocket launch from French Guyana. There are regular flights to Ascension from Malvinas Islands (Falkland), and from Brize Norton, England. To St. Helena there is only boat service (ST. HELENA). See my Saint Helena page.
2008-12-21 - Apart from Assam you can visit Meghalaya and Tripura. For the rest of states: Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland, if you are a foreigner you need a Restricted Area Permit that is obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs. You can apply for it in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, but it takes long, is issued for ten days and only granted for married couples and for groups with a minimum of four persons buying a package tour in a travel agency. For Indian tourists is much easier and they can get this permission (called for them Inner Line Permits) in Guwahati (Assam) in 24 hours.Presently, Sikkim is administratively united to the Seven Sisters as a “brother”.Guwarati, Assam capital, on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, was a pleasant town. The hot was so intense that I was sweating like an open faucet, and when walking I was leaving on the floor lines of drops of sweat falling constantly from my nose, elbows and the fingers of my hands.I walked until the Brahmaputra River and noticed on the top of a hill a striking religious construction. I took a rickshaw and headed to that place that was called Kamakhya Mandir (temple), at about 4 kilometres of distance. Once there I took my shoes off and visited for a few hours the temple premises.The hill was called Nilachal, and the temple was an ancient seat of Tantric and Shakti cults of Hinduism.There were hundreds of sadhues and faithful people following the ceremonies. Musicians played drums and cymbals and the shops were selling souvenirs and food to be offered to the gods as prasad.I had planned to visit a natural park in Assam, with rhinos or elephants, but during monsoon season no excursions are organized; I only saw elephants a few times from the windows of my bus or train when travelling in some of the Seven Sisters states.After Guwahati I left to Majuli, the greatest river island in the world, crossing endless tea leaves fields.Majuli IslandI first went by bus to Jorhat, took a rickshaw to the port and waited for the boat. There are three daily boats to Majuli, two in the morning and one in the afternoon. The journey to Kamalabari, in Majuli, takes almost two hours crossing the Brahmaputra River. There are no bridges, nor airports in Majuli Island. The first night I slept in Garomur and the second in Kamalabari.It was my last night when I spent a whole day in a satra, or kind of Hindu monastery of the Vaishnaya culture. In the past there were 64 satras in Majuli, but today only 22 remain. At 7 PM I was invited to observe the dances that take place in that monastery every day. I sat on the floor adopting a lotus position and watched the dances.Soon appeared about thirty monks dressed with white tunics who interpreted harmonious dances accompanied by rhythmical sounds of drums and cymbals. Sometimes only drums played, and then only cymbals, and later both instruments at the same time until most of the monks fell in ecstasy, like the whirling dervishes that I had seen in Cairo, Khartoum and Konya.The atmosphere in that temple was terrific and made me feel in another world: drums and cymbals playing at the unison, the drops of blood that poured to the floor from the hands of some monks owing to the fervour and strength with which they hit the drums, even little monks of about 10 years old, the light that went and came, the rain of the monsoon in the exterior, the thunders and the flashes of lightning , the nasty heat that made me sweat all the time, the mosquitoes and the frogs invading the temple with impunity …After one and a half hours the ceremony ended up; all the monks were exhausted, even me as spectator was dead beat. We went to the refectory for dinner.Next day I left to my second Sister: Meghalaya.
2009-10-19 - I arrived by train early in the morning to Astrakhan. A statue of Lenin greeted all the passengers. I walked to the downtown, looking for the famous Kremlin, which was constructed in the XVI century, immediately after Ivan the Terrible conquered the Astrakhan Khanate to the Tatars and built the present Kremlin, which was magnificent. The entrance was free of charge, like in Kazan, and once inside I entered the two Cathedrals (Trinity and Uspensky, both built by masters from Yaroslavl) where I saw many faithful people, in spite of being so early in the morning. Then I walked around its premises admiring the architecture and the oriental forms of the eight towers. Indeed, that Kremlin is the main tourist attraction of the town, which counts with about half a million inhabitants. Then I visited the central market where I saw the famous Astrakhan wool, the sturgeon fish and the famous watermelons. Most of the merchants were form Central Asia and the Caucasus (Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc.) I thought that from Kazan you could see the Caspian Sea, but I was wrong. To get to the Caspian Sea was complicated, so I did not go, since I had already seen it when years ago I took the boat from Baku to Turkmenistan. There were many canals and about 30 bridges, but not so many as in Saint Petersburg. In fact Astrakhan is situated over an island in the delta of the Volga River and in the past was called “The Venice of Asia”. I saw a monument dedicated to Peter I, another one in front of the Post Office devoted to the infamous Kirov (a sinister Communist, friend of Stalin, although that did not prevent him from be assassinated following Stalin orders), several mosques (all close the one to the other), churches and monasteries, and even a “Khachkar”, or a typical stone cross that had been given as a gift from the Armenian minority to the town. In the evening I took a bus to Elista, in the Republic of Kalmikia, since there were no trains between these two cities.
2009-11-02 - Asturias is the most authentic Spanish autonomy since it was never conquered by the Muslims. Soon after the Muslims invaded Spain, in the year 711, Don Pelayo started the Reconquista from Asturias, and little by little we expelled the invaders back to Africa. Thanks to Don Pelayo, Spain (together with Portugal, which until the XII century formed part of Spain) is today again a Christian country and did not suffer the destiny of other countries invaded such as Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Bangladesh, and so many others, even European countries like Albania and Bosnia, where the Islam remained forever. I am not saying that Islam is good or bad; just say that we, Spaniards, love our own religion, the Christian. Today, every town or little village in Spain has a monument, or street or square named after Don Pelayo in gratitude. From Oviedo, the capital, you can start the Camino de Santiago on foot. It is called the Camino Primitivo, because is older than the Camino Francés. As in several other autonomies in Spain (Valencia, Baleares, Aragon, Catalonia, Euskadi, etc.), Asturias also has a local language, called bable, or leones in Leon. This part of Spain is known as Green Spain, for its nature and Picos de Europa Mountains, similar to Cantabria. The typical dish in Asturias is the fabada (beans with Spanish chorizo or sausages), and try the sidra, national drink. MUSEO ETNOGRAFICO DE GRANDAS: This is a nice museum in the village Grandas de Salime dedicated to the rural life of an Asturias village with old instruments and tools. It is like a village of the XVI century. You will see the old barber shop, the carpets factory, the cellars, the smith works, the church, the bar, the old pharmacy, etc. Tuesdays is free of charge, children pay only 0’30 cents, and pilgrims doing the Camino de Santiago pay half price.
In november 2013 I boarded the bus number 10 in a bus stop near the railway station of Oviedo. The passengers pointed me out the stop to get off, then I walked about 200 meters through a path and soon found on my right the Church Santa Maria del Naranco, and on my left the Iglesia de San Miguel de Lillo, two IX century monuments that are included in the UNESCO list of Patrimonies of the Humankind.
Both were closed but through the windows I saw that the churches were empty. There was a sign informing that there was a daily guided visit, but I could not wait because I had a bus ticket that afternoon to La Cueva de Covadonga, so I visited around the two churches and then entered the Centro de Interpretación del Prerrománico Asturiano, a building next door, where the staff gave me a lot of information about the history of the pre Romanesque architecture in Asturias.
Apart from the beauty of these two pre Romanesque churches, the view over Oviedo from those temples was sensational!
In my way back to downtown Oviedo I did not wait for the bus, but I walked down and after about 20 minutes I reached the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral, where thanks to my condition of pilgrim (showing the Credencial del Peregrino) I did not have to pay to visit the treasures, the main one was the Jesus Christ Sudarium. Finally I boarded my bus to La Cueva de Covadonga, to visit the tomb of our hero Don Pelayo, who started the Reconquista and thanks to his start we could, finally, after almost 800 years of invasion, expel the Moors from Spain.....................................................................
THE HOLY CAVE OF COVADONGA: I started my journey in teh Cathedral of Oviedo, walked to the bus station (very close) and boarded the first bus to the Catholic Sanctuary of the Cueva de Covadonga (Covadonga Cave) to pay respects to our dear hero, Don Pelayo, who stopped the invasion of the Moors in Spain in the year 718, and started the Reconquista, that lasted almost eight centuries (until 1492), when we definitively expelled from our country the invaders Muslims. This Sanctuary has been visited by all our Kings and also by many Popes; the last one was John Paul II in the year 1989. The beauty of the place is breathtaking, among mountains. The statue devoted to Don Pelayo, in front of the Basilica, is very impressive. Apart from the holy cave there are cafeterias and restaurants, shops selling souvenirs, a very didactic museum (the porter is a writer and knows a lot of history about the place), the holy basilica and beautiful lakes not far from Covadonga Cave, in the Picos de Europa Mountains. The tomb of don Pelayo is within the cave, besides a chapel sheltering the statue of the Virgen de Covadonga, also known as the Santina. Pilgrims arrive there by buses; they are all very circumspect. You feel the holiness of the place. I spent several hours in the holy place and returned to Oviedo with the last bus in the evening.
2011-11-13 - I travelled form Adelaide to Canberra by bus because I had not been lucky hitchhiking, only was successful from Sydney to Brisbane, further northwards until Cairns, and then to Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, where I got stuck for two days and two nights and nobody picked me up. Therefore I was forced to travel on buses (to Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, then to Adelaide).
I did not like Canberra; it is an artificial city, like Brasilia in Brazil, or Chandigarh, in India. I just spent one day there, and slept in the bus station after visiting that town as much as I could during the day. From Canberra I headed back to Sydney and from there, a few days later, I flew to Noumea, in New Caledonia
2011-11-10 - The first time that I crossed Austria was in 1984, in the way back to Europe from my first around the world journey, which lasted exactly 1001 days. We were several young hitchhikers waiting in the last gas station at the exit of Munich, until a young man picked up four of us and dropped us in Salzburg. Since it was already late afternoon, we decided to spend the night in that town. In the morning two of my fellow companion followed south to Yugoslavia, but I preferred to visit Vienna, at least for a couple of days, before heading south, to Greece. The next day I reached Vienna and visited as a tourist all its highlights, such as the palaces and some museums, without missing the downtown. My hitchhikers’ companions followed the journey the next day by boat through the Danube River, to Bratislava, in the then Czechoslovakia. I parted with them, went by tramway to the exit of the town and hitchhiked. That day I could arrive only to Graz, where I spent the night. The next day it was easy to get a ride to the border and thus entered Slovenia, in the still Yugoslavia.
In the year 2014 I traveled again to Austria: In Trento I caught a train to Innsbruck, Tyrol capital. The train stopped for almost half an hour at the border in the Brenner Alpine, but since I was not informed of the time that we had to wait, I did not risk going outside to explore the place, but remained in the train carriage waiting for the moment to continue to Austria.
There was no passport or customs control after crossing to Austria.
That train journey was wonderful. I saw the Dolomites, small Italian and Austrian villages, snowy peaks, green valleys and glacial rivers.
Innsbruck is the capital of Tirol. It seemed to me a very pleasant city, in spite of the cold.
At the tourist office, close to the railway station, I was given many pamphlets and maps of the city, even in Spanish language. The main highlight was the Goldenes Dachi (Golden Roof), the symbol of the city. It was a building dating from the end of the XV century and had many sculptures and frescoes on its walls. From the balcony the Governors could sit and enjoy the sighting of the tournaments celebrated in front of the building.
I still saw the cathedral, magnificent squares with monuments and imposing palace. The mountains of the Alps were just in front of the city.
Although the town was beautiful, my best remembering was the train trip from Trento to Innsbruck.
After four hours walking around I travelled by train and bus to Vaduz, in Liechtenstein.
2011-11-22 - I had left Clermont Ferrand late afternoon, after visiting the town for a while, and hitchhiked in direction to Lyon. Soon after one of the driver picked me up and dropped me somewhere in the middle of nothing, and asked me if I wanted to go with him to the town (I do not remember which town it was). I said no, because I wanted to reach Lyon that same day, and continued hitchhiking. It was starting to get dark and nobody picked me up. In principle it is forbidden to hitchhike on the highroad, and if the Police catch you they remove you. So when I noticed that it was completely dark and was even dangerous for somebody to stop to pick me up, I placed myself between the two roads, in a kind of green lane in form of letter “U”, and slept there, inside my sleeping bag, between the two directions, quietly, even snoring. The next morning, very early, perhaps 5 AM (I travelled without watch because a few weeks earlier I had been robbed by two French thieves in Vondelpark, Amsterdam), I started to hitchhike and soon a driver stopped his car and took me until Lyon.
JANUARY 2016: As usual when I visit a new city (I mean a Christian city), In Clermont-Ferrand I headed to the cathedral. It was located in a huge esplanade. In front I saw the Tourist Office and went inside to pick up maps, brochures and information.
Then I entered the cathedral, called Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.
I love cathedrals and that one was extraordinary. It was made on basalt stone and located on the top of a hill, which is why its two towers looked higher than in fact they are.
The rose window was wonderful and I took several pictures of it, as well as to the other windows.
Those days (January 2016) there was inside of the cathedral an exposition of the Christians living in Eastern Europe, Near East Asia and North East Africa. The title was: 26 million Eastern Christians living in 21 countries.
The Christians of Philippines and Vietnam were not included in Asia, nor the Christians of Russia in Eastern Europe. Among those 21 countries I saw India, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria… etc.
I noticed on the floor of that esplanade several metallic medals representing three personages very famous in the history of Clermont-Ferrand: Vercingetorix, Blaise Pascal and pope Urban II.
Vercingetorix was the most loved in Clermont-Ferrand. When in the evening I walked to the bus station, I crossed the Square Jaude where I saw a pretty equestrian statue devoted to Vercingetorix.
I would not spend the night there, but at about 8 PM, when I considered that I knew moderately well the city of Clermont-Ferrand, I took a bus to Lyon.
2008-12-06 - Azery language belongs to the Turkish family, and for these two people to understand each other is very easy, like Italians and Spanish, or Bulgarians and Russians. Russian is also understood in Azerbaijan, but its use is decreasing.Azerbaijan is a multicultural country. Apart from Azeries there live Georgians, Armenians, Tartars, Ukrainians, Kurdish, Avars, etc.Baku is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the three capitals of Transcaucasia countries (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan). Its situation dominating the Caspian Sea is spectacular, and in its historical centre you find the citadel Icheri Shejer, a minaret from the XI century, palaces, walls, statues of brilliant poets, etc. The only inconvenience is the smell of the petrol when you walk along the port. The last time I was in Azerbaijan I entered the country by train from Tbilisi, en Georgia, although there is also a bus service. In the past I flew there, but it is better (and cheaper) the train because you admire the countryside.From Baku you can cross the Caspian Sea by a regular boat service, usually leaving at night. There are different prices, cabin with bed, or just you sleep on the floor (what I did). Foreigners pay a higher price for the ticket. The journey takes about 12 hours and you need your Turkmenistan visa beforehand, although if you have the Russian’s, as I had, they will issue the Turkmenistan visa on the spot. I advice you to wake up before dawn to enjoy the view of the sun rays falling over the Caspian Sea.
Out of the 9 islands which compose the Azores archipelago, I could only visit one: Sao Miguel (Terceira Island serves as a NATO base). In Sao Miguel there are several lakes, which I visited, like the Lagoa das Sete Cidades (lake of the seven towns), with a spectacular view. I spent one week in the island, which was the airline condition to buy a cheap ticket, about 120 euros round trip from Lisbon. I used to make daily excursion by bus to different parts of the island, and returned to Ponta Delgada in the evening to sleep. Some evenings there were fado shows in Punta Delgada restaurants. During the week that I was in the island I did not meet any individual traveller, only some Europeans who went there to play golf.
2009-10-07 - It is very easy to visit such an unusual place as Baarle Nassau, as it is called in Nederland, or Baarle Hertog, as it is called in Belgium. For 3 euro I boarded a bus from Breda to Baarle Nassau, at about 23 kilometres distance, which took about 40 minutes to arrive there, with numerous pleasant stops which allowed me to have a close look at the Nederland countryside. Once reaching Baarle Nassau the bus driver was showing me the originality of that city pointing me out a house divided between Belgium and Holland, where the owners could sleep in the Belgium side during the night and have breakfast in the Holland part of the house in the morning. Another curiosity that the bus driver showed me was to cross a road driving over the territory of the two countries at the same time, Nederland and Belgium. The right wheels drove over Holland and the left wheels over Belgium. One of the restaurants that I visited was called La Frontière, because just besides, in the street, there was a sign dividing the place between the two countries. After a few hours walking around looking for such geographical curiosities and sometimes smiling for the existence of such a joke place (a company of beers was divided, and had two addresses, two telephones, two accounts…) and drinking a couple of Belgian beers Leffe Blonde (in the supermarkets are much cheaper than in the bars), I headed to Belgium, but being a Sunday the buses to Turnhout were few and far between, so I hitchhiked to that town, at about 30 kilometres distance, and at the same time I walked. After one hour and about five kilometres walked, finally a car stopped. The driver was a Rumanian young man with his fiancé, also Rumanian. They were very nice people. We spoke in Italian. They drove me to the Turnhout railway station, from where I catch a train to Bruges.
2012-05-22 - Baden-Wurttemberg is probably the German Landers that I have crossed more and many times stopping in Stuttgart. The first time that I visited this Lander was in 1973, when I was very young and was travelling hitchiking around 11 western european countries learning languages, although German, being so difficult, never learnt compeltely. In recent times I have crossed Stuttgart going back to Spain by bus, coming from Northern Europe.
2008-12-23 - You can get very cheap tickets to Bahamas in Miami if there is a week end in the middle of your stay. I only visited the capital Nassau, a very pleasant town, and nearby Paradise Island, united by a bridge.Since the airport is not too far from Nassau, about 20 kilometres, I decided to walk. Some cars offered me rides, but I gently refused because I like to walk, it was early in the morning and I wanted to admire the nature.Nassau is a very clean and pleasant town. I saw a monument devoted to Columbus in the Government House.In the port they gave me many cups of rum for free, every time that a cruise disembarked tourists.Owing to the rum invitations, in the evening I was half drunk, and then I went to sleep in a bench of Paradise Island, by the beach. There were many mosquitoes in that beach. The next morning I had my face like a relief map of the Iberian Peninsula, including the highest mountains of the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada, graphically represented!According to some very useful pamphlets that I was given in the Tourist Information Office of Nassau, Columbus first disembarked in Guanahani Island (today Watling), and he called it San Salvador (Saint Saviour), but some time later, when I travelled to Turks and Caicos, I read another theory according to which the island Columbus landed first was in Grand Turk.
2011-10-26 - After my stay in the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro I bought a bus ticket northwards, to Salvador de Bahia. On the bus I made friends with four Brazilian Jewish girls. Arriving in Salvador they went to find lodgment in the synagogue, for free. I went with them, explained to the rabbi that I worked as a volunteer on a kibbutz near Gaza, and he invited me to stay. The synagogue was full of Israeli travelers. In Israel, when young people finish their compulsory military service, three years for men and two for women, The Israeli Government grants them 1 year vacation before joining the society as responsible adults. Three are the favorite destinations for spending this year: Europe, India combined with Nepal, and South America, and since they're always short of money, they are usually lodged in the synagogues of the big cities, for free. In Salvador I found life very quietly, at the contrary than in exciting Rio de Janeiro, and most of the population was black. It was common to see in almost any market places some boys practicing the fight-dance from Africa called capoeira, with martial effects, while another young man played a one-stringed instrument resembling a bow, called Jew's harp. It is said that Salvador shelters 135 churches. But people are so fond of spiritualism that they advertise the sessions as if masses were treated and appear in newspapers and on posters in the streets. It is most common for a person, after leaving a Catholic Mass, thereupon attend a séance of spiritualism. It was in Salvador more than any other Brazilian city where I discovered that women are so sensual that literally, just is enough an exchange of smiles in the streets and then immediately proceed to establish conversation, and soon after that to share intimacy. In that city women provoke men's friendship, even chasing them through the streets. And so each day, the Israelites boys of the synagogue and I had commitments to go to the beach with Brazilian girls, or listening to music in a pub to listen Bossa nova and then going to the beach to have more intimacy.
The fourth day of my stay in Salvador I bought a bus ticket to Belém, for that night. A little before dawn, during the journey Salvador - Belém, we passed a health checkpoint and all the passengers we vaccinated against yellow fever. We were in the province of Para.
2007-04-28 - is one of the most authentic Arabian countries. It is a small archipelago with a population of about 700.000 people. There are three main islands united by bridges with Saudi Arabia, which are claimed by Qatar. Be careful! If your next destination is Qatar, get the visa beforehand. There is no Qatari consulate in Bahrain because of the lack of diplomatic relation between the two countries owing to the islands claims. I did not know this, and suffered a lot with immigration while arriving in Qatar.
In Manama, the capital of Bahrain, I saw people playing n'tchuva, a game very popular in Africa. Almost everybody dress like in ancient times, and there are many chaikhanas to drink tea in the streets, and I even saw beggars, very hard to find in Arabia or Kuwait or in the Emirates.
After Bahrain I flew to Qatar, not so interesting country for a traveller, half deserted, but people are friendly and it is very easy to get rides hitch hiking. After two days there I flew to Dubai.
2011-10-20 - I have traveled to Baja California twice, using local buses. The first time was in May 2008. I crossed Baja California Sur and Baja California from La Paz in direction to San Diego, California, stopping in several interesting places on the road, until I reached Ensenada and one day later Tijuana. The second time I went to Baja California, exactly to Mexicali, together with MTP member Ryan Trapp, some months later, in September 2008. Ryan drove his car from San Bernardino, left the car in the US side and we both entered Mexicali, where we rented a room in a hostel. Life in that border city did not look exciting, at least during the day, but at night we could enjoy the Mexican atmosphere entering in several bars to drink Mexican beers Coronas and Sol, with a piece of lemon on top of the bottle. In the bars there were dance shows. It is said that in Mexicali there are many Chinese, and the town proudly asserts to count with over 200 Chinese restaurants, but we hardly found a Chinese. It seems that they rarely mix with the Mexicans or foreigners, and only go out from home to visit other Chinese houses. The second day Ryan and I separated. He went back to USA and I continued by bus to Puebla.
2011-10-20 - I took the ferry from Topolobampo, in Sinaloa state, Mexico, to La Paz. La Paz shelters a nice cathedral built by the Spaniards and a waterfront where for a few pesos you can drink a Corona beer accompanied by fresh and delicious seafood. I loved the peaceful atmosphere of La Paz (which means Peace). The third day I left to the north, stopping for a whole day in Nuestra Señora de Loreto, a Jesuit Mission where you can spend the night. Loreto is the capital of all the Missions in Alta and Baja California. Not far from Loreto you can visit the lovely San Francisco Javier Mission. Further north, on my way to Tijuana, I spent another day in Santa Rosalia and learnt that during the XIX century French colonists had erected that village, and the church (Santa Barbara) had been designed by Gustav Eiffel. They exploited the copper mines of the area, and when the mines were exhausted, they left Mexico and went back to France. The village has French flavor, even the bakeries produce croissants and other French pastries according to the recipes left by the French. Finally I reached Ensenada and one day later Tijuana, in Baja California. ...........................................................................
IN SPANISH: ISLAS Y ÁREAS PROTEGIDAS DEL GOLFO DE CALIFORNIA
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Este sitio del noroeste de México abarca 244 islas, islotes y zonas litorales del golfo de California. El Mar de Cortés y sus islas son un laboratorio natural para el estudio de la especiación y el conocimiento de los procesos de evolución oceánicos y costeros, ya que casi todos ellos se dan en sus parajes. El sitio inscrito es de una excepcional belleza y ofrece a la vista paisajes espectaculares, en los que la cegadora luz del desierto y el color turquesa de las aguas hacen resaltar los acantilados escarpados de las islas y las playas de arena. Alberga además 695 especies botánicas y 891 ictiológicas, de las cuales 90 son endémicas. El número de especies vegetales es muy superior al registrado en los demás sitios insulares y marinos inscritos en la Lista del Patrimonio Mundial. Asimismo, este sitio alberga el 39% y el 33% del total mundial de las especies de mamíferos marinos y de cetáceos, respectivamente.
Este Patrimonio no lo visitaría en su totalidad y no creo que nadie lo intente, pues comprende muchas islas e islotes.
Viajé a lo largo de la Península de California durante una semana, desde que embarqué en un ferry nocturno en Topolobampo, desembarcando en La Paz por la mañana, hasta que llegué en autobuses a Tijuana y penetré en San Diego, Estados Unidos de América.
Durante esos siete días visité diversas ciudades y varios parques nacionales. Pero no me desvié al Santuario de Ballenas de El Vizcaíno (otro Patrimonio de la Humanidad), pues inferí que sería cara la excursión y yo no andaba muy sobrado de pesos esos días.
Dormía a veces en los parques naturales, o a la orilla de la playa, aunque una noche lo hice en una misión jesuita (me daba ilusión pasar la noche en un sitio sagrado), y visitaba al azar los sitios que cruzaba, de manera tranquila, fueran parques, aldeas o misiones. Dependía de los horarios de los autobuses, que eran muy caprichosos, por lo que hubo alguna noche que dormí a la intemperie, sobre un banco de madera en las afueras de una terminal espartana de autobuses en medio de la nada, lejos de la playa y de los parques naturales, sin cafeterías ni supermercados.
En la Península de California de recordaba a Hernán Cortés en letreros, pues él descubrió esa península para el mundo occidental (no así la California de Estados Unidos de América, que la descubriría Cabrillo). Precisamente las aguas que había surcado entre Topolobampo y La Paz se conocen por Mar de Cortés, aunque también por Golfo de California, y en algunos mapas se puede leer Mar Bermejo.
También observé bustos y placas con palabras cariñosas dedicadas al misionero italiano Juan María de Salvatierra, considerado el apóstol de Baja California.
Vi iglesias españolas en cada ciudad y me detuve en las que consideré más históricas, tratando de no perderme ninguna misión. Aparte de Loreto, el pueblo que más me atrajo, y donde me quedaría dos días, fue Santa Rosalía, pues a finales del siglo XIX, cuando México era un país ya independiente, llegaron a esa población una colonia de franceses para explotar una mina de cobre. Allí las tradiciones eran francesas y los edificios se habían levantado en estilo colonial francés siguiendo los planos del ingeniero Gustave Eiffel, incluso la original iglesia y el horno. Para desayunar entraba en mi panadería favorita, que databa del siglo XIX, donde ordenaba un croissant junto a un café au lait.
El sexto día, ya en Ensenada, observé una gran estatua de Cristóbal Colón. Y un día más tarde llegué por fin a Tijuana, cosa que celebré con una vasito (bueno, fueron dos) de tequila, antes de dirigirme a San Diego (Estados Unidos de América), donde al día siguiente me desplazaría a un parque vecino para rendir mis respetos a Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, el descubridor de California.
2008-12-21 - Balearic Islands are a favourite place for kings as our Juan Carlos, writers as Robert Graves or George Sand, musicians as Frederic Chopin, and tourists and travellers alike. In this island there are megalithic dolmens and caves with stalactites, imposing cathedrals, beautiful nature, good weather and beaches, and excellent daily connections by boat from the Spanish peninsula or direct charter flights from most of the European countries. Apart from the Spanish, the Balearic language is also official.Here below are the five islands forming the Balearic archipelago:MALLORCA is the biggest island. In it there are so many Germans (tourists and others who live there for ever) that many people call Mallorca with a touch of humour “the seventeen German lander”. In Palma de Mallorca, the capital, there is a beautiful cathedral, considered one of the greatest in Spain, and the impressive Bellver castle. MENORCA is the second Balearic island by surface. During a few years of the XVIII century it was occupied by the English, but after a Treaty we recover it. It is a quiet island, without many discotheques, as Mallorca has. There you can also find many megalithic vestiges. IBIZA is the third Balearic island and in the sixties and seventies was a Mecca for the hippies in their route to India via San Francisco, Isle of Wight, Crete, Istanbul, Kabul and finally Manali in Himachal Pradesh and the Kathmandu valleys, or Goa beaches in winter. Today Ibiza is a pleasant and nice island where their people produce the famous white fashion clothes, and many of the hippies of the past (all of them are today sixty or seventy years old) sell handicrafts to the tourists.FORMENTERA is an artist shelter. In this small island of about 75 square kilometres live just about 6000 people, but in summer this number increases dramatically.CABRERA Island is today a National Park. In the middle of it there is an old castle.
In July 2014 I visited again Mallorca Island and this is what I wrote about my journey: The best and loveliest way, in my opinion, to appreciate and admire the UNESCO wonder Sierra de Tramontana, is by train, from Palma de Mallorca to Sóller. The train dates from 1912 and runs the approximately 28 kilometers separating those two places in over 1 hour. The train makes several stops and in one of them (Mirador de Pujol) you can disembark for about ten minutes, when you can take pictures to the landscape filled with lemon and oranges plantations. The train crosses a tunnel of about 3 kilometers.
But the best are the mountains; some of them have a pyramidal form. The highest peak in Sierra de Tramontana is called Puig Mayor (over 1.400 meters).
The rails are narrow and the train has four wooden carriages. No cafeteria or toilets are provided. The train looks like a toy. Inside the wagons there are some pictures showing pictures representing old paintings of Spanish artist Juan Miró, (who was born in Barcelona but lived and died in Mallorca).
Practically all the passengers in that train are tourists (foreigners and Spanish); local people prefer to travel by car or bus, which is much cheaper. In Sóller you can board a tramway (built in 1913) to get to Port de Sóller (about 4 more kilometers), where you can enjoy the lovely beach and bay.
In Sóller, as well as in Port de Sóller, the travel agencies offer trekkings around the Sierra de Tramontana.
I travelled in that train in July 2014 and paid 26 euro for the round trip Palma – Sóller and tramway to Port de Sóller............................................................................. On July 2014 I travelled to the island of Formentera and this is what I wrote about it: I had been in Formentera when I was very young, but only during one day. I remember that I rented a bicycle at the port of Formentera, visited the island for a few hours and returned to the port in the afternoon to catch my ferry back to Ibiza (there is no airport in Formentera, only in Ibiza). The island is very small (with scarcely a surface of 130 square kilometers)
In June 2014 I spent a whole week in Formentera and got to know that island pretty well. This time Formentera enthralled me!
I loved the colors of the sea, unique in Spain. According to a friend who lives in Formentera 30 years so far, those colors are even more beautiful than in the Caribbean Sea. And he, being a prestigious artist (Alfonso Biescas) was right because nobody better than a painter can give such an opinion about colors with authority.
I would recommend to forget about Els Pujols, because is too crowded with Italian tourists. Instead, pretty places such as Cala Saona or Els Arenals, Migjorn, Salines, or Illetes are a better choice for its lovely beaches. But check the weather conditions before going to the correct beach because it all depends on the wind to enjoy the sea.
Formentera shares with Ibiza the UNESCO Patrimony called Biodiversity and Culture. In both island you can find a unique shoreline with marine life. Its ecosystem possesses very well preserved huge quantities of a sea grass called Posidonia; the most notable colony of Posidonia on our planet Earth.
Formentera has a population of about 10.000 souls. Everybody speaks Spanish and many of them also a local language that is known as Formenterer or Pagès.
Lizards form part of the reptile population in Formentera and Ibiza. It is an endemic sort called Ibiza Wall Lizard.
Formentera is composed mainly by four little towns. The island capital is San Francisco Javier (Sant Francesc in local language). The village by the port is called La Savina. And there are still San Fernando (Sant Ferran in the local language) and Pilar de la Mola. Only three villages shelter churches: San Francisco Javier, San Fernando and Pilar de la Mola.
There are three lighthouses in the island, one in La Savina, another one near Pilar de la Mola, called Faro de la Mola, plus the Faro del Cabo de Barbaria, on the south west of Formentera.
During the sixties of the XX century Formentera was a place frequented by the hippies, who in order to make a living used to paint, play music and to manufacture handicrafts and ornaments for ladies. Some of them are still living in Formentera. There is still a popular hippy market in Pilar de La Mola.
I advise you that everything is more expensive in Formentera than in Ibiza or Mallorca, for instance. Hotels range from 150 to 250 euro per night and even higher. But there are some hostels at around 60 euro per night; cheaper than that you will not find anything to sleep in Formentera. There are not Youth Hostels and sleeping on the beaches or camping is prohibited.
These high prices prevent Formentera from being a too touristic place. Today Formentera is considered a prestigious selected resort.
Formentera was inhabited since the second millennium before Jesus Christ. The first visitors were Phoenicians, and then came the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Arabs. After we expelled the Muslims from Spain, Berber pirates made some incursions in the island until we also expelled them forever. Finally, at the turn of the XVII century Formentera was repopulated by people from the neighboring island of Ibiza................................
In July 2014 I visited again Palma de Mallorca and this is what I wrote about my trip: The arrival to Palma de Mallorca by ferry makes you feel that you will love that city. The views from the sea over the lovely cathedral plus the imposing castle Bellver advance you that you are going to visit a beautiful place.
Most of the tourist attractions are close each other, that is the cathedral plus the Almudaina Palace, then the Lonja and the fortress. The castle of Bellver is a little far, but there are buses to the base and then you have to walk for about ten minutes up to the castle.
Plaza Mayor, in downtown, is not as spectacular as the one in Madrid or in Salamanca, nevertheless it is worth to go there, especially if you are heading to the train station bound to Sóller.
To find accommodation is a problem because all of them are ridiculously expensive. Even the hostels with bathroom in the corridor ask you a minimum of 70 euro per a double.
It is better not to sleep in Palma, but going somewhere else for a cheaper place.
I did it and took the train to Sóller, then the tramway to Port de Sóller and found a decent place by the beach at a good price.
Mallorca was invaded by the moors but conquered by Jaime I el Conquistador, born in Montpellier when the south east of France belonged to Spain (to the Crown of Aragon).
Every island in the Balearic speaks its particular dialect. In Mallorca is spoken the balear, which is very close to the Valenciano and the catalan languages, and even to the Aragonese (in Spain, apart from the Spanish, that everybody knows, several regions have other language, also official, which are spoken by approximately half the population of the determinate region).
There is a Rambla avenue with two statues of the Roman emperors Julio Cesar and Neron.
I also found in a small square a bust devoted to Chopin, who lived in the Cartuja de Valdemosa, Mallorca several months, with George Sand.
Having done the Camino de Santiago on foot many times, I did not miss the church devoted to Saint James, in street San Jaime.
When I had visited all these places, I headed by bus to the castle of Bellver and then travelled by train and tramway to Port de Sóller, to spend there a couple of nights.
2011-10-22 - After almost one year travelling in India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, I felt the time had come to go back home to see my parents. I was in Islamabad, trying to obtain, in vain, a transit visa in the Iranian Embassy to cross Iran in my way back overland to Spain. Realizing that it was impossible, I planned to try again in the Iranian Embassy in Kabul. Since through the Khyber Pass I could not cross because the war was going on in Jalalabad, I decided to get to Kabul through Kandahar. Consequently I bought a train ticket to Quetta, in Baluchistan. From there it would be possible to reach Kabul avoiding the war in Jalalabad. Furthermore, I was informed that in the border between Baluchistan and Afghanistan there was no control and nobody would request me an Afghan visa. I would try, I thought. I have nothing to lose. Besides, I had no much money. If the Iranian visa was granted, I could very cheaply find my way to Turkey, and from there it would be easy to hitchhike until my country, Spain. The train schedule was: Rawalpindi – Lahore – Multan – Quetta. The train journey was fantastic. I crossed the Indo River and stopped in historical towns, such as Multan, the city of the Sufis. Once in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, I got lodgment in the roof of a caravanserai, because it was very hot in the rooms. There I made friendship with four Afghan mujahidins that the next day would go with their land rover to the border with Afghanistan, to Chaman. They advised me to buy Balochistan clothes to get, without any problem, to Kabul, without looking like a European. Following their recommendation the next day in the morning I bought in a souk a Balochistan suit, including a wide trouser and a jacket with long sleeves, plus a turban, spending almost all my remaining money. Then, disguised as a Balochi we left to the border, to Chaman, where we arrived some minutes later. Then we entered in a chaikhana to celebrate it, drinking tea and eating some sweets without coercion, and then we separated. The first village in the Afghan side was Spin Boldak. I had no visa but observed that in the border there was no control, I did not even see any Afghan soldier, so I went ahead disguised as a Balochi. During two weeks I had not shaved my beard. Everybody carried weapons in Chaman, even women. But I was not afraid. I walked slowly but with determination, I crossed the famous Durand Line and finally I had Spin Boldak at sight. I had entered the province of Kandahar, in Afghanistan.
2011-10-29 - I obtained my visa in the Bangladesh High Commissioner, in Calcutta, (today called Kolkata) in the same day. It was free of charge. Then the Next day I took a train to the last Indian village, called Bangaon, crossed the border and the first Bangladesh village was called Benapol. From there I continued to Khulna and the next day I boarded an old Japanese cargo boat called Rocket. The journey would take me 48 hours, instead of 24, as scheduled, because of the bad weather and monsoon during our journey on open sea and across rivers. Food (very humble), was included on board. Prices in Bangladesh were still cheaper than in India.
I loved Bangladesh people, they were nice, polite, and curious about foreigners, but did not ask me so many personal questions, as the Indians use to do. Dhaka was the city of the 1001 mosques. I only managed to see about twenty mosques, but I saw thousands and thousands of rickshaws. Dhaka is the world capital of rickshaws. After some days exploring the city I proceeded to explore the country. I boarded a bus to Chittagong, where I would spend a couple of nights. During these days I made friendship with the Bengalis and some of them mentioned me the Rangamati Hill District, in Chitagong Hill Tracts area. I soon got interested in visiting that area, with its exotic tribes of the hills, but I was told that there were local wars between the Muslims and Buddhist Bengalis, therefore would be dangerous, and off limits to tourists. Today (year 2011) you can cross overland from Agartala, in Tripura, to Dhaka, crossing Rangamati Hill District. But in 1989 it was forbidden to foreigners. Anyway, I boarded several buses and after a few hours outwitting military controls I got to the shores of the Lake Kaptai. From there I could see the border with Tripura and even Rangamati village. But in that last control I was discovered and forced to go back to Chittagong.
In the bus to Chittagong I made friendship with a local man who was heading to the mythical town of Mrauk U, an old capital of the legendary Kingdom of Arakan, in Myanmar. I asked if I could go with him, He was hesitant because foreigners are forbidden to enter that millenary kingdom, even from Rangoon (today called Yangon), because of the fight of the natives against the Myanmar Government. Finally he did not object to accompany him to the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar (then called Burma). My friend was a Buddhist monk and his name was Maung. From Chittagong we transshipped to another bus to Cox’s Bazar, where we arrived already very late, but Maung invited me to spend the night in the Buddhist Temple and Monastery of Aggamedha, where I was accepted by the Master Sayadaw, a very wise man, aged probably over 70 years old, with whom I had a very rewarding conversation that night about the meaning of life of man in this world. Maung had to stay in for two days in the Monastery of Aggamedha, also called the Temple of the 1001 Buddhas. During these two days I could live in the monastery, in the dormitory together with the monks, and go outside to explore the city, returning during the meals times. Cox’s Bazar was a most interesting and exotic town. It possesses the longest white sand beach in the world. The third day Maung and I thanked the Master Sayadaw for his hospitality and proceeded by bus to Teknaf, the border with Myanmar. When we arrived to Teknaf we slept in a pharmacy, owned by Maung. He told me that he was a naturalist pharmaceutical. The next day he continued his journey to Mrauk U, but I could not go with him because the rigorous military controls in the Naf River border. To those who risk crossing that river swimming, the soldiers from Bangladesh and Myanmar, shoot without pity.
I went back to Cox’s Bazar, then to Chittagong, Dhaka and Kolkata, back in India, from where I headed by trains and buses to Kashmir, then Ladakh and finally walking to the fabulous Kingdom of Zanskar.
2008-12-05 - Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, looks very british, with the Trafalgar square, the statue of Lord Nelson, the pubs showing the british lion tearing the french and spanish flags, the cars driving on the left, the anglican churches, people playing cricket... But to be british is not a defect, so I enjoyed my stay, and met less foreigners than in the other Caribean Islands that I visited. I went there thanks to the cheap ticket of LIAT, valid for a month, doing islands hopping.
2008-11-16 - There is a daily ferry from Antigua to Barbuda Island. It sails at 9 AM from Saint John’s and returns from Barbuda at 3 PM. This time is enough to have a look at the island. There are organized excursions to visit during one day Barbuda. They will take you to Codrington, the main and only town in the island (inhabited by 2000 souls), and then you will board a boat to a Birds Sanctuary sheltering about 5000 frigates. But I could not afford it, so I just walked around the island. The port is far from the town, I walked for about 2 hours to reach it. There were taxis waiting for you at the port but the prices were expensive (I think that they wanted to abuse because they saw me a lonely traveler). There is a nice restaurant in town, called Wa O’moni (the Arawak name for Barbuda), several churches, and a helpful tourist office. People are lovely. Only Barbuda people can own land in that island, foreigners are not allowed to buy land. Land is for free, but only for local Barbudans. When a Barbudan reaches 18 old he is given an acre of land.Some people coming with me in the ferry, decided to go back to Antigua by plane, because the waters were very rough.
2014-03-24 - No way to find a cheap hotel in Liestal
I arrived already dark to Liestal, the capital of Basel Landschaft. My intention was to look for the youth hostel, to sleep, letting for the next morning the visit to the town, and at about midday to leave to Basel city.
But once I reached Liestal people whom I asked in the public library, which was located just in front of the railway station, informed me that there is no Youth Hostel in Liestal. Then they directed me to the area where several hotels were located together.
I walked to that area crossing the Superior Gate (Obertor), visitng on my way the City Hall and a church which is supposed to be the oldest in Liestal. Although it was dark I could still appreciate the architecture.
I asked in the first hotel that I saw, but the price for a single room was 140 euro, including breakfast. Then, upon requesting the employees in the reception to suggest me another place much cheaper, I was sent to the Hotel Guggenheim. I liked the name because in Bilbao we have a museum with that name. Perhaps, I thought, the owner of the hotel is Basque, and being both Spaniards he will understand my situation and will make me discount in the price.
Once in this second hotel the price, including discount and without breakfast, was 120 euro for a single room. The owner of the hotel was Swiss.
Of course, I refused to spend such a large sum of money for just sleep. I gave up and did not ask in any other hotel. But it was cold in the street, the sky was dark, what forecasted rain, and my sleeping bag was not good enough to keep me warm under below zero temperatures sleeping in a park. Furthermore, the train station would close at midnight, so I disregarded the possibility to sleep inside. Finally, at about two hours after my arrival to Liestal, I caught a train to Basel city, arriving there late in the night, found the Youth Hostel, just at about 200 meters away from the railway station and slept there for 30 euro in a dormitory, together with many backpackers.
2011-11-19 - \'I left early in the morning the Youth Hostel where I had spent the previous night, and walked to the downtown.
I had been in Basel over 40 years earlier, but in those times I used to sleep in Salvation Army organizations, I travelled hitchhiking, and worked in several European cities in anything to earn some money, at least for food. But no much remembered of that journey, only that I crossed on foot a bridge and soon reached France.
My first stop was in a square with stalls selling fruits where is located the City Hall. It was beautiful. I was allowed to visit it inside. I saw frescoes and the statue of the founder of Basle: the Roman senator Lucius Munaties Plancus. In fact the location was some kilometers far from the present Basel, and was first called Colonia Raurica.
Then I followed the map that I was given in the Youth Hostel and headed to the Catholic Cathedral square, which was called Münsterplatz. In that square there were several museums. Soon later I reached the Mittle Brücke over the River Rhine. I guessed that it must have been that bridge that I crossed four decades earlier to enter France and then reached Mulhouse in auto stop.
From that bridge I looked back and noticed in the distance several nice buildings. I walked to see them closer and reached the Spalentur and another imposing church. The streets were narrow and hilly in that part of Basel.
At about midday I caught a train to Solothurn. I was satisfied, Basle was a romantic city, with tramways, has many cultural places and a historical university.
2009-10-16 - When arriving to Ufa, Bashkiria capital, by train from Orenburg, the first thing that you see after crossing the bridge over the river Ufa, is the statue of Salavat Yulaev, up in a hill, riding a horse.
Salavat Yulaev was a hero/bandit who helped revolutionary Pugachov against the Tsarina Catherine II leading a Cossack insurrection in the XVIII in the Volga region. But when I asked a Russian national about who was the man on the horse, I was informed that he was a bandit and rebel who fought against the Tsarina killing many people. Later I asked a Bashkir national and I was told that Salavat Yulaev was a hero and a poet who fought against the Tsar injustices.
The railway station is far from the centre, so I had to take a bus to the downtown, stopping in the street Pushkin, from where I walked to an esplanade where there was the statue of Salavat Yulaev.
I learnt that Ufa, a XVI century town, is the Muslim capital of Russia, so first I visited the two main mosques of the town, one being the first one constructed in Bashkiria, close to the Salavat Yulaev statue, where I wash myself after several days travelling by train without having a shower. The new mosque was a little bit far from the statue. It was evident to me that Ufa was a Muslim city, because when I entered a shop and bought a beer, the seller advised me to drink it outside, in the street, because if caught I will be fined, since drinking alcohol in the street is prohibited in the Republic of Bashkortostan. So, I took the beer with me and when I noticed that nobody was seeing me, I drank it behind the statue of the hero/bandit Salavat Yulaev.
There were many monuments around Ufa, a city of over one millions inhabitants, such as the theatre, lovely parks and orthodox churches. But the best area to stroll around was the square where was the statue of Salavat Yulaev, with yurts (Bashkiria tents) selling food and souvenirs. From that hill I enjoyed breathtaking views of the river Ufa.
After the Republic of Bashkortostan I took a night train to Tobolsk, in Tiumenia Oblast.
2011-11-22 - I have crossed Basilicata several times, when coming by boat from Greece to Brindisi, for instance, and then I took the train to Sicily, traversing Basilicata. It is in Potenza, Basilicata capital that you have to change trains, and if you sleep, then you continue to Rome. But I have never visited Potenza during these changes of trains (in two occasions I traveled that route). Instead, when going to Sicily from Naples, I stopped in Basilicata little city Maratea, and then I had the opportunity to spend several hours there before catching another train to Palermo. Maratea has many churches (44 say the locals), and is very historical, existing before the Romans. From Maratea I continued my journey to Palermo, in Sicily.
I arrived early in the morning to Matera, coming by bus from Metaponto. There was a hostel not far from the bus station, called Roma Guesthouse, where I would stay for one night. They made me pay 2 Euro extra as a tourist tax.
After leaving my small bag in my room I started exploring the town, which old part is constructed in a canyon. I entered a small museum where not long ago lived a family, and in front there was a shop showing a miniature of Matera.
There were hotels in Matera downtown, in the part called Sassi, but very expensive, and the restaurants too.
In front of Matera I could see caves, but did not visit them.
In the upper part of Matera there was a castle, closed, and a cathedral, also closed.
Some of the churches were free of charge, but in other you had to pay. I only visited the first ones.
When I was young I had seen the Pasolini movie The Gospel according to Saint Mathew, and since then I had wanted to visit Matera. I was not disappointed. Strolling around the old town was a pleasure. It was not cold in spite of being December, and there was not rain that day of my visit. People were very friendly in that city and when I was in doubt, because the lanes in Sassi form a labyrinth, they always came to help me.
The next day I caught a bus to Rome.
Metaponto, or Metapontium, is an old town founded by the Greeks. Its ruins can be seen today, not far from the center.
I arrived to Metaponto by a toy train, from Reggio Calabria. It was dark and did not know where to spend the night. In front of the train station there was a bar where I asked for help. Its owner phoned a friend of him and he came in his car to take me to a hotel not far from the Greek ruins of Metapontium, which I would visit the next day thanks to the owner of the hotel, who helped me.
In those ruins there was the school of Pythagoras and the remains of the theater. Just next door I could also see the necropolis and the Temple of Hera.
Pythagoras was expelled from Crotona (in Calabria) and took refuge in Metapontium where he enjoyed fame and prosperity. He died in that city. His house and tomb were much respected and over them were erected a temple and a museum (that I could not see because that day it was closed).
During Greek times all the south of Italy, including Sicily, was colonized by the Magna Graecia.
After a few hours exploring the ruins, including the necropolis, I took a bus to Matera.
2010-03-22 - The castle Neuschwastein, in Bavaria, was the major fantasy of my last journey to Germany. The artifice of it was the Bavarian King Ludwig Wilhelm II. The best way to get there is by bicycle thorough the Romantic Road (Romantische Strasse), from Wurzburg to Fussen. But I had not enough time for that, therefore I arrived by train to Fussen and trekked to the marvellous castle and the lakes surrounding it. You have to climb to the Marienbrucke to admire it better. Externally the castle looks like a fairy tale (it inspired Walt Disney’ Sleeping Beauty), and internally reflects the interest of the King Ludwig Wilhelm II for the legends that convey the operas of Richard Wagner (he was his economical benefactor). For instance, the history of Lohengrin produced the Great Chamber and the Hall of the Throne, in Byzantine style. To evoke Tannhauser it was disposed a winter garden and a grotto with stalactites. The Hall of Music is dedicated to the life of Parsifal, etc. Unfortunately, the King Ministers diagnosed him unfit to rule Bavaria, and soon after he was mysteriously found death, together with his doctor, drowned in the Lake Starnberger. The castle was left unfinished. I have visited many beautiful castles during my journeys. I remember the charming Spanish one in Segovia, the delightful Castelo da Pena in Sintra, some of the gorgeous Loire Chateaux such as Chenanceaux or Amboise, the outstanding Osaka castle, etc. But no one can be compared with the exquisite Neuschwastein’.
I few years ago (March 2010), I spent a couple of days in Munich to meet some friends, all very good travelers, MTP members, Charles Veley and Kolja Spori. After the meeting and before going back to Spain, I had half a day to spare visiting any interesting place not far from Munich. Two of them were the nazi concentration camp of Dachau and the Abbey of Effel. Some months earlier I had been in Auschwitz-Birkenau and I remembered it as a sad visit, therefore I chose to go to the Monastery of Ettal, not far from Munich. In fact, Ettal is located closer to Innsbruck, in Austria, than to Munich. We, my travellers’ friends and I, had breaktast in the Brauerai Franziskaner (Bavarian white sausages with a delicious sauce), in Munich. After that one of them and I drove during one hour until Ettal monastery. Its location, surrounded by mountains, plus the snow, offered a special beauty to this monastery. In the year 1330 was founded the monastery by the Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian. Benedictine monks were in charge of it. In those times there was a sector devoted to the Teutonic Knights. In the middle of the XVIII century the monastery was destroyed by fire, and then reconstructed in Baroque style. The frescoes under the Dome date from that period. The author was Enrico Zucalli, an architect of Swiss-Italian origin who was working in Munich. The entrance is free of charge. In its interior we would discover many wonders. In the middle of the patio we observed a strange painting on one pillar, featuring a soldier killing a monk. Once inside we visited the Church of the Assumption of the Blesses Virgin. Everything was delicate, beautiful and sacred. That was our feeling. Ettal is today an important place of pilgrimage. That day the monastery was full with Germans, Austrian, Swiss and even Italian pilgrims who arrived there mainly by car. Many of them spent the night in a hotel nearby. Pilgrims kept entering the monastery all morning long. The monastery runs a brewery producing beer, but it must have been closed because we did not find it. After that visit my friend drove with his car to Salzburg, in Austria, and I returned by train to Munich to fly back to Barcelona, in my dear Spain.
2011-11-09 - In the times when I first traveled to China (1982) you needed an additional passport in Chinese and the names of the towns which you were allowed of visit. Lhasa, Kashgar and Isle of Hainan were forbidden and the only way to enter there was illegally, outwitting military controls, which was what I did, because I think that man exists in this world before the borders and as a human being I have right to visit the planet where I have been born. In Beijing I asked permission to be added in my Chinese passport the cities of Turfan and Urumqi, in Sinkiang (from where I would furtively penetrate, weeks later, in magical Kashgar) and meanwhile I made one day excursion to a mythical place in China: the Great Wall. In the main railway station I bought for a fair price a bus excursion to visit a fragment (very well preserved) of the Great Wall near Badaling, at about 70 kilometers from Beijing. I was the only foreigner in that bus, I was surprised to meet so many Chinese from other provinces that wished to visit that marvel. One of the Chinese of the excursion told me proudly that the Great Wall is the only man made structure seeing from the Moon. All the Chinese dressed trousers and jackets with only two colors, green and blue, and all men had a Mao cap covering their heads. After visiting the Great Wall we stopped in another place, an imperial necropolis where we were shown the tomb of Chang Ling, of Ming Dynasty. Then we returned in the evening to Beijing railway station, which was my dormitory, over newspapers on the floor together with hundreds of homeless Chinese. It was a great excursion, not expensive, and food was included. After Beijing I headed to the then forbidden city of Kashgar, via Datong, Inner Mongolia, Mogao grottoes, near Dunhuang, and Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves and murals, not far from Turfan. The next day I rented a bicycle and during several days I visited several famous and extraordinary places in that fabulous city, such as the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen square and the old Summer Palace.
One of the nights I even spent more money than usual for my dinner (in those times, 1982, foreigners were given touristic money and a special passport) and went to the famous XIX century restaurant Quanjude Hepingmen, in Tiananmen Street, to eat the famous Peking duck. The waitress even gave me a numbered certificate of the duck. It was a great culinary experience.
I went back to Beijing several more times in successive years and always added some more places that I had missed in previous stays. Those times I had more money and could sleep in a hostel in the historical and pedestrian street Nanluoguxiang, at a walking distance of the other pedestrian street Wangfujing, where the Catholic East Church is located. I also added to my visits the most interesting Taoist temple Baiyunguan, or White Cloud Temple.
In short, Beijing deserves at least one week stay to visit all the wonderful tourist attractions that has to offer to the traveller...............................................................................
I went back to Beijing several more times in successive years, 2012, 2013, and always added some more places that I had missed in previous stays. Those times I had more money and could sleep in a hostel in the historical and pedestrian street Nanluoguxiang, at a walking distance of the other pedestrian street Wangfujing, where the Catholic East Church is located. I also added to my visits the most interesting Taoist temple Baiyunguan, or White Cloud Temple. In short, Beijing deserves at least one week stay to visit all the wonderful tourist attractions that has to offer to the traveller............................................................
The Temple of Heaven is a medieval complex of religious buildings. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It has been regarded as a Daoist temple, although Chinese heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, predates Daoism..........................................................
The Monastery of the White Clouds, or \"White Cloud Compound\", is a Daoist temple. It is one of \"The Three Great Ancestral Courts\" of the Complete Perfection School of Taoism, and is titled \"The First Temple under Heaven\"........................................................
Wangfujing street, This was my favorite street to stroll around.
2009-10-11 - I went to Belarus from Smolensk, in Russia. It was my second journey to that country, but during my first stay I only managed to visit Minsk, during 3 days, in transit, coming from Lithuania by bus and going to Ukraine by train. This second time I had a Russian visa and being in Smolensk, so close to Belarus, I decided to spend a couple of days in this country having in mind that the Russian visa is also valid for Belarus. I traveled by train from Smolensk to Minsk. There was not any Emigration control at the border between Russia and Belarus.
I visited Minsk again (my first journey to Belarus took place in 1996) and after three hours of visit I boarded a bus to Mir (there was no train service between these two cities). The purpose to get to Mir was to admire the famous castle considered a Patrimony of the Humankind by UNESCO. Yes, it was OK, I enjoyed the visit, but I had seen other castles much more interesting that the one in Mir that are not included in UNESCO.
By the way, the market in Mir was very exotic. The bus stop is just at the market square. It the restaurant Mirim, just in front of the castle, I ate the most delicious fried eggs of my life! Believe me, there were incredibly tasty, mixed with spices, better prepared than in Casa Lucio restaurant, Madrid, where the Spanish king Juan Carlos use to go and always ask for fried eggs (I should have asked them the recipe and sell it to Casa Lucio restaurant!).
Being the end of my three months journey in Russia, I did not want to go back to that country, but to explore the east part of Ukraine (Kharkov and other places around, such as Zaporizhzhya, where there is an island in the middle of the River Dnepr, called Khorytsya, that was fortified by the old Cossacks). For that purpose I traveled to Gomel and the next day took a train to Kharkov.
In the middle of the night we reached the border, in Terekhovka, but I was prevented to cross the country and enter Ukraine.
Then I learnt that the Russian visa is valid to visit Belarus, but no to leave that country. Consequently I had to go back to Russia and from there travelling to Kharkov. Another possibility was to buy in Gomel Immigration Department a transit visa through Belarus. I preferred to return to Russia by train, to Bryansk, and from there I continued my journey to Ukraine, also by train.
I expected a fine or to sign a protocol formulary (as the Russians would have done in that case), but the Belarus Police is much more polite, nicer and humane than the Russian one. They treated me very well. I am very grateful to them. They even sent me back from Terekhovka to Gomel in a train, for free; I did not have to buy any ticket. None of the Belarus policemen asked money for a \"beer\", while in Russia, in every control, the Russian policemen constantly asked me baksheesh.
In this second visit I spent three more days in Belarus, totalling six days during my two journeys to that country. ...........................................................................................
IN SPANISH: Conjunto del Castillo de Mir
CONJUNTO DEL CASTILLO DE MIR
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Este castillo se empezó a construir en las postrimerí¬as del siglo XV en estilo gótico. Las partes añadidas y reconstruidas posteriormente son de estilo renacentista y barroco. Tras un siglo de abandono y los graves daños sufridos en la época napoleónica, el castillo fue restaurado a finales del siglo XIX, añadiéndosele entonces nuevos elementos y transformando el área circundante en parque. Su apariencia actual es un testimonio vivo de su turbulenta historia.
He de reconocer que a pesar de haber estado dos veces en Bielorrusia en viajes del pasado, no conocía este castillo. Pero durante un reciente viaje a Rusia, al averiguar que el visado ruso me permitía visitar al mismo tiempo Bielorrusia, aproveché para acercarme en tren a Minsk, desde Smolensk, y después me trasladé en autobús a Mir para conocer el castillo. No hay servicio de trenes entre Mink y Mir.
En la frontera entre Rusia y Bielorrusia no hubo ningún control de pasaportes.
Es un castillo atractivo construido con ladrillos rojos, y celebré el haber viajado por tercera vez a Bielorrusia expresamente para verlo. Mas, siendo sincero, había visitado en otros países diversos castillos que me impresionaron más que el de Mir. Su interior tampoco “mata”. Pude ascender a uno de sus cinco torres y ello aportó un poco de exotismo a mi visita, pues la vista sobre el lago y la capilla era hermosa.
La entrada era barata y allí un guía me explicó que el bárbaro Napoleón destruyó el castillo, no sin antes haberlo saqueado, como solían hacer sus soldados en todas las ciudades que invadían, sobre todo en las españolas. Tras ello el castillo fue abandonado por unos cien años. Durante la ocupación de Bielorrusia por las tropas alemanas en el contexto de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, ese castillo sirvió de “almacén” de judíos, hasta que fueron todos exterminados, sin excepción.
Bielorrusia sólo posee cuatro sitios UNESCO, una cantidad muy pequeña para un país de 10 millones de habitantes y algo más de 200.000 kilómetros cuadrados. Por ello, en mi opinión, se justifica que ese castillo esté comprendido entre ellos. Uno de los Patrimonios de Bielorrusia es el llamado “Arco Geodésico de Struve”, que abundan en la lista de UNESCO, y están repartidos por diez países europeos (desde Noruega, Suecia y Finlandia a Moldavia y Ucrania, pasando por los tres países bálticos más Rusia y Bielorrusia). Sin embargo, yo aún no he conseguido visitar ni siquiera uno de ellos.
Debí ser uno de los últimos visitantes a ese castillo en su forma original, pues ese día se hablaba de transformarlo en un hotel de lujo (cosa que ya es en la actualidad).
El mercado se hallaba frente al castillo de Mir y era muy exótico, aunque pobre (sólo vendían pescado, huevos y cuatro cabezas de ajo). Me quedé allí a comer (pescado con huevos de sabor a ajos), pero no a dormir.
Tuve una pequeña “aventura” cuando esa noche pretendí alcanzar Kharkov (en Ucrania) por tren, desde Gomel. En la frontera, los soldados bielorrusos no me permitieron la salida del país, pues el visado ruso me daba derecho a visitar Bielorrusia, sí, pero no a salir desde ese país a un tercero. Fui forzado a entrar de nuevo en Rusia (a Bryansk) y de allí viajar en tren a Kharkov la noche siguiente.
2007-05-30 - Pecherskaya Lavra, Chernianka (Belgorod Oblast)
This is an underground monastery of which existence I learnt thanks to my friends, who brought me there as a gift for my birthday. It consists in a XVI century monastery complex with a great church plus some smaller ones, and a hill in which interior there are monks’ cells with artistic frescoes and small chapels. The monastery is located at in Russkaya Khalan, about 5 kilometres from Chernyanka, in the direction to the Ukrainian border. We went there by car. The place was so awe-inspiring! A very faithful woman conducted a tour and gave us explanations about the caves (only in Russian, of course, there never go foreigners). During the Communist times some of the caves were used by the soldiers and destroyed many frescoes, but the faithful people hid the treasures and returned them back to the Orthodox Church during Perestroika times. After Pecherskaya Lavra, in Kiev, these caves were the most impressive of its kind that I have ever seen in the ex Soviet Union countries.
2008-12-21 - The second largest reef barrier in the world. I entered the country from Tulum, in Mexico, and stopped in pleasant Belize City, the country main town. Belmopan is the capital, near the border with Guatemala.Most of the travellers that I met in that country went there to practice snorkelling and diving activities in the cays the second Reef Barrier in the world, after the Australian’s.I the streets of Belize City I met several members of the sect Menno Simonz, of German origin, when they made purchases in the shops.But the best visit that I did in Belize was during my last day, before leaving for Guatemala: the Maya ruins of ALTUN HA, in the jungle.When I left the country, a sign said at the border: THANK YOU FOR YOUR VISIT TO BELIZE. But once in Guatemala I turned my head to Belize, and read in Spanish language: FRONTERA CON BELICE.Then I learnt that Guatemala pretends Belize and calls it Belice, with “c” and they include Belice in the maps of Guatemala. In fact, the English returned all their occupied territory in Central America (called “British Honduras”) to all Central American countries (Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, etc.) except that portion that now we know today as Belize, or Belice in Spanish language.
2007-04-26 - I reached Benin overland from Togo. When I arrived to the village of Heve I observed the first rule to be welcome in African small villages: I asked for “Le Chef du village”. He was an old man considered a Pope of the Animist religion. He even spoke German learnt when Benin, then called Dahomey, belonged to Germany. I paid him my respects wishing long life for his relatives and himself. He was so pleased to meet a foreigner that he organized for me a dance where a conical straw roof of a hut “danced” alone as if by magic. I noticed that the trick consisted in a diminutive pygmy that in a moment of noise of drums was slyly introduced into the conic roof through a false door. Being very tactful I said nothing and applauded with great enthusiasm like everybody else. After the dances I was invited to sleep in a hut. Next day I thanked Le Grand Popo and left to Gauvin.
2011-10-02 - I was hitchhiking around Europe to learn languages and the art of travelling when, arriving to Hannover I met a traveler who had been in West Berlin, and from there, through the Checkpoint Charlei, was able to penetrate for a single day in East Berlin and Potsdam. The idea to access to East Germany tempted me very much; therefore I decided to travel there. From Hannover I continued hitchhiking to the border with East Germany. Soon a driver picked me up and some kilometers later also picked up two girls from Holland who also wanted to visit Berlin. At the border with East Germany, in Drewitz, the East German authorities forced us to pay 5 Deutsche Marks per person. Once we got into East Germany, the driver complained to me: - We, from Western Germany, constructed this road to Berlin, and now we have to pay 5 Deutsche Marks to use it. And I exclaimed in Spanish, full of excitement: - ¡Dios mío, qué emoción! Getting to the Soviet Union, the old Yugoslavia, the Nicaragua of the Sandinistas, or to East Berlin in the communist times is an unrepeatable exploit for a traveler nowadays. I was fortunate enough to have been in all those places in the proper time. Once in West Berlin we separated, the two girls went to a Youth Hostel to spend the night in a dormitory and I, being short of money, as usual, preferred to sleep besides the ruins of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, in the Kurfürstendamm, in Charlottenburg area. The second night, while sleeping by the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, a group of young people woke me up. At the beginning I thought that they were hooligans and would molest me. But no. they were well dressed and polite. When I explained that I had not enough money to afford a bed in a dormitory of a hostel and that I was planning to continue travelling to visit Greece, then Crete, Cyprus and Israel, they compared my travels with those of Saint Paul and encouraged me to keep on travelling visiting holy places. One of them invited me to share his flat in Berlin for the night and also offered me a good and delicious dinner. During two days I visited the Brandenburg Gate, several museums, the American, French and British sectors and, in general, enjoyed the atmosphere of that crazy town that was Berlin during Communist times. At the exit of Berlin young people just wrote in a cardboard S of Stuttgart, B of Bonn, H of Hamburg, etc. and hitch hiked their way back to West Germany. Seeing that practice I took from a rubbish bin a cardboard and wrote the letter M of Munich, and soon a driver picked me up. Through the Checkpoint Bravo we crossed East Germany, until Marienborn, through Helmstedt. We saw the city of Leipzig, but we did not have right to stop along the way. Finally we crossed to West Germany, to freedom. Upon arriving to Munich I got off the car and after two days visiting that town I continued my journey hitch hiking to Greece via Austria and the old Yugoslavia.
2008-12-05 - I was in Miami in December 2002 and saw in a travel agency a cheap ticket to Bermudas Islands. Then I decided to go there next day. I spent several days in those islands. There are like gardens for the exuberant nature. People are gentle. Saint Georges was my favourite place to rest and enjoy. There, everybody looks rich, even children play golf and dress very nice. Bermudas are not like poor Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, or Haiti, or Cuba, where people live very badly. But I have to tell you some inconveniences that I experienced the first day: after passing through emigration, the police suspected that I was not a tourist (maybe because I was alone, and most tourists go on groups or in couples). Then they sent me to the hospital in Hamilton for X Rays suspecting that I had something illegal carrying with me in my body (you understand). Five hours I had to wait in the airport and two more in Hamilton hospital for examination. After the police saw that I was a normal tourist and had nothing estrange in my body, they allowed me to go to my hotel. Well, I did not complain. It was their duty. Just I loose one day holidays, but enjoyed the rest. But my surprise was when I got back home in Spain and saw that the police wanted me to pay 381 US dollars of the invoice for the X rays...! Of course, I did not pay anything. It was incredible. I just tell you this in case it happens to you. Be careful with the incompetence of the police in Bermudas! I will never go back there, nor my friends. It is a pity, people were very nice, but not the police. They did not even say to me: excuse me for the mistake.
2011-11-19 - When I left my job in Genève, washing cups in the restaurant La Réserve, I left to Paris but stopped in several Switzerland pretty cities, such as Lucerne, Interlaken, Berne, Basel... I arrived to Bern and walked for its lovely central square and suddenly a clock tower marked the hours and I could see, admired, how the statues, like dollies, moved around; it was like a giant musical toy and liked it as if I was a child. Furthermore, the city was surrounded by a river and its buildings were old, medieval, it was really a lovely place to live. I slept for free in a shelter for homeless people and the next day, after having breakfast with the vagabonds, I left Bern, and hitchhiked with destination Basel.
2007-05-13 - You have three ways to visit Bhutan, the lost Shangri-la:
1- You are rich and you pay about 4000 or 5000 US dollars in your country for a 10 days tour, all included, round trip ticket by airplane with a group of tourists, full board and hotel. You will enjoy a lot this misterious country where until recently TV was forbidden.
2- You are a traveller on the cheap. Then you contact in Kolkata a travel agency selling tours to Bhutan with Druk Air (in Sudder street) and ask for an individual tour, just for you, for three days at least, ov seven, or ten, up to you, and you will pay much less. I was there in the year 2000, lodged in the Salvation Army of Sudder street, and paid in a travel agency nearby about 350 US dollars (after bargaining) for a four days with three nights marvellous tour, including the flight from Kolkata to Paro, and a jeep to leave the country by land the last day, when the guide (it is compulsory to have one) put me in Phuntsholing, at the border with India.
3- You do not have money. Then, while in India, you just go to Phuntsoling by yourself, by train and bus.
Phuntsholing is 100 per cent Bhutan, it is a bhutanese town, but shared with India. You can cross freely to it, buy bhutanese stamps in the post office, eat in a bhutanese restaurant, just like in Paro or Thimphu (Bhutan capital), because the border and emigration is up into the country, about 5 kilometers up in the mountains.
The second option is, of course, the best and the one I advice you. But if you are broken, as many travellers in India are, and you just want to experience Bhutan, even for a day, then is worth going to Phuntsholing.
2011-11-12 - I would cross several times Bihar during my journeys around India. The first city that I visited in that state was Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment. The four holy places for the Buddhism (that I would visit all during my one year journey around India and Nepal), are:
- Lumbini (in Nepal), Buddha birthplace - Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment - Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first teaching - Kushinagar: the place where Buddha passed away
In Bodh Gaya were represented all the countries where Buddhist religion is predominant, such as Bhutan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, etc. and also Japan, Tibet or Mongolia, and every one had a monastery where pilgrims could be accommodated. I chose to stay with the Tibetan, but had breakfast in the Japanese monastery, lunch with the Bhutanese and dinner with the Mongolian. Bodh Gaya represented to me a pleasant place to spend a couple of days to relax before returning “outside” to the Indian world with its chaotic and frenetic rhythm of life. After Bihar I headed to the Kingdom of Zanskar.
In November of the year 2014 I traveled again to Bihar to investigate about some holy places and the great chinese traveler Xuanzang. This is what I wrote in my notebook: I arrived to Patna, on the River Ganges, after a long journey by bus from Kathmandu and change of buses at the border. Upon arrival I tried to find a hotel near the train station but in most of them was refused for being a foreigner. I even found a dormitory for only 200 rupees but when they saw that I was not Indian they said that it was full. Until finally I found a hotel that accepted, or had licence to accept foreigners, and spent there three days, just to make excursions around Patna, being the most important Nalanda and its old Buddhist university, plus Vaishali, the place where Buddha gave his last sermon.But Patna in itself was a very interesting city, very old. One of the most important place was the great Sikh temple, where the last Guru of the Sikhs was born, called Takht Sri Patna Sahib is one of the Five Takhts of Sikhism and consecrates the birthplace of the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Gobind Singh. I was treated very well and invited to have breakfast. You have to take your shoes off inside and to cover your head.
Then I travelled to Vaishali, a holy place for Buddhists. It was there that I found one of the most well preserved Ashoka pillars.
Finally that day I visited the twenty-fourth Tirkhankara, birthplace of the last Mahavira.In Jainism, a Tīrthaṅkara is a person who has conquered samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, and can provide a bridge for Jains to follow them from samsara to moksha (liberation).
The next day I headed by bus to Nalanda.
............The reason why I travelled to Nalanda was to visit the Memorial devoted to the Chinese traveler Xuanzang, but the whole complex of the old University plus the memorial to Xuanzang and other temples around motivated that I stayed there for a whole day, admiring every stone.Unfortunately the university was destroyed by the muslims and today only ruins you can see. For those 10.000 students there were between 1500 and 2000 teachers.Even the ruins are magnificent. I saw many pilgrims, from Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries to visit that place.Entry fee was not expensive, even for a foreigner, that has to pay about 50 times more than an Indian.I reached Nalanda from Patna, by buses.
Once I visited thoroughly Nalanda ruins, I headed on foot to Xuanzang Memorial, where I spent several hours reading and admiring everything regarding the life and travels of this extraordinary monk, who spent several years in Nalanda in order to learn Sanskrit and to collect the Buddhist sutras that he brought to China in an exciting way back escaping many dangers.
When I finished my visit of Nalanda, I headed to Rajgir (a place mentioned by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang), in order to explore some notable Buddhist places.
I first visit the the World Peace Pagoda (Vishwa Shanti Stupa), one of the 80 presently built around the world (mainly in Japan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries in Asia, apart from some built in USA, Canada, Australia, England, Austria, Germany, plus the Stupa of Benalmadena, near Malaga, Spain).
After the atomic bombs that fell in Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing many thousands of people, the Japanese Buddhist monk Nichidatsu Fujii was inspired to built around the world several Peace Pagodas. He started with those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then he travelled to India and erected the one in Rajgir in the year 1965.
From the train station I caught a chariot with a horse, then I took an aerial ropeway to get up the hill during 7 minutes, where the Vishwa Shanti Stupa was located. Once upstairs I found a fantastic place, not only because of the stupa but also for the atmosphere of Indian pilgrims (and also monkeys), plus a Japanese temple, and special I loved the place called Vulture\\\'s Peak, where was held the \\\"Atanatiya\\\" conference by Buddha, who spent several months in that place in meditation.That stupa is beautiful, It is made of spotless white marble, and is considered the tallest Peace Pagoda in the world. There are four golden Buddha statues in the four side-corners of the stupa. They represent Buddha\'s birth, enlightenment, teaching and passing away.Rajgir is also a holy place for Jains, because in that town lived Mahavira.I spent about three hours watching around every place. After that I descended to Rajgir downtown and boarded a night bus to Ranchi.................................................................................
IN SPANISH: RESTOS EXCAVADOS DE NALANDA (Inscrito en la Lista Indicativa de la organización UNESCO)
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este lugar candidato a devenir en un próximo futuro un Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Nalanda es uno de los centros internacionales de educación y aprendizaje más antiguo, equivalente a las universidades modernas, con una biblioteca muy rica. Un sello de inscripción donde está escrito \"Sri-Nalandamahavihariy-Arya-Bhikshu-Sanghasya\" identifica el sitio como Nalanda Mahavihara.
Nalanda tiene una historia muy antigua y se remonta a los días de Mahavira y Buda en los siglos V y Vl antes de Cristo. Muchas referencias en la literatura pali budista mencionan Nalanda. Se dice que Buda, en el curso de sus viajes, a menudo se detuvo en este lugar. Es también el lugar de nacimiento y el nirvana de Shariputra, uno de los famosos discípulos de Buda….
(La reseña de UNESCO es larga, larguísima, que yo abrevio para ir al grano)
Me hallaba realizando el peregrinaje del “Astamahapratiharya”, o el visitar los ocho sitios sagrados budistas en Nepal e India. En un viaje tres décadas atrás había ya conocido los cuatro principales (el del nacimiento de Buda, su iluminación, su primer sermón y su muerte física). En noviembre del año 2014 acometí los cuatro restantes, con éxito. Además, entre los de Vaisali y Rajgir con su Pico del Buitre, añadí un noveno lugar, Nalanda, por una razón principal: en su universidad había pasado varios años de su vida mi héroe viajero, el monje chino Xuanzang, además de haber sido visitada por el propio Buda, con lo cual se debería añadir a la lista del Astamahapratiharya.
Primero cumplí con mis deberes de turista, compré mi billete de entrada (20 veces más caro que la de indio) y durante dos horas recorrí las ruinas de la antigua universidad de Nalanda (que sería destruida por los fanáticos musulmanes), sin dejarme ninguna celda, templo, o estatua. Me encontré allí con muchos peregrinos de países budistas asiáticos, tales como ceilandeses, thailandeses, coreanos, birmanos, y hasta indios de Patna, pero no recuerdo haber visto ningún occidental.
En sus mejores tiempos esa universidad albergaba 10.000 estudiantes, de los que se cuidaban 2.000 profesores.
Tras la visita de la universidad me sentí libre para dedicarme a conocer en cuerpo y alma, como un viajero, el Memorial dedicado a Xuanzang, sito a unos 20 minutos a pie de Nalanda.
Al llegar pagué el billete de entrada y recorrí por no menos de 3 horas todo el complejo, tomando fotos y notas en mi libreta de bitácora.
Xuanzang realizó un trascendente viaje desde Xian a Nalanda a la búsqueda de sutras y otros textos budistas, que se llevaría a China.
Durante su viaje, de 17 años de duración, cruzó numerosos reinos, esquivó bandidos y escapó en un sinfín de ocasiones a peligros de muerte. Viajaba en solitario, con una mano por delante y otra por detrás, tan sólo poseía una especia de “mochila” que cargaba en su espalda.
También estaba representado Bodhidharma con su pendiente en una oreja, lo que me dio mucha alegría, pues en una misma sala estaban representados dos grandes viajeros asiáticos.
Embelesado, con los ojos húmedos, recorría la sala contemplando todos los cuadros y dibujos relacionados con el viaje de Xuanzang, con cada detalle, cada frase, cada dibujo.
Reconozco que la visita a este memorial de Xuanzang me causó más placer que la de la Universidad de Nalanda.
2011-11-22 - In 1992 I spent one week in Rio Muni, crossing it overland, entering from Cameroon and leaving through Gabon. The visa to Equatorial Guinea is hard to get for nationals of Spain, since there are not good diplomatic relations between these two countries. And that is a pity because Equatorial Guinea is the only African country speaking Spanish (apart from Saharawi Republic, where Spanish is second language, and the north of Morocco, where everybody speaks Spanish). At that time I had not enough money to fly to Malabo or to take the irregular boat. But in the year 2003 I flew twice to Malabo. In both cases I only spent about one hour at the airport because my airplane was in transit to Doula, in Cameroon, and could only visit its capital from the air. It is my intention, in the future, when the diplomatic relations between these two countries (Spain and Equatorial Guinea) will improve, to go back to Malabo to visit it properly, and then to Annobon Island. .
Bioko, Puntland and Somalia (Mogadishu) are the only three places out of the 779 territories that I count in this list of MTP club, where I have only visited the airport. I am sorry.
2008-12-05 - I visited in Bolivia what I consider is the second most attractive colonial town constructed by the Spaniards in America: Potosi (the first most beautiful Spanish colonial town is, in my opinion, Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia). Even in present times, in Spanish language we still say: \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"Vale mas que un Potosi\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" (this is more valuable than Potosi), when referring to something precious and dearest, because of the silver mines in Potosi. Potosi has many old buildings erected by the Spaniards: monasteries, churches, the gothic cathedral, the beautiful Casa de la Moneda, the University, and other wonders. Not far of Potosi there is another wonder of South America: \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'El Salar de Uyuni\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\', which you can cross by car. Bolivia is basically an Indian country, the same as Peru, Paraguay and Ecuador (Chile, Uruguay and Argentina are inhabited mainly by European origin people, basically from Spain and Italy). In the past, Bolivia formed part of the Inca Empire called Tawantinsuyu, which territory comprised from Ecuador to the north of Argentina.LAKE TITICACA This lake is shared between Peru and Bolivia. In this lake there are several islands of totora, the material with which Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl and Spanish Kitin Munoz made their rafts to cross the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans..................................................................................................
IN SPANISH: CIUDAD HISTÓRICA DE SUCRE
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Sucre, la primera capital de Bolivia, fue fundada por los españoles en la primera mitad del siglo 16. Tiene bien conservados muchos edificios religiosos del siglo XVI, como San Lázaro, San Francisco y Santo Domingo, ilustran la mezcla de las tradiciones arquitectónicas locales con estilos importados de Europa.
Durante el día que pasaría descubriendo Sucre, leí en letreros que era denominada “La ciudad de los cuatro nombres”, según reza la conocida copla que leí en un azulejo callejero:
“Cuatro nombres muy gloriosos tiene nuestra capital.
Son La Plata, Charcas, Sucre, Chuquisaca la inmortal.
Cuatro nombres luminosos de grandeza y dignidad.
Ciudad Blanca, Madre y honra de la bolivianidad.
Te llaman la Culta Atenas por tu saber y beldad.
Tú rompiste las cadenas y nos diste Libertad.”
Venía de Potosí y el autobús me dejó cerca de una universidad, la primera de Bolivia, con un letrero que me daba la bienvenida a Sucre, junto a una cruz, la de San Andrés, que había sido otorgada a Sucre por el Emperador Carlos V.
Mientras que en Potosí la altitud era de casi 4.000 metros, en Sucre apenas alcanzaba los 2700 metros, por lo que físicamente me sentía más liviano y no precisé beber ningún té de hojas de coca para aliviarme.
Sucre me pareció a primera vista una ciudad colonial preciosa. Sus casas estaban encaladas de blanco, sus iglesias y palacios databan del siglo XVI, y sus balcones me hicieron recordar a los de Cartagena de Indias. Las gentes de Sucre están muy orgullosas de la capitalidad y afirman que es una ciudad de estudiantes, de amistades leales y de amores eternos. Todas las mujeres portaban sombreros.
Gracias a un mapa que me regalaron en la Oficina de Turismo visité sistemáticamente todos los edificios y monumentos que contempla UNESCO, empezando por la catedral y sus tesoros, luego entré en la iglesia de San Lázaro (la más antigua de Sucre), también en la colosal iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Merced, y terminé por los templos de San Francisco y la universidad jesuita, llamada “Universidad Mayor Real y Pontificia San Francisco Javier de Chuquisaca”, la primera de Bolivia y de todo el continente americano.
Me alegraba cuando veía en los muros de las iglesias o palacios, una placa adosada donde se indicaba la cooperación española, pues España ayuda económicamente a Bolivia, lo mismo que a Paraguay y a otros países hispanoamericanos, a la restauración de los edificios coloniales.
El presidente de Bolivia, Evo Morales, aparecía en los carteles del centro histórico, siempre inaugurando el agua corriente o el gas en los pueblos de los alrededores.
Abandoné Sucre esa noche para dirigirme a Asunción en lo que sería un larguísimo viaje en camiones y autobuses que duró tres días, cruzando todo el Gran Chaco.......................................................................
CITY OF POTOSI: CIUDAD DE POTOSÍ
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: En el siglo 16, esta zona era considerada como el mayor complejo industrial del mundo. La extracción de mineral de plata se basó en una serie de molinos hidráulicos. El sitio se compone de los monumentos industriales del Cerro Rico, donde el agua es suministrada por un intrincado sistema de acueductos y lagos artificiales, la ciudad colonial con la Casa de la Moneda, la Iglesia de San Lorenzo; varias casas de patricios y los barrios mitayos que son las áreas donde vivían los trabajadores.
Potosí es conocida como Villa Imperial. Su riqueza, debido a sus asombrosas minas de plata fue tal que atrajo a todo tipo de individuos que, menos trabajar a pico y pala, se las ingeniaban para vivir a cuenta de sus prójimos, ya fuera ejercitando sus habilidades como tahúres en las salas de juego o, en el caso de las mancebas, ofreciéndose a los mineros en sus salones de “masajes”. Según una crónica antigua, a finales del siglo XVI Potosí contaba con unos 800 granujas expertos en desplumar a los incautos jugadores de cartas en los casi cuarenta casinos que esa ciudad albergaba, y 120 hetairas jóvenes y bellas.
De esos tiempos viene la castiza frase de “Vale más que un Potosí”.
Llegué a Potosí ya oscureciendo, proveniente del Salar de Uyuni. Había sido un viaje penoso en autobús, pues Potosí se sitúa a unos 4.000 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Conocía esa ciudad de un viaje anterior dos décadas atrás. y todavía recordaba que me alojé en una pensión de la calle Oruro. Pregunté por ella y, efectivamente, abundaban en esa calle los alojamientos, así que enseguida encontré uno a buen precio y me quedé una noche.
Iba de tránsito hacia el Gran Chaco, para cruzar a Asunción en Paraguay, con una escala de medio día en Sucre, y un día más tarde Santa Cruz, ya en la selva, por ello hacia las 14.00 horas del día siguiente abandonaría Potosí, pues no me gusta repetir los lugares donde ya he estado. Así y todo revisité varios sitios que aún recordaba, como la Catedral y demás atracciones turísticas de los alrededores de la céntrica Plaza 10 de Noviembre y su estatua de la Libertad, como la Casa de la Moneda y diversas iglesias cercanas, entre ellas la de Santa Teresa de Jesús, de San Bernardo, de San Francisco, la famosa Torre de la Compañía… y deambulé por los callejones centrales admirando los encantadores balcones, que en cierto modo me recordaron a los de Cartagena de Indias.
No visité en esta ocasión las minas de plata, cosa que ya había hecho en mi viaje de finales del siglo XX.
Me sentí satisfecho, pues había “cumplido” con mis deberes turísticos para anotar el Patrimonio de la Humanidad de Potosí como “liquidado”.
En mi camino a pie hacia la estación de autobuses noté un poco antes de llegar un signo de UNESCO, al que tomé una fotografía.............................................................................
SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA: A whole day I spent in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. I arrived early in the morning by bus, from Sucre, and would leave late in the evening to Paraguay, also by bus, crossing the Chaco.
Santa Cruz is a town with well over a million people, it is large and the downtown is far away, so I was advised to get there by local bus.
When boarding the “micro” a group of about six people, all men except a woman, tried to rob me, but they were so clumsy that I immediately noticed their intentions when they started to search my body looking for a wallet (I do not have any; instead I hide my money in an internal pocket). Then I cried in Spanish to the passengers: Be careful, here in this bus there are “sticky fingers” (amigos de lo ajeno)! The thieves felt alluded and left the bus at once.
It was hard to find a cafeteria open at early hours in the downtown, so I headed to the central market where finally I could have breakfast, consisting on a local dish called arroz chaufa (fried rice with vegetables and small pieces of chicken).
My visits consisted on the surroundings of Plaza 24 de Septiembre, where the cathedral is located. I even paid a few bolivars to climb to the top of a tower, in order to enjoy a superb view over the town.
That cathedral had annexed a Basilica Menor devoted to San Lorenzo; the whole complex was huge.
The town was founded by a real Spanish conquistador, a brave man by the name of Ñuflo de Chaves, who was a great traveler in South America and especially in the Chaco region, and was friend of another mythical traveler, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the one that had crossed during 8 years present USA, from Florida to the Gulf of California, on foot, and later on he would be the first European to admire the Iguazu Waterfalls.
I felt at home in Santa Cruz, and not only because people speak Spanish but also because many names of the streets were dedicated to Spanish personages, such as the Queen Isabel de Castilla (Calle Isabel la Católica), to Christopher Columbus, to Ñuflo de Chaves… and even the herb of the city, granted by Spanish king Felipe IV, showed the lion and the castle (symbol of Castilla and Leon), the Christian cross because the governor that received the herb from the Spanish king was a Caballero of the Order of Santiago (Saint James).
Coming from Potosi, with 4.000 meters altitude, where I felt tired when walking fast, I arrived in Santa Cruz, in the middle of the jungle, and I felt much better, which improved my mood.
Late in the evening I boarded a bus to Asunción, in Paraguay, crossing the Chaco....................................................................................................
SALAR DE UYUNI: Early in the morning I bought in a travel agency in Uyuni a tour for that day to the famous salar (salt flat). I was offered to spend there several days, but I thought that with a single day I would have an idea of what was that about.
Out of my “seven wonders” of South America I had visited five of them: Machu Picchu in Peru, Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, Salto Angel in Venezuela, Iguazú Falls between Brazil and Argentina, and navigation along the Amazonas River. After Salar de Uyuni I still would miss Perito Moreno Glacier.
At eleven o’clock I was boarded in a jeep together with six more tourists, one Italian with his Argentinean girlfriend, a couple from Denmark, and two Chilean friends. Our guide and driver was a young boy.
We first made a stop of about half an hour in a train’s cemetery. After that there was still a second stop in a place with shops and a museum, and finally we headed to the real thing, to the greatest salar of the world, covering over 10.500 square kilometers, or the size of countries such as Lebanon, Kosovo or Jamaica.
Our guide drove over the salar and after one hour or so made a stop in a restaurant where there many tourists. Lunch was included in the excursion. Besides the restaurant there was a hotel made with salt and a monument devoted to the Paris - Dakar race.
The last part of the day we drove to an island in the middle of the salar. We still had to pay an extra fee to climb the island. That was the main goal of our tour.
That place seemed fantastic, as being out of this world. We all the seven tourists were exalted and happy to be there, making endless photographs to the salt pan, enjoying the moment and the place.
We returned happily back to Uyuni; it had been a very pleasant excursion.
2011-10-21 - I enjoyed Bonaire, much more than Aruba (although less than Curaçao). The airport was not far from the town, called Kralendijk, so I walked seeing in the way so many burros (donkeys) that later I learnt that are left abandoned, although I heard of the existence of a burro’s sanctuary to protect them. They showed such a sadness and tenderness in their faces that I ended up loving them, and when I saw them in the fields I even talked to them. They listened to me attentively. Then I smiled and left. People speak Papiamento, which is mainly Spanish/Portuguese mixed with some Antillean tribes’ words and Dutch, so it was very easy and rewarding the communication with them. I noticed that people were happier to use Papiamento or Spanish than English. Furthermore, Papiamento is official language in the A.B.C. Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Spanish is also very popular owing to the business with Venezuela, country on which they depend for the vegetables, fruits and food in general. Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao were discovered by the Spaniards in the XVI century, and kept in their hands for over a century, until they were invaded by the Dutch. Kralendijk was a pleasant town, very quiet, with beaches. Apart from Kralendijk I also visited Rincon, with more Spanish flavor, since it was in Rincon (means corner in Spanish) that the Spaniards lived during the time that they possessed the island. The staffs in the airport were so friendly with me (perhaps owing to the fact that they could communicate with me in Papiamento) that they allowed me to sleep in its premises and even brought me soft drinks during the night.
2011-10-08 - After visiting the ruins of Zimbabwe I returned hitchhiking to Bulawayo and took the train to Gabarone, capital of Botswana. It was Christmas eve, 24th December 1992, and everybody on the train was happy and celebrating Christmas, even the customs authorities, therefore they did not even checked my passport at the border, and I was without visa. I was told that I could get it at the border for a fee, but I did not pay anything. The smugglers took opportunity of that situation to carry their forbidden goods into Botswana without being controlled at the border. From time to time I was invited by the Botswana passengers of that train to drink with them, or gave me for free fruits and sandwiches, wishing me:
- Merry Christmas, white man!
Thus I could not sleep during the whole night. There were even people who offered me jobs in Gabarone, because Botswana is a very rich African country no much populated and the Europeans are very much wanted to work there. They even propose me to teach flamenco or Spanish language. I refused saying that I was a traveler and had to keep on travelling. In spite of travelling on third class, the train was new, very comfortable, and looked to me first class in European standards. Sellers also visited my compartment offering me diamonds, gold watches, silk ties and natural pearls. I could not imagine being travelling around Africa. Even in rich countries in money, such as Canada, Norway or Japan you cannot find those sellers offering luxury items in the trains. In other African trains, for instance in the one that I took in Gabon a few weeks earlier, from Libreville to Franceville, I was offered cheap fruits, soft drinks and old dresses. I arrived to Gabarone at 5 AM and spent the whole day visiting the town on foot. Since I had no money enough to organize a trip to the Okavango delta, the next day I continued my journey to South Africa.
2007-04-22 - I entered in Bougainville Island from the Solomon’s, by motorboat, from the isle of Shortland to Koromira. The journey took me 4 hours. At the beginning I was not welcome in Bougainville. Some local people in Koromira, with rifles, sent me to Arawa to meet the leader of a revolutionary movement for the independence from Papua New Guinea, called BRA, or Bougainville Revolutionary Army. In Arawa I met the leader of BRA, Sam Kauona, who, after talking with me for about one hour, decided to let me stay in Bougainville for a few days, but not to continue further to the island of New Guinea, or even to the nearby island of Buka. I had to go back to the Solomon\\\'s. I stayed in a catholic mission in Kieta, the main port, thanks to be invited by the German priest, since there were no hotels in Bougainville when I was there. Germans controlled Bougainville Island and some of the Solomon’s during part of the XIX and the XX centuries. Then Santa Isabel, Choiseul and Shortland were exchanged to the British for Western Samoa, but they did not give Bougainville, although culturally and ethnically is related to the Solomon, but not to Papua New Guinea. Bougainville was later Australian and when they gave independence to PNG, Bougainville remained within this country, instead of the more logical Solomon Islands. Today the main richest is the fabulous copper mine of Panguna, which was closed when I was in Bougainville. After five days I returned from Koromira to Shortland Island by motorboat, then to Gizo, Honiara, etc.
Some Bougainville people practice cargo cultism.
Bougainville is named in honour of the earl Louis Antoine de Bougainville (the first French to circumnavigate our planet, in the XVIII century), who explored the island.
In the year 2014 I traveled to Buka Island, and this is what I wrote about my journey in my diary: In Rabaul I missed for one day the weekly ferry to Buka Island, and in order to avoid waiting six days for the next boat, with the expenses of hotel and meals, I opted to fly there the next day to save money. The ticket in the ferry was 200 Kina while flying was 350 Kina.
My intention was to continue my journey from Buka to Bougainville Island and then to Solomon Islands, by trucks and motorboats.
In the airport premises of Buka there were weapons exposed since the times of the Japanese during WWII. I walked to the downtown and had lunch in the exotic market (I bought fresh fish plus taro and some bananas). Betel nuts were sold everywhere and are famous for being bigger than the ones grown in other parts of Papua New Guinea.
The time in Buka was the same than in the Solomon Islands, that is, one hour ahead from the time in Papua. Bougainville Island, together with Buka, have an autonomous government. Bougainville people feel different from the rest of the Papuans because their skin is very black, like the African from Congo or Tanzania, much more than the people from the rest of Papua, whom they call Red Skins. Not long ago (during the 1990s) there was a war between Bougainville Island and Papua, that the Papuan lost, and now there is a process that probably will end in the declaration of Bougainville independance in the near future.
The day when I arrived to Buka Island the Government of Papua New Guinea opened again the airport of Arawa, in the island of Bougainville, that had been closed since the start of the Bougainville Civil War in the 1990s.
Buka is not a large island, it is only about 50 kilometers long per 20 width. It is separated from Bougainville Island by a narrow strait called Buka Passage.
After the Civil War Buka became the region’s administrative centre of Bougainville.
After lunch in the market I walked for about 2 hours around, then I boarded a motorboat to the village of Kokopau, in Bougainville Island, where soon afterwards I traveled in a truck to Arawa....................................
ARAWA: I had been for a few hours in Arawa, in the year 1991. Then in 2014 I had the opportunity to spend one night there before travelling further, to Solomon Islands.During Bougainville Civil War much of Arawa was destroyed and the capital of the island was transferred to Buka Island, where the airport is located.But in December 2014 the airport of Arawa was re-open, and there were talks to transfer again the capital of Bougainville to Arawa.There is no much to do in Arawa. I slept in the Catholic Mission. I was invited. Most of the people in Arawa did not have a job and were walking around the market, or just sitting under the shadow, resting.There was not a bus station, so I had to be careful near the market to ask the trucks going to Buin to take me with them.Before leaving Arawa I contacted the Police to require a stamp out of Papua New Guinea in my passport, since my intention was to cross to Solomon Islands, but nobody could help me, nobody knew what to do in that case because local Bougainvillians or Solomon Islands citizens do not need any visa or passport to cross between these two countries. But I was a foreigner. Finally the next day I travelled further, to Buin, where I would catch a motorboat to Shortland Islands, in Solomon Islands, and only when I reached Gizo, almost one week later, I could obtain an entry stamp of Solomon Islands in my passport............................................
BUIN: I had seen several markets during my journey around Melanesia and Papua province in Indonesia (the one in Wamena, where dog is sold, was most exotic), but the one that I saw on a saturday in Buin, one day before leaving by boat to Solomon Islands, was the most incredible of all.Apart from betel nuts plus turtles and other animals that I could not identify, they were selling worms, rats and bats.Finally I made friendship with one of the sellers of coral shells and he agreed to take me to Shortland Islands in his boat once he finished selling all his products.Late in the afternoon we boarded a truck until the port and soon left to Shortlan Islands, whitout passing any Emigration control.
2012-05-22 - Although I have crossed many times Brandenburg, in horizontal and in vertical, I have only stopped for a day visit in Postdam. If you travel to Berlin, by train, bus or hitchiking, as was my case, you always have to cross Brandenburg.
2011-10-26 - Brasilia, the most modern capital of the world, seemed a city of science fiction. It was designed as a plane, in which nose there was an artificial lake and government buildings, plus an underground church with three large stone angels hanging with cables. In each wing there were located embassies and a hotel complex. And in the tail was the rodoviaria (bus station). It was not adequate city to visit on foot; everywhere there were great blocks, separated by vast distances. Thanks to my recent job cleaning pools in Mato Grosso I had some money and I felt very euphoric, therefore I invited to cream sodas and pastries to the homeless people that I found resting in a park. I had several addresses of people in Brasilia, but I chose to join the homeless, staying with them in a hostel called Casa da Sopa, for free. In local buses we never paid. It was sufficient to say to the driver: - Look, I\'m a homeless. And the driver admitted you free of charge. After several days exploring Brasilia I traveled by train to São Paulo. ...................
O TREM BANDEIRANTE: Since I love to travel by train and after several months travelling around Brazil had never taken one, I had the opportunity in Brasilia to amend that situation. The train ticket was very cheap, cheaper than the bus.
Furthermore, I did not want to hitchhike since I had just worked in Mato Grosso do Norte and had some money to spend.
The train that I caught from Brasilia to Sao Paulo, called the Tram Bandeirante, made the following calls: Araguari (State of Minas Gerais) – Uberaba (State of Minas Gerais) – Ribeirao Preto (State of Sao Paulo). Then, in Campinas, State of Sao Paulo, we had to transfer to another train down to Sao Paulo city.
The name Bandeirante comes from the route, starting in Sao Paulo, that followed the Bandeirantes (Portuguese slave traders) searching for Indians in the interior of Brazil to make them slaves. Centuries later they exploited the metals in Minas Gerais.
Unfortunately that train service does not exist anymore. In the year 1993 stopped its service. Now the passengers prefer to fly between Sao Paulo and Brasilia, or travel by express bus.
Romanticism in travel is vanishing.
I am very glad to have made in the year 1986 that spectacular train journey.
2010-03-22 - Al llegar a Brcko pregunté por una casa de cambio para comprar markas, pero me contestaron que el euro era de uso común tanto en Brcko como en la República de Srpska y en el conjunto de Bosnia y Herzegovina, y que me lo aceptarían en todas partes como si fuera moneda local, al equivalente de dos markas por un euro. Brcko era una ciudad tranquila ubicada a orillas del Río Sava, con un puente haciendo de frontera con Croacia. Paseando por la orilla del río percibí una mezquita, y después, en el centro, entré en una catedral cristiana. Las comunidades religiosas convivían armoniosamente en esa ciudad. Me interesé por conocer la diferencia entre la República de Srpska y la Federación de Bosnia y Herzegovina, y para ello pregunté a un matrimonio que poseían una joyería en la calle peatonal, cuyos cónyuges fueron precisamente los que me informaron que el euro es aceptado en toda la Federación de Bosnia y Herzegovina. Y gracias a ellos aprendí que en 1918, tras la descomposición del Imperio Austrohúngaro al concluir la Primera Guerra Mundia, surgió el “Reino de los Serbios, Croatas y Eslovenos” uniendo a todos los eslavos de los Balcanes, a excepción de Bulgaria, que 11 años más tarde cambiaría el nombre por “Reino de Yugoslavia”. En las lenguas eslavas “Yugoslavia” significa “Eslavos del Sur” o mejor aun “Tierra de los Eslavos del Sur”. En 1941, en el transcurso de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, los alemanes ocuparon este reino y sus reyes se refugiaron en Londres, estableciendo allí un gobierno en el exilio. En 1945 este reino se disolvió dando lugar a la creación de la República Democrática Federal de Yugoslavia. Un año más tarde se llamó República Federal Popular de Yugoslavia. Y aun entre 1963 y 1992 se rebautizó de nuevo como República Federal Socialista de Yugoslavia. En 1995 hubo negociaciones para poner fin a la guerra en los Balcanes (que se inició en 1992), por medio de los “Acuerdos de Dayton”. En ellos se estableció que los serbios que vivían en Bosnia y Herzegovina tuvieran su propio territorio, por lo que se creó la República de Srpska (Srpska deriva de la palabras “Serbia”) dentro de una confederación con Bosnia y Herzegovina. En medio de estas dos entidades quedó un distrito, llamado Brcko, administrado de forma independiente por fuerzas internacionales de pacificación, pero en la actualidad los propios habitantes de Brcko se consideran independientes, como me confirmaron los joyeros. En cuanto al nombre de Herzegovina, los joyeros me explicaron que significa “Tierras del Duque”. Duque proviene del título en alemán Herzog, y se refiere a un noble bosnio del siglo XV llamado Stefan. Hoy Herzegovina está dividida a un cincuenta por ciento entre la República de Srpska y la Federación de Bosnia y Herzegovina, hallándose Mostar, la capital oficiosa de Herzegovina, en la parte Bosnia. La situación de Brcko es muy estratégica, pues hace de frontera entre Bosnia, Croacia y los dos fragmentos de los que consta Srpska, o el del Este con su capital en Sarajevo (compartida con Bosnia) y con el Oeste, cuya capital de facto de Banja Luka. En tiempos de la Yugoslavia de Tito había tres idiomas oficiales: el Serbocroata (también llamado Croataserbo) se hablaba en Serbia, Croacia, Montenegro y Bosnia-Herzegovina, el Esloveno se hablaba en Eslovenia, y el Macedonio en Macedonia. Pero hoy, debido al nacionalismo, al Serbocroata se le buscan ínfimas diferencias y se empieza a llamar en cada diferente república Serbio, Croata, Montenegrino, o Bosnio. La diferencia entre esos nuevos idiomas, poniendo como ejemplo a España, es como si en caso de descomponerse este país por autonomías, los andaluces llamaran a su castellano “Andaluz”, los murcianos “Murciano”, los de Cantabria “Cántabro”, y así sucesivamente, e incorporaran invenciones absurdas para intentar diferenciarse todavía más, algo que están haciendo los bosnios a su lengua introduciendo préstamos lingüísticos del idioma turco. Cuando me pareció que había visitado lo más interesante de la ciudad de Brcko, de unos 40.000 habitantes, tomé un mini-tren, de un solo vagón, hasta la ciudad de Tuzla, ya en la Federación de Bosnia y Herzegovina.
2011-11-22 - I crossed the city of Bremen in my way to Holland, when I changed plans in Hamburg and did not go to Christiania, in Copenhagen. I remember that after visiting the main tourist attractions of Bremen, especially its cathedral, I asked a foreigner, perhaps Somali or Pakistani, the way out of the town, and he said to me that it was very far and that waking would take me several hours, so he gave a couple of Deutsche Marks to catch a kind of tramway that would leave me in the outskirts of Bremen. That foreigner helped me a lot. After half an hour (or so) ride, the tramway driver pointed me out a place where the road to Holland started. I got off and hitchhiked. A few hours later I arrived to the border with Holland (but the Holland border customs agents did not allow me to enter Holland because I had not enough money, according to their criteria. They really treated me very badly, using unpleasant words towards me and my nationality. I was only 18 years old. Then I changed travel plans and headed to Luxemburg, hitchhiking, via Aachen, Koln and Koblenz.
2011-10-23 - When we anchored in front of the English base, Port Lockroy, a helicopter from our ship Marco Polo went to that base to pick up the scientists living there. After a hot bath they offered us a lecture about the animal life in the white continent.
English call the Antarctica Peninsula “Graham Land”, while the Argentineans call it “Tierra de San Martin”, and the Chileans know it by “Tierra de O’Higgins”. All these three countries have pretensions over the same territory comprising that Peninsula.
When the English scientists, already clean and perfumed, where sent back to their base by the boat helicopter, we headed to the US base, named Palmer, and the operation was repeated: the Americans had a hot shower and in exchange they gave us a lecture.
The Canadian authorities checked my passport and, without any compromising question, stamped my passport giving me a three months stay in the country.
I waited in Prince Rupert for a whole day for my ferry to Vancouver Island.
It was a very touristy city with cruises filled mainly with Americans calling in its port and invading the shops to buy souvenirs.
In the waterfront they offered tours by motor boat to sight whales. The price was 100 Canadian dollars per person. Many tourists bought that excursion, but not me because of the price and also for the reason that after having watched so many whales in Chukotka Peninsula and during the journey in the Columbia ferry, I had already enough of whales.
I slept in a wooden bench in a central park, to be awaked several times by the deer, walking placidly around the town. Nobody disturbed them, not me. When they woke me up licking my face with their tongues, I just smiled.
The next day I boarded a new ferry to Vancouver Island.
In this Canadian ferry we did not have lectures, the showers were paying, and the prices in the cafeteria were higher than in the Columbia. But, in compensation, the best views of the whole journey were yet to come.
We traversed the walls of the breathtaking Grenville Channel, the captain slowed down the speed and nobody dared to speak because of the subjugating beauty; we all were in a sort of ecstasy.
At 9 PM I arrived to Port Hardy, in Vancouver Island. The ship would continue to Victoria. A few passengers disembarked and hired taxis. I could not afford it. The town was at about 12 kilometres.
I walked hitch hiking at the same time, but nobody picked me up.
After one hour or so, a car stopped and the driver and his wife cried to me:
- \'Are you crazy? In this area there are many grizzlies! Come with us!\'
And they took me to Port Hardy downtown . They were \'First Nation\', the most humane people that I met in British Columbia.
VANCOUVER CITY: I have been in Vancouver three times. The first one was in the year 1984, when I slept in a Salvation Army and the next day I started hitchhiking to Montreal. The second time was in the year 2008, and arrived to that city coming from Seattle, in a Greyhound bus, and then the next day I left to Yukon by bus. And the third and last time was in September 2009, coming from Alaska by ferry, then disembarked in Vancouver island , from where I took another ferry to Tsawwassen and entered Point Robert (an exclave in USA) before hitchhiking to Vancouver. Vancouver is not a large city. There is a population of about 600.000 inhabitants. The first European to disembark in today Vancouver was the Spanish (from Andalucia) José María Narváez, in 1791. The city has a marked Chinese character. And indeed, after San Francisco, in California, and New York, in Vancouver there is the third largest Chinatown in North America. The railway station is legendary. From the Pacific Central, as it is called, depart daily trains to the East of Canada, making the second longest railway route in the world, after the Tran Siberian train journey, in Russia. That third time in Vancouver I did not sleep in a Salvation Army since I had some money and could afford a Youth Hostel, just in front of the railway station. That third time I spent two days there and always had lunch in the Chinatown, close to the railway station. The next day I left to the south, to visit the twenty one Catholic Missions built in California by the Spanish friars during the XVIII and XIX centuries.
2008-12-21 - Road Town is the capital of the archipelago, composed by 36 small islands lying at the east of Puerto Rico. It is located in Tortola Island, which in Spanish language means pigeon, or turtledove.In 1493, Columbus, during his second journey to America, named the archipelago Virgin Islands because of the legend of Saint Ursula, a Christian martyr of the V century, killed by the Huns together with other 11.000 virgin girls.I found Road Town very expensive, much more than US Virgin Islands. The cheapest hostel in Road Town cost around 100 US dollars a night, and the food was not cheap. Even for a minuscule chicken wing in the cafeteria Popeye, in Road Town, I had to pay 2 US dollars.Although travelling to the Barlovento and Sotavento Islands (Leeward and Windward Islands) is not expensive thanks to the air pass offered by the airline LIAT, you have to count on the airport departure tax.British Virgin Islands is one of the 13 British overseas colonies, together with Montserrat, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, Bermudas, Pitcairn, Gibraltar, Malvinas (or Falkland), St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension, and Diego Garcia.
2011-10-16 - I have been several times in Brittany. The first one was when I wanted to visit Mount Saint Michel (UNESCO wonder), hitchhiking from Barcelona, Spain. Then I proceeded to Saint Malo, in Brittany, where I took the ferry to Jersey and Guernsey. In my way back by ferry to Saint Malo, heading to Spain, I spent a full day in Rennes, Brittany capital.
Saint Malo (as well as Mount Saint Michel) is a wonder, a UNESCO town, a fantastic fortified city, one of the most beautiful in France. I could spend the night in a small park, facing the sea, and nobody molested me while I was sleeping.
The second time that I visited Brittany happened seven years later, in 2005, when I boarded the ferry from Southampton to Jersey and Guernsey islands because I realized that Sark, Alderney and Herm counted as separated countries in MTP and wanted to visit them. That time I entered Brittany through a cheap airline ticket to Saint Brieuc, and then I continued my journey to Spain, via Rennes (where I spent another full day), using my favorite way of transport: the auto stop.
2008-12-21 - Brunei is a tiny country rarely visited by the tourists. It is a rich country thanks to the extraction of petrol and gas.I saw the Sultan going to the golden mosque to pray on Friday. The golden mosque of Bandar Seri Begawan is one of the largest in Asia, and it is said that the Sultan of Brunei is the richest persons in the world.The youth hostel in Bandar Seri Begawan is very cheap and enormous, and I was the only foreigner staying in it during the week that I spent in the country.Apart from flying in, you can get to Brunei by road from Sarawak or by motorboat from Labuan Island, in Sabah.I arrived there first by canoes from Sulu archipelago, in Philippines, helped by the badjao, or sea gypsies, and then through Labuan Island, and left Brunei to Sarawak, hitch hiking, always overland, like the real travellers.
2008-12-16 - I was travelling around Europe during two years, working here and there to finance my expenses.I was very young, just 18 years old. I wanted to learn languages and know the world.I spent very little money in those times, because I used to hitch hike, many times I slept in parks, or in cheap dormitories in Youth Hostels. I used to buy food in the local markets or I prepared myself the meals buying products in the supermarket.In Brussels I found a job in a hotel in the centre, called Ascot (it still exists), and rented a room in a private house not far from the Grand Place. I worked in that hotel during one month. I was a receptionist. When at the end of the month I was paid my salary, I immediately left the job. The boss was a Sephardi Jew and tried to convince me to stay longer, but I was not interested to learn any profession in that hotel or to accumulate much money. My goal was merely to earn just enough money for keeping on travelling for a while. Jobs were only an instrument to earn money, which I used to get to know the whole world.I loved Brussels, in the week ends I used to drink beers with friends in the cafeterias around the Grand Place (Leffe Blonde was my favourite beer).After Brussels, and with several thousands of Belgian Francs in my pocket, I continued travelling, hitch hiking, to Amsterdam, a city that in those times (1972) was a Mecca for the hippies.....................................................
While in Brussels I made several excursions to the famous Art Nouveau architectural works of Victor Horta, all I reached on foot.
The first one was to the Hôtel van Eetvelde was designed at the turn of the XIX century. Half an hour before they opened the house several foreigners were waiting in the street. The entrance was free of charge and a man explained us its interior for about 40 minutes, including the wonderful stained-glass cupola. We could not take pictures. Today this building shelters a Gaz Company (there were people working in its rooms).
The second visit was closer to the Grand Place: the Victor Horta Museum, which was the architect house and atelier. There was an entry fee not expensive.....................................................
MAISON DU ROI: I loved the visit of this place because I was making the Camino Español (The Spanish Road) from Milano to Brussels following the steps of the Tercios de Flandes, or our soldiers that in the XVI and XVII centurey sent troops and money from Spain to Belgium through a corridor crossing the actual countris of Italy, France, Luxemburg and Belgium. I hold with emotion hte bust of our Emperor Charles V......................................................
CASAS PRINCIPALES DEL ARQUITECTO VÍCTOR HORTA (BRUSELAS)
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Situadas en Bruselas y diseñadas por el arquitecto Víctor Horta, uno de los iniciadores del “Art Nouveau”, la Casa Tassel, la Casa Solvay, la Casa Van Eetvelde y la vivienda-estudio del propio arquitecto forman parte de las obras arquitectónicas más innovadoras de fines del siglo XIX. La revolución estilística de la que son representativas se observa en su plano abierto, así como en la difusión de la luz y la genial fusión de las líneas curvas de su decoración con las estructuras de fábrica.
Bruselas es una ciudad hermosa llena de historia relacionada con España; uno se siente allí en casa, desde la bella estatua dedicada a Don Quijote y Sancho Panza (copia de la de la Plaza España en Madrid), al busto del Emperador Carlos V en un palacio (La Maison du Roi) de la Grand Place, más las cafeterías con nombres de nuestros reyes y príncipes de la dinastía Habsburgo.
Una vez vistas estas atracciones turísticas, a las que añadí los dibujos de Tintín por las calles, me dediqué a conocer los edificios construidos por el arquitecto Víctor Horta, el pionero del Modernismo.
Comencé por el Hotel van Eetvelde, que diseñó a finales del siglo XIX. Media hora antes de que lo abrieran ya esperábamos en la calle media docena de extranjeros, incluida una chica coreana. El ingreso era gratuito e incluso nos proporcionaron un guía para explicarnos cada rincón del edificio (también de manera gratuita) durante unos 40 minutos.
Todos los visitantes nos sentíamos en el séptimo cielo, aquello era maravilloso. Nos gustaron en especial las hermosas cristaleras.
A mí me recordó a la Casa Batlló en Barcelona, reformada por el arquitecto tarraconense Antonio Gaudí (su creador fue el arquitecto Emilio Sala).
El único inconveniente era que no se podían tomar fotografías, por lo que aquí sólo muestro las del exterior del edificio.
Este edificio es hoy sede de una compañía de gas (había gente trabajando en su interior que se mostraron indiferentes con los turistas que pasábamos por allí; ellos iban a lo suyo, a trabajar).
La segunda visita relacionada con Víctor Horta fue a su museo y su taller. Pero allí la entrada era de pago ¡y muy cara!
Ya no tuve tiempo para visitar otras obras de Víctor Horta en Bruselas, pues debía regresar a mi pueblo Hospitalet de Llobregat, en mi querida España................................................................
IN SPANISH: PLAZA MAYOR DE BRUSELAS
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: La Plaza Mayor de Bruselas es un conjunto extraordinariamente homogéneo de edificios públicos y privados que datan en su mayorí¬a del siglo XVII. Su arquitectura es un excelente compendio y una viva ilustración del nivel alcanzado en este periodo por la vida social y cultural en este importante centro polí¬tico y comercial.
La Grande Place de Bruselas debería ser designada la plaza más bella de Europa. Ni nuestra Plaza Mayor de Salamanca, o la Piazza del Duomo en Pisa, ni siquiera la Plaza Roja de Moscú han alcanzado tan alto grado de magnificencia como la Plaza Mayor de Bruselas.
Me tomó una semana llegar a Bruselas, desde el Castello Sforzesco de Milán, usando medios locales de locomoción, como trenes y algún autobús, siguiendo el itinerario de nuestros soldados de los Tercios de Flandes dirigidos por el Duque de Alba. Estaba realizando El Camino Español.
El séptimo día, al alcanzar Bruselas desde Namur, me dirigí en primer lugar a la Grand Place. Y es que allí, uno de sus emblemáticos edificios es La Casa del Rey (La Maison du Roi). Era mi destino, pues en su interior se halla un busto de nuestro Emperador Carlos V, que abracé como un peregrino, cual si fuera el busto del Apóstol Santiago en la ciudad de Santiago de Compostela. Y me emocioné.
Esa Casa del Rey es un museo muy interesante, que visité antes que nada. Al declararme español me hicieron un buen descuento, con lo que casi me salió gratis, y me sellaron una especie de Credencial del Camino Español que llevaba conmigo, al estilo de la Credencial del Peregrino en el Camino de Santiago. En la entrada a la planta baja había una estatua de Felipe II y más adelante vi pinturas de Roger van der Weyden, tapices, vajilla, estatuas, etc. Y en el primer piso hallé el busto metálico de Carlos V con laurel sobre su cabeza y el Toisón de Oro colgando sobre su cuello, más el lema Plus Ultra. Las Columnas de Hércules representaban la expansión hacia nuevos mundos.
Al salir de ese museo tan entrañable para un español, entré en la Oficina de Turismo, en la misma Grand Place. Allí me informaron que existen numerosos vestigios y nombres relacionados con los españoles, desde una calle nombrada en honor de una hija de Felipe II, a cafeterías con el nombre de Carlos V y Felipe II.
También fotografié el signo de UNESCO en la pared al lado de donde se encuentra esa Oficina de Turismo.
Al menos dos horas me tomó escudriñar cada recoveco de las aproximadamente cuarenta casas que integran la Grand Place. Los franceses, a finales del siglo XVII, bombardearon la plaza destruyendo muchos edificios emblemáticos, que ya han sido reconstruidos.
Había detalles de alquimia y numerología en esa plaza, pues los números doce y siete se repetían constantemente, además de otros signos esotéricos.
Me tomé una cerveza Leffe Blonde en la cervecería Le Roy d’Espagne (no sé por qué escribían rey como roy, en vez de como roi), en una esquina de la Grand Place. En el interior había varios muñecos colgados en el aire, varios de ellos vestidos como los Tercios de Flandes, con sus espadas y morriones, simbolizando uno de ellos al Duque de Alba. Dos de esos muñecos representaban a Egmont y De Hornes, que Felipe II mandó ejecutar colgándolos en la Grand Place, lo que en mi opinión fue un error, pues eran héroes de España en varias guerras contra los franceses, y poseedores del Toisón de Oro.
Tras Bruselas me marché a viajar a otra parte.
2009-10-22 - The railway station was very far away from Bryansk downtown, so I caught a bus there, until the main square, where I noticed many monuments devoted to the WWII, especially to the Partisans, about 60.000, who carried out many successful guerrilla attacks against the German invaders. Signs in the street remembered that war and praised the actions of the Partisans. In all Russian towns you will find the eternal flame and plenty of monuments devoted to the heroes. Even after the marriage, the fiancés follow the tradition to pay homage to those heroes. At the beginning I found this an obsession, but after I learnt about the many millions of Russians who have lost their lives in that war, made me respect these monuments, especially in those cities, in the European side of Russia, that most suffered because of the invasion. After visiting the typical places of Bryansk, a city of nearly half a million inhabitants, such as the cathedral and several churches, plus the central avenues, I did not find very exciting the town, in spite of having a history that goes back to the X century (although nothing remains of that time). Therefore, at about midday, after having a light lunch and a couple of beers (Baltika 7), I returned walking to the railway station to continue my travel in “elektrichki” (a local slow train) to another oblast: Oriol.
2008-12-23 - Buenos Aires is great city to be loved at first sight; it is a city that deserves at least one week to get to appreciate all that it has to offer. It is the same with large cities such as London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Rome, Madrid, Moscow, Mexico, Rio de Janeiro, Delhi… those cities are almost countries.
I was fortunate enough to be lodged in an Argentinean friend’s house, thus I was given good advice in terms of cafeterias, museums and quarters to visit with its characteristics.
The center from where I started to discover the city was Calle Florida, a central pedestrian street near the Obelisk (Buenos Aires landmark) where I could find everything, from change of Euro (at every step people are offering you change), to internet cafes, good restaurants, shops… everything is around there, even tango dancers in the street.
I admired large boulevards and imposing buildings, such as the Teatro Colón, or those in the Plaza de mayo.
I visited a lovely cafeteria called Tortoni to have a coffee, and even watch the tango show in the evenings. It is not expensive at all compared with other cafes.
I saw inside many paintings of famous people, the statues of Jorge Luis Borges plus Carlos Gardel and other well known Argentinean personages. Service is fast and good. I saw even pictures of our writer Federico Garcia Lorca.
Tortoni is the second oldest cafe in Buenos Aires.
The CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL is huge, and inside is marvelous. I even saw a plaque devoted to the Holodomor, or the holocaust of about 10 millions Ukrainians by the sinister Stalin.
I was lucky to be there when the change of guards to pay respects to the tomb of San Martin.
CAMINITO: This area is lovely. Perhaps too touristy, right, but deserves to be visited for half a day or so. Yes, there are many vendors, many souvenirs, many statues representing well known Argentinean personages, such as Maradona, Carlos Gardel or even the Pope of Rome, but anyway is pleasant. There are tangos and folklore dances performances at the gates of the restaurants to attract customers, and the houses exhibit fantastic colors.
In short, it is a must to visit.
MUSEO HISTORICO NACIONAL: I expected to see the history of the spaniards in Argentina, but it was mainly based on the independence from Spain and recent history. Anyway it was cheap (20 pesos) and liked it. The best was the statue devoted to Pedro de Mendoza, the founder of the city. It was located in the square nearby.
PLAZA DE MAYO: In this square you can find many tourist attractions, being the main one the Casa Rosada, seat of the Argentinean government. There is also the monument to the Kilometer Zero, the cathedral and the Cabildo , a very nice building since the times of the Spaniards, which was built by orders of the second founder of Buenos Aires, the spaniard Juan de Garay.
After five days on a row, I left Buenos Aires with a feeling of familiarity with the town. I had my favorite places to have breakfast in the morning, or just to sit down to rest while drinking coffee or even mate, to write my diary, to eat asado and good Argentinean meat at affordable prices… After those days I got to love Buenos Aires.
2012-05-21 - La Plata is an artificial city, founded at the end of the XIX century and remodeled in the twenties of the XX century. It was declared the capital of the province of Buenos Aires.
The city was baptized first La Plata, then Eva Peron City during some years in the middle of the XX century, and today is again La Plata.
I did not expect to find wonders there, or historical landmarks, being a city so young. Nevertheless I ended up liking it.
There are some remarkable buildings; the first one that I saw was the huge cathedral, which I entered during the Mass service, and participated in it, buying a candle for my family.
The House of the Government was also a pretty looking building, as well as the La Plata Museum of Natural History.
In the esplanade where the cathedral is located I could also admire the Municipalidad building. The train station was also a pretty building, constructed by two architects, one from USA and another one from England. Inside that railway station was filmed the beginning of the well known film Seven Years in Tibet.
At one side of the cathedral I noticed a khachkar, or an Armenian cross, gift to the city of the Armenian colony.
I would spend four hours in La Plata, what I considered enough. I arrived by bus and left by train until Plaza de la Constitución, in Buenos Aires.
I was suggested to visit a children park nearby La Plata, but I preferred to spend my time in downtown.
One of the finest buildings was the Pasaje Dardo Rocha, which was a cultural center (Dardo Rocha was a politician, military, journalist and the founder of La Plata city).
I did not stay to eat there. When I considered that I had visited the essential of the city I returned to Buenos Aires...............................................................................
LOMAS DE ZAMORA: I had a friend living in Lomas de Zamora. He invited me to stay with him until my flight from Buenos Aires back to Barcelona, in my dear Spain.
We used to leave Lomas de Zamora early in the morning and came back to sleep late in the evening, thus having time to visit Buenos Aires capital and even cities around such as La Plata.
On Sunday I went to the mass service in the cathedral of Lomas de Zamora, called nuestra Senora de la Paz.
The city Lomas de Zamora was founded in the XIX century, when Argentina was independent of Spain. It has about 110.000 inhabitantes, and its first name was Ciudad de la Paz, or City of Peace.
No much to do in Lomas de Zamora, no tourist attractions, but it was convenient for me thanks to my friend.
There are frequent trains that take you to Buenos Aires capital, Plaza de la Constitucion.
2008-12-21 - Bulgaria is a relatively small country; approximately has the size and population of Portugal. But there are lots of interesting places to discover by the good traveller.I have been twice in Bulgaria. The first time during the communist regime with a group of Spanish tourists with the Bulgarian company Balkantourist (similar to Intourist in the old Soviet Union), because travelling on your own was not possible at that time. We had a local guide, Sasha, speaking Spanish, who showed us all the tourists’ attractions. And the second, just two years ago (in 2003), I went alone crossing the Danube from Romania.The place that I liked most in Bulgaria was the Monastery of Rila (Rilski Manastir), founded in the IX century, which looks like a fortress and is surrounded by the Rila River and the Rila Mountains, with its highest peak Musala (2925 metres). This monastery is very dear to the Bulgarians because during the Turkish occupation it preserved the arts and culture of Bulgaria. It is considered the cradle of Bulgarian nationalism. Today is declared a World Patrimony by UNESCO.One excursion that we made with Sasha was to Burgas, a pleasant small town and tourist resort in the Black Sea. From there we took a boat to the lovely medieval village of Nessebar (another UNESCO World Heritage), in a peninsula. In the way back to Sofia we passed through the Balkan Mountains stopping in Veliko Tarnovo, the old Bulgarian capital, and in the evening we had dinner in nearby Gabrovo, village famous for its jokes.In Sofia, the present capital, the number one visit is the Cathedral Alexander Nevsky. It contains a gallery and a museum commemorating the 200.000 Russians who lost their lives in 1877-78 while expelling the Turks from Bulgaria.Other places that I visited in this small but beautiful country during my second trip were: the Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo, and the Boyana church, near Sofia, with its fantastic frescoes. (Rock-hewn churches and Boyana church are two more UNESCO World Patrimony). Plovdiv town, with its Roman Amphitheatre and the magical fountains, reminded me the ones that we have in Barcelona, Spain.One of the characteristics of the Bulgarian people is the way that they say yes and no nodding the head, like in Greece; on the contrary than in the rest of the world, what is somewhat confusing until you get used.In the communist times, when making friends, I was always given gifts consisting in a small wooden tube with a glass bottle of perfume inside (Bulgarians love roses very much and they even have a yearly rose festival in Kazanlak). But presently, Bulgarian friends prefer to offer you a bottle of excellent Bulgarian wine.Food in Bulgaria is delicious and some of its dishes are related with the Greek and the Turkish ones. For instance, Bulgarians drink strong coffee like them, and some typical dishes are moussaka, like in Greece, and a sweet dessert called baklava, like in Turkey and in the Middle East. They eat a lot of yogurt, every day, which is why they live many many years.
In the year 2014 I went back to Bulgaria, and this is what I wrote about my visit: I spent a very pleasant half a day visit in Sofia, a city where I had been 35 years earlier, in the times of the Socialism regime. I travelled there with a group of Spanish tourists and we had a local guide speaking Spanish. Travelling individually was forbidden in those times.
I did not remember much of my first visit, only the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was my first visit.
In my way to Boyana Church I also visited some other remarkable places, being the most interesting the Church devoted to Saint George, built by the Romans during the IV century, and located between buildings, hard to find, but somebody had suggested me to ask to the people for the Sheraton Hotel, and indeed, it was situated next door to that hotel. It real name, written in its walls, was Sveti Giorgi (Rotonda). There was no entry fee to visit it, but in compensation I bought a small souvenir to the stall inside.
Then I headed by bus and walking to the skirts of Sofia, to visit the National Museum Boyana Church.
I paid the entry fee and walked across a garden with stalls selling souvenirs to the X century church. The church was devoted to St. Nikola and St. Panteleimon
I noticed that Eleonora, the queen of Bulgaria, was buried in 1917 in a small cemetery next to the church.
The entrance to the church accepted only 8 persons at a time during a maximum of 10 minutes.
The guide, a lady, could speak Bulgarian and English. I was with only 3 Bulgarians visitors inside the church, so I could follow the explanations in Bulgarian language since it is very close related to the Russian.
At the entrance the guide make us pay attention to a painting showing Virgin Mary. She said that it represented that the Virgin is telling us that we are going to enter a very holy place, the altar with the most interesting and beautiful murals.
The murals inside, dated from the XIII century, were stunning, predecessors of the European Renaissance.
The guide explained that the present murals were superposed over some much ancient ones, after a Christian Council.
I liked specially the frescoes representing San George and Saint Lawrence.
I experienced a very warm feeling inside the church; it looked to me a legacy of our ancestors, one of those masterpieces of art that transmit knowledge about the meaning of the Creation.
I left Boyana Church grateful and with very high spirits. I walked down the street, took a bus to the railway station and travelled to the south, near Plovdiv, to the Monastery of Bachkovo, where I would spend the night inside its premises.
I travelled by train from Sofia to Plovdiv, later by bus to Asenovgrad and finally to Bachkovo Monastery. Then I walked about 300 meters up, across many cafeterias and stalls selling souvenirs, honey, yogurts and earthenware. Then I entered the Monastery through its gate. It looked like a fortress.
The signs in the monastery were in Bulgarian and English. I read in a plaque behind the gate (written in Bulgarian, Russian, German, French and English languages) that the monastery was founded in the year 1083 by two brothers from present Georgia and it served as a seminary to practice Georgian mysticism. It was destroyed by the Turks in the XV century and was restored in the XVII century.
The place was very touristic. I heard not only Bulgarian, but other European languages, even Spanish, among its daily visitors.
The first thing that I did was to ask for the monk in charge of the visitors and asked him in Russian language permission to spend the night there. He sent me to the first floor, where a man charged me 5 Leva (about 2.5 euro) per a single room with a bed and a lamp with the window facing the Cathedral. The bathrooms were in the corridor.
Bachkovo is considered the second most important monastery in Bulgaria (after Rila). It is registered in the UNESCO Tentative List.
The monastery mixes Bulgarian, Georgian and Byzantine cultures. Apart from its lovely architecture I liked the murals all over around, being the most famous the one called Panorama, over a wall in the patio, depicting the history of the monastery. Some of the icons sheltered were of special value and many pilgrims came to Bachkovo just to pay respect to them, especially to one considered miraculous, called Virgin Mary Eleusa, brought by Georgian travelers in the XIV century. I admired all the wonders of the monastery in an almost state of ecstasy, so beautiful was everything around, including the atmosphere of the place and the exuberant nature surrounding the monastery.
In the old Trapeza (refectory) I had to pay a ticket (about 4 euro). But it was worth. I could see inside some of the prettiest frescoes.
I assisted to the Mass Service, together with many pilgrims, and also in the morning, when I woke up by the bells, and descended to the Cathedral to participate in the Mass ceremony at 7 AM.
After the Mass service I had breakfast in one of the cafeterias outside and returned by bus to Asenovgrad to continue my journey. It had been an unforgettable day...............................................................................
IN SPANISH: IGLESIA DE BOYANA
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Emplazada en las afueras de Sofí¬a, la iglesia de Boyana comprende tres edificios. La iglesia de la parte oriental, fue construida en el siglo X. A mediados del siglo XIII, el Sebastocrator Kaloyan ordenó que se agrandara la iglesia primigenia y se construyese otra de dos plantas junto a ella. Los frescos de esta segunda iglesia, pintados en 1259, constituyen uno de los más valiosos conjuntos de la pintura medieval. A comienzos del siglo XIX se edificó una tercera iglesia, ultimándose así¬ la configuración definitiva del sitio, que es uno de los monumentos más completos y mejor conservados del arte medieval de Europa Oriental.
La mejor manera de conocer las ciudades es a pie. Desde la estación de tren me dirigí a la Iglesia de Boyana, en las afueras de Sofía. Me tomó algo más de una hora, y eso que camino rápido. Sólo me detuve en el centro, ante la iglesia del siglo IV dedicada a Sveti Giorgi, que no quedaba muy lejos de la catedral de Alejandro Nevski.
A la entrada a Boyana había una placa de UNESCO y explicaciones sobre la iglesia. Fue gracias a lo que leí en esa placa que supe que la fundación de la Iglesia de Boyana se inició a finales del siglo X y fue ampliada en los siglos XIII y XIX. La iglesia debe su fama a los frescos del año 1259, que están considerados precursores del Renacimiento Europeo.
Pagué el precio de entrada al recinto, que se llamaba Museo Nacional de la Iglesia de Boyana.
Al llegar a la entrada de la iglesia una guía me prohibió hacer fotos.
Otras condiciones eran que no podíamos estar dentro de la iglesia más de ocho personas, y un máximo de 10 minutos de tiempo.
Pero como no había más turistas, se dedicó sólo a mí y me iba explicando cada parte de esa iglesia, que exteriormente no impresiona, pero sus frescos, de autor anónimo, son exquisitos.
El primer fresco representaba a la Virgen María. La guía me interpretó que su presencia a la entrada de la iglesia significa que te avisa de que entras en un lugar sagrado, especialmente al altar, donde se hallan los frescos más bellos y mejor acabados. Otros frescos representan la vida de San Nicolás. También me mostró los frescos de San Jorge y de San Lorenzo.
Los murales que estaba viendo se superponían sobre otros más antiguos, cosa que se hizo en el siglo XIII, tras un concilio cristiano.
La iglesia estaba consagrada a San Nicolás y a San Panteleimón.
La guía me iba explicando que la reina de Bulgaria, Leonor Carolina Gasparina Luisa (nacida en Polonia), está enterrada junto a la iglesia, y me acompañó a través de un jardín hasta su tumba, la cual había sido profanada y destruida, pero tras la instauración de la democracia (en 1989), fue restaurada.
Una vez fuera de la iglesia sentí frío, pero no físico, sino en mi alma. Algo especial tenía esa iglesia; me hizo experimentar sentimientos tiernos.
El regreso lo hice en autobús, hasta la estación de tren, donde poco después abordé uno de ellos que se dirigía a Plovdiv.
2011-11-19 - In my way hitchhiking between the south of France, Italy, Germany or Switzerland, to Paris and vice versa, I have crossed several times Burgundy and some of them I have stopped to sleep in its capital Dijon, the place so famous for its mustard and also for its excellent wines. Apart from its cathedral, called Saint Bénigne, I also saw ruins by the times of the Romans, a kind of Arch of Triumph, several palaces and churches, plus the central market, designed by Eiffel. Since I was very young and had no money when I travelled the first times around Burgundy, I always used to sleep in the Armée du Salut, or in some cases in the railway station until it was closed, then on cardboards on the floor, together with other young hitchhikers, until they opened it again, at about 5 AM, to drink hot coffee and continuing hitchhiking to elsewhere.
JANUARY 2016: No es fácil alcanzar Vézelay por medios locales. Tuve que hacer autostop desde Troyes, hasta que el último coche me dejó en el refugio de la Madeleine, en lo alto de la colina. Eran las 9 de la noche.
Piqué varias veces pero nadie me abría. Ya me disponía a desplegar mi saco de dormir en el interior de algún cajero automático, a salvo de la lluvia, cuando dos frailes me abrieron la puerta y me instalaron en un dormitorio vacío. Era el único peregrino que en esas fechas (invierno del 2016) se aventuraba a realizar a pie el Camino Francés hasta Santiago de Compostela.
Uno de los frailes, sonriente y feliz de la vida, me regaló una manzana que me comí con fruición antes de dormir.
Por la mañana, antes de comenzar a caminar, participé en la misa del refugio, a la que asistieron campesinos del lugar, y recibí mi bendición. Luego visité el interior de la basílica, incluyendo los restos de Santa María Magdalena.
La basílica era pequeña, pero albergaba en el sótano las reliquias de María Magdalena, protegidas por unos barrotes.
Durante aproximadamente una hora escudriñé cada rincón de esa basílica y leí todos los letreros acerca de su historia.
Todo el conjunto monástico de la colina era entrañable.
Una vez que me pareció que ya lo tenía todo visto, me acerqué a la pequeña estatua del Apóstol Santiago, la besé, descendí de la colina y comencé mi peregrinaje.
2011-11-10 - I was coming from Bamako, in Mali, where I got my Burkina Faso visa for 9000 CFA. At the border I changed buses and a few hours later I reached Ouagadougou, where I found accommodation in the Mission Catholique, one of the safest places, apart from respected, to sleep in African cities. I knew that there existed a very exotic and original train journey from Ouagadougou to Abidjan, in Ivory Coast, but having already visited Ivory Coast in the past, I chose Togo for the continuation of my travel around the whole of Africa without using airplanes. I waited during two days in Ouagadougou to obtain my visa for Togo, and when it was given to me I boarded a minibus with destination Male, which journey took two days owing to the political instability of Togo in those times.
About seven months later, still in that same journey around Africa, I came back to Burkina Faso, this time from Niger, broken, hitchhiking, with long hair and my clothes old. In the market of Ouagadougou I had to sell Ssome of my last belongings to get some CFA to buy hard boiled eggs in the street kiosks. Finally, from Ouagadougou I got a free ride to Bamako where I caught the train to Dakar, Senegal, thus crossing successfully the whole of Africa without taking an airplane, in vertical, from Melilla to Cape Town, and in horizontal, from Asmara in the Red Sea, to Dakar in the Atlantic Ocean.
2007-04-29 - I entered Burundi in the most fantastic possible way: by boat through the Tanganyika Lake, which is, after Baikal, the second deepest lake in the world. From Kigoma, in Tanzania, to Bujumbura, in Burundi, it took me 12 hours of pleasant navigation remembering the great travellers of the XIX century such as Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, Speke, and the forgotten Portuguese and Spanish explorers Pedro Paez (discoverer of the sources of the Blue Nile), Duarte Lopes (the first European to see and describe in books in 1578 Victoria, Nyassa and Tanganyika lakes), or the Padre Silbeira (the first European to admire Livingstone Falls), who explored Africa several centuries before the English. I stayed in the splendid hotel Burundi Palace where I only paid 10 US dollars a night in a single room. From Bujumbura to Kigali (capital of Rwanda) there are daily services which journey takes 12 hours. After three days exploring Burundi I left overland to Rw
2007-04-24 - Ulan Ude is the capital of Buryatia, one of the 21 russian autonomous republics. The buryats, one of the 30 ethnic minorities in Siberia, are related with Mongolia, and their language is very close to the mongol. Buryats belong to the second siberian ethnic group by number and importance, only after the yakukts. They feel very proud of their nationality and during the russian invasion of their land, they offered a strong resistence. Ulan Ude is one of the few stops that you should not miss during your transiberian, or transmongolian, or transmanchurian journey by train. The other ones are: Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinbourg, Vladivostok with Nahodka, Kazan and Khabarovsk. Ulan Ude deserves a few days stay. Near the Hotel Baikal, in the main square, you will find the greatest Lenin head statue in the world (record Guinness), a superb ethnologic museum, the beautiful theatre of Opera and Ballet, looking like a castle, and just at about 30 kilometers distance you can reach a boudhist monastery, or datsan, called Ivolginsk, where all the monks are buryats. Inside this tibetan monastery (mahayana-gelugpa sect, or followers of the Dalai Lama), you can visit several temples, the museum, the library and the monks rooms. (If you are planning to visit Saint Petersbourg as well, then there you should go to the nice boudhist temple in Primorski Prospekt number 91, constructed in 1913, by a great monk of Ivolginsk called Dorjieff, who was the advisor of Tsar Nikolai II). By the way, Dorjieff was arrested during Stalin times and died in an Ulan Ude prison in 1938. If you still have time, I very much advise you to go to Severobaikal (in russian language means North of Baikal), which is a stop of the BAM train (Baikal Amur Magistral). From there you will have a better view of the Baikal Lake than in Listvyanka, near Irkutsk. Furthermore, Listvyanka is a russian village, while Severobaikal is buryat, therefore more interesting and exotic for westerners. ......................................................................2015: in this year I traveled again to Ulan Ude in my way to Mongolia. I spent 3 days visiting places that I had missed in previous journeys to that city, and in each of them I traveled to diferent places nearby. The first day I took a local bus to TARBAGATAY to know the Old Believers, and this is what I wrote about my visit: I spent half a day in Tarbagatay. I went there by myself, in a minibus that I boarded in Ulan Ude, since in the hostel where I was lodged they offered an excursion to Tarbagatay but very expensive for my pocket.
Upon arriving to Tarbagatay I asked the local people where was the main Old Believers church, and they, Old Beleivers, as practically all the inhabitants of that village. showed me the way. When I arrived I saw a kind of huge museum on the open air, the door of the gate was open, and observed the church (it was closed) plus several old wooden buildings inside the complex. I waited for somebody to come, but after half an hour or so I left, since nobody appeared.I then walked around the village taking pictures of the lovely and old wooden houses, then climbed to a hill nearby to have a better view over the town. I saw a huge cross on the top of the hill with a sign nearby thanking the village of Tarbagatay for having accepted them to live there.
Perhaps I should have joined a tour in Ulan Ude to visit this place, or to have gone there on Sunday, to watch their religious service. I had seen pictures of the Old Beleivers with folkloric clothes and singing. But perhaps they only perform that for tourists or in special holy days.Anyway I enjoyed my visit and did not regret it.
The Old Believers did not accept the reforms introduced on the XVII century by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow. Old Believers continue liturgical practices that the Russian Orthodox Church maintained before the implementation of these reforms.
The spiritual culture of the Old Believers in Tarbagatay was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.But I did not catch much of that. Anyway I was happy to have visited Tarbagatay.
IVOLGINSK. The second day I took a local minibus to the Buddhist monastery of Ivolginsk because in my two previous visits some years earlier I could not see the uncorrupted body of a monk. This is what I wrote about my last visit in 2015: I reached this Datsan, or Buddhist monastery, by local minibus, from Ulan Ude, at about 25 kilometers distance.In fact it was my third trip to that monastery; but in the time of my last visits (about 20 years earlier) I could not see the main wonder of the monastery, the uncorrupted body of a monk that passed away in the year 1927.At the entrance of the monastery there is a cafeteria and restaurant and also several kiosks selling ice creams and drinks. But I paid attention to the Buddhist kiosk among them because it was the most interesting. It had the form of a yurt and inside you can drink a glass of kumis for 50 rubles (what I did) and buy souvenirs related with the monastery, such as pictures of the lama whose uncorrupted body is sheltered Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov.Entrance to the monastery was free of charge, but in some places you have to pay, like, for instance, to see the uncorrupted body of the famous lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed and I can only show the ones that were exhibited in the Buddhist kiosk for sale.I paid 300 rubles for the visit to that temple sheltering this lama, that is 250 rubles per the entry fee, plus 50 rubles for a piece of cloth to give as a present to the Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov uncorrupted body.The experience and feelings to stare at the face of that lama impressed me very much; it seemed that he was alive. Indeed, many monks talk with him everyday asking him questions, as if he was an active monk in lotus position.
After that I walked around getting into the temples where I was allowed to go in. I enjoyed the place.There were lovely thangkas, like those that you can find in Tibet or in Nepal.................................. KYAKHTA: In my way overland to Ulaanbaatar, like the true traveler (who prefers overland and rarely takes an airplane) I stopped for half a day in Kyakhta, and this is what I wrote about that historiacl place: The Tea Road (also known as Siberian Route) made rich the city of Kyakhta. The tea was loaded in China, in the city of Zhangjiakou (Hebei province) that in the past was known as Kalgan. After crossing in caravans of camels the Gobi desert, Mongolia, it entered Russia through Kyakhta.Peter I was the first Russian Tsar to establish commercial relations with the Chinese and sent a diplomatic to sign a treaty. That is why the statue of Peter I can be seen in Kyakhta.After Kyakhta the tea was embarked in boats across the Baykal Lake, to Irkutsk, and then further on, until Moscow, where the price was 16 times higher than in China. It was a good business that lasted several centuries.I only spent a few hours in that town. I was coming from Ulan Ude, by myself because the train journey from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar was very expensive, and by bus, individually was even cheaper than all the way to Ulaanbaatar without stopping.I saw a lovely Orthodox church (The Assumption Church), elegant houses that in the past belonged to the merchants of tea, and also several monuments, including one devote to Peter I. But did not stay to spend the night there; instead I headed by bus to Mongolia after a few hours visit.
Ethnographic Museum ULAN UDE:
This was my best visit in Ulan Ude. I took a local bus and went to the limit of the city where I entered the museum. Price was cheap. Inside I saw differents sections, the church of the Old Believers was the mos stunning monument (well, it was a true church moved there for exhibition), then a russian fortress, a section devoted to the first nations, before the russians arrival, such as Evenki culture, and also a zoo. I also entered the reproduction of the yurt of Genghis Khan and inside there was a very didactic museum. It is a must in your visit to Ulan Ude. I spent there about 3 hours. There are cafeterias to eat or drink something if you want to make a break in your visit.
You can even take a picture of yourself riding a horse!
2007-06-06 - I have to confess that I learnt about the existence of Busingen thanks to Most Traveled People Club. Consequently I planed to go there since I am very fond of visiting especial tiny places with the combination of two cultures, such as Sidi Ifni (Old Spanish enclave within Morocco territory), Olivenza (ex-Portugal town, land and people today inside Spanish territory), Islas de la Bahia in Honduras, Macau, etc.
From Zurich I reached nearby Schaffhausen by train (half an hour). Then I took a bus to Busingen (ten minutes).
The bus ran parallel to a river and I stopped in the last station, already in Bussingen, and after drinking a beer I went back to Schaffhausen walking, stopping from time to time to watch the nature, admiring the place and trying to find some special characteristic, but… I did not find any. For me it was a prolongation of Switzerland. No borders, no customs agents, no passport controls. People everywhere spoke German, like in Zurich. The local currency was the Swiss Franc.
Since it was Sunday I could not buy stamps in the Post Office to check if they have special ones for that diminutive enclave.
After visiting Busingen I went to Helgoland Island, another especial place within Germany.
2011-11-07 - I bought in Miami a very cheap ticket with American Airlines to Providenciales Island, in Turks and Caicos, with the condition of staying there at least three days and three nights. Apart from beaches there is nothing to do there. Working people are from Haiti and Dominican Republic. There is a grand supermarket outside of the main village (in the whole archipelago live about 12.000 people), where is situated the airport. The islands where discovered by Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon, the same who arrived to Florida in 1512 when searching for the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Many historians assure that Columbus first landed in Grand Turk Island during his epic journey in 1492, belonging to the group of Turks and Caicos, and called it San Salvador, although many others affirm that the first landing occurred in Watling Island, in the Bahamas. In the past the main industry was the recollection of salt, but today is the recollection of tourists and many rich North American have a second residence there. In the beginning these islands where annexed to Jamaica, and later to Bahamas, but when these previous British colonies obtained the independence, Turk and Caicos preferred to continue forming part of the United Kingdom as colony. The good thing about Turks and Caicos for the traveller on the cheap is that at the airport, when landing, nobody asks you for the booking of the hotel where you are supposed to stay, and then you can sleep in the beach.
2011-11-21 - Several times I have crossed the Messina Strait and never stopped to visit Reggio Calabria, Calabria capital, but in one of the times that I was waiting for the ferry to cross the strait (with the intention to visit Lampedusa Island), I took the opportunity to visit Villa San Giovanni, which has about 13000 inhabitants, and is very pleasant and historic place. I saw a monument devoted to revolutionary Garibaldi and several interesting churches. The ferry connecting Villa San Giovanni, in Calabria, with the city of Messina, in Sicily, has a frequency of 20 minutes and the navigation takes 20 minutes to cross the about 3 kilometers of the strait width. You can stay in the carriage of the train while it is making the boarding maneuvers, or much better go out to the bridge to observe the Messina strait and breathe fresh air.
The ferry from Messina to Reggio Calabria took me half an hour. I found a hotel near the port and started to explore the city.
Reggio Calabria is a very historical town. It was owned by the Greeks, and also by the Spanish from the Corona de Aragón, a fragment of Spain that included, apart from Aragon, today regions of Valencia, Catalonia and Balearic Islands. The Spanish, or Aragonese castle, can be seen in the downtown. It was closed for reformations so I could not see its interior.
One of its main street, pedestrian is devoted to Garibaldi. It was full with shops, churches and restaurants. From the street bordering the Messina Straight, I could admire the snowed Etna in front, in Sicily Island.
The best remembering of Reggio Calabria was the museum, known as Musei Nazionale della Magna Grecia, which I would visit the next day. It was not expensive and sheltered a wonder, two bronze figures from the Greek times 2500 years ago) that had been hidden into the sea until, fortunately, a diver saw them last century. They were magnificent, very big, and called Riace Bronzes, representing two warriors. One of the guardians of the museum told me that there are only five such statues in the world, two in Greece, one in France (that had been robbed to the Italians by the French) and two in Reggio Calabria. The perfection of the features was surprising. In the museum they only allow you to stay 20 minutes in that hall, before expelling you to watch other halls.
That same day, in the afternoon, I took a toy train with destination Metaponto.
2008-12-05 - I landed in Los Angeles after a long flight from Papeete. I was almost broke, as usual; all the money that I had earned working in a T bone restaurant in Bondi Beach, near Sydney, had been spent in New Caledonia, New Zealand and in several French Polynesian Islands. My intention was to hitchhike that same day to San Diego, and then proceed to Tijuana leaving USA at once, without losing time. I was not yet a traveller; a true traveller loves all the countries that he visits. However, in the airplane the lady next to my seat and her pretty daughter invited me to spend with them one week in their mansion in Arcadia, at 10 kilometres from Los Angeles. Furthermore, they would offer me one of their cars to move around. That was the first of a long chain of generous details from the Americans that abruptly made me change my mind: instead of transiting USA I would spend a whole year travelling as a hobo, tramping around most of its States, including Canada, hitchhiking and using cargo trains, as Jack London and Jack Kerouac describe in their respective The Road and On the Road! That experience was fabulous! In that year I never paid a hotel. I slept many times in Salvation Armies and the kind (after singing the compulsory Joan Baez theme Amazing Grace) or in the homes of many Americans who picked me up on the road and even gave some pocket money. Sometimes I worked in San Francisco or Montreal, and also played chess for money in the tables of Washington Square, New York. The country is so miscellaneous and beautiful that you can live there for years and never knowing it well, for that reason I selected what I considered the three must: The Colorado Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park and Niagara Falls. In respect of towns, apart from those founded by the Spaniards, such as San Agustin (the oldest USA town) and Santa Fe (the oldest USA capital), and some Californian Spanish Missions, that I did not miss, the cities depicted below were my favourite ones during my long vagabonding. If you\\\'re going to SAN FRANCISCO be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. In Los Angeles I took a Greyhound bus until this unique city, probably the most beautiful in the world. I slept the first nights in the Embarcadero, because the Salvation Army was paying, but soon I found a job in a restaurant in Geary Boulevard and could afford to rent a room. I loved the openness of the people. They addressed to me to talk with familiarity in the streets or in the parks, and some brought me food for breakfast when they saw me sleeping in my bench in the Embarcadero. How many times I walked up and down the lovely zig zag street Lombard, or boarded a tramway at random around its 40 hills, or admired its perfect bay and the Golden Gate! I felt at home in San Francisco because is humane. Besides, it is a vanguard city; there is no new philosophic idea or religion that is not manifested first there and then to the rest of USA. One day I left with grief San Francisco to New Mexico and Las Vegas.......................................THE MISSION SAN CARLOS BORROMEO DEL RÍO CARMELO: In the state of California (USA) there are 21 Spanish Missions, and there are many more (30) in Baja California and Baja California Sur, in Mexico. Every Mission is a wonder, historically and artistically; they all should be in the UNESCO list of Patrimonies of the Humankind. One of the most stunning Mission is the one in Carmel, called San Carlos Borromeo of the Carmel River, in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I travelled first from San Francisco to San José, and then took a bus to Monterey and walked to the Mission in Carmel-by-the Sea. It was open and could go inside. In an adjacent building I saw a school for children, that is ruled by the Mission. I visited the tomb of the founder, the Fray Junípero Serra, from Mallorca Island, Spain. In a plaque I read that several historical personages and travelers had spent the night in that Mission thanks to the hospitality of Father Junípero Serra: Count de La Pérouse, Georges Vancouver, Alejandro Malaspina. I had no much time in California and had to fly to Honolulu to travel to Midway Island, so I could not fulfill my dream to visit on foot the 21 missions, as a pilgrimage (perhaps I will do it in the future). For the moment I had visited six of them in California USA and 5 in the Mexican Península de California. I spent the night inside the Mission, over a wooden bench in the church, which remained open 24 hours a day. In the morning I continued my journey..................................................................
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO MISSION: I have managed, so far, to visit five out of the 21 Missions that the Spanish founded in California from 1769 to 1833 to spread Christianity among the Indians. San Juan Capistrano was my forth mission visited in California. In the future I plan to visit the rest of them. The mission owns its name to an Italian Franciscan friar of the XIV and XV centuries that evangelized several countries of Central Europe. I crossed the south of USA by Greyhound bus from Miami (where I flew from Barcelona, in Spain), to Los Angeles, and then started my visits to the missions. The entry fee to visit San Juan Capistrano Mission was not expensive at all, and inside I had the opportunity to watch many beautiful and historical buildings plus the patio. There were statues devoted to its founder, the Spanish Fray Junípero Serra and tiles representing him, old bells, and some ruins of the old mission that are known as the \"American Acropolis\" in reference to its classical Greco-Roman style . San Juan Capistrano has the distinction of being home to the oldest building in California still in use, and a metallic plaque put in one of its walls affirmed: “The Mission San Juan de Capistrano is the Jewel of the Missions, founded on November 1, 1776 by father Junipero Serra, most renown and most beautiful of the California Missions. Quaint little Serra Chapel is California’s oldest building still in use. The magnificent ruins of the Great Stone Church are considered the American Acropolis”. For its historical importance, the San Juan Capistrano Mission has been declared a National Historic Landmark. After San Juan Capistrano I headed to San Luis Rey de Francia Mission.
2011-11-03 - In Phnom Penh I stayed in the “Backpackers” street, in a hostel called Capitol, where I paid 4 US Dollars per a single room. During two days and two nights I managed to visit all tourist attractions of that city, such as Buddhist temples, colonial French houses, the Imperial Palace, etc. The third day I left Phnom Penh to visit the wonder número uno of Cambodia: the marvelous complex temples of Angkor Wat. I was offered an airplane ticket to Angkor Wat for 100 US Dollars round trip, but being a traveler I preferred to reach that place like a true traveler: overland. Therefore I boarded a boat through the river until Kampong Chang, on the shores of Tonle Sap, which is an artificial lake. IN Kampong Chang there were many motorcycles drivers offering to transport you to Siem Reap for 2 US Dollars. So I accepted and arrived in the evening to Siem Reap, where I rented a room (number 279) in a guesthouse at a good price. I arranged three days visit with the driver of the motorcycle who brought me to Siem Reap per 6 dollars a day to get to know all the temple complexes of Angor Wat and its neighborhood. Since the first day the motorcycle driver becomes your friend; you invite him to have lunch with you and the last day everybody gives him a tip, as I also did. The first day I visited Angor Wat, the greatest temple of the world. The quantity of stones used on its construction is similar to that of the pyramid of Cheops. The second day was devoted to Angkor Thom, and the thirds to the mystical temples of Ta Prohm, which were my favorites. Antonio da Madalena was a Portuguese capuchin friar, who in 1586, and also in 1589, in the company of other friars, Portuguese and Spanish, visited for the first time for an European the complex of Angkor Wat and was amazed by the harmony and beauty of the temples. Some time later he met the Portuguese historian Diogo do Couto (friend of the great Portuguese poet and traveler Luis de Camoes), who also visited Angkor Wat, and with the friar information and his own, he wrote a book in 1614 describing such an unique place. After Cambodia, together with other travelers, I crossed in a shared land rover to Vietnam.
In March 2013 I traveled again to Phnom Penh, and this is what I wrote of that visit: Out of the Indochina capitals of Bangkok, Hanoi, Vientiane and Phnom Penh, I prefer this last one to spend time while waiting for a visa or just to relax after a long journey around South East Asia.
While waiting for my visas to Vietnam and China I was staying in a quiet and nice guesthouse in the Preah Sisowath Quay, by the River Mekong, that was at the same time restaurant and travel agency.
During three days I could visit on foot the most interesting tourist attractions of that pleasant capital, such as the Royal Palace, the central market,
Everything is at a walking distance in Phnom Penh.
The Royal Palace
This is a must visit in Phnom Penh.
During two or three hours I enjoyed the visit to all the temples and installations. In some halls there were musicians, in others I saw a sacred statue of Buddha very revered by the locals, the Silver Pagoda, etc., and everywhere there was beauty...............................................
KRATIE: Coming from Don Det Island in my way to Phnom Penh, I resolved to spend one day in Kratie.
The bus dropped me by the River Mekong; I walked a few meters and found a hotel with a Spanish flag. I asked inside and discovered that the hotel is ruled by a Spaniard. I was surprised to meet a Spaniard there.
We made friendship; he was from the province of Barcelona (Sabadell city), so we both were happy to speak Spanish.
I visited the village during a couple of hours, entering in the temples and observing the colonial houses. I also visited the market and checked my mail in an Internet café.
In the evening I had dinner in the hotel ruled by the Spaniard, and was served a delicious and typical dinner inside a coconut shell.
The next day I continued my journey to Phnom Penh. The Spanish man arranged the booking of the bus.
2011-10-08 - When I reached Calabar, in Biafra, Nigeria, I had several options to get into Cameroon; the southern one entered Cameroon by boat, but I had not enough money for the ticket, so I chose the northern one, crossing a bridge on motorcycle thanks to the generosity of a local Cameroon man. Once in Cameroon I noticed that people spoke in English, not in French as I had expected, although they could speak both. People of that Cameroon province compare their language situation with that of Quebec in Canada. The transport to Douala was fantastic. I used trucks, motorcycles and jeeps, crossing a large river (Wouri), traversed jungle and saw the impressive Mount Cameroon. It was Sunday, I was completely broke. I had to look for a free place to sleep and get some fruits from the wild trees. I picked up some mangoes and when I ate them I saw a school with the windows opened, I jumped, but once inside the porter surprised me. I expected a visit to the Police, but the man, called Sileu, helped me and gave me the key to his house, nearby, where I could spend the night better than inside the school. He also offered me some hot food. During the day Sileu worked in the bus station searching for customers for a bus company in exchange for some commission. I helped him during two days and we shared the commissions and the tips from the grateful customers. The third day I was able to travel in a bus (for free) until Yaounde, from where I continued my journey the next day to the border with Equatorial Guinea. .......................................... BROKEN IN DOUALA ON SUNDAY: The overland transport from Biafra to Douala was fantastic. I used trucks, motorcycles and jeeps, crossing a large river (Wouri), traversed jungle and saw the impressive Mount Cameroon. Local people were very helpful and gave me rides for free to Douala when I told them that I had no money. It was Sunday, I was completely broke. I had to look for a free place to sleep and get some fruits from the wild trees. I picked up some mangoes and when I ate them I saw a school with the windows opened, I jumped, but once inside the porter surprised me. I expected a visit to the Police, but the man, called Sileu, helped me and gave me the key to his house, nearby, where I could spend the night better than inside the school. He also offered me some hot food. During the day Sileu worked in the bus station searching for customers for a bus company in exchange for some commission. I helped him during two days and we shared the commissions and the tips from the grateful customers. The third day I was able to travel in a bus (for free) until Yaounde, from where I continued my journey the next day to the border with Equatorial Guinea.
.................... CROSSING THE BORDER WITH CHAD: When I reached the Cameroon border (from Centralafrican Republic) I had to argue, in a benevolent way, with the agents. They understood my situation and let me proceed to the border with Chad, but without stamping my passport. Then in the Cameroon border I boarded a truck to the border with Chad, and again there I had to request the noble Africans to help me and let me enter Chad, what they finally did. In every border I distributed some baksheesh to the pleasant agents, otherwise they might open your bag and check carefully everything confiscating you whatever they wanted.
2011-10-09 - In the past I had crossed several times this Italian region without paying much attention to it. But in the year 2005, in my way overland from Spain to Pelagie Island, I resolved to spend time visiting the main tourist attractions of Campania. First I took a train from Rome to Napoli. It was already late and, being short of money, I walked until the port and spent the night there. In the morning I visited the main tourists attractions in that historical city, in especial those remains from the Spanish times, when Spain ruled parts of today’ Italy. Then the next day I headed to Sorrento, then Positano and by means of buses, hitch hiking and boats I managed to visit the main cities composing the Costiera Amalfitana, which, owing to its amazing beauty, has been declared Patrimony of the Humankind by UNESCO. In the past (X and XI centuries) those cities formed the independent Ducato di Amalfi, or Repubblica di Amalfi. In all those small and lovely towns I had the opportunity to accept the free degustation of Limoncello campano in the many shops offering that delicious liquor. Finally I took a train to Palermo, in Sicily, and several days later visiting that island (Cefalu, Agrigento, etc.), I boarded a ferry in Porto Empedocle heading to Lampedusa Island. ................................................................ SECOND JOURNEY TO NAPLES IN THE YEAR 2014: This second time I did not sleep on the floor in the port, as my first visit to Naples in the year 2005, when I was broke, but in a moderately cheap hotel near the railway station (except the last night, when I spent the night in the airport premises) and ended up visiting during four days all the tourist attractions of the Naples area (Pompeii, Caserta, Ercolano, the trekking to the Vesubio), plus the three islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida.
This second time I got to love Naples better than the previous visit. I know that Naples is a crazy city, so active, so many people, so chaotic, it is a kind of Kolkata in Italy, and nevertheless it is now one of my favorites Italian cities.
This second time I visited in the city of Naples, among other places, the Treasures inside the Cathedral of San Gennaro, the Saint George Church, Santa Clara monastery complex, Castello dell’Uovo, I saw a wonderful Caravaggio painting in the Pio Monte della Misericordia, the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo (where I bought a wonderful book of Matteo Ricci and his journey to China in the XVI century) and I ate pizza in a famous and historical restaurant for just 4 Euro (Naples is much cheaper than Rome). Now I feel that I know Naples a little bit better.
.............................................................................. CAPRI PLUS ISCHIA AND PROCIDA ISLANDS: I managed to visit in a long day the three islands of Capri plus Ischia and Procida. I did it for economical reasons, since I wished to visit the three and every ticket to any island from Sorrento (my port of departure) or between islands was sold for nearly 20 Euro, so no way to get back to Sorrento and then another day to navigate to other island round trip, etc.
In Capri I spent about 4 hours, 3 hours in Ischia and 2 hours in Procida.
I found Capri too expensive and too crowded with tourists. I climbed from the port to the famous La Piazzeta. There was also a funicular, not expensive, but I like to walk.
During the few hours in Capri I visited the main churches and just breathed the elitist atmosphere and the beauty of the place. Then I walked down to the port and navigated to Ischia.
I loved Ischia from the distance. Its famous Castello Aragonese was a wonderful sight, like a huge rock emerging from the seas. It was built by Hiero I of Syracuse in the V century. Its present name, Castello Aragonese, comes from our Spanish King Alfonso V of Aragon, who united the rock with the island of Ischia by means of a stone bridge. He also built walls for its defense from the pirates, and gave it the present form.
I walked to the Castello Aragonese from the port, about half an hour, fast. I asked the price of a hotel of 2 stars inside, called Monasterio, thinking that perhaps it would be affordable the price to sleep in such a fantastic place. But after bargaining I could only get 130 Euro per a single room. So I just paid the entry fee (10 Euro) and looked inside. First there is a tunnel to a lift to the top, to the hostel (that you are not allowed to visit if you are not a guest) and then you follow the arrows and numbers of every department of the castle, including the church and an archeological museum.
The Castello Aragonese was my only visit in Ischia.
There were fewer tourists than in Capri and the prices of the products in the supermarket were also cheaper, almost like in Naples.
I asked for curiosity the price for a single room in a modest pension in Ischia: 60 Euro after bargaining; too expensive!
The third island, Procida, was magical to me. I found not a single foreign tourist, except Italians, and the atmosphere reminded me that of the lovely small Greek islands. I loved the place but I had already bought my ticket back to Naples that evening, so I did not even thought about staying there. But I guessed that the prices for a room in Procida would be cheaper than in Capri or in Ischia.
During two hours in Procida I saw many nice places, some churches and the castle, although making balance of the three islands, the most spectacular was Ischia.
I reached my hotel in Naples at 10 PM.................................................... CASERTA: I had many expectations in this visit because our King Carlos III, who commissioned the construction of the Royal Palace of Caserta to the Neapolitan architect Luigi Vanvitelli (the same that built the famous Caroline Aqueduct) has been one of the very best kings in our history. And I would not be disappointed.
When Carlos III had to leave Naples to rule Spain he also ordered to build in Spain many places for the wellbeing of the people, such as roads, hospitals, the Museo del Prado, plus 3 fountains (Cybele, Neptune and Apollo), the Botanical Garden, the Puerta de Alcala (built by Francesco Sabatini, a Sicilian artist that Carlos III brought from Naples and had collaborated with Vanvitelli in Caserta), and a long etcetera.
He was a great benefactor of Madrid and, in general, of the whole of Spain.
It is very easy to get to Caserta. I caught a train from Campobasso, in Molise, and soon arrived to Caserta where I saw the Royal Palace from the station, it is located at just a few hundred meters. I paid the entry ticket and climbed the beautiful Scala Regia. Once on the first floor I visited first the Capella Palatina and immediately the rooms: the Throne Room, the Room of Alexander, the Room of Spring, the Room of Autumn, the Room of Murat, the Theater, the Library, without forgetting to watch the frescoes on the ceilings. Everything was magnificent, erected with the most precious materials, such as marble from Carrara, or tiles from Capua.
Once outside the Palace itself, I still spent a couple of hours admiring the gardens, which are considered the most beautiful of Europe, together with those of Versailles (France), Aranjuez (Spain), or Peterhof (Russia).
I saw many statues representing mythological personages, and wonderful fountains plus the Grand Cascade at the end of the park.
PARCO NAZIONALE DEL VESUVIO: After visiting the ruins of Ercolano I bought for 20 Euro an excursion to the Parco Nazionali del Vesubio which included the bus journey (round trip) plus the entry to the site. Since there was no regular local bus service I accepted the price. The bus was completely full with tourists. After half an hour, or so, we arrived to the Park check point. We were given the entry ticket and assigned one hour and a half time to visit the volcano through the sentiero (path). I walked around the cone stopping from time to time to admire the panorama, Sorrento and the sea. It was wonderful! I could see the crater and the mountains countryside around. Only for those views it was worth to travel there. It was an easy trekking; even children walked without any difficulty. There were fences in some dangerous parts of the path in order to avoid accidents. There were some snack bars during the way selling drinks and souvenirs. The further the bar was the more expensive the drinks were. I reached the last stall. Further I could not continue since there was a check point and was forbidden, then, little by little I walked back to the bus and finally the driver dropped us back to Erculano. It had been an enjoyable half a day excursion.
POMPEI PLUS ERCULANO: In Naples I took a train of the Circumvesuviana line and after one hour or so I reached Pompeii. The ruins are just at the same exit of the railway station. The site is very well organized for the tourists. I bought the entry ticket and I was given brochures in Spanish, where everything was indicated, with explanations, pictures and a map with the names of the paved streets, so I followed the instructions and did not miss anything. Sometimes, when in doubt, I asked the guardians of every house and gave me good information. They are people prepared to help you, and practically all of them speak Spanish. The place is huge! It took me several hours to get to feel myself satisfied with what I had see. There were many guides conducting groups of tourists that had come by cruises to Sorrento or Naples. I did not miss the Forum, the amphitheater, the Temples devoted to Jupiter, Isis, Apollo and Vespasian, the houses of the nobles, the thermals, the bakeries, the mosaics, the frescoes over some walls, and all the rests that was left after the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in the year 79. Many places were in restoration and I could not access. The name of the restoration project, I understood, is called PompeiViva. The visit that I made to Erculano was much shorter and the best was the aerial part that I saw, just when entering the site, before acquiring the entry tickets. I only regret that I did not culminate my visits to this UNESCO group adding Torre Annunziata.
SURRIENTO: I arrived to Sorrento to catch my ferry to Capri Island, but before of that I spent about a couple of hours visiting around. I found Sorrento to be a pretty resort with high prices. Everything was more expensive there than in Napoli, the food and accommodation, basically. The beauty of Sorrento has attracted many famous visitors in the past, like Goethe, Lord Byron, and some other German and English writers. But Sorrento is a good place to explore places in the surroundings such as the Amalfi Coast, the Islands of Capri and Ischia, or the Vesuvius volcano and the ruins of Pompeii. The place is beautifully situated over cliffs. Descending through steps I found the beaches and the pier for the ferries. Some pedestrian streets in Sorrento were filled with shops selling souvenirs and offering degustation of limoncello to the foreigners. Based in the centrically located Piazza Tasso I entered some remarkable churches, such as the Basilica di Sant Antonino, the Chiesa del Carmine, or the one devoted to San Francesco, with its beautiful cloister (I saw a wedding when I was there), and also admired, externally, some of Sorrento many palaces. In downtown Sorrento there are many shops offering you to taste limoncello and lemon caramels. Limoncello is famous in Sorrento and delicious...................................................................................................................
IN SPANISH: Nápoles es una ciudad fascinante, es un mundo en sí; posee una poderosa personalidad que te absorbe, te deslumbra, te seduce… Nápoles es la Calcuta de Europa, algo caótica, sí, tal vez, pero está viva, es auténtica; ambas ciudades me encantan.
La primera vez que la visité, en el 2005, iba en tránsito y sólo pasé en ella un día. Llegue en tren al oscurecer; la estación la cerraban a medianoche y no podría dormir en ella, por lo que me echaron a la calle. En la puerta hice amistad con unos vagabundos a los que pregunté por un jardín donde dormir y me enviaron al puerto. Al llegar, extendí mi saco de dormir sobre un banco de madera y me acosté. Dormí tranquilo, hasta que el sol me despertó al amanecer. Visité el centro, en especial los Barrios Españoles (Quartieri Spagnoli), donde me sentía en casa, ya que allí se alojaban en el pasado nuestros bravos soldados de los Tercios de Flandes. A media tarde proseguí el viaje por la Costa Amalfitana, donde no paré de degustar vasitos de limoncello en cada pueblo.
La segunda vez que visité esa entrañable ciudad fue el año 2014, y disponía de más dinero que la primera, no mucho más, pero pude permitirme alquilar un cuarto en un hostal justo enfrente de la estación de trenes, una zona donde me sentía a gusto.
Me quedaría en Nápoles una semana entera, pues son muchos los lugares extraordinarios que esa ciudad y los alrededores ofrecen. Durante esos siete días me dio tiempo a visitar en viajes radiales de de ida y vuelta:
- Palacio Real de Caserta
- Pompeya, Herculano y trekking al Vesubio
- Islas Capri, Ischia y Procidia, desde el puerto de Sorrento
La mejor de estas tres islas fue Ischia, gracias a su maravilloso castillo aragonés, que visité por dentro y por fuera, por delante y por detrás. El castillo aragonés hacía las veces de hotel, pero a precios desorbitados.
Los cuatro días restantes hasta completar la semana los invertí íntegramente en Nápoles. A veces comía en la pizzería “Da Michele”, pero un día que había mucha cola de turistas di la vuelta a la manzana y encontré otra pizzería, casi vacía, llamada “Il Figlio del Presidente”, que se anunciaba con una foto del ex presidente estadounidense Bill Clinton, que comió allí. Y estaba también excelente la pizza que ordené, y sólo pagué 4 euros (Nápoles es una ciudad más barata que Roma).
Advertí que en el año 2014 todavía recordaban a Maradona, y lo idolatraban. Veía su foto por muchos negocios.
Poco a poco iba conociendo los tesoros dentro de la Catedral de San Gennaro, la Iglesia de San Jorge, el complejo del Monasterio de Santa Clara, el Castel dell’Uovo, la Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo (donde compré un interesantísimo libro sobre Matteo Ricci y su viaje a China el siglo XVI). En el Pio Monte della Misericordia admiré un maravilloso cuadro de Caravaggio llamado “Siete Obras de Misericordia”, uno de los primeros que pintó en Nápoles tras su huida de Roma.
En España tenemos sólo cinco pinturas de Caravaggio y he tenido la suerte de admirarlas todas. Están localizadas en el Museo del Prado, en el de Thyssen Bornemisza, en la Catedral de Toledo, en el Palacio Real de Madrid, y en el museo del Monasterio de Montserrat.
Aún visité en Nápoles otros lugares memorables que nutrieron mi mente y mi alma.
Y tras Nápoles me fui a viajar a otra parte.
2011-11-22 - My Quebecoise girlfriend and I had spent the night before in Villahermosa, in Tabasco (where we admired the strange giants heads of Parque Museo La Venta) and in the morning we traveled hitchhiking to Merida, in Yucatán, what would take us two full days. The first day we could reach Ciudad del Carmen, in the state of Campeche, where we slept, and the second day, with a stop in Campeche city, we crossed that state and entered Yucatán. In the afternoon we arrived to Mérida and found a pension in the downtown. The first thing that we did the next day in Mérida was to buy a famous hammock to use it during the rest of our voyage through the Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala.
I reached Campeche for the second time in May 2012.
During my first time, back in 1984, I only spent the night in that city but apart from the cathedral I did not see anything else, or atg least I do not remember anything else.
During this second journey I spent two days and had also time to visit the nearby Maya ruins of Edzna.
I walked a whole day in Campeche. My hotel was an old monastery close to the cathedral.
The houses were painted in sparkling colors. Most of them were ground floor buildings.
In downtown I saw a UNESCO sign indicating that I was in front of the Aduana Maritima (Maritime Customs Building). The walls around the city are very well preserved, as well as the gates.
Not far from Campeche, on the beach, there were several nice cafeterias by the beach offering seafood and tequila.
From Campeche, two days later, I continued my journey by bus until Cancun, from where I flew back to Barcelona, in my dear Spain.
Edzna Maya site: This fantastic Maya archeological site is a wonder and not far fROm Campeche.
There is a huge complex. I needed three hours to visit it more or less well. There are signs who help you, in Spanish and also in English.
There are several temples, Juego de Pelota complex and the Acropolis,
Do not miss it if you happen to be in Campeche!
IN SPANISH: CIUDAD HISTÓRICA FORTIFICADA DE CAMPECHE
UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Campeche es una ciudad portuaria caribeña de tiempos de la colonización española. Su centro histórico ha conservado las murallas y el sistema de fortificaciones creado para protegerla contra los ataques navales.
Lo primero que llama la atención al lLegar a Campeche es la fortaleza y sus muros en muy buen estado de conservación. Gracias a ella los españoles evitaron asaltos de piratas ingleses y franceses. Vi en una de sus entradas un monumento dedicado a un carro con un caballo y su dueño que llevaba por título El Aguador, y al lado se localizaba una placa metálica de UNESCO en la que se podía leer:
“ADUANA MARÍTIMA. Edificio de carácter militar, construido entre 1786 - 1790. Funcionó como enlace comercial con Europa, por ser este el único Puerto de la región desde el siglo XVI al XVIII”.
Busqué un alojamiento en el interior de sus murallas y hallé un antiguo convento convertido en albergue donde me hicieron un buen precio por una antigua celda en la planta baja.
Durante ese día y parte del siguiente recorrí la ciudad y hasta caminé a lo largo del malecón hasta que me encontré con una carabela española (debía ser una reproducción) convertida en cafetería y restaurante, donde no dejé de probar un vasito de tequila añejo.
Entré en la Catedral de la Concepción, donde compré un cirio, y también compré otro en la Iglesia de San Francisco.
Al mediodía del día siguiente viajé a unas ruinas mayas llamadas Edzna, donde admiré el Juego de Pelota de los Mayas más la construcción de la Gran Acrópolis.
2007-04-26 - Campione d’Italia is a tiny Italian town into Switzerland territory in front of Lugano, in the lake of the same name. It was given to the Bishop of Milan and thus it avoided to be annexed by the new formed Switzerland. You can get there by ferry from Lugano, in the Swiss canton Ticcino, or by train and then walking a few hundred metres.
I walked around the narrow streets. It reminded me Büsingen (a German enclave also in Switzerland). There is a free minibus which will take you around the mountainous village. The casino, dated from 1917, is a must to visit. I spent a whole night there. The entrance is free. Inside you have sandwiches and drinks for free all the night long.
You do not have to play if you do not like. You just watch the TV and eat and drink free canapés and drinks without coercion.
I enjoyed more this casino in Campione d’Italia than those of Atlantic City in New Jersey (USA), or the one in Sun City, near Johannesburg (South Africa).
2008-12-21 - seven spanish paradises:-------------------------------------Canary Islands (Islas Canarias in spanish language) are an idyllic destination for every spanish tourist and for most europeans, especially coming from England, Germany and scandinavian countries. You get there by boat from Cadiz, in Andalucia, and once in the islands you can travel very easily from island to island by ferries. If you prefer to fly, then you will find many cheap airline tickets from most of the spanish and european cities.The best time to go is in winter because of its pleasant climate. In every island grows bananas, mangoes, avocados, pineapples, and all kind of tropical fruits, as well as tobacco.In Canarias, every island is a different world. We have seven inhabited islands plus six small ones. I am going to list you here all these seven islands with the highlights that you should not miss, and its particularities:TENERIFE is the greatest of the seven islands and the most popular one because of its exotic carnival, one of the best and funny in the world together with those of Rio de Janeiro and Venice. The main characteristic is the Teide Mountain, the highest peak in Spain (3718 meters).GRAN CANARIA has many beaches, and the most populous city of the archipelago, Las Palmas.FUERTEVENTURA has 25 % of the territory declared National Parks.LANZAROTE has the Montana de Fuego (Fire Mountain) as the main attraction, with geysers from the volcanic activity. You can reach the peak riding a camel.LA PALMA has a national park with volcanoes called Caldera del Taburiente declared Word Heritage by the UNESCO, as well as medieval villages.LA GOMERA is the most mountainous island, and because the lack of beaches, the least visited by the tourists (Maybe this is a good reason to go there!). Part of the population has invented an original and unique language by whistling.EL HIERRO is the smallest and less populated of this group of seven, and many people say that is the most beautiful.
In December 2012, I spent two weeks in Canary Islands.
In my opinion, the most fascinating island was El Hierro. People are lovely there and nature is unique.
I was not alone, that is why I did not sleep on the beach, as usual, but in the hotel Punta Grande, which according to the Guinness Book of Records is the smallest hotel in the world. There are only four rooms.
The owner, Señor Miguel, is a wonderful man, helpful and nice. Prices are affordable and breakfast is included. You can even have dinner there if you wish.
At about 200 meters from this hotel there is a restaurant where they play local music almost every night.
You should try the local wine, which is delicious.
I made an easy trekking, which connects the hotel Punta Grande with a village besides Frontera. It is just 5 kilometers go and 5 back; even less than that. The entire path is wooded, nobody can get lost. And it is marvelous!
At the end of the trekking there is a cafeteria and restaurant and also a kiosk where you can try El Hierro wine, white and red (you should try it!) and seafood for a good price.
There are many possibilities to make trekkings in El Hierro. In the tourist office, at the airport, or in Frontera town, will give you useful information.
I enjoyed El Hierro more than any other Canary Island. It is the least touristy.
You can get to El Hierro directly by ferry from the following islands: La Gomera, La Palma and Tenerife, and by plane from the other Canary Islands.
In fact all the Canary Islands are connected by ferries, so from Lanzarote, for instance, you can travel to Fuerteventura by ferry, then to Gran Canaria, then to Tenerife, La Gomera, El Hierro, etc.
From el El Hierro I navigated to La Gomera. This is a short trekking description crossing the UNESCO declared National Park in La Gomera Island:
From San Sebastian de la La Gomera you can board a bus to the Pajaritos stop and then start to walk.
There are several different trekking; some of them will take you only a couple of hour’s time to complete, and the longest, going back to Pajaritos after a round walk (Gran Ruta Circular), about 6 hours. In total there are not many kilometers to walk, only 12 at the most if you choose the round one, so it is not a hard trekking. You should walk slowly, admiring the nature.
The bus dropped me at about 11 AM in Pajaritos. I understood that I had to be back in San Sebastian at about 5 PM in order not to miss the last bus back to San Sebastian, so I had time enough.
During the trekking (the round one) you will walk inside a charming forest sheltering many pines and cedars trees, a creek, some monuments devoted to the Guanches (first inhabitants of Canary Islands, originating from a Berber ethno from North West Africa) and a catholic capilla in the middle of the forest.
You should stop in Mirador del Alto de Garajonay, which is a holy place where the old Guanches made ceremonies.
There are many signs showing you the way and different paths and variants of the several trekking, but they are often confusing.
It was cold up in Garajonay, but fortunately I had brought warm clothes.
When you reach the Catholic chapel you are very close to the end of the trekking. You still have to walk for a few minutes and you will see a restaurant there. It was almost full when I saw it, and I heard the food served is very good.
And then I discovered another path going down to the other side of the island, to Hermigua.
It was about 2 PM and I had a dilemma, going back to Pajaritos or going down to Hermigua, which seemed to be very near judging by the sight, just in front. I learnt that from Hermigua there was another bus to San Sebastian at 5 PM.
Then I decided to walk to Hermigua, thus exiting the Garajonay National Park.
That trekking was very hard; I had not expected to be so vertical, and my knees suffered a lot at the end of the trekking. Two days after that trekking I still felt pain in my legs.
That second trekking took me about one hour. It was stunning. I can only recommend it. I saw spectacular rocks and a high waterfall.
In Hermigua I waited for my bus and went back to San Sebastian, town that I reached at about 6 PM. It had been a fantastic day.
If during your trekking in Garajonay you decide to get to Hermigua (hard but short trekking down to this village) then you will admire this waterfall, the highest in Canary Islands (over 200 meters). It is called El Chorro del Cedro.
It is worth to make the effort.
Unfortunately when I was there there was no much water, but anyway I enjoyed the view of the waterfall.
2009-11-02 - Cantabria is a Spanish autonomy almost untouched by the hordes of tourists. Even in the pleasant capital, Santander, you will only see locals. In Cantabria you will discover pretty little villages such as Santillana del Mar (see picture) and old stone roads constructed by the Romans. Nobody knows why, but all the Spanish cities starting with the letter S are the most beautiful. For instance: Santander, Sevilla, Segovia, San Sebastian, Soria, Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, and, of course, Santillana del Mar. Not far from Santillana del Mar you can reach the Altamira cave frescoes, painted about 20.000 years ago (nobody knows yet the exact date). The site has been declared World Heritage by the UNESCO. The nature in Cantabria is exuberant, especially around the Picos de Europa Mountains. Do not forget to try the delicious local cheese (in Spanish language is queso).
In January of the year 2011 I had the opportunity to get to know deeply this Spanish region: I made on foot the Camino del Norte (Northern Way), starting in Hendaya, Euskadi, the border between Spain and France, until Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, where the tomb of Jesus Christ Apostle Saint James is located.
The whole journey took me four weeks; one of them was entirely devoted to Cantabria.
I entered Cantabria territory through the Roman city of Castro Urdiales. That day I made 58 kilometers on foot, starting early in the morning in Bilbao, at 6 AM, and reached Castro Urdiales at 10 PM. But I had no other choice since there were not shelters for pilgrims between these two cities.
The next day I walked 38 kilometers, until Laredo, where our first Imperator, Carlos V, of the Hapsburg Dynasty, disembarked in Spain in the year 1556.
The Northern Way is unique among all the ways to Santiago because it goes along the Cantabrian cornice. You have the mountains on the left and the Cantabrian Sea on the right.
That second night in Cantabria I slept in the dormitories for pilgrims inside a Trinitarian monastery for sisters, called Casa de la Trinidad.
The Order of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of the Captives was founded near Paris at the turn of the twelfth century. It was very active in Europe during the period of the Crusades, and especially in Spain during the Reconquista times. The Trinitarian monks liberated our national writer, Miguel de Cervantes, from Muslim pirates in Algeria.
The third day I walked 37 kilometers until a mythical shelter for pilgrims, in Guemes, where his hospitalero, or man in charge of the pilgrims, the Father Ernesto, has a legendary reputation for treating very well all his guests.
I arrived to Guemes at about 4 PM, and upon seeing me, Father Ernesto served me a delicious Cantabrian dish called Cocido Montañés (Highlander Stew), which was delicious. It consisted in white beans, cabbage, plus bacon, pork ribs and chorizo.
That shelter was beautiful, and its location was wonderful.
The Father Ernesto, during his youth, had been a missionary in Africa and South America countries, helping the poorest among the poor. His shelter contained wooden masks, statues and other artifacts from the countries where he had been as a missionary. That shelter looked like a museum.
The fourth day I only walked 14 kilometers, until Santander, Cantabria capital. The fifth day I walked 35 kilometers, until Santillana del Mar, a most lovely village,
The sixth day I made on foot 39 kilometers, until San Vicente de la Barquera. It had been a very rich day in impressions. In Cobreces I could visit a Cistercian monastery where I entered. Its name was Santa Maria de Viaceli. The monks were Trappist and prepare a most tasty cheese.
Some kilometers further, in Comillas, I visited an Antonio Gaudi gem, called the Capricho de Gaudi with a fantastic architecture.
And finally the seventh day I left Cantabria through the cordillera Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) to enter Asturias through the magnificent monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana.
During those seven days in Cantabria I experienced an exuberant and wild nature, saw many wonders and met extraordinary people. That pilgrimage was exceptional and lifted my soul.................................................
A TRANSIT STOP IN SANTILANA DEL MAR: Santillana del Mar belongs to the recently created organization “The Most Beautiful Villages of Spain”, which include 25 small villages scattered all over our country (Albarracín, Morella, Medinaceli, Calaceite, etc.).
I have been twice in the lovely village of Santillana del Mar, and both times I spent one night. The first time, in the year 2001, I slept in a hostel, and the second one, in the year 2011, in the pilgrim’s shelter, because I was making on foot the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela.
The name Santillana del Mar is confusing. Literally it means that it is a holy place, flat and located by the sea (a mixture of Santo, Llana, Mar).
But it is none! Not holy, not flat (it is rather mountainous) and far from the Cantabrian Sea, at about 5 kilometers distance.
During my second visit (in 2011) I discovered that the name derives from the IV century Santa Illana (St. Juliana of Nicodemia), whose remains are sheltered inside the Colegiata, a previous Benedictine monastery built in Romanesque style.
The architecture of the buildings of Santillana del Mar is lovely. I saw a palace and a museum. But the best visit, of course, is the Colegiata, plus the Cueva de Altamira (UNESCO), at a few kilometers distance.
EL CASTILLO AND LAS MONEDAS PREHISTORIC CAVES: I travelled by bus from Burgos to Puente Viesgo. Since all the hotels were too expensive, I found a pleasant place to sleep on a wooden bench in the old railway station. In the morning I walked about one and a half kilometers up the Monte Castillo, to visit two spectacular caves, called El Castillo and Las Monedas, that are in the UNESCO List of Patrimonies of the Humankind.. The entry fee was 3 Euro per each cave. I had chosen to visit those caves, instead of the one better known of Altamira, because in Altamira you see a reproduction of the original cave, but in El Castillo and Las Monedas you enter in each cave. Both caves were spectacular. There were more caves in that hill, but were closed. In both of them we would spend almost one hour. We were several tourists, most of us Spanish, so the explanations were in Spanish language. The caves themselves were formidable, stunning, more when our guide showed us design of human hands and animals
2007-05-16 - During the four days that I spent in Cape Verde (or Cabo Verde, which means Green Cape, in Portuguese language) I had the opportunity to visit two islands: Santiago, where I flew in from Dakar, and Sal, from where I had to fly out to Lisbon and then to Spain. My first thought was: well, I will enjoy the beauty of these green islands, as the name infers. But the islands were almost deserts, practically without nature. Anyway I liked them and was not disappointed because of the interesting colonial Portuguese buildings in Praia, capital of the country, and especially because of the nice people everywhere, who were brought to the archipelago as slaves, since Cabo Verde Islands were uninhabited when the Portuguese sailors discovered them. Santiago Island was not touristy at all. The only foreigners that I met there were Portuguese expatriates. But in Sal I saw lots of Italians, French, Spaniards, English, Germans, etc., who went there to practice sea activities such as snorkelling, diving, swimming, fishing, etc.
It was very easy to find Portuguese beer Sagres and vinho verde in any restaurant.
.......................................................... SAL: Sal was much touristy than Praia. I saw many Europeans in its beaches. Hearing to them I noticed that many came from Italy, but also from Spain, France, Germany and other European countries. They went to Sal to practice sea activities such as snorkelling, diving, swimming, fishing, etc. It was very easy to find Portuguese beer Sagres and vinho verde in any restaurant in Sal. The last day of my stay in Sal I flew back to Spain via Lisbon.
2008-12-24 - It is very easy, cheap and pleasant to get to Carriacou Island from Granada (Grenada in English) by boat. There are several sailings daily. You will see many tiny Grenadines uninhabited islets along the journey, as well as Petite Martinique.The capital of Carriacou is called Hillsborough. The Catholic Church was in the downtown, but uninhabited because a recent hurricane.The island is very green with an exuberant nature. Prices for food are not expensive.There are many Rastafaris in the island, but they are peaceful people and only want to talk with you, especially y if you come from an exotic country (from their point of view) as they see Spain. They will not bother and will not ask you for money or to share their marihuana cigar. There are several hotels in the island, but being short of money (as usual), the first night I slept inside the airport, which is just out of the town Hillsborough, at 1 kilometre of distance. It is locked in the night, but the nice guard will help you to sleep inside, on a wooden bench) and will give you mosquitoes repellent.The second night I slept in the port, because the first ferry back to Granada sails at 6 AM.
2009-11-02 - Castilla y Leon is the greatest autonomy in Western Europe, and its history is amazing. Almost every cathedral is under UNESCO protection, such as those of Leon and Burgos, the most impressive and beautiful in Spain, and some of its Romanic churches are among the best preserved and beautiful in Europe, as for instance the one in Fromista, in the province of Palencia. The Camino de Santiago crosses the following Castilla y Leon provinces: Burgos, Palencia and Leon. In this autonomy you will understand why in English it is said: To construct castles in Spain. Indeed, Castilla means castle in Spanish language, and in this autonomy you will see hundreds of them. The one in Segovia served as inspiration for the Walt Disney film BAMBI. Other tourist attractions in Castilla y Leon are: plaza mayor of Salamanca, one of the most beautiful in Spain. Avila, city considered World Heritage for its wonderful walls. Its gastronomy is delicious, and you should try the morcillas from Burgos, or the cochinillo or suckling pig in Segovia, or some of the best wines of the world: Rioja, Toro and Ribera del Duero.
While in Segovia, I strongly advise you to have lunch in: MESON DE CANDIDO:
This is probably the best well known restaurant of the whole of Spain. Kings, Princesses, Ministers, Franco, and even our present nuisance President Zapatero have more than once had dinner in this fabulous restaurant where they still observe the old Castilian feudal traditions, like cutting the sucking pig with a plate that immediately is thrown to the floor to be broken with much noise in one thousand pieces. The gastronomy in Castilla and Leon is very consistent; try the Sopa Castellana and sweets made by the nouns of the monasteries nearby Segovia. All Castilian dishes have to be accompanied by a superb Rioja, or Ribera del Duero, red wine. The restaurant building consists in an enchanting old house just across the world famous Roman Aqueduct (UNESCO Patrimony of Humankind).
The end of the pilgrimage along the Ruta de la Plata.
In the year 2013 it took me two weeks to walk the about 470 kilometers that separate the old Roman cities of Mérida (Augusta Emerita) from Astorga (Asturica Augusta).
I was tired but happy. I had learnt a lot of things about the history of my country and visited stunning places.
The first thing that I did upon arriving to Astorga and meanwhile there was light, was to revisit some places that I had known when I made the Camino Francés to Santiago some years earlier, among them the Palacio Episcopal of Antonio Gaudi (he started it but it was finished by another architect, Ricardo García, and nowadays is a museum devoted to the Camino de santiago), the old walls, the cathedral plus some other historical places.
In one plaque on the street I could read that Astorga was also a transit stop of other Roman ways originating in Braga (Portugal), by orders of Cesar Augusto, and heading to Zaragoza and Tarragona (in Spain) and to Bordeaux and Toulouse (in France).
Another plaque commemorated the 2000 years of foundation of Astorga with the twining of the August cities of Bracara (Braga), Caesar Augusta (Zaragoza), Lucus (Lugo), and Emerita (Mérida).
I was lucky to find a bed in the Albergue Siervas de María (pilgrims’ shelter). It was almost full because the so many pilgrims making the Camino Francés.
I used to eat little during that pilgrimage; just one main meal a day plus some snacks with beers and coffee on the road. But after having a shower in the shelter I was very hungry and I celebrated the end of my pilgrimage ordering in a centrically located restaurant (in front of the shelter) a famous Astorga dish called Cocido Maragato. You start with the meat, then the chickpeas, then the vegetables and finish with the soup.
The next day I still visited other interesting places around Astorga and León before travelling back home.
2009-11-02 - This Spanish autonomy includes five interesting provinces having different characteristics. Here there are:
TOLEDO is Castilla La Mancha capital, and until 1561 was the capital of Spain. It is unbelievable how rich in monuments is; there are almost one hundred tourist attractions to see, and you need several days to make it justice. First of all, the situation of the city of Toledo is spectacular forming an inexpugnably fortress thanks to the River Tajo. Up in the hill the city is dominated by the Alcazar building, today a military museum. The cathedral is the richest in Spain and constitutes the country religious centre. Inside of it you will find a museum with many El Greco paintings (an artist from Crete, Greece) such as the 12 apostles, or even Goya, Velazquez and Rubens. You should also visit The Casa de El Greco, in the Hebrew quarter, plus two synagogues today converted in museums (Until 1492 there were 11 synagogues in Toledo). If you want to see one of the most famous El Greco paintings and one of the greatest masterpieces of the world, then go to Santo Tome Church and admire the magnificent The Burial of Earl Orgaz.
CIUDAD REAL has many Don Quixote Route villages, such as Mota del Cuervo, Campo de Criptana o Consuegra, with windmills and even castles belonging to the Order of Malta. It is a must to visit pleasant village El Toboso, where everything reminds Don Quixote. Look inside the Dulcinea house (she really existed and Cervantes idealized her in Don Quixote as Dulcinea which derives from Dulce Ana, or Sweet Ana). You can find a very good restaurant, called La Venta de Don Quijote, in Puerto Lapice, with plenty Don Quixote motives in its courtyard. I insist, while in Ciudad Real you should visit in Toboso the House of Dulcinea. This is a lovely XVI century house of two floors plus a nice patio in the quiet village of El Toboso, La Mancha, where lived Ana Martinez Zarco (whom Cervantes pretended, without success, and projected his love immortalizing her in his “obra maestra” Don Quixote, as Dulcinea, or Sweet Ana). The entrance fee is cheap. They will confiscate your photo apparatus, since pictures and video are strictly prohibited. On the ground floor there is the patio and instruments to produce olive oil and wine, and the kitchen with old utensils. On the first floor you can see Dulcinea room, bed and furniture of her time, plus her room to sew and receive guests. Do not miss the shop in front, called La Aldaba, where you can buy lovely and original objects and books related with Don Quixote (I have at home several items bought in that shop). Just a few kilometres far, in Mota del Cuervo, you can also visit the windmills since the times of Miguel de Cervantes, which Don Quixote took for giants.
CUENCA is a UNESCO town because of its hanging houses. I suggest you buy coffee liquor in a bottle in the form of the Cuenca hanging houses.
GUADALAJARA is famous for the battle during our Civil War from 1936 to 1939. Today is a quiet town at about 50 kilometres from Madrid, and many of its inhabitants live there while they go to Madrid for working using it as a dormitory city for the lowest prices. While in there it is worth a visit the Palacio del Infantado, by the architect Juan Guas.
ALBACETE belonged until recently to Murcia autonomy. There are some villages related to Don Quixote. It is a famed town for their good quality knifes and scissors. ......................................................
DON QUIJOTE IN CIUDAD REAL: I travelled to Ciudad Real to visit the museum devoted to Don Quijote, since I love very much that Miguel de Cervantes personage. But when I reached the city, by bus from Almadén (where I visited the mines of mercury, which are a UNESCO Patrimony of the Humankind), I was informed that is was closed. I walked there anyway. The bus station is at just 200 meters from the museum. When I reached the museum it was closed for works. There were some monuments devoted to Don Quijote and Sancho Panza besides the museum. Then I found a hostel near Plaza Mayor to spend the night, and the next morning I looked for more statues dedicated to Cervantes and Don Quijote. Ciudad Real, meaning King City, has other tourist attractions to offer, such as the cathedral and several interesting buildings around the Plaza Mayor, like the modern City Hall. The city was founded by our Spanish king Alfonso X the Wise in the XIII century. At about midday I left Ciudad Real and caught a bus to Madrid in order to visit the Benedictine Monastery El Paular..........................................
ALMADÉN MERCURY MINES: I enjoyed the visit to the mercury mines of Almaden like a child. I paid the entry fee (13 euro) and joined a small group of tourists. We were given helmets to protect our heads, just in case, and followed the guide. We all were Spaniards, so the explanation was in Spanish language, although the guides could also speak French and English. We took the lift and descended 50 meters. There were more floors, until over 700 meters depth. During two hours we walked along corridors and tunnels with stops for explanation in front of the old machines used to extract the cinnabar, the ore of mercury, or quicksilver. The quicksilver from Almaden helped to extract the silver in the Spanish colonies in America during the colonial times. After the mines we boarded a train, then a minibus. We saw museums and games for children. All was very didactic, very attractive, even for adult people. Apart from those mines, Almaden has a hexagonal arena and a hospital unique in the world, where the workers of the Almaden mines were hospitalized when they became sick for mercury poisoning. In some periods of time, in the past in the Almaden mines was used slave labor.........................................................................
THE HANGING HOUSES OF CUENCA: I reached Cuenca by bus, coming from Madrid. Arriving to Cuenca I liked the landscape around the town. The bus dropped me in the station and then I crossed a river and walked up until what I considered the Central Square, or Plaza Mayor, where the cathedral was located. The cathedral was open and could visit its interior. Apart from the cathedral there were many churches and museums to visit in that culturally rich city that is Cuenca. I did not have time to visit everywhere but I managed not to lose the most important places. One of the several monasteries that shelters Cuenca had been transformed into a Parador, or Government hotel. The most impressive of my half a day visit to Cuenca, was, in my opinion, the houses erected over the cliffs since the XV century. Their view from the other side of the river was fantastic. They were called Casas Colgantes (Hanging Houses). They are impressive. I noticed that some of them had been converted in restaurants, museums or shops selling goods for the tourists (in one of the shops I bought an original bottle in the form of a Hanging House, containing a delicious Licor de Café). Late in the afternoon I boarded a bus and returned to Madrid. It had been a very pleasant excursion.
THE INN WHERE DON QUIJOTE WAS KNIGHTED: Not long ago I had the opportunity to visit some places in Castilla La Mancha related with Don Quijote. I was travelling in a bus from Andalucia to Madrid, and the drivers, with whom I would make a good friendship, stopped for lunch in a lovely place called Puerto Lápice, a village of about 1000 inhabitants in the province of Ciudad Real. Castilla La Mancha has five provinces. Toledo is its capital, plus Cuenca, Guadalajara, Albacete and Ciudad Real. The restaurant where we had lunch was dedicated to Don Quijote. It was named Venta Don Quijote. According to the text of Miguel de Cervantes is in that place, called Venta (a kind of hostel, or inn, in the XVI century in Spain) that his hero experienced many misadventures and was knighted. In the restaurant walls there were many literary cites of the celebrated book. Even the food was based in the XVI century dishes, probably what Miguel de Cervantes ate in those times. After lunch the drivers drove us to a lovely place with several windmills. The place was called Mota del Cuervo. So far I have been in three main Windmills place, all in La Mancha region. These are: Consuegra, Campo de Criptana, and Mota del Cuervo. In that area of La Mancha, mainly in the Don Quijote Route, you see many individual windmills, most of them abandoned, or almost destroyed, but some of them converted in shops where you can buy the famous queso manchego (cheese) and vino de Valdepeñas. Consuegra offers several windmills up a hill. Between the windmills there is a castle which in the past belonged to the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. Campo de Criptana windmills are in the same downtown of the small village. The view from the hill of Mota del Cuervo, where the windmills are located, is superb. One of the windmills is a museum and a shop where you can buy small souvenirs related with Don Quijote...............................................................
A DAY VISIT TO THE OLD CAPITAL OF SPAIN: Toledo is Castilla La Mancha capital, and until 1561 was the capital of Spain. It is unbelievable how rich in monuments is; there are almost one hundred tourist attractions to see, and you will need several days to make it justice. First of all, the situation of the city of Toledo is spectacular, forming an inexpugnably fortress thanks to the River Tajo. Up in the hill the city is dominated by the Alcazar building, today a military museum. Toledo, like Avila, is a beautiful walled city. It was re-conquered by our king Alfonso VI in the year 1085 to the african Muslim invaders. I started my visit to Toledo entering through the Puerta de la Bisagra, then, after La Puerta del Sol, I reached the Plaza de Zocodover, where in the past there was the market and the bull fighting arena. Part of it was erected by the famous architect Juan de Herrera, the same that constructed the Monastery of El Escorial. Just besides the Plaza de Zocodover is located the Museo de Santa Cruz, which is a wonder and it is free of charge. It was an old hospital. Along narrow lanes filled with shops selling Toledo handicrafts and swords, I reached the Cathedral, the most impressive and richest in Spain, which constitutes the country religious centre. Inside of it I found a museum with many El Greco paintings (an artist from Crete, Greece) such as the twelve apostles, and even Goya, Velazquez and Rubens paintings. I also visited The Casa de El Greco, in the Hebrew quarter, plus two synagogues today converted in museums (until 1492 there were 11 synagogues in Toledo), today called El Tránsito and Santa María la Blanca. If you want to see one of the most famous El Greco paintings and one of the greatest masterpieces of the world, then go to Santo Tome Church and admire the magnificent The Burial of Earl Orgaz (that is what I did). Finally, late in the afternoon, after having had lunch and bought a good cheese “manchego” and a box of marzipan, I left Toledo on foot through the Puente (Bridge) de San Martin. Then I took the train and returned to Madrid. The visit to Toledo visit was breathtaking!
2008-12-21 - Barcelona, Cataluña capital, is a wonder.All the tourists and travellers who visit Spain love this town, like Sevilla, Toledo, Santiago de Compostela, or Granada.In Barcelona, a city founded more than 2000 years ago, you will have all the advantages of o big city but not the inconvenient. The population is about 1.650.000 inhabitants (3 millions if we add the small towns around), the second in Spain after Madrid, but you can walk everywhere since the main interesting places to visit are close to each other.The tourist attractions are the 12 Antonio Gaudi monuments, such as the Sagrada Familia temple (we hope to finish it in the year 2020), the Park Guell and the \"Casa Batllo\" and \"Casa Mila\" in the Paseo de Gracia. The Gothic quarter, with the 13th century cathedral, the narrow streets, the remains of the old synagogue and the romans columns are also worth a visit.One of the jewels of Barcelona is the Ramblas, probably the most beautiful street in Spain, a semi pedestrian boulevard in the centre, from Plaza Cataluna to the Colon (Columbus) monument, in the port, full with terraces filled with tourists eating paella and drinking sangria, shops selling Mexican \"sombreros\" and flamenco dolls or \"castanuelas\", dozens of artists playing music or performing shows, etc. The Ramblas is a theatre in the open air, day and night, because Barcelona never sleeps.Around Plaza Espana, in the Montjuich mountain, we have the Olympic stadium (we celebrated the Olympic Games in 1992), a museum dedicated to Juan Miro, the Pueblo Espanol (over one hundred reproductions of the most beautiful architecture of the 17 autonomies of Spain), the Mirador del Alcalde (for amazing panorama views), and the Magic Fountain, which during the nights offers a very pleasant show of light, music and water that you will never forget (AND IT IS FREE!)We also have very interesting museums, like the one dedicated to the andaluz Pablo Picasso (he was born in Malaga, where there is another museum dedicated to him, plus the house where he was born and lived).For another good panoramic view of the city, please take the lift up to the top of the Columbus monument to enjoy a great view of the Ramblas and the port.Near Barcelona you should not miss the incredible and beautiful Montserrat Monastery, in a rocky mountain, with the statue of the black virgin, and its museum containing paintings by Dali, Picasso, Miro, El Greco, old Italian masters and several French impressionists. Montserrat Monastery is one of the holiest places in Spain, together with the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, and the \"Basilica del Pilar\", in Zaragoza.Another one day excursion is the Salvador Dali museum, in Figueras, near France, at about 2 hours by train.For seafood, try the Barceloneta area, besides our beaches, and the nearby Maremagnum with our Aquarium and lots of restaurants. Barcelona has a metro with 5 lines and regular ferries to the Balearic Islands and to Italy.Finally, if you love beaches, you will find them in the same city, in the Barceloneta area, but for the most beautiful ones it will be much better to hire a car or take a train or bus down to Sitges, a few kilometers south of Barcelona, or to the north, to Tossa de Mar, for instance, in the magnificent Costa Brava.Probably the most important personage born in Cataluña is, of course, the genius Salvador Dali.Christopher Columbus monument---------------------------------------------This beautiful monument was erected in 1888, dedicated to Columbus, for the first International Exposition in Barcelona (we celebrated another International Expo in 1992, in Sevilla, Andalucia).Its height is 51 metres, but there is a lift to the top from where you can watch the Ramblas. Around the monument there are scenes relating the first voyage of Columbus to America, in 1492, and his arrival to Barcelona in 1493 to meet the Catholic Kings, who were there at that time.A place in front of this monument that I loved very much when I was a child and where I used to play with my friends after school, was an accurate reproduction of the SANTA MARIA caravel (the captain caravel used by Columbus, which was wrecked in La Espanola Island), which was very popular among tourists. But in 1987 a group of fanatic members of a nationalist political party in Barcelona, psychopaths minds who hate Spain and the Spanish language, burned it because if its reminiscence of the Spanish discovery of America. (Just for comparison purposes: do you remember the Taliban of Afghanistan blowing up the great Buddha statues of Bamian?).Fortunately, the Columbus monument is metallic and they can not destroy it, and all the foreigners and Spaniards alike can admire it............................................................................... In July 2014 I had the opportunity to visit the wonderful landscapes of Siurana (or Ciurana de Tarragona), a place included in the UNESCO Tentative List.
It was not easy to get there. A friend of mine living in Tarragona helped me with his car and in spite of having been in Siurana several times he got lost and it took us over one hour to find that tiny village. But it was worth the effort.
In Siurana live about 30 persons. Their economy depends on tourism, selling regional products such as olive oil, wine, cheese, etc. to the few daily visitors.
Siurana was known as Seviriana during the Roman times. It was invaded by the Muslims during over 200 years, when it was the capital of a small Muslim ruled municipality (Taifa in Spanish), and named Xibrana. It was recuperated by the Christians during the Spanish Reconquista (exactly in the year 1153). Today the village shelters a huge cross made on stone erected in the year 1953. It is a memorial marking the 800 anniversary of the recovery of the place by the Spaniards.
On the top of the village there are some ruins of a castle built by the Arabs, but during the Napoleon troops invasion of Spain (beginning of the XIX century) it was destroyed by the French, so today you can only see ruins.
The main tourist attraction of Siurana, apart from the landscapes, is a lovely Romanic church called Santa María, dating from the XII century. Its main entrance was closed but through the portal we could have a look at the interior. Introducing a coin of 1 euro we had light to admire the altar.
I loved the tympanum. Jesus Christ crucified was depicted together with eighth apostles, plus the sun, the moon, and two lions.
The views over the cliffs and mountains plus the river with the reservoir, are breathtaking. Indeed, Siurana is probably the most beautiful village in the Spanish province of Tarragona.
We had lunch at an affordable price in the Restaurant Siurana, where we could taste the typical Catalan dishes (I tried rabbit with escargots). The local wine, Priorat (or Priorato), was delicious.
After lunch we returned to Tarragona downtown, and then I headed by train to my home place in Hospitalet de Llobregat.
2011-11-18 - I was in Potosí, Bolivia, and I had to travel by buses to Santiago de Chile to fly to Easter Island and therefore in the way I had to cross several Argentinean provinces, where would spend one day in each of them, except in San Juan, where I had friends and would stay with them a couple of days. The capital of Catamarca is San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, a relatively little populated city, with about 150.000 inhabitants. As it was my routine for several days, I used to spend a whole day in every Argentina provinces, and sometimes just the day, visiting the cathedral another tourists attractions, before taking my bus to the following province, to arrive as soon as possible to San Juan. On San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca did not sleep, but took a night bus to La Rioja. ......................................................................................
CATAMARCA CITY IN 2015:
San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, or simply Catamarca, is called The Athens of Northern Argentina for its wonderful and historical buildings.I would spend half a day visiting around the town.What impressed me more was the cathedral, also called Basilica Nuestra Señora del Valle, which is considered one of the holiest in Argentina. Apart from the cathedral itself, I visited in its back a kind of sanctuary with the statue of the Virgin Nuestra Señora del Valle. There were many people praying in silence. I also prayed for a while, without disturbing the faithful people then went at the back of the statue of the Virgin, took a few pictures and after a while left.There was, of course, the main square with the statue of San Martin, the pedestrian street and still other interesting churches. I did not miss anything interesting before leaving on foot to the bus station, then I travelled to Tucuman, where I would arrive at dark, but would find a hostel in front of the bus station.
2008-12-23 - I visited Cayman Islands for free.I arrived to Seattle from a long flight starting in Guam and stopping for half a day in Tokyo (where I was given a hotel room in Narita).The final destination of my ticket was Anchorage.But in Seattle there was overbooking and one of the employees of Continental Airlines offered to the volunteers to wait for the next flight, a free round trip from Anchorage to any of their destinations.I was the first one raising my hand and taking that offering!I just waited for three hours, with bonus to eat in a restaurant in the airport of Seattle.I did not mind, nobody was waiting for me in Anchorage. No hotel booking in Anchorage, in fact, my “hotel” would be the Salvation Army. So, that offer was for me a gift fell from the Heaven.After my stay in Anchorage, I made use of the gift and chose a round trip ticket to Cayman Islands, via Detroit and Miami.At the airport of Cayman I was asked for my hotel. I planned to sleep on the beach, so I gave the name of a hotel at random that I have found in a tourist brochure, and was given one week stay in the islands.I visited the beaches, several museums and, in general, enjoyed the easy going atmosphere of the island during three days.And the fourth day, tired of beaches (I am not very fond of beaches, I prefer the contact with the native people), I took my plane back, but instead of flying again to Anchorage via Detroit, I abandoned my second and third ticket and got off in Miami, from where I continued my journey around the world visiting some unknown USA states before flying to Spain.
2012-05-21 - In my way by bus from Salvador, in Bahia, where I have been during the carnival for some days (sleeping in the synagogue, for free), I crossed completely the state of Ceara stopping for some time in Fortaleza, which means fortress. After Fortaleza I continued my journey by bus to Belem, leaving the state of Para and entering Piauí..................................................................................................................
SECOND JOURNEY IN 2016: Fortaleza is a city rich in history and beauty. Apart from the natives, Spaniards, Dutch and finally Portuguese have visited this place.
In downtown I visited a fortress where a guide gave me explanations for free. The name of the city, Fortaleza, derives from that fortress.
Then in front I had the local market, or rather a Shopping Mall, very alive, and on its ground floor was located the Tourist Office where I was allowed to use Internet. Then I saw the cathedral. And not far from there I crossed the historic center with a very pretty theater, and finally arrived to the beaches, lovely beaches.
I then understood why Fortaleza is one of the preferred places to rest during the holidays for the brazilians.
It took me about 40 minutes to reach downtown on foot from the bus station. Usually the bus terminals are far away from downtown and you are forced to catch a local bus to the center, or to walk over one hour. I use to walk until downtown if the distance is about 5 kilometers, but I take the bus when there are 10 kilometers distance or more.
In the beach Iracema I found a very nice statue that locals love it very much. It is a guardia, representing a heroine admired for her courage. The statue shows her with an bow in fighting position.
Back in downtown I visited the pretty looking theater José de Alencar, but only was allowed to stay on the ground floor. For the visit to the first floor and the rest of the premises I needed to buy a ticket, therefore I refused and was happy enough to watch the beauty of the ground floor.
I still visited other interesting places in that city of almost 3 millions inhabitants. Had lunch in a restaurant that offered food at 30 rials per kilo, and then I walked back to the bus station to travel during the night to my next destination: Natal, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.
2007-05-31 - The Catholic Mission in Bangui, called Centre d’Accueil Notre Dame, helps all the travellers.
I arrived in Bangui in the night, one hour before the curfew. Not wanting to hire an expensive taxi I ran until the Mission, that was closed,, but they specially opened it and let me sleep in the library. Next morning I took a room and made friendship with the missionaries, who told me fantastic stories about the life of the people in that country. They even helped me to get to the border with Chad in their jeeps.
That Mission has a very familiar atmosphere. It is a very safe place, better than a hotel because the locals respect it. It is very frequented by ONG’s and missionaries who will tell you stories about the population and will take you for free in their land rovers to their missions in the heart of the country. They also serve dinners very cheap, and if you do not have money they will arrange a special price. It is located in the same downtown of Bangui. Price for a single with breakfast and dinner per night: 7000 CFA francs.
After Central Africa it took me ten days to reach N’djamena from Bangui crossing in three days Central African Republic, then, via Cameron (without visa), I arrived to Chad and had to give some baksheesh in the borders, otherwise they would open your bag and check carefully everything confiscating you whatever they wanted.
During seven more days, until finally I reached N’djamena, I slept in horrible huts without ventilation, ate worms and meat hard as the sole of a shoe, and travelled like a sardine in jeeps with 40 PAX when its capacity was for 8 PAX, and with an armed guard with weapons in his teeth travelling with us to protect us. During the nights we slept in the villages for fear of bandits.
............................. MY TRAVEL DIARY WHEN LEAVING BANGI: From Bangui it took me ten days to reach Ndjamena, Chad capital, always overland, as the true traveller should do. The first day I reached Bossangoa thanks to three Italian missionaries who took me in their land rover. The next day, using trucks, I arrived to a village called Paoua and the truck driver gave me accommodation in his house. Then I had two alternatives. The first one consisted in getting on foot and hitchhiking to the border with Chad, but that direct border was dangerous, infected with bandits who robbed everybody they meet. The second option, suggested to me by the driver of the truck, was much easier and completely safe, crossing Cameroon first, but I had no visa for that country and they do not supply it to you at the border, but at their Embassy in Bangui. Anyway I chose that alternative counting with the solidarity feeling between humane beings, which is innate in the noble Africans in particular. The third day I reached the border near Ngaundal. The agents in Central African Republic let me go ahead. Thus I crossed to Cameroon.
2011-10-16 - I have crossed Centre region of France several times when I was 18 and 19 years old, hitchhiking across France several times from north to south and from east to west. But I was not conscious of what I was crossing; I was just travelling for fun for two years around Europe, stopping at random in any place when it was dark. But in 1998 and again in 1999 I had the opportunity to stay for a couple of days in several places of Centre region. Both times I had to move tourists from a hotel where I was working as a dishwasher from Barcelona, in Spain, to Paris, in France, and in the way, by chartered bus, we had the opportunity to visit several parts of France, such as the thematic park Futuroscope, in Poitiers, and two of the many castles in Loire Valley, which were Chenonceaux and Amboise, where we spent several hours visiting the interior of both castles. In Amboise we could see the tomb attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, who was invited by French King François I. Studying the history of France is also studying Spanish history because is very much mixed. For instance, François I was our prisoner in Madrid, and released later and afterwards married to a Spanish princess, called Leonor.
................................................................................ JANUARY 2016: La Oficina de Turismo de Bourges, adonde entré para recabar información y mapas sobre la ciudad, se halla justo en la parte medieval. Una empleada me dibujó un itinerario que seguía las huellas de la vieja muralla galorromana circundando la catedral, palacios varios y casas de entramado de madera.
Mi primera visita fue a la catedral de Saint Etienne, que es donde los peregrinos del Camino de Santiago que lo inician en Vézelay deben obtener el sello de la credencial.
La hallé a través de callejones; parecía estar escondida. Los cinco tímpanos estaban primorosamente acabados, lo mismo que sus esculturas, sobre todo las del pórtico central, representando el Juicio Final, así como los frisos y las estatuas de mármol blanco de la cripta. Pero, de entre todo, lo que más me emocionó fueron sus vitrales, tanto por sus fantásticos colores como por sus dibujos.
Se dice que la catedral de Bourges está subestimada, sin embargo no tiene nada que envidiar a las de Chartres, Reims o París.
El giro a la parte histórica también fue particular. Bourges se considera una ciudad de alquimistas y se podían observar signos de esta antigua ciencia en algunas casas.
Cuando me sentí satisfecho por la visita, me marché con viento fresco a viajar a otra parte.
2011-09-29 - I visited Ceuta in 1976 for the first time. Then I crossed the border to stay a few days in Tangier and Tetouan and came back to Ceuta. The first time I took a ferry from Algeciras. Half of the passengers were contrabandists who used to buy cigarettes, alcohol and some food tax free in Ceuta and sold them in Spain. Apparently that was legal since they did not abuse and only carried the permitted quantity of stuff allowed by the Spanish Customs. Ceuta, a city founded by the Carthaginians, was conquered by Portugal to the African moors in 1415 (Morocco did not exist at that time) and after an agreement Portugal ceded Ceuta to Spain, who posses it since then, and fortified it in order to avoid further attacks from the Muslims to Spanish territory. The atmosphere in Ceuta is a mixture of Andalusia with Moors. There are churches and cathedrals as well as mosques, and many shops selling souvenirs and trifles are owned by Hindus. I also noticed the presence of Jews. Muslims form ghettos and live together while in downtown Ceuta most of its inhabitants are Christians. Christians form the majority of the population, but the Muslims also have Spanish nationality. I remember enjoying eating fish and sea productis in the cafeterias by the seaside.
After my visit to Ceuta, and following the example of half of the passengers of the ferry, I also bought a couple of bottles of a well known Scottish whisky and sold them in a bar close to the ferry port earning a few pesetas in the transaction.
2011-11-18 - In my journey from Rosario to Formosa, I made one day stop in Resistencia, Chaco capital. During the day I visited the downtown around Plaza 25 de Mayo, the several sculptures that were scattered around the city, and also the religious and colonial buildings. At the other side of the Rio Negro you enter Corrientes, another Argentine province and city, through the Puente Belgrano. Resistencia and Corrientes form, in the practice, a double city. I did not stay during the night to sleep in Resistencia. Instead, in the evening, I continued my journey to Formosa with the intention to cross to Paraguay. ................................................................................................
I reached Resistencia by bus, coming from Corrientes, crossing the bridge General Belgrano over the river Paraná.
The first thing that I tried to do upon my arrival was to find historical places, such as the cathedral or palaces, but Resistencia is a young city, founded only in the year 1878, when Argentina was already independent from Spain. The cathedral, for instance dated only from 1930.
I reconciled myself with the idea to discover only new buildings. I had half a day time for that and the city was inhabited by less than 400.000 souls, therefore I had time enough for that.
I visited the cathedral, called San Fernando Rey, also the Casa de las Culturas, and then I asked to the people in the streets for Spanish vestiges, but I was told that Resistencia was founded by immigrants from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in Italy, therefore only Italian landmarks are to be found there, such as the sculpture of a wolf feeding the brothers Romulo and Remo, plus the sculpture of the Immigrants (Los Inmigrantes), which was very pretty, representing an Italian family, with the father, the mother carrying a baby in her arms, plus a child following them.
In the long run I had time to see many sculptures in the streets of Resistencia during my 4 hours visit. The town is called “Capital Nacional de las Esculturas”; even a museum is devoted to them. I read that there are about 800 sculptures within the town. I did not count them but indeed, in every corner I saw one of them, this one dedicated to the mother, another one to a historical personage in the life of Argentina, Evita Perón, General San Martín, etc.
In the evening I boarded a night bus to Santa Fe.
2007-04-22 - I have been in Chad two times. The second one was not interesting. I just arrived there in the year 2003 from Central African Republic by land rovers, which took me eleven days, and from Ndjamena I flew to Addis Ababa via Khartum. Here below is my diary of my first trip to Chad in 1993:
CHAD. In Adre the immigration clerks wanted to send me back to Sudan because of my lack of visa. After bribing them with some baksheesh I could meet their superior. I wished him in Arabic peace and long life to his dear family, what he appreciated. After one hour interrogation he ordered the driver of a truck to hold my passport until Abeche, and be delivered to the Police for an entry stamp. Abeche was a closed city. In Chad there are two military controls at the entrance of every town and two more at the exit, and at night there is curfew and you have to wait until the morning. The airport is protected by the French Army. I was granted a transit permit and left to Ndjamena in an overcrowded truck. We stopped in villages where I saw women Farchana with their hair cut below their ears and their lips tattooed in black. The Dades put knockers and rings in their mouth when they go to the market because their husbands prohibit them to talk. Finally I arrived at the gates of Ndjamena.
NDJAMENA. I made a mistake when, after been requested to empty my bag, I replied: “Again? I have just showed it in the previous control”. One of the soldiers then beat me with his pistol in my head. He called me “kafir”, ordered to enter in a hut and to undress. He took everything with him. I felt miserable and remembered that in that African journey I had lost part of my hearing sense in Mozambique Island when an insect got into my left ear and made me suffer horribly and cry during the two night’s journey in a dhow to Tanzania. I was robbed in Johannesburg, and in the Kinshasa of Mobutu I had to paint my face with black shoe polish to look like an African to escape from an ambush, etc., but never had I felt more in danger than in that hut. I started to shout: “Basta! I swear that I will never travel anymore! This is my last adventure!” After three hours I was freed and given back my bag and clothes except 10.000 CFA francs. I arrived to Ndjamena and stayed in the Catholic Mission.
LAKE CHAD. To proceed to Niger I needed a permit that I got in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. I reached Bol, in the Lake Chad. Up in the Tibesti live the Tubu, or Teda, feared warriors of the desert that do not allow foreigners to enter their territory. They all carry a dagger in their arm. In Bol live the descendants of the Sao, a race of tall people that cut their faces with knives. I attained Bagasola, then Liwa, and waited in vain for a truck. In the night children in the madrasas recite the Koran from wooden boards until they learn it by heart. After one week the chief of Liwa suggested me to hire two camels and a guide, but first it was essential to buy a gri gri (amulet) prepared by a marabu (wizard), otherwise the guide would refuse to go with me. When it was ready I hanged it around my neck and left. We travelled at night and slept in daytime. We were fed by the nomads and drank water from the wells. The camels ate acacias all the time. The third day I arrived to N’Guigmi, in Niger. ........................................... SECOND JOURNEY TO CHAD, COMING FROM CENTARLAFRICA REPUBLIC VIA CAMEROON: Once in Chad I could get a ride to the post of Baibokoum to get the entry stamp in Chad. It was already dark; therefore I had to spend there the night. Transport to Moundou was only during the morning to avoid the bandits. Then the next day I travelled in a jeep until Moundou, and after two more days we arrived to that city. During several more days, until finally I reached N’djamena, I slept in horrible huts without ventilation, ate worms and meat as hard as the sole of a shoe, and travelled like a sardine in jeeps with 40 PAX when its capacity was for 8 PAX, and with an armed guard with weapons in his teeth travelling with us to protect us. During the nights we slept in the villages for fear of bandits.
2011-11-19 - During two of my several journeys between Paris and Barcelona, in Spain, I stopped in the historical small town of Troyes, where I visited the Roman ruins since the times when Troyes was called Augustobona Tricassium, and the superbe cathedral Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, erected in the IX century, before heading southwards, untill Lyon, where I would spend the night. Troyes, located on the banks of the River Seine, is not the capital of Champagne-Ardenne (being Châlons-en-Champagne, where I have not yet been), but it is one of the most historical cities in that French region. After a few hours visit to Troyes I continued my journey to Lyon, in Rhône-Alpes.
JANUARY 2016: Dispuse de un día entero para bien conocer esta ciudad. Llegué de noche, encontré un alojamiento en un dormitorio para mochileros (detrás del estadio deportivo), y por la mañana me dirigí en primer lugar a la catedral de Notre-Dame, famosa por ser el lugar de consagración de los reyes de Francia, siendo la coronación del último monarca el año 1825, según afirmaba una placa.
La entrada era libre, lo cual se agradece, pues en España te hacen pagar en casi todas las catedrales, desde Toledo a Barcelona, desde Sevilla a Valencia.
En su interior vi una maqueta de la catedral, así como paneles explicando su historia (en francés). Vi posters con dibujos con títulos tales como “Cómo construir una catedral”, otro se llamaba El Bautismo de Foujita y allí se explicaba que Foujita fue un artista japonés que trabajó en la decoración de una capilla de esa catedral a mediados del siglo XX y se convirtió al catolicismo al final de sus días, adoptando el nombre de Leonard.
Y es que esa catedral sufrió mucho durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, cuando fue bombardeada por aviones alemanes y quemada casi en su totalidad. Todavía, el día que la visité, se estaban llevando a cabo en su fachada obras de restauración.
En otro letrero se agradecía a la dinastía de los Simon, o miembros de una misma familia de artistas, que durante dos generaciones construyeron las hermosas y coloridas vidrieras de los ventanales.
Afuera, sobre la gran explanada, observé la estatua ecuestre de Juana de Arco, y enfrente el Palais de Tau (Palacio de Tau), cuyo interior alberga tesoros e instrumentos litúrgicos de incalculable valor histórico y artístico.
Tras estas visitas caminé unos diez minutos hasta alcanzar el tercer elemento de este Patrimonio de la Humanidad, la antigua Abadía de San Remi. Entré y aquello era más bien un museo. Me sobrecogí por la atmósfera de recogimiento que allí experimenté.
Lo visité todo bien, como Dios manda, de arriba abajo, a babor y a estribor, por delante y por detrás, observando y admirando concienzudamente la belleza y los detalles de lo allí expuesto, sin dejarme ninguna imagen, bajorrelieve o tumba.
Tras ello salí al exterior y me marché a viajar a otra parte.
2011-11-12 - I visited Chandigarh by chance. In those times I traveled free around India boarding the carriages of the train reserved for the sadhus, or religious pilgrims. I just visited Jyotisar where took place the battle of Kuruksetra, between the kauravas and the pandavas, described in the epic poem Bhagavad Gita. Then I returned to Kuruksetra and boarded the first available train to Shimla, but the train was too slowly (it took eleven hours for 100 kilometers!), the carriage so crowded, sitting on the floor with two sadhus sleeping on my legs and shoulders, that in one of those long stops resolved to get off the train and wait for another faster train. There was another train at night, so I had the whole day to visit Chandigarh, a city, as soon discovered thanks to the information that supplied me the sadhus of my wagon, that Chandigarh was a city designed by Le Corbusier, in the style of Canberra or Brasilia. From the railway station to the downtown there were 6 kilometers that I walked. Chandigarh consisted on blocks, about forty, so I was told, all symmetrical, at mathematical distances, and with about one million inhabitants. I did not like that city, I found it too programmed, no natural, and there were few sadhus around, which is a bad symptom. In the evening I walked back to the railway station and boarded the sadhus wagon in the fast train to Shimla, in Himachal Pradesh.
2012-05-20 - I reached Chatham island after a long flight in a 1953 year airplane. You can fly there from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch.
Moriori were the first inhabitant of the islands, but the maories almost exterminated them and slavered them and ate them, only few scaped. Now they are a minority. They are very peaceful. Lovely people. Since then the relationship between maories and moriori is not good.
There are several hotels in the island, but all expensive for my pocket, so in spite of the cold I slept outside, a la belle etoile, inside my sleeping bag. People saw me and gave me food and a thermo with hot water to prepare tea. I could not refuse their generosity since it came from their hearts.
Hitchhiking is great, so I could see all main tourist attractions using this cheap way of travel. The most interesting place of the whole island was the Kopinga Marae, not far from the main village. In that marae I was given a lot of information by the friendly housekeeper about the way of life of the Moriori, their beliefs, customs, language, etc.
The fourth day I flew back to New Zealand mainland.
2007-04-22 - It was easier than I had expected to get into Chechnya from Nalchik, camouflaged into a bus filled with women and bags with vegetables. WELCOME TO GROZNYY (Dobro pojalavats, in Russian), said a sign at the entrance of the town. In Groznyy there were many barricades made with sand bags with soldiers wearing waistcoats against bullets. There were more soldiers than citizens. Almost every car was controlled in the many check points along the broken roads. The aspect of Groznyy was worst than Sarajevo, Baghdad or Beirut in its most horrible times. Most of the buildings were in ruins. Edifices half destroyed were inhabited by people and they even hanged clothes in the balconies, like in Italy or Spain. In the bombed part of the houses nobody lived. I did not risk taking pictures getting off the bus, but through the windows of the bus, fearing that the Russian soldiers would judge it suspicious. I did not want to be interrogated by the KGB for my presence there and, most probably (in the best of the cases), sent back to Moscow for the lack of pertinent special permit for Chechnya. Where to sleep in Chechnya without being detected by the Army? I arrived at 6 PM and a notice panel notified that there was curfew in the town from 9 PM to 5 AM. I saw a hotel not far from the bus station but… somebody in the bus, whose name I do not want to quote here, offered me help and thus I went to his (o her!) house where I spent two days observing life in that unusual city. During the evenings, while having dinner, we watched TV but with a very feeble light. Mobile telephones worked and the local market was very busy with stalls selling all kind of products and changing foreign currency. My friend showed me the subterranean basement where his (or her!) family used to hide during the bombings. They told me that some airplanes were not hit by the rebels, but were declared as destroyed and then sold in the international weapons black market. The third day I left to Ingushetia.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend several days in the ruins of Arkaim, dating from the XVII century before Christ, together with some archaeologists from Finland, USA and Russia.
Arkaim ruins were discovered in 1987 and its study depends on Chelyabinsk University. They are located at 150 kilometres from Magnitogorsk, in the same border with Kazakhstan, on the top of a hill.
They consist in three concentric circles, the minor of them having 165 metres of diameter. It was a time when Arkaim had a population of 2500 persons and traded with Babylonia, Khoresm civilization and with tribes in the Aral and Caspian Seas.
According to a theory, Arkaim has Turkish origin and its name means dorsal spine, or cordillera, but another theory affirms that the name means stream of a river.
2012-05-21 - Severla years ago I took a train in Hyderabad with detination Calcutta, and the train crossed the state of Chhattisgarh, making several stops in some cities. Since it is a new state that did not exist in the times when I spend about one year in India (1988 and 1989), as a hippy, I did not care to visit it then, but who knows? in the future perhaps I will travel again around India and then will be a good possibility to visit deeply this relatively new state. .
YEAR 2014: I was travelling by train from Patna to Auroville, in Pondicherry, when I learnt that in my way I would cross Raipur, where Vivekananda had spent two years of his childhood, therefore I resolved to spend a whole day in thjat city, arriving early in the morning and leaving in the evening, in order to try to find his house and a huge statue that I was told that I would find there, by a lake.
The statue was easy to find, thanks to a rickshaw driver, but regarding the house I had to ask to many people, until somebody brought me there in his motorcycle. It was a school, I asked permission and was shown to room where Vivekananda lived. Besides the school there was a plaque explaining that an Indian living in that same school learnt about 36 languages of the world, including Spanish.
I was happy with that visit. I still entered some Hindu temples and tourists attractions and in the evening I left happy Raipur and headed to Auroville to live for a few days in Sri Aurobindo ashram, where so many Europeans live.
2008-12-24 - Chiapas is an extraordinary state of Mexico.Apart form the Maya Temple complex of Palenque, you should also try to visit the charming Indian town of San Cristobal de las Casas.If you go there, look for: La Galería (The Gallery), a cafeteria and club where they expose paintings and pictures, plus a place to perform folkloric dances and a bar to drink tequila.They also sell handicrafts from Chiapas and Guatemala, and a small percentage of the profits are given to the poor Indian people.I heard that La Galería is also a subversive centre where they criticize the Guatemala and Mexico governments (they tried to convince me not to travel to Guatemala because with the money that I would spend, the Guatemala Army would use it to buy weapons with which to repress the Indian population, but I did not listen to them and travelled to Guatemala. Anyway, I was travelling moneyless!).Not far from San Cristobal de las Casas there are Indian villages, like San Juan de Chimula, to where you can travel by horses and listen to the exotic Mass services in their churches where Jesus is featured like an Indian.The PARQUE NACIONAL CASCADAS DE AGUA AZUL is another place, not far from San Cristóbal, not to be missed. The cascadas (waterfalls) acquire different colours (seven) and it is great to swim!The park is a biosphere reserve and is populated by such exotic animals as the jaguar, tapir, tucan and many others. You can camp there, what I did.
2011-10-22 - I love travel by train. One of the best train journeys of my life happened when I traveled from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, in the Cortes Sea, through the Barrancas del Cobre. When I crossed from Laredo in Texas to Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas (an abysmal change of country and mentality), I heard of that fantastic train journey and I immediately resolved to travel on it. Consequently, by means of several buses I reached Chihuahua, a most interesting town, and we bought two train tickets for the next day (at that time I was travelling with a Quebecoise girl from Florida until Guatemala). The train went slowly and all the passengers, Mexican and tourist alike, were admiring and enjoying that unique journey. We made a stop in a place with a fabulous panorama view. Some stalls were selling Tacos al Pastor, beers Coronas and other Mexican foodstuffs and soft drinks, apart from local souvenirs from the Indian Tarahumaras, who inhabited that area of Mexico. That stop was so appropriate! We all ate something to get more energy for the rest of the journey. I would visit the Gran Cañon del Colorado, in Arizona (whom first European discoverer was the Spanish García López de Cárdenas in 1545), some months later, but, needless to say, Las Barrancas del Cobre was much greater, deeper, exciting and rewarding. In Las Barrancas del Cobre we saw waterfalls, huge rocks and small villages inhabited by the Tarahumaras. When we reached Los Mochis, we decided to celebrate that unforgettable train journey drinking two Margaritas cocktails. .......................................
CIUDAD JUAREZ: Before crossing on foot the bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez the Mexicans had advised me: be fareful in Ciudad Juarez, they wil rob you!
But once I crossed the bridge, I entered tha place to pay for my stay, and was free to walk around. People lived normally, no fear for anytthing. On the contrary, I saw people playing music in teh streets, shopping, so a normal life, like in El Paso.
So I guessed that Ciudad Juarez is dangerous for bad people, for thieves, for contrabando and illegal things, but not for an ordinary traveler.
Besides the cathedral Santa Virgen de Guadalupe, there was a statue devoted to Fray Garcia de San Francisco, the founder of the city (in 1659), when creating the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.
In those times Ciudad Juarez (named Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Mansos del Paso del Río del Norte).
When leaving the city, on foot to the bus staion (little bit far but I did not feel any danger), I felt pity that I had not spent more time in Ciudad Juarez, but I was in a hurry, to visit in 20 days 20 cities of Mexico along the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, so I had only one day per city.
Anyway, I decided not to spend the night there but to get to know the city untill the beginning of darkness and then to tak a night bus to Chihuahua..................................
SECOND TIME IN CHIHUAHUA IN 2012: It was my second time in Chihuahua. The first time, in 1984, after two days visiting the city I took a train to Los Mochis through the Barranca del Cobre, a real wonder, something that I enjoyed very much and recommend to do it to every visitor to Chihuahua.
This second time I was only in transit fowolling the places along the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. But anyway spent one day and one night.
This second time only visited the cathedral and the monuments close to it, such as the statue devoted to Don Antonio Deza y Ulloa, the founder of the town with the first name of San Francisco de Cuellar in 1709, when silver was found around the town.
HIDALGO DEL PARRAL, the city where Pancho Villa was killed: This is a very nice city in Chihuahua state. You can stop for one or two days there coming south from Chihuahua city in your way to Durango (what I did).
The statue is at the entrance of the town.
The museum devoted to Pancho Villa is in downtown.
I spent the night in a kind of hostel just in front of the bus station. It was good and cheap. Besides the hostel there was a sueprmarket open 24 hours.
Spaniard Juan Rangel de Viesma found silver in El Parral and the city was founded.
Museo de Francisco Villa: Pancho Villa is loved everywhere in Mexico. He was assassinated in El Parral. Everybody knows that USA was in the plot to kill him.
2007-04-28 - One of the best boat journeys in South America is the one between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt, or vice versa, in Chile. It takes three days and is not expensive at all. The ticket will include you four meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus a snack at 5 PM called “once”, consisting on canapés plus coffee with milk.
The Pan-American road finishes in Puerto Montt, and to get to the south of Chile you have to fly, enter Argentina by bus and then back to Chile, or take the boat.
You will see the Andes, many islands and some small villages along the way, where you can get off the ship and visit them for a short time in a motorboat. The only bad time, if you are not a sailor, is when the ship enters the Golfo de las Penas. Many passengers remain in the cabin and even tie with the belts to the bed, because the ship, owing to the strong waves, moves from one side to the other and you have the feeling that it will overturn. Most of the passengers do not have dinner that night.
HITCHHIKING FROM ARICA TO SANTIAGO: Hitchhiking from Arica to Santiago:
I started to hitchhike in Antofagasta southwards, and soon a truck stopped and took us (I was travelling with a girlfriend from Switzerland with whom I made friendship a few days earlier in Arica) to Santiago.
When I arrived in Arica, by bus, coming from La Paz, I rented a room at a central hotel and went out to eat and drink an exquisite bottle of Chilean wine. The next morning, very early, I went to Anne’s room, a girl from Switzerland with whom I made friendship on the bus journey from La Paz, who was staying at the same hotel and proposed her to travel together. We left by hitchhiking to the south, crossing the Atacama desert. The hitchhiking was excellent. In addition, Chile has a very original geography, with north and south only, therefore all the cars that passed worked well for us. The Chileans jokingly claimed that their country is so narrow that if Argentina went to war, all the bombs they launched would reach the sea. Hitchhiking is an extremely interesting way to travel, and not just for the savings, but because it provides first hand knowledge of the country’s peoples, their concerns and problems. Those of us who practice hitchhiking are used to always responding to the same questions from those who pick us up: • What is the minimum wage in Spain? • Do you have more brothers who travel? • Do you like bullfighting? • What do you think about our country? On three or four trucks, we arrived the same day in Antofagasta and rented a room in a cheap hotel. The next day, to continue hitchhiking, we had to take a bus to the junction with the Pan-American Highway. The bus was full and we had to go stand at the end of the aisle. Anne and I continued our journey hitchhiking. Soon a truck stopped and took us to Santiago.
As soon as we arrived in Santiago, I separated from her, because I wanted travel to the mysterious Easter Island and she had no interest in traveling there.
There was a curfew in Santiago (it was the year 1986) and we stayed in a homeless center. The next morning I set off alone to Valparaiso because my Swiss girlfriend was not interested in travelling to Easter Island. Once in Valparaiso I ran like a madman to the port and asked for ships that sailed for Easter Island.
I was expecting another blow like I had received in Guayaquil when I tried to visit the Galápagos Islands by boat a few months earlier during that same journey. The fishing boats operated only very irregularly to Robinson Crusoe Island, but nobody sailed to Easter Island—ever. A Chilean naval vessel supplied material twice a year for an American base under construction on Easter Island in April and October, which cost 32,000 pesos per passenger. The transit took seven days there, five going back, and with a stay on the island for fifteen days. Additionally, every Wednesday a plane flew to Easter Island, but the next three flights were full. The price of the plane, round trip, was 85,000 pesos.
Resigned, I drew up new travel plans: my new goal would now be Tierra de Fuego. I consulted a map at a gas station and the name of Valdivia suggested to me the most adventure. I travelled there that same night............................
CHILEAN TIERRA DEL FUEGO: From Ushuaia I resolved to cross the island of Tierra del Fuego overland, hitchhiking. The distance from Ushuaia to Puerto Porvenir was about 150 kilometers. It was very cold, snowing all the time. The first day nobody picked me up and I walked about 30 kilometers, until I saw a hacienda and was invited to spend the night there, even the Chilean people ruling that estancia, all gauchos, invited me to have dinner. Hospitality is a law in that part of the world. The second night I walked about 20 kilometers until I found another estancia and again was invited by the gauchos to spend the night three. Finally the third day a car picked me up and brought me to Puerto Porvenir, from where I caught a ferry to Punta Arenas, and then hitchhiked to Puerto Natales, where I felt sick with 40 degrees of fever. Fortunately a good Chilean man invited me to spend several days in his house, resting in a bed, until I recovered the health. Then, I boarded a ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt crossing the channels of the South of Chile during three days.
VALPARAISO: A la llegada a la estación de autobuses de Valparaíso, la Oficina de Información y Turismo me proporcionó un mapa gratuito con la zona declarada Patrimonio de la Humanidad por la UNESCO. De hecho, esa zona comprendía todo el centro, incluido el puerto, donde yo ya había estado 30 años atrás buscando (en vano) un barco para la isla de Pascua. Pero en aquellos tiempos Valparaíso no había sido declarada ciudad patrimonial y apenas visité el puerto. Por ello, 30 años después invertí casi un día entero en recorrerla a pie, cosa que, al ser una ciudad de sólo un cuarto de millón de habitantes, no se hace pesado.
La ciudad fundada en 1536 por el manchego Juan de Saavedra, que era oriundo de Valparaíso de Arriba, en Cuenca). Posteriormente fue poblada, además de por españoles, por italianos, alemanes e ingleses. La arquitectura de Valparaíso es una mezcla de estilos español colonial y de victoriano inglés. Los marineros ingleses denominaban a Valparaíso la “pequeña Londres”.
Allí llaman ascensores a los funiculares. Había muchos. Yo abordé el último y caminaría hasta alcanzar el primero, para así recorrer la parte histórica como Dios manda.
La primera visión panorámica de la ciudad desde donde me dejó el funicular impone y no recuerdo haber subido a esos cerros en mi primer viaje. Era cierto que la bahía parecía un anfiteatro, como afirmaba un folleto turístico.
Muchas casas estaban pintadas de colores vistosos. Una iglesia, llamada de La Matriz, era la más antigua; había sido saqueada por el sanguinario pirata inglés Drake (quien además de criminal fue esclavista), y en la actualidad se trataba de una reconstrucción.
Subía y bajaba colinas admirando la arquitectura, y allí donde veía una iglesia abierta, entraba para comprar un cirio.
Por el centro, junto al puerto, había muchos monumentos, predominando los colocados allá por los ingleses, como un gran arco de triunfo. Acerca de los españoles leí en las calles céntricas un letrero que me hizo gracia. Se titulaba “Jesuitas y locos exploradores”. Decía así:
“Corría el siglo XVI y hasta aquí llegaban cientos de excursionistas españoles en busca de la mítica Ciudad de los Césares, una villa llena de oro y plata, de la que daban cuenta los incas y los indios de la Patagonia…”.
Cuando empezaba a oscurecer abandoné Valparaíso y regresé en autobús a Santiago.........................................................................................................................................
I love Santiago, Chile capital. I had been there several times in past journeys waiting for my planes to Easter Island, and again waiting to fly to Juan Fernandez Island.
In both times I lived in downtown and I had many activities, even I played chess in the Plaza de Armas when I was bored waiting for my planes.
The last time I visited places that I had missed during my previous journeys, such as the Bahai Temple, the Palacio de la Moneda with the changing of guards, and also the San Francisco Church and Monastery.
These two places (La Moneda and San Francisco church) are candidates to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Apart from the church San Francisco, the first built in Chile (by Pedro de Valdivia), I also visited the monastery, just annexed. I paid a little fee and entered the patio and the rooms with many paintings and statues representing one of the saints from Extremadura, San Pedro de Alcantara, a Franciscan friar.
Cerro de Santa Lucia is a nice place to explore. It was there that Pedro de Valdivia founded the city. I walked to get there along the Alameda avenue, but there is a Metro station just at the entrance.
Pedro de Valdivia was from Extremadura, in Spain, and he gave the name of Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura to present Santiago de Chile.
I also noticed in Plaza de Armas a statue devoted to Apostle Santiago (Saint James). This statue was a gift from Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. It must have been new, because I frequented Plaza de Armas in previous journeys and had missed it. In that square the main tourist attraction is the imposing cathedral.
La Moneda is a palace built during colonial Spanish times (works started in 1785) by an Italian architect, Joaquín Toesca.
You can visit it inside, and the patio de los cañones. Entrance is free of charge.
I was lucky to be there during the changing of the guards, with horses and music. It was a great show, like in Hollywood.
2008-12-21 - In order to get to Antarctica on the cheap I had to wait almost a whole week in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Every day I used to visit several travel agencies asking the same question: Will be today any ship offering dumping prices for the Antarctica?And finally one day the cruise Marco Polo had some empty cabins at 50 % of their official cost: 2300 US dollars (instead of over 5000 dollars) for a 10 days cruise to the Antarctica Peninsula and South Shetland islands, territory claimed by three countries: Argentina, Chile and England.Several backpackers from Japan, Israel and Germany, together with me, boarded the luxurious Marco Polo. In the restaurants all the customers had very elegant clothes and ordered very expensive French and Spanish wines for dinner, while we wore jeans and old jackets and always asked for free water from the tap for our meals. For that reason the waiters had to find a special table for us, separated from the rest of the tourists, in order not to disturb that elitist atmosphere.But we really enjoyed the trip and stopped in one Chilean base called Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, where their scientific people were very happy to speak Spanish with me; they stamped my passport and sold me a certificate stating that I had been in Antarctica. We also called in several other islands, such as Deception, to observe the penguins and other animals.We were told that in Antarctica waters live so many krills that their weight is six times superior to that of all the human beings together (and we already are around 7 thousand millions souls in this small planet!).It took us two full days to cross the Drake passage until we saw land (well, ice). The most fantastic view was that of the Lemaire channel. Every time when the captain observed whales, he announced it through the loud speakers, and immediately almost all the tourists of the Marco Polo (about 400) went out to the deck with their cameras to film the animals.The food was really incredible delicious and we could eat seven times a day, what we did (the backpackers only). Every evening there were carnivals on the main saloon, shows, lectures about the history of Antarctica, casino, games, girls dancing salsa music, etc.It was such an unforgettable travel experience that presently I am saving money to go back to Antarctica in the near future, but next time I will travel from New Zealand.Chilean Antarctic DocumentI bought a beautiful cardboard certificate, with my name in it, for just 1 US dollar in the Chilean Antarctic base, in Bahia Paraiso.The author of the poem, called "La Araucana", is Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga, a spanish soldier, poet, erudite and humanist, from a noble family in Madrid, who lived in Chile during the XVI century. He served the Spanish king Felipe II in Madrid before embarking to America.La Araucana is the first Great American Epic, and the most famous of the Spanish Renaissance. It is dedicated to the brave araucan people who fought with fierceness against the Spanish conquistadores.
2013-07-30 - I reached by train Chongqing but did not find it an attractive city for a traveller. In the railway station they offered excursion along the Yangtze River, but I had taken one of those cruises in the past from Wuhan to Shanghai and was not interested in another one.
Then I decided to spend the night in a hotel in Dazu, from where the next day would visit Baoding Shan with its stunning Buddhist statues.
In Dazu, in the first hotel where I asked accommodation, was denied a room alleging that I was a foreigner and the hotel was only for Chinese,but in the second one, just next door, they gladly accepted me. I paid about 100 Yuan per a single room.
The next day, early in the morning, I took a motorcycle with driver to Baoding Shan at about 15 kilometers distance.
In that area there were other mountains (Shan means Mountain in Chinese) with rock carvings, but I chose Baoding Shan because the history of the monk Zhao Zhifeng, who spent 70 years of his life realizing a wonderful work of art in the site.
Entrance fee was 135 Yuan, but what I saw inside was of incalculable value. The statues captivated my heart since the first one that I could distinguish at the distance.
The perfection of the rock carvings was exquisite. I saw wisdom in those stones; the whole complex was like an open air school of Buddhism, explaining even its esoteric aspects.
In past journeys to China I had been in the most famous and ancient Buddhist sculptural sites, like Yungang grottoes (in Datong, Shanxi province), Longmen (in Luoyang, Henan province), Mogao (in Dunhuang, Gansu province) plus Bezeklik Thousand Buddha caves (near Turpan, in Sinkiang province). But those rocks carving in Dazu were the best among the best, the ones that touched the fibers of your soul. Indeed, Zhao Zhifeng must have attained the Nirvana state to reach such perfection in the statues. Parts of the statues complex were lessons to develop your condition, from featherless biped to man.
Among the main masterpieces were the Six-Real Wheel of Life, the Shakyamuni’s Nirvana Holly Figure and the series of practical lessons of life.
Back in Dazu I travelled by motorcycle to Chongqing, from where I boarded a night bus to Guiyang, in Guizhou province.
2007-04-25 - Christmas Island is much closer to Indonesia than to Australia. A third of the population is Malay, as it is called (they are mainly from Indonesia), another part is Chinese. The rest are Australians from European origin, plus some Maoris and Europeans.
You can fly to Christmas Island from Western Australia, Perth, for instance, but it is much cheaper from Bali. In Christmas there is an airplane service to Cocos Island, also known as Keeling. The main attraction for the traveller is to watch the 120 million of enormous red crabs in the island, which constitutes the main characteristic. Although it is forbidden to make any harm or to eat these crabs, you can not avoid killing many of them while driving through the island.
It is very easy to make friends with the Australians. The second day some of them took me with their car around the mountainous island and showed me the blowholes, the exuberant bush inside the Natural Park (which occupies over 60 % of the island), the mangroves, etc. The population live mainly on the extraction of the phosphates. The only sad note about Christmas Islands was the grief that produced me the Refugees Camp that I saw while discovering the Island by bicycle. There live during years, without clear future, hundreds, if not thousands, of poor Vietnamese and natives of Sri Lanka and other poor neighbour countries. They are fed very well, I was told, but they are not allowed to immigrate to Australia. The other side of the story is that thanks to this camp, many people have good jobs.
The crabs migrate once a year to breed, marching from the rainforest slopes down to the ocean, and back to the forest. The crab’s enemies are the yellow crazy ants, which kill million of them every year. They spray formic acid onto the crabs, blinding them, and then they kill them and eat them. These ants constitute a danger to the ecosystem. Christmas Island is a paradise for sea activities lovers. You can practice diving, snorkelling, fishing, etc. Some tourists play golf while the red crabs walk on the ground. Depending of the period of your visit to the island you will be able to observe dolphins, whale sharks and giant turtles.
The only hostel for backpackers, very cheap and good, called Coconut Grove, is in the Settlement. The rooms are basic, just a bed, an ordinary wooden chair and a fan, but the garden is wonderful. The showers are outside. You can use the kitchen and the coffee is free./P>
There is very pleasant pub by the beach called Jalan Rumag Tingg, where you can make friends, play darts and billiard, drink beers and listen to a local group singing lovely songs. It is situated just next door to the Coconut Grove.
In the Settlement there is a simple but good Chinese restaurant with a large terrace facing the sea. You can also have dinner in the pub Jalan Rumag Tingg, before the living music starts. They have excellent Australian wines and beers Coronitas from Mexico, San Miguel from Philippines, Carlsberg from Denmark, etc. In the Plateau you find several Malay and Chinese food stalls.
2011-11-15 - One of the most exotic journeys that you can make in Chubu region is climbing the Fuji Yama, with its 3776 meters. I made it and it took me one day with one night. There are five points to start this trekking, only allowed during July and August: Mishima, Fujinomiya, Gotemba, Subashiri and Kawaguchiko.
I started from Kawaguchiko. Together with me came thousands of Japanese pilgrims with sticks singing Shinto litanies. Every now and then you find houses where in the past lived the Oshis, or guardian monks of this holy trekking to help the pilgrims and today are used as ryokan. You have to pay to sleep in them; you pay even for a glass of water. For the hot iron notch in your stick they charge 200 yens. I slept in a ryokan in the ninth stage, and next morning at 5 am I saw the majestic sunrise. The reward was breathtaking; the Fuji Yama (Fuji-san) is wonderful, surrounded by five lakes.
When I went down until Mishima the pilgrims respected me very much for being a gaikoku-jin (foreigner) and, inviting me to drink sake, they greeted me inclining half of their body until reaching 90 degrees.
In the year 2010 I returned to this region of Japan and this is what I wrote in my diary: I left Tokyo in the morning and arrived to Nagano in the afternoon. I would visit its temple, and then headed to an internet café where I would sleep. When I woke up, already in the morning, I travelled to Yudanaka Onsen town and finally I walked until the Jigokudani Monkey Park
There was nobody yet. No monkeys. I did not have to pay for the entry fee. Then, after one hour or so came the guardian and started to throw seeds to the floor. In that moment appeared the monkeys descending from the mountains to catch the seeds. They also had shower in the hot springs. Since it was november, there was not yet snow.
I spent a couple of hours with him and the Japanese Macaques, known as snow monkeys. I calculated that I saw about 100, they were cute. No tourists came, even no Japanese. I was the only visitor.
When I felt satisfied with the visit I walked down, then proceeded to Nagano and back to Tokyo...................................................
NAGANO: I stopped in Nagano for one night before heading the next day to Yudanaka, in order to walk until Jigokudani Monkey Park to watch the Japanese macaques in the hotsprings.
I aarived very early and would apend half a day, then I travelled back to Nagano to complete my day by visiting that city.
Nagano is most famous for Zenkō-ji, a 7th-century Buddhist temple that overlooks the city. A million tourists visit Nagano annually. Nagano was originally a town in Kamiminochi District built around the hilltop temple that is the largest wooden building in eastern Japan, but the city now encompasses locations that were within Sarashina, Hanishina, and Kamitakai districts.
The Rokujizō are located to the right of the Daikanjin. The Rokujizō are statues of the six Bodhisattvas, who gave up Buddhist enlightenment, in order to provide salvation to others. The Bodhisattvas are said to be able to commune with the six realms of hell, starvation, beasts, carnage, human beings and divine beings.
2011-10-26 - It was snowing and few cars passed through that road, the Pan-American. I spent several days to get to the next Argentinean province, Santa Cruz, the last before jumping to the island Tierra del Fuego. There were days that nobody picked me up and had to sleep on the road, under the stars. I remember the first day I counted only 5 cars passing by that Pan Americana road and none of them stopped. I was starting to get desperate. The second day I must have walked about 30 kilometers. Walking was better than staying on the rad. At least walking I made exercise and was not so cold. The food that I carried, given to me by the family in El Bolson, was coming to an end. That part of the world is uninhabited and I did not see any villages around to protect myself from the cold. I had bad feelings, thinking that I will never reach Tierra del Fuego. Then, getting to a crossroads, I made a crucial decision: I gave up the idea to travel to Perito Moreno glacier and Torres del Paine, and headed to the coast. It was a wise decision. After a few hours walking a truck saw me and stopped. He even taught me how to prepare the mate while he was driving. That truck driver dropped me in Comodoro Rivadavia, where I found lodging in a gas station. The next day I crossed Santa Cruz Province.
UNESCO SITE IN PENINSULA VALDES:
From, Puerto Madryn I took a bus to Puerto Pirámides. Once inside the Peninsula Valdes we were stopped in a control and checked by the National Park agents. Those who lived in Peninsula Valdes did not pay an entry fee, but I had to pay. Although I was spanish as muy mother language, had to pay over 100 pesos, which is no much because in general, foreigners not belonging to Mercosur (Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and Bolivia) have to pay 250 pesos. But I said that I was working in Buenos Aires and paid half that price.
There were several hotels and guesthouses in Puerto Pirámides. I found a cheap hostel and paid 150 pesos per night.
I was told that, a few hours before, there had been sighted several whales in the bay, just in front of Puerto Pirámides, at a few meters, but I was not lucky and did not see them, not that day nor the following one.
But walking about one hour I reached an observatory place where I saw several dozens of sea lions (lobos de mar in Spanish language). The elephant seals are located in another side of the Peninsula Valdes and in june I had no many chances to see any of those animals, so I did not move from Puerto Pirámides the whole day.
I thought that one day and one night in Peninsula Valdes was enough and I loved the view of the sea lions. Had I been in Península Valdés in august, for instance, I would have seen more animals, but june is still early for that purpose.
When I felt satisfied with my visit, I returned to Puerto Madryn, had lunch in a Welsh restaurant (there are many immigrants from Wales in Puerto Madryn and in a village nearby) and left by bus to the north.
2011-11-15 - I visited Hiroshima during one day and the following one I headed by tramway to Miyajimaguchi to catch a ferry to Itsukushima Island, where is located the world famous Torii, or gate, which is Patrimony of the Humankind. I felt so well in that island that I decided to spend the night besides the great Torii. When it was dark I opened my sleeping bag and started to sleep. I was peacefully sleeping on the beach when, at about 2 AM, I felt water getting in my feet. I woke up and found out that the tides of the beach were raising and had caught me! I immediately removed my sleeping bag and moved near, on the ground, besides a great Shinto temple, where the water would not bother me anymore. And then I continued my sleep until I woke up again, this time owing to the sunrise. The next day I continued by train to Nagasaki, in Kyushu island. ...................................................................................................
ITSUKUSHIMA, IN SPANISH: En Hiroshima tomé un simpático tranvía al puerto de Miyajimaguchi, donde abordé un ferry que cruzó el mar interior de Seto hasta la isla de Itsukushima.
La vista del gran Torii, erigido sobre el agua, me emocionó durante la travesía. Era majestuoso, de belleza serena; al contemplarlo uno sentía estar frente a una obra de arte del hombre, un lugar sagrado y especial del planeta.
Al desembarcar me paseé por el pueblo y advertí una placa de piedra con el logo del cuadrado dentro de un círculo, más el símbolo de un templo con el acrónimo de UNESCO, recordando a los visitantes que Itsukushima era un Patrimonio de la Humanidad.
Observé que pululaba una gran cantidad de inofensivos ciervos que descansaban tumbados sobre los jardines. Ascendí a la pagoda de los cinco pisos (llamada Gojunoto) para obtener una buena vista sobre el entorno, y después entré aún en otros santuarios sintoístas. Cuando me entró hambre me comí media docena de ostras junto al embarcadero.
Tras ello busqué un lugar apacible para pasar la noche enfrente del gran Torii; quería quedarme dormido con mi mirada dirigida hacia él, pues la perfección de sus graciosas formas parecía “mesmerizarme”. Al final desplegué mi saco y me instalé sobre las arenas frente a él, a unos pocos metros, intuyendo que me transmitiría lo que los sufíes conocen por “baraka”, o bendición.
Al rato me quedé dormido.
Serían las 2 de la noche cuando me desperté, pues la marea había subido y el agua había penetrado en mi saco de dormir, mojándome hasta las rodillas.
Rápidamente me mudé a un banco de madera de un jardín junto a un templo sintoísta y traté de proseguir mi sueño. Pero fue en vano, pues los ciervos me lamían la cara, y aunque los echaba, ellos regresaban y se quedaban frente a mí, mirándome. Ya no dormiría. El resto de la noche lo pasé ensimismado con la mirada proyectada hacia el gran Torii, hasta que amaneció, cuando desayuné seis ostras (ya que había hecho amistad con el cocinero la noche anterior), retorné en ferry a Miyajimaguchi y continué mi viaje, completamente exaltado.......................................................................................
HIROSHIMA, IN SPANISH: MEMORIAL DE LA PAZ DE HIROSHIMA (Cúpula de Genbaku).
UNESCO resume así este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: El Memorial de la Paz de Hiroshima, llamado también la Cúpula de Genbaku, es la estructura del único edificio que permaneció en pie cerca del lugar donde explotó la primera bomba atómica el 6 de agosto de 1945. Gracias a los esfuerzos de innumerables personas –y en particular de los propios habitantes de Hiroshima– se ha conservado en el mismo estado en que quedó después de la explosión. Este sitio no sólo es un símbolo descarnado y recio de la fuerza más destructiva creada por el hombre en toda su historia, sino también una encarnación de los anhelos de paz mundial y de una supresión definitiva de todas las armas nucleares.
En el tren desde la isla de Shikoku a Hiroshima no pude evitar ir tatareando todo el rato el estribillo de la siguiente canción, que fue muy popular en los años 80 del siglo XX:
You should have stayed at home yesterday
Ah-ha words can’t describe
The feeling and the way you lied…”
Enola Gay era el nombre del avión que aquel infausto 6 de Agosto de 1945 lanzó la primera bomba atómica sobre Hiroshima, acabando con la vida de unas 140.000 personas y produciendo cerca de 360.000 heridos.
El avión había sido bautizado así por su piloto y coronel, quien le dio el nombre y apellido de su propia madre: Enola Gay Tibbets.
En Hiroshima no esperaba encontrar bellezas deslumbrantes, como en Nikko o en el Fuji Yama. No; más bien viajé allí como un deber, casi como un acto de expiación.
Lo que me encontré fue una lección de historia, de paz y de superación humana que me hizo tener más fe en nuestro futuro.
Y, en efecto, Hiroshima es hoy una ciudad moderna e industrial que supera el millón de habitantes, reconstruida y embellecida, con un imponente castillo, amplios bulevares, grandes almacenes y hombres de negocios acompañados por sus elegantes esposas bien perfumadas.
Me dirigí al Parque Conmemorativo de la Paz, pues es allí donde se localiza la Cúpula de Genbaku, que preserva su forma en ruinas tras la caída d la bomba, a la manera de que hicieron los alemanes con las ruinas de la Iglesia Memorial Kaiser Wilhem en Berlín.
En los alrededores observé diversos cenotafios, la campana de la paz y las cinco Puertas de la Paz, con la palabra paz en 49 lenguas, entre ellas el español.
Visité el “Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum”, cuyo ingreso era gratuito. Allí mostraban de manera didáctica la historia de la ciudad antes y después del lanzamiento de la bomba “Little Boy”, con fotografías ilustrativas.
Visité los alrededores de la ciudad, su hermoso castillo y hasta encontré una catedral católica, cuyo interior visité para comprar un cirio.
Tras la visita de Hiroshima me dirigí en tranvía a Itsukushima.
I am writing this from Provideniya, on 20th august 2008. I am waiting a plane to Nome, in Alaska, bur nobody knows when it will come, it will be a charter, and since I can\'t pay for the whole plane, I keep waiting for american tourists to come here and use their chartyer plane to go back to Alaska. My Russian visa is expiring and so my propusk or specail permit to Chukotka, one of the hardest places to visit in the whole world.
Just spent 2 incredible weeks in Chukotka, 3 days in the capital Anadyr (to get there is amazing, crossing the river in a boat observing whales and seals along your way) and the rest I took a plane to Provideniya and then boats and trucks and also walking to arrive to a Chukchi settlement with thousands of reindeers. I saw how they hunt whales and walrus for surviving, tested whale and walrus meat, lived in kind of yurtas, called yaranga, and shared their traditions. I have hundred of fantastic pictures. I am now waiting my plane to Nome, in Alaska. Transport here is hard, it all depends on the wheather. There is only a plane out of Provideniya, every Monday, to Anadyr, and the flights to Alaska is charter, so you never know. Chukotka is a especail region of Russia and apart from the Russian visa you need a especail permit. Soon will post lovely pictures, once I will be back in Barcelona, in my dear Spain. But first, from Alaska I will hitchhike all the way down to San Blas Islands, in Panama, via USA, Canada, Mexico, etc., and once in San Blas I will buy a machete to cross the Darien jungle, untill Turbo, in Colombia, and then, once I reach Buenos Aires will try to find a cargo boat heading to Spain.
So, I am making an around the world journey, very original, my forth around the world journey. In fact it was not my intention, from Chukotka I wanted to continue overland to Vladivostok or Khabarovsk, then a boat to Sakhalin and another one to Hokkaido, then Parece Vela, flight to Borneo, visit of Spratley islands, and then back to Spain via India, etxc. But the adventure is the adventure, and in Chukotka the unexpected can happens. If I say the truth, the Russians, very politely, invited me to leave Russia through USA in view of the proximity of my expiring Russian visa, in which case they were instructed to fine me and deport me. So, flying to Alaska is the best way to leave Russia for everybody.
Here I go Alaska! Hasta la vista.........................................
You need a permit (Propusk) to get to Chukotka. There is a control before getting off the plane.
There are 3 places to sleep in Anadyr, a luxurious hotel for 200 euro per night, another hotel per 100 euro and another one, with showers and bathroom in the corridor, per 50 euro per night.
Everything is very expensive in Chukotka, almost everything has to be brought from other parts of Russia by plane or by boat from Vladivostok.
There are irregular planes to Nome in Alaska, but it is better to fly from Provideniya.
To get to Anadyr from the airport will take you several hours. First, the airport is on the other side of the river, and the ferry only crosses a few times a day, but not on week ends. The journey on the ferry takes 30 minutes and will cost you 200 rubles.
It is a pleasant town, very cold, but people are friendly.
Chukchi is the main ethnical group, followed by skimos.
Be careful when getting to Anadyr. It is hard to get there. There are four flights weekly to Moscow, but are expensive, sometime one way for 1300 euro. Then only one flight weekly to Provideniya, two flights monthly to Khabarovsk and two months monthly to Magadan. But if you do not book in advance you mihjt get stuck in Anadyr, with its expensive prices for food and hotel..............................I flew to Anadyr from Moscow. You need a permit (Propusk) to get to Chukotka Peninsula. There is a control before getting off the plane in Anadyr.
When you land in Anadyr airport you still have to take a bus to the pier and then a ferry to the city of Anadyr, across a river. In all it takes almost one hour.Since the next ferry was after two hours, my friends proposed me to visit a ghost town where during the times of the Cold War there was a shelter with missiles. Today the missiles are not there anymore and the site is open to curious people.
There are 3 places to sleep in Anadyr, a luxurious hotel for 200 euro per night, another hotel per 100 euro and a third one, with showers and bathroom in the corridor, per 50 euro per night.Everything is very expensive in Chukotka; almost everything has to be brought from other parts of Russia by plane or by boat from Vladivostok.There are irregular planes to Nome in Alaska, but it is better to fly from Provideniya.Anadyr is a pleasant town, very cold, but people are friendly.Chukchi is the main ethnical group, followed by Eskimos.Be careful when getting to Anadyr. It is hard to fly there. There are four flights weekly to Moscow, but they are expensive, sometimes one way for 1300 euro. Then, once in Anadyr, there is only one flight weekly to Provideniya, two flights monthly to Khabarovsk and two months monthly to Magadan. But if you do not book in advance you might get stuck in Anadyr, with its expensive prices for food and hotel.
The buildings have drawings depicting Eskimo motives. The Museum of Local Lore is wonderful and its construction was paid, so I was told, by Roman Abramovich. There is no entry fee.
At the beginning the statue of Saint Nikolai was put in a serious position, but after the statue was erected, and by miracle, the statue smiles...!!! It is true.Saint Nikolai is happy in Anadyr. At the beginning, when the pretty statue of Saint Nikolai was placed in Anadyr, it did not smile, but after a few days people started to observe that the statue smiles. And I could veriofy that, indeed, the face of the statue is smiling!
It is located next to the beautiful cathedral, devoted to the Holy Trinity.
The fourth day I flew to Provideniya, where I made many excursions around, and two weeks later I caught another plane to Nome, in Alaska......................................................................
Based on Yanrakynnot I made an excursion to a Chukchi settlement in front of the Strait of Bering, at not a too far distance. Thanks to an irregular truck I could get there from Provideniya.
In Yanrakynnot live about 330 people, practically all Chukchi.
Then I joined a group of fishermen with weapons and saw how they killed a walrus.