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The Way, as our Way.

Credencial del Peregrino


Two years after some dear friends walked miles to reach Santiago de Compostela on one of the routes of  “El Camino”, we have decided to join them on another excursion on the road to Compostela


Contents

Contemplations on the Camino.

Revolutionary and almost irreverent conceptions on this deranged activity.

0909. Day 1.

Dulles Airport, Virginia. The adventure begins.

0910. Day 2.

Toulouse, France. Getting to know this great city.

0911. Day 3.

Toulouse, France. Enjoying the calm before the storm.

0912. Day 4.

Toulouse to Navarrenx. Train ride to the starting point.

0913. Day 5.

Navarrenx to Saint Palais. 5h 5min. 25 kms. A very long and grueling first day.

0914. Day 6.

Saint Palais to Larceveau. 3h 15min. 15 kms. A lovely shorter walk.

0915. Day 7.

Larceveau to Hunto. 4h 35min. 20 kms. Traversing St Jean on our way to the Pyrenees.

0916. Day 8.

Hunto to Roncesvalles. 7h 3min. 26 kms. The Pyrenees hazardously windy crossing.

0917. Day 9.

Roncesvalles to Castro Urdiales. 3h 5mins. 248 kms. Minivan ride to the Basque coast.

0918. Day 10.

Castro Urdiales to Laredo. 5h 12mins. 24 kms. Gorgeous coastal trails.

0919. Day 11.

Laredo to Noja. 3h 47mins. 18.4 kms. Stunning Cantabrian views.

0920. Day 12.

Noja to Santander. 5h 10mins. 24 kms. Short and sweet final stage.


0905. The before pix. Day minus 4. Rockville, MD. 92° F.

The cast of characters and contributing writers in this expedition are, Manuel, Eric, Lucho, Rudy, Cecilia, Silvia, Isa and Nelvis.

The pilgrims 4 days before their odyssey.


0909. 20:37h. Day 1. At Dulles Airport, Virginia. 90° F.

Lounging before the flight.

We are awaiting our flight talking about compression socks, so the old folks do not get trombosis, pretty, pretty, pretty bad!
Manuel


0910. Day 2. Toulouse, France. 75° F.

Rudy and Nelvis arrived earlier through Paris. The rest of us arrived from Frankfurt at around 6 pm. It took us more than 45 minutes to get on an Uber. Everyone was looking forward to the beginning of the vacation. We were pleasantly surprised to have a 2 star hotel right on the corner of the Capitole Place.
Dinner was at the plaza. The regional specialties include canard (duck) and foie gras. Most of us tried the local delicacy. Wine flowed throughout dinner.
Lucho


0911. Day 3. Toulouse, France. 81° F.

Rue du Taur, Toulouse.

Rue Lafayette, Toulouse.

Carousel, Place Wilson, Toulouse

The second day, we had a full day in Toulouse. The team wandered around aimlessly and some ended spending one hour getting their mobile phones fitted to perform unnecessary calls in France. The rest went to a nice market where you could find a great selection of cheeses, meats and other things you find in markets.
For lunch, everyone had been aiming to try the world renowned Casoulette Toulousien. As is well known by those that know this group, Nelvis had already researched all the restaurants in the Pyrinees Atlantiques and had selected Chez Emile for our expedition into cuisine Toulousien. Tres magnifique! We spent the afternoon trying to recover from what Lucho called feijoada Toulousien by walking around every alley in the old city.
Lucho

Cassoulet Toulousian at Chez Emile ***

Place Roger Salengro

Armagnac

Le penseur?

Color matching.

UEFA


0912. Day 4. Toulouse to Navarrenx. 78° F.

Abbey Road has nothing on this one.

We had a great morning in Toulouse; we went to the market in search of goodies to make the passage train to Orthez more tolerable. The market was wonderful, full of cheeses and cooked meat that were perfect for the occasion. We packed, checked out of our two star Hotel du Taur, called two taxis and arrived at the Matabiau train station with plenty of time to spare. The train arrived on time and boarded with ease. No time was wasted to uncork our first bottle of rose wine, one that has gained popularity with our group.
Manuel

Even though the general perception was that spending an hour fitting our mobiles was a waste of time, my phone became essential later on.
Cecilia

At Matabiau station in Toulouse on our way to Orthez.

On the train to Orthez and beyond.

Picnic sur le train.

At Matabiau station in Toulouse on our way to Orthez.

Orthez train station.

Before our train trip from Toulouse to Orthez, where we would take a taxi to Navarrenx, we all went to buy supplies for a somewhat humble lunch. We only picked up 17 types of cheeses, a variety of hams and sausages, different types of bread, the local delicacy gateau basque and of course some liquid to imbibe. By now the tribe had been sold on the quality of vine rose. Those more traditional had vino rouge.
We went to the train station about three hours ahead of departure to make sure that we got good seats (second class fares). Some team members like to hurry up and wait. All the waiting paid off! We got a private room for the eight of us. It was tight and cozy.
Three and one half hours later, we were at Orthez expecting to get a cab at the train station to go the 14 miles to Navarrenx. Little did we know that taxi drivers take the afternoon off. With the help of the train station attendant, Cecilia called a taxi company who told her they would pick us up at 19:30. Cecilia translated 19:30 into 5:30 pm, so the group decided to kill a little time by walking around Orthez. When we came back close to 5:30, no one showed up. After several calls to many, a van with sufficient room for exactly 8 people showed up.
Lucho

This is when my mobile came in handy. The train station attendant was nice enough to dial the taxi driver but handed it to me to talk. That is when I realized that there was confusion with the time agreed upon. After begging him to come earlier, he agreed to 6:30, one more hour to kill at the lovely Orthez train station, while a big storm with roaring thunder and pouring rain entertained us. The taxi driver did not know where Domaine Lespoune was, so he called the owners on my phone for directions, actually this little hotel was not in Navarrenx proper but at Castetnau-Camblong.
Cecilia

Too much fun.

At our arrival at Orthez, we found that our transport to Navarrenx would arrive an hour later, giving us some time to walk into town to get coffee.
When we returned to the train station, we were met with the sad news that the promised transport, was not arriving as scheduled, according to us, but that it would arrive two hours later, due to our error in interpreting European time standards. A member of our group, that will remain unnamed, thought 19:30 hours meant 5:30 p.m. as apposed to 7:30 p.m. This meant an added experience at the train station at Orthez, coupled with torrential rains, hail and lighting. Lack of spirits made the wait a bit more unpleasant.
Manuel

Navarrenx

0912. Domaine Lespoune.

In 20 minutes we were at Domaine Lespoune. Wonderful B&B! The rooms were very spacious. The hosts were very nice. After an aperitif with other guests that included a couple of French Canadians, Pancho and Blanca, and two other French visitors, we had dinner. Dinner consisted of a tomato salad. There were close to 10 kinds of tomatoes, red, green, orange, purple, yellow, large, small. The second course was a wonderful veal picadillo with a lot of different ingredients, some appetizing and some not as much. dessert was a wonderful grape tart.
Lucho

Domaine Lespoune.

Domaine Lespoune.

Domaine Lespoune.


Veal Stew.

After our long interlude at the Orthez train station, we arrived (2 hours late) at the lovely welcoming of Ives and Nicole, owners of the quaint and expansive Domaine Lespoune in the outskirts of Navarrenx, France. The old country house reminded me of visiting my grandfather’s home back in the old country. Ample three storied, solidly built structure was much more of a pleasant surprise inside. The entry hall is simple and humble, the stair case and the bedrooms are so well appointed that I was not sure to envy everyone else’s room, or to think that I got the best room in the house.
Aperitifs were scheduled upon twenty minutes after our much delayed arrival. The call to merriment made us be prompt.
As we entered the living/dining area, we found Pancho and Blanca, two French Canadian persons we had just met at our arrival. We all sat around the living area for an aperitif before our dinner. After meeting all the evening guests, we were summoned to the dinner table. As we chose our seats, Ives brought a large round serving tray with what appeared an array of colorful flowers, reds, greens, purples, yellows and browns, at our dismay, these were varieties of tomatoes grown in their garden, alas, a tomato salad. A boat with the most exquisite vinaigrette that I have tasted in a long time, accompanied appropriately the salad.
Red and white wines were offered with the meal. After the salad, a large covered terrine was unveiled to purvey a homey veal stew, accompanied with what appeared to be sausages, but ended up being boiled potatoes with a variety of colored skins.
Dessert was a grape tart.
After our long day in Toulouse, we retired early to bed, knowing full well that the following day would be twice as challenging, since it would be our first walk, and also a long one, 25 kms. (18 miles) from Navarrenx to Saint Palais.
Manuel

Tomatoes salad. ****

Tomatoes salad. ****

The soon to be pilgrims.

Grape Tart.


0913. Day 5. Navarrenx to Saint Palais. 72° F. 5h 5min. 25 kms.

The day started well, after a restorative sleep in the quite and ample rooms provided at the Domaine Lespoune’s country guesthouse. As we had breakfast we discussed the last details about the daily pack contents and the arrangement with the luggage service to carry our luggage from the guest house to the hotel we were attempting to reach that day in Saint Palais.

Saddled up and ready for our first steps.

Early morning fog.

Hours later.

The morning was glorious, as we started our walk; the cool and crisp morning air accentuated by the lovely countryside and the smell of morning dew was almost intoxicating.
As we made our way through the country lanes, we felt invigorated and confident of our sure step that would carry us to that day’s destination.
As we climbed the weather remained cool and crisp, but our bodies were heating up from the exertion. The terrain was pure light colored rock resembling shale rock that run from side to side. It was not particularly difficult to traverse, but very, very long and steep.
As you may know by now, our group’s mean age is 62 years old. Some of us are in better condition for this type of endeavor than others. Physical complaints abound from time to time, even though acknowledgement of such is at best shared in the outmost secrecy, and at worst dismissed as trivial and easily overcome. Head to toe afflictions may plague pilgrims on their journey. Pre-conditions to note in our group were knee, back and migraine trouble.
The day before, while in Toulouse, we had made plans to have a light snack on our first trek, so we carried with us the provisions needed for such a task. I barely remember that resting moment, what I do remember, is that the walk was longer than I had envisioned, some on lovely trails, some on the shoulder of intercity roads.
On the way we met several fellow pilgrims, one of note was a fortyish man called Jose Manuel from a small town two hours east of Santander, Spain. He had started his walk at Puy, southern France, and was on his way home. Since our group was made up of Hispanic Americans, it seemed to me that he found conversing with us easier than speaking a foreign language.
He engaged almost every member of our troop on this, one of the longest treks we had.
As the hours passed, the miles under our feet, the midday heat, humidity and overall attrition, arrival at our destination became more challenging.

Lunch break.

On the long road again.

Very long day.

The nature with groups is that they tend to coalesces and separate depending on how individuals relate to each other. Leaders, followers and loners tend to make themselves noticed. Also mini groups form many alliances that supposedly engender confidences.
Cecilia, Eric, Silvia, Jose Manuel and myself were spearheading the trek as we reached a Camino sign from the main road we were on, and while distracted and with the absence of our pilot, took the small lane towards our destination. Two kilometers into that direction, doubts of the accuracy of our decision became apparent, our group was nowhere to be seen, and as we recalled, the last portion of that day was to be on the shoulder of the Route National D933. As doubt increased we decided to knock on someone’s door to assess our position.
Jose Manuel volunteered himself for the task. He knocked on the door of one of three houses around us. I had noticed that people had alighted from a car parked on the driveway, not seconds before. He knocked several times without response. Some people say that the French are very French, or maybe just distrustful.
Jose Manuel crossed the street to try a second house. He knocked twice, the door opened; a conversation that we could not hear ensued with a middle aged man with graying hair. Moments later, Jose Manuel and the man came down to talk to us. His name was Jean, he confirmed that we were indeed on the Camino, but that to reach our destination by it, we would have to traverse an additional 20 kms., something we remembered we did not intend on doing according to our recollections of instructions received from the pilot during that morning’s briefing.

A wider view.

It came clear to us that distraction; arrogance and the absence of the pilot had caused us a 4 kms. additional walk and that a correction was de rigor. Jean spoke in a fairly good Spanish and said, I can drive the 2 women to either the main road or to Saint Palais if they preferred. I was taken aback with his kind offer. We of course thanked him, and refused his offer. He insisted, saying that the balance of the walk to Saint Palais would still take another two to three hours.
Our exhausted faces must have prompted his most generous offer. We conferred, and encouraged both girls to accept it and avoid the pain of walking more. Cecilia accepted the ride to Saint Palais.
Silvia, showing her tenacious character stood fast with her man and declared that she would stay the course. This provided an opportunity for someone to take her place, the natural choice was I, and I have to admit was delighted.
We farewell our fellow travelers and walk to the house with Jean. He kindly invited us in, we refused on account of our muddy shoes and personal perfume acquired during the day.
He opened his lovely vehicle for us; Cecilia sat on the passenger seat, while I shared the back seat with one of Jean’s lovely daughters.
As we rode, I thought of his kindness, and was amazed by the extent of it, if I was a religious man, I would have thought that there is a God.
That first day of walking aided me in formulating my opinion of the possible reasons anyone may have to do something like this.
Cecilia and myself checked in at the Hotel Du Midi and moved quickly to our room for a well deserved shower and a bit of rest before the rest of the team arrival. About two and a half hours later the rest of our pilgrim team arrived. Later that afternoon we called a cab to take four of us to the famed St. Jean Pied de Port, only twenty minutes away. The lovely cobblestone walled town greeted with plenty of curiosities, souvenirs and a place to relax and have a snack and a drink before returning to our hotel.
Manuel

Saint Palais


Contemplations on the Camino.

During one of the earliest arduous sections of a day’s walk, I thought that it was mere madness for me to have accepted this invitation to join my friends on this journey. I wondered what kind of person would be inclined to do this. Contemplating my exertion, I pondered as to the original nature of the sojourn, it is called a pilgrimage. Pilgrimage…. According to my understanding, it is a journey made by the pious as penance or atonement for their sins, something similar to taking a vacation to purgatory. Why would any sane person choose to do this? Besides the obvious religious reasons, but why me, I believe there is no God? My reasons are more social, these are my crazy friends on a quest for something, and in the spirit of camaraderie, I am accompany them.
On further thought, something that entertained me on my moments of quiet reflection during the periods that I chose to walk alone, that aside from reasons to do the Camino, many other pre-requisites might apply. Excluding the desire for atonement and pious self punishment, other things come to mind.

Time.


Time.

The Camino walker, whether doing a portion, no matter how short, has to have the means and the time to travel on one of the slowest means of transportation, mere walking. In the time when no one has time to enjoy the journey, wanting to arrive and squeeze every bit from a destination location, who has time to slow down an smell the roses.

Means.


Means.

About the means, it appears that devoting time to such arcane way of travel, may require some wealth independence. I know that when I was younger, I would have preferred to spend my time and money on fast paced and more self indulgent activities. As I learned by meeting a man an his dog walking the Camino for last for four years, is that means are what you make them. I heard some one retell a saying that, you carry with you the sum of you fears. If you mind getting rained on, carry an umbrella. Philippe, the man with his dog told me that he worked for food and lodging, as well as living of the generosity of others.
In my case, having means to purchase the pricey equipment suggested or needed, according to some, the contracting of luggage porting from hotel to hotel, and the inevitable decompressing vacation location after the Camino, meant that a family in the third world could have met their food needs for six months with what my wife and I spent.

Physique.


Physique.

Even though that I had been told, and witnessed myself, age and physical preparedness does not seen, I say seen, a mayor requirement for this enterprise. A fellow traveler, had been encouraged, if not inspired by a handicapped member of his wife’s family that completed the Camino on a type of wheel chair. We saw many walkers of our age and even at least up to two decades older, or so they seemed. We had been training with walks of between seven and twelve miles, one day a week. We walked ten continuous days, with one day between the fourth and fifth day. Some were long, most were arduous walks.

What?


Je ne sais qua.

That thing that makes us do what we do. Call it drive, inspiration, devotion, competitiveness, narcissism, or call it madness, fill in yours. You should decide which would or is yours. For me it was an event, a party, albeit not a conventional one, that I like to attend to enjoy being with others. I have to say that I have been to some crazy parties, suffice to say, none crazier than this one. Going to an event or a party meant, selecting the right attire, check, making sure to be groomed appropriately, check, getting there, check, and enjoying myself, ehhh!
This meant months of training, way too many new clothes and equipment, crossing the Atlantic to get there, and then having almost a forced march for ten days, you tell me, it is utter madness.
Manuel


0914. Day 6. Saint Palais to Larceveau. 3h 15min. 15 kms. 67° F.

After a well deserved sleep and a breakfast at the restaurant of the Hotel Du Midi, we checked out of the hotel, placed our backpacks and on our way to Larceveau we where. This day, we knew it was not going to be as hard as the previous one. With this in mind, I felt relieved and encouraged to fulfill my day’s commitment.

Great morning.

Countryside.

Getting up higher.

Today’s goal was to reach the Hotel Espellet in Larceveau. As we made our way from the urban environment we enjoyed the quite brisk morning air and the countryside was gorgeous. I was hoping that this second day would be much better than the warm and humid previous one.
As we made our way through the country lanes, we felt invigorated and confident of our sure step that would carry us to that day’s destination.

The gang taking a well deserved rest.

Making our way to new heights.

A hard climb.

The walk was quite lovely, the weather was cool and I for one was hoping that it would remain that way. You know when things are going too well, something is going to ruin it, well an hour into our walk in the park, a sign of el camino, pointed upward onto a long and step rocky road. The pilot confirmed our greatest fears. Without much hesitation, the most committed members jumped to the challenge. This seemingly interminable rocky road that reached for the sky, felt more like a loop around one of Dante’s circles of hell.
As we climbed the weather remained cool and crisp, but our bodies were heating up from the exertion. The terrain was a light colored rock resembling shale rock that run from side to side. It was not particularly difficult to traverse, but very, very long and steep.

Country roads.

Accomplishment.

Touching the skies.

As you may know by now, our group’s mean age is 62 years old. Some of us are in better condition for this type of endeavor than others. Physical complaints abound from time to time, even though acknowledgement of such is at best shared in the outmost secrecy, and at worst dismissed as trivial and easily overcome. Head to toe afflictions may plague pilgrims on their journey. Pre-conditions to note in our group were knee, back and migraine trouble.
Atop the hill were encountered a spectacular view of the surrounding valley, our great effort was fully redeemed. The spot was devoid of pilgrims, with the exception of a middle aged man and a dog seated almost as part of the pastoral scene. This made me think that since we had seen sheep, that perhaps he was a shepherd accompanied by his shepherd dog, his looks and attire steered my analytic mind towards that conjecture.
We all dropped our packs to rest and to enjoy the moment. Eric, being Eric, could not restrain himself from striking some sort of conversation with the shepherd. After a while I joined in. Eric was speaking in tongues, he spoke Spanglish, as I heard the shepherd speak, he also spoke in Spanish and French. Feeling that I could also engage, I spoke in the bit of French that I have at my command. The shepherd, was not a shepherd, I found out. Eric retold to me what Philippe had told him. Philippe, had been walking for the last four years. He had left his wife and children after his son had become deathly ill, and had barely survived. He lived like a true pilgrim by accepting the generosity of others and working for food and lodging as needed.

Chapel

Philippe and his dog.

Nourishment.

Open skies.

The way down and the rest of the walk that day was uneventful in comparison with the hill experience. We made it to the hotel by mid afternoon. Some of us decided to call a cab to take us to St. Jean Pied de Port, the official point of departure for the Pyrenees crossing.

Wine love.

Cool weather.

Happy pilgrims.

We called for local transport, the cab showed up, a young lady driver with a very well appointed Volkswagen Passat picked us up. The cost for the 20 minute ride each way cost us 30 euros each way. We walked the lovely town and sat for a drink at a local bar. I thought that it was a worthwhile expenditure of time and money.
Manuel

On the bridge.

Larceveau


0915. Day 7. Larceveau to Hunto. 4h 35min. 20 kms. 70° F.

Hotel Espellet

After a light breakfast at the Hotel Espellet, we got on the road to Hunto via St. Jean Pied de Port. The countryside and weather was similar to the previous day, cool weather and moderate hills awaited us.
As we reached the walled city of St. Jean Pied de Port, we knew that the awaited Pyrenees crossing was close at hand. We entered and briefly visited it, since everyone in our group had been there before. We purchased some snacks for the next day’s major walk.

Vineyard on a hill.

On the road again.

Cappuccino sheep?

Walking out of St. Jean, you start noticing that the terrain becomes increasingly steeper. The weather also started changing, it became cooler and windier, this was pleasant for me, since the exertion of the climb generated body heat that the cool wind refreshed. The climb was long and arduous, not necessarily long in distance but nevertheless tiresome. We saw few pilgrims on the road.

Wardrobe malfunction?

Real lunch time.

Love in unexpected places.

Hours later we reached the Ferme Ithurburia, our last lodging spot before walking into Spain. The lodging looked humble from the outside, entering we found the front desk, immediately after the entrance door, a long table to the right in an all purpose large room. We engaged the service person across us on the front desk, a sixtyish lady that only spoke to us in French. We first enquired about the delivery of our luggage, since two days before they were delivered to the wrong location. The front desk lady told us that no delivery had been done that day, and that her lodging did not use the services of the luggage transport that we had engaged. I understood that she did not put too much faith in our choice of luggage transport service.

Nice sign.

Cloudy skies.

Field of dreams.

I bought a bottle of cider, it was a bit sweet but refreshing, Rudy bought another and while we waited for our luggage we enjoyed the sunset on the balcony.

Dinner at Ferme Ithurburia

Balcony view.

Sunset.

Hours later we found out that our bags had indeed been delivered, not to the front desk, but to an adjacent part of the lodging across the street. To this day, I cannot understand why the front desk lady did not told us to look across the street. Maybe she forgot that this portion of the lodging did not belong to the entire complex, or maybe she was having a bad day, and that we were going to incur her wrath.
After rescuing our bags, we proceeded to showering and preparing for dinner. At dinner time we sat together at the end of a long table accommodating all lodgers, about thirty people. The food was unremarkable.
I felt compelled to use my critic skills with Trip Advisor and have given the Ferme Ithurburia a review that can be read here: Ferme Ithurburia. Bottom line, stay here if you don’t mind unpleasant and discourteous service.

Hunto


0916. Day 8. Hunto to Roncesvalles. 7h 3min. 26 kms. 64° F. Wind velocity: up to 60 miles per hour.

The important day had finally arrived. We had spent our last night in France and were poised to make the crossing of the Pyrenees on the French route towards Santiago de Compostela. After a light breakfast, settling our hotel bill and arranging for the pick up of our luggage to be carried to Roncesvalles, we were poised outside to gather our forces.
The pilot and his wife wanted to get a jump on the weather leaving one half hour earlier. Our first goal was to reach Orisson, a small refuge just before the barren mountains.

Ferme Ithurburia

Getting windy.

Stronger wnd.

At our arrival at Orisson, we noticed about a dozen of pilgrims prepared to make the crossing. Eric told me later that he met a pilgrim from Turkey that was actually walking back home from Santiago to Turkey. What a spirit. Although, if I had heard that story a year or two earlier, I would have gladly contributed to fund his mental institution’s expenses.

Orisson Refuge

I unburdened myself of my pack and remained outside smoking a cigarette. Across the picnic type table where I sat was an Asian young man. I said, where are you from? He said Korea, and that was the end of that. Moments later he packed up and continued walking towards the mountains. When we packed up, I noticed that a white box was under the area where the Korean man had been, I reached and picked it up, it was a battery charger for any USB electronics. I placed in a pocket of my backpack, hoping that I would find it’s owner somewhere on the route, I didn’t.

Braving the elements.

Some of the more engaging and talkative members of the team spoke to several pilgrims, later some of the conversations became known to me. Two were of note. One person had an accident further up and had returned to the refuge and requested a transport back to St. Jean Pied de Port. The other, was that some pilgrims had tried to make the crossing the day before and were attempting it again, even though the weather forecast for that day predicted even stronger winds than the day earlier, making these particular pilgrims remain on the French side another day. This bit of information was not disseminated among our team, or I was not informed. If I had been aware of the conditions that we were going to encounter, I would have been able to make a better informed decision to cross or not. I guess ignorance is bliss.

So windy, bikers couldn't ride.

The eye of the photographer.

Against all odds.

On our way we were. As we climbed, the winds increased, bringing down the temperature to a chill. Knowing myself, I was wearing a short sleeve moisture wicking tee shirt, long pants, a long sleeve tee shirt, and a white bandana around my neck. In my pack, just for safety, a thin hooded fleece jacket, thin fleece gloves, a hat and a hooded rain jacket. Not even a half an hour went by before we all had to dig into our packs for as much cover as we could muster. The weather was getting nasty. On the other hand we were somewhat encouraged, since there seem to be other pilgrims (fools) on the climb. An hour and a half, or so, into the trek, three motorcycles went passed us. I thought, that the trail was going to get rough for such street type vehicles. Not much later two of them passed on the way down, an hour later we found the third, two guys were walking down their bike, since the wind was so strong that they could not ride it.

Expansive view.

The wind was cutting across the Pyrenees and we where in the middle of it. There were moments when not even standing assured one of stability, getting low to the ground was the only means of not being blown away. Walking became even more difficult because the winds faced us most of the time; this compounded our effort to make the long climb. At times, as we raised one leg to make a stride the wind would unbalance one with a possibility of falling. Fortunately I was not very cold, the effort generated enough body heat.

Rainbow on the Pyrenees.

Hubris.

Local flora.

We decided to stop for nourishment and found a small quarry creating a dune shaped refuge from the wind. Took out our refreshments and proceeded to consume them quickly. Other pilgrims join us in our wind shelter. Two young men seemingly walking solo sat separately and watched us eat. I remembered the bit about the “charity of others” and decided to share my meager ration with them, my fellow team members followed.

Success.

We packed and went out into the elements again for a couple more hours of ascent. When we reached the top, relief was at hand, now we could descend, two options presented themselves. By now Cecilia and I had left the other team members behind, so we had to choose wisely, without the benefit of previous experience had by our team, they had reached this fork on the road before. There was another couple pondering what to do. If I recall well, one sign read, Roncesvalles, long and easy way, 4.5 kms. The other read, Roncesvalles, short and dangerous way, 1.5 kms. The former looked to be a paved open road that descended along the hills at a reasonable grade. The latter, looked almost like going down into some animal’s den. It was steep forest on a hill, enclosed by trees with their roots exposed making it more treacherous for our descent. I thought it appeared that the forest could threaten us by coming alive while the roots would ensnare us and drag us under, never to be seen again. Thanks Hollywood.

A welcome oasis after a long an terrifying crossing.

After some consideration, we decided on the short and hard way. This fits my way of life; I like the concept that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The woman at the sign warned us not to go down that way. We thanked her, but chose to do it anyway. As we made our descent, our bodies pushed us down; we had to use our legs to slow us down. Cecilia had her poles in hand and seemed to help her. Our steps needed to be placed carefully not to trip or twist our ankles due to the irregularity of the terrain. It reminded me of when I was a child and was walking on a tiled floor trying to avoid stepping on the edges. Forty five minutes later we found a couple walking holding hands. This seemed so out of place that both Cecilia and I commented on it. As the terrain became less steep, it started to rain, took out our ponchos and continued walking. Very soon after the rain we saw edifices, it was Roncesvalles, finally. We had survived the Pyrenees.
Found our way to the Casa de Beneficiados*****, Roncesvalles, Navarra, Spain and loved it. The pilot and his wife were seated by the entrance, after a brief greeting, they divulged that our luggage service had not delivered on their commitment, and that they had been on the phone tracking their whereabouts.

Roncesvalles

I chose to make the best of the moment and went to drop my pack in my room, followed by a drink at the bar. I chose to try the local apple cider, I had two servings. I heard from the bar the voices of the rest of the team arriving together. Went to meet them and to the news that our luggage had been delivered to the wrong place again. The luggage was a block away at the Posada de Roncesvalles. Cecilia and I went to get our bags. Showered and with clean clothes went down to the bar, exchanged horror stories, had one of the best diners of the trip and went to bed.

The Pyrenees

The views, even though not much enjoyed due to the inclement weather are breathtaking and must be gorgeous with ideal conditions.
Manuel


0917. Day 9. Roncesvalles to Castro Urdiales. 68° F.

Hosteria Villa de Castro

This portion of the trip was done by travelling on a van, a day off from walking. We were picked up by Transport Claudine. Maya, our friendly driver gave us an education on the Basque culture that made our 3 hour trip very enjoyable. At our arrival al Castro Urdiales, we located our hotel, Hosteria Villa de Castro, a well located and comfortable small hotel. After a quick check in, we went out to get lunch by the Cantabrian Sea.
On our way to the port we located a small non descript shop were local spirits were sold. Later we revisited it and purchased Orujo, an herb digestive made locally.

A day on the road with wheels.

La iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción. Castro Urdiales.

The port at Castro Urdiales.

What a view!

After lunch we walked the small old part of the town and returned to the hotel to rest a bit before leaving again for dinner. As most people know choosing one restaurant between eight people may be a challenge to say the least. After much deliberation, one was chosen. We occupied most of the dining room, and we were the only ones at 8 p.m. Choosing what to eat can be a challenge to many, specially since some words are foreign to one. Wait the menu was in Spanish, our native tongue, nevertheless there are words for things we still do not know, so the usual questions started flowing. Our waitress was very accommodating, she explained every obscure term we did not know.

Ocean side views.

Ominous.

See Food!

The beach at Castro Urdiales.

It was only until someone asked her to say which of as many as ten appetizers she would order, that things hit the proverbial fan. She said that, she did not eat this because she did not like it, not that because she was allergic to it, or the third because she could not eat that. She abruptly left us.
At her return, she explained that she had been put in a compromising position by being asked such personal questions, specially in view that she suffered from a disabling stomach condition. I thought that the waitress was right, I would never ask anyone for their preferences in choosing food, knowing that we all have different taste, and that mine are very particular. I suppose you could ask what are the most popular or best selling dishes. As usual, not everyone agreed with me.

R.I.P.

All smiles, not walking today.

Awaiting much needed refreshments.

Castro Urdiales


0918. Day 10. Castro Urdiales to Laredo. 70° F.

Details to come.

Leaving Castro Urdiales.

Morning smiles.

Ready to roll.

Cerdigo y la ruta de la costa.

Cantabrian Sea.

Great backdrop.

Open skies.

Surfers dream.

Roadside.

Seaside walk.

Laredo beach.

Laredo


0919. Day 11. Laredo to Noja. 70° F.

Details to come.

Looking for some direction.

Leaving only our shadows.

Poised for another walk.

Morning emptiness.

Chiaro oscuro.

Boat from Laredo to Santoña

Santoña

Santoña.

El paseo maritimo de Santoña.

Beer poster.

Surf, turf and sky.

Another Cantabrian beach.

Great color.

Steep ascent.

Noja


0920. Day 12. Noja to Santander. 69° F.

Details to come.

Early morning bells.

Ready for a new day.

Lovely morning ocean air.

Pan-o-ramica.

Getting to Santander.

On the boat to Santander.

The great council.

Finally Santander!

Done!

Itinerary cancelled due to general attrition.

After just having enough walking, our ranks started to frail. Some members of the expedition had already broken the “sacred trust” of the group by riding on a car, and shortening one day’s walk by completing it by bus. The pilot, while traversing the bay on a ferry to Santander, pronounced words that neither I, nor anyone else would expect. “It seems that we have reached our full of walking, therefore, I propose a cease desist of all pedestrian actions, and plan to enjoy our stay in Spain with two additional days.
This statement was met with a variety of reactions. It would appear that the pilot had had a finger on the pulse of the bunch, and decided that this was as good a moment to utter his proposal. People were stunned, knowing that the pilot is a man of his word, and that breaking this divine contract, must have been difficult. Opinions varied from relief to a sense of mutiny or even treason. After a short discussion between the couples, we all agreed that we had a belly full, and that the pilot’s proposal was reasonable. One couple dissented and expressed their desire to continue with last two days of walking. I sensed a bit of remorse from some of the members by abandoning our team and our “commitment to the quest”. I personally, was relieved since my commitment is firstly to myself, then to the others, call me selfish.
We checked into the Abba Santander hotel and made plans to meet later to go to dinner for our last supper together. The pilot had been talking about having cochinillo (roasted suckling pig) since the early days of planning almost a year earlier. This was his chosen city for such delicacy, since it is not offered everywhere, it requires a restaurant with a “real” wood burning oven for its preparation.
The pilot had chosen a local restaurant not too far a walk from our hotel named Asador Lechazo de Aranda. It resembled other asador type restaurant we had visited. I had the suckling pig, it was delicious with various glasses of rose wine, followed by Orujo, a Galician liqueur made from herbs, and attributed with almost magical powers to ease digestion.
Manuel

Santander


0921. Day 13. Santander. 73° F.

Details to come.

On a train to Santillana del Mar.

Same train, same people.

On the way to Santillana del Mar.

Entering Santillana del Mar

Eating on tables again?

And a glass of white or two.

Parador Gil Blas, Santillana del Mar.

Two old men waiting for theirs wives.

La Colegiata, Santillana del Mar.

No caption needed.


0922. Day 14. Santander. 67° F.

Our group disbanded, two couples flew to Paris, we stayed in Santander, and the diehards continued on to Mogro by train.

Sardinero beach.

Gran Hotel Sardinero.

Sardinero Beach.

El Machi Restaurant****

Details to come.


0923. Day 15. Santander to Barcelona. 71° F.

Details to come.


0924. Day 16. Barcelona. 82° F.

Barcelona

Back to the lovely Catalonian capital of Barcelona. This city has grown to be one of our choice destinations. Personally, I put it only second to the city of light. The weather was great at our arrival and remained gorgeous during our 5-day visit.
Our plan was to take it easy, since this was our fifth or sixth visit. We wanted to visit some of those less visited places and revisit, some of our favorite places. The photos show that we were busy and that you cannot take it easy in that lively city, so much to see.
Ate very well at restaurants that we had visited before. That is my preference, I believe that if you find someone or thing that you like, stick with it, and maybe become a connoisseur. As soon as we checked in into our excellently located and previously visited Hotel Turin, we went out to the Rambla to taste once again the flavor of the city. We were returning after a four year absence. We decided to try to locate the Basque pintxos restaurant we had discovered on our last visit, not far from the hotel. I remembered that it was on one of the non pedestrian small streets of the Barrio Gotico. We crossed the Rambla and entered the maze of little alleyways. I knew that my piloting had a short limit. Cecilia’s hunger for food and impatience with my navigation abilities added unnecessary pressure to my effort to deliver us to the chosen restaurant.
Luckily, we stumble on the wide street were I recalled the restaurant was located. Of course Cecilia, by now, could not believe any word that came out of my mouth. I said, lets turn left, she wanted to go right. I told her to remain there, and I would go up the street, since I thought I might be getting warmer, and did not need her criticism every additional step we took.
Half a block up the street, I found it. With much pride and holding my head up, I came back to report my fortuitous finding.

Orio Restaurant***

As we approached the entrance of Orio, I was almost gloating. We entered, sat down and waited for our waiter to place our drink order. We ordered rose wine; we had been enjoying this wine throughout our trip. I went to the bar, picked up a small plate and collected three pintxos, walked back our communal table and sat down to taste these small portions.
This restaurant uses a novel way for how it works. You have to first find a seat on long and narrow tall communal tables that create rows where guests sit. As soon as you are seated and have placed your drink order, you can get up, pick up a plate and collect the bite size offerings of cold pintxos with toothpicks from the bar. After you finish eating and ask for the bill, they will count the toothpicks and charge you accordingly. Every pintxo must be the same price.
Cecilia did the same when we sampled the ones I had brought. She chose other pintxos and we continued tasting. We enquired about xistorras, our favorite Basque small fried sausages, they usually prepare them on demand, and they are offered to all guests.

Pintxos at Orio***

Xistorra*****

Serious enjoyment.

Gorgeous architecture.

7 Portes Restaurant*****

The following days we visited the sites shown on the photos below. Of note, the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo on the cultural side. On the gastronomic we returned to the Asador de Aranda for the cochinillo, Cal Pep for tapas and more, and my favorite 7 Portes, where we ate on consecutive days, enjoying the fideua (a vermicelli paella cooked in cuttlefish ink), steamed mussels and black rice (cooked in cuttlefish ink). Very much worth a detour. The old style ambiance and the great service was an added pleasure.

Manuel

Palau de la Musica***

Sagrada Familia.

Great skies.

Organic ceiling.

Geants.

Patiently awaiting...

Cochinillo asado****

Camp Nou. Barça vs. Universidad de Las Palmas.

Palau de la Musica.

Cal Pep Restaurant****

Catalonian hospitality!


Extraño el camino. Sep 13, 2013, at 1:21 PM.

Extraño levantarme temprano
Extraño el café con leche y tostadas
Extraño las croissants y los yogurts de Isa, Silvia y Nelvis
Extraño las subidas y las bajadas y los senderos también
Extraño el olor a mierda….de vaca, oveja, puercos, o una mescla de todos
Extraño el vigor al caminar en las mañanas
Eric

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Del Sueño al Inescapable Despertar

Historia basada en un sueño.

Rin…, rin…, rin. Que suena, un reloj alarma, no, parece mas un teléfono. Abro los ojos, me noto cómodo sentado y abrazado por un sillón de brazos grandes que casi llegan a mis hombros, mis piernas sueltas delante mío. Rin…, rin…, trato de ver la procedencia del sonido que de algún sueño, por que casi siempre sueño, abruptamente me estaba despertando.

Al buscar la fuente del sonido, hice una inspección vertiginosa de mi entorno. Después de percatarme de mi posición en el sillón, inicie de derecha a izquierda una revisión, donde me encontré en un lugar extraño, pero con similitudes a muchos otros sitios visitados durante mi vida. Era como que hubiera quedado dormido en un lugar que no recordaba al despertar.

Al finalizar mi vistazo, encontré la fuente del sonido a mi izquierda, un teléfono negro con discado rotativo y auricular manual, posado sobre una mesa redonda con enchape de madera, donde compartía el espacio con una lámpara, un cenicero de plata y un encendedor de mesa. Mas despierto, y notando que estaba solo en el recinto, decidí incorporarme y responder la llamada del aparato sonoro, que no paraba de timbrar.

Acercándome lentamente hacia el, pude apreciar mas mi entorno, una gran sala, rectangular, con dos grandes ventanas con celosias entreabiertas permitiendo entrar la luz tenue como de un atardecer invernal. Un cuadro colgado entre ellas. Esta era la pared izquierda que pude ver rápidamente en mi camino hacia el sonido. La mesa que albergaba al teléfono, estaba en la esquina izquierda de la gran sala.

Recojo el auricular, lo llevo a mi oído, digo “ala?”. Una voz juvenil, lejana y desconocida pregunta, “la casa Morales?”. Me tomo un momento descifrar lo dicho, pensé contestar sin estar seguro de mi ubicación. Decidí responder con preguntas para quizás confirmar mis sospechas, “Es hay donde usted llama?, desea hablar con alguien en particular?”

“Estoy buscando a mi tía abuela” dijo ella. Esa respuesta no me brindo ninguna pista. “La tía Antuca” prosiguió. Antuca? me pregunte, estará buscando a Tuca?, una hermana de mi papa? Recordé que algunos miembros de la familia también la llamaban así, ya que se llamaba Antonieta. Las piezas del juego empezaban a mostrarme donde me hallaba.

Durante el breve intercambio, pude percibir la pared opuesta a donde estuve tan cómodamente sentado, lado corto de la sala rectangular, con dos altas puertas de doble hoja, cerradas enmarcando a un gran espejo de borde intricado dorado. No recordaba esta como la casa de mi tía Tuca, muchas veces la había visitado, durante toda mi niñez en los veranos, donde jugaba con mis cuatro primos. También se celebraran todas las navidades ahí. Gratos recuerdos.

Esta era algo así como esas casonas de antaño, que cuando niño visitaba a algún lejano pariente con mis padres, donde teníamos que portarnos bien y reflejar bien en ellos. Saludar, sentarse derecho, comer todo lo servido usando los mejores modales, y por supuesto no meterse en líos. Si en caso vivieran niños en dicha casona, la cosa era distinta, entonces podríamos jugar, explorar nuevos sitios y fraternizar con ellos. Esta casa no tenia indicios de juventud, todo era formal, limpio y ordenado.

La dije, “con quien hablo?”. Me dijo, “soy Úrsula, nieta de Hernán y Teresa, mi abuelo era hermano de mi tía Antuca, acabo de llegar del extranjero y quería saludarla, ya q no la veo hace años”. Mas indicios, recordé a mi prima menor Úrsula, a su padre Hernán, hermano menor de mi padre, pero no recordé a Úrsula hija, al otro lado de la conversación. Yo también había estado ausente de nuestra ciudad natal durante cuatro décadas, y ahora aparentemente estábamos los dos de vuelta.

No pude corroborarle, si era la casa de Antuca, pero pude compartir con ella nuestra relación sanguínea, y celebrar su esfuerzo de mantenerse en contacto con la familia. Palabras que fueron bien recibidas. Ellas me saludo con cariño, me dijo “tío Manuel, me podrías informar de la familia?”. Le conté lo de mis ausencia, y le explique que todavía no había visto a ningún miembro de familia. Le dije que acababa de despertar con su llamado y que había contestado el teléfono, ya que nadie lo había hecho, después de dejarlo sonar por un rato.

La pedí que volviera a llamar mas tarde, que estaría seguro que la casona estaría llena de gente a la hora de la cena, cuando usualmente todos los miembros de familia acudirían a cenar, como recordaba de antaño.

Mientras conversaba con Úrsula hija, mire el cuadro entre las ventanas, notando un paisaje alpino visto desde altura con un gran lago rodeado de grandes montañas. El lago serpenteando el contorno montañés tomaba la mayoría del centro del cuadro vertical. Mientras recorría el borde del lago, vi una pequeña embarcación, una lancha a motor, mi vista, ya no lo que era, me forzó a que me acerque para ver el detalle, dos figuras femeninas sentadas, una de ellas con un brazo alzado, como si llamando a alguien. Me acerque aun mas para ver si era posible distinguir los rostros, era imposible, el pintor no había podido detallar algo tan pequeño, pero mi impresión era que eran mis primas Úrsula y Mónica.

No se si eran ellas, pero como había hablado de ellas, y no habían pasado por mi memoria en años, quizás me estaba sugestionando. Al colgar el teléfono, escuche el crujir de una puerta viniendo de mi derecha. Voltíe rápidamente, ya que esta era la primera muestra de vida, mas allá de la llamada telefónica. Mientras lentamente se abría la hoja izquierda de la puerta derecha de la pared opuesta a mi sillón, de una obscuridad total, apareció una figura femenina vestida de negro.

Al avanzar lentamente hacia el interior de la sala, por un corredor natural entre sofás y mesas acomodadas hacia su centro, note que como sin verme, ingresaba con un paso pausado y seguro. La danza de brazos y piernas y el repicar de los tacones sobre ese suelo de madera dura antigua, me hizo recordar a alguien. Al estar casi inmóvil, desde el momento de la crujida de la puerta cuando vertiginosamente voltíe a ver su procedencia, y al estar al lado opuesto de esa gran sala, no podía distinguir bien las facciones de la figura femenina.

Delgada, no muy alta, pelo negro recogido en un moño, vestido sencillo negro, medias de nylon grises y tacos de charol negros. Pensé notar una tez trigueña, como si expuesta al sol, mujer de edad media, caminando distraída o con algo muy importante en mente. Así me explique como no me había poder visto.

Atravesando dos tercios del largo de la sala, pasando la primera puerta doble de dos hojas que ese lado de la sala tenia, duplicando como en un espejo las dos grandes ventanas del otro largo de la sala, parecía flotar. Su avance ensimismado la llevo hacia la siguiente puerta doble, donde reparo, volvió hacia ella y abriendo la hoja izquierda atravesó el umbral, desapareciendo y dejando la puerta abierta.

Mire por un momento el recinto, como esperando alguna otra actividad, pensé en que haría ahora. Decidí seguirla y atravesar esa puerta y explorar la casona. Cruce la sala, al acercarme a la puerta, escuche el repicar de un lejano campanario marcando la hora. No conté las campanadas, mi impresión era que eran o las seis o siete de la tarde.

La típica obscuridad de esa estación inundaba el umbral. Cuando mis ojos se acostumbraron a la penumbra, empecé a reconocer mi entorno. Un gran patio de claustro románico con arcadas en bóveda, y numerosas ventanas y puertas en cada lado. Al centro una pequeña fuente enmarcada de un jardín con rosales. El firmamento ya obscurecido mostrando su inmensidad y gracias a la sequedad del clima, estrellado. Las campanas todavía llenando con su sonora expresión el silencio del sitio.

Ella ya estaba volteando la esquina izquierda del claustro, pensé, en camino la puerta de donde emanaba una luz amarillenta bañando el piso del claustro frente a ella. Observe su ritmo al caminar y nuevamente pude escuchar su taconeo ya que el campanario había cumplido su función. También, a la ausencia de las campanas, empecé a escuchar el gorgoteo de la fuente.

Inmóvil en el umbral, solo siguiéndola con mi mirada, confirme su internamiento en la boca de luz, que parecía crecer en intensidad al pasar los segundos. Hice una revisión panorámica del claustro, la simetría y orden exhibido era algo de mi agrado. Envuelto el claustro casi en total penumbra, a excepción del recinto luminoso, desafiando mis poderes de percepción. Siempre goce del juego del claro obscuro.

Nuevamente decidí perseguirla, indagar su procedencia, destino, relación, si lo hubiera y mas. Ya no podía mantenerme al margen. Sentía que de alguna manera estaba en algún tipo de santuario, percibía algo muy familiar. Camine hacia la luz, sin saber que encontraría. Al llegar a ella y mirar a su interior, el cambio de penumbra a iluminación cegó mis ojos momentáneamente.

Parado estupefacto, esperando la inevitable adaptación ocular, no pude imaginar mi sorpresa. Una habitación amplia con dos camas sencillas a mana derecha, un sofá a mano izquierda, bordeado por dos sillones y una mesa de centro. Con los ojos adaptados, note que la luz no era tan intensa, que mayormente era tenue y que venia de tres lámparas de mesa.

La habitación no estaba vacía, al salir de la niebla causado por el fenómeno del cambio de luz, descubrí personas, específicamente hombres, algunos sentados, otro parados mirándome. Ya con mi vista repuesta, empezó a reconocer caras y cuerpos, todos vestidos de traje y corbata negra, también con camisa blanca. Uno de los hombres parados, haciendo un gesto como de aceptación o saludo con la cabeza, inicio su acercamiento a mi. Al cruzar la habitación desde la pared mas lejana a la puerta donde yo estaba, empecé a vislumbrar facciones conocidas.

Hasta el momento, las caras me habían sido desconocidas. Felipe, me dije, el silencio era aun sepulcral. Era mi querido primo Felipe, un par de años menor que yo, hijo de mi tía Tuca, una de las hermanas de mi papa. Le extendí la mano, el me abrazo. Durante su efusivo abrazo reconocí a otros de mis primos hermanos. Miguel, Joaquín, Paulo Hernán, Diego, Rolando, Juan, Paul y Jaime.

Eran hombres de edad media, note una alegría al verme. El mismo gesto compartí con todos mis primos, girando hacia cada unos de ellos hasta completar nuestro saludo. No habíamos cruzado palabra alguna. El ultimo abrazo fue con Miguel, al desbrazarnos, me hizo girar hacia el lado derecho de la habitación, donde había notado las dos camas.

Sentada en una de ellas, la mujer que me había guiado hasta aquí. Levantando su cara, reconocí a mi prima Mónica, con una mirada dulce y como con resignación, se incorporo, acercándose a mi me abrazo. Sentí el cariño familiar, como si toda mi familia estuviera abrazándome, tanto familiares en vida como los que ya muertos. Era una experiencia confortante. Mientras gozaba de esa sensación única, escuche sus susurros decirme, la vida es un sueño, es tu hora de despertar.

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Does Disinterest Exist?

Self interest.

Self interest.

Disclaimer: As most people know ideas, concepts and recollections are all the expression of the one that is writing. Careful consideration has been given to the veracity of the events that unfolded, but as being human, some facts might have escaped and even some may not be rendered accurately. Of note is the fact that this story is being told by one of the two protagonists, and insofar that it has been meticulously accounted for, the point of view of the Dear Friend is absent. Maybe in some not so distant future we could be given the benefit of his version of events.

Robert A. Heinlein quote.

Robert A. Heinlein quote.

Some time ago, not too far in the distance to blur its memory, my family and myself were preparing for a trip to my wife’s and mine home country of Peru. We travel there every other year, since her generous employer provides for a take it or loose it benefit by paying the whole family’s expenses, it makes it difficult to decline. As we spoke about our trip in a social gathering, a dear friend of ours offered to drive us to the airport.

My wife unilaterally, and without proper consultation, accepted his generous offer. At the time I was aware of her acceptance. Later that day, back at home I thought that I did not want to inconvenience my dear friend and that I would call him to thank him again, but also to decline his most generous offer. I had considered the factors of early morning pick up, the amount of luggage, not a small challenge considering the small size of his vehicle. I felt calling a cab would be most efficient.

Robert A. Heinlein quote.

Robert A. Heinlein quote.

I discussed this with my wife, at which time I took the opportunity to point out that she had not consulted me before accepting my dear friend’s offer. He has been my friend longer than hers; this I believe makes more of a friend of mine. I proceeded to make the argument that I found unnecessary to trouble him in view of the hour, the amount of luggage and the availability of funds to pay for transportation. I also mentioned that unlike myself that only offers favors when I am truly able and willing to do them, a lot of people offer themselves as a courtesy, a cultural thing. Being unaware of how genuine the offer was, since I cannot with certainty attest to anyone’s willingness.

My wife was not convinced with my arguments, reasons listed above, so I added that I preferred not to accept his generosity because it made me feel that something may be expected in return. I am a believer that there is no free lunch, and that no good deed goes unpunished, and with conviction reiterated that I did not wanted to accept his favor. She yielded at my insistence. I announced that I was going to call him to inform him of my decision followed by a call to coordinate our ground transportation to the airport.

Without hesitation, I dialed my dear friend’s number and proceeded to apologize for my wife’s early acceptance of his offer. I pointed out the time and space limitations, and did not go into much detail. My friend, if I well recall, was gracious enough to reiterate that this would have been a pleasure for him, and that he would have been able to deal with time and space. The conversation was brief and to the point and I believed that I had handled it well.

Robert A. Heinlein quote.

Robert A. Heinlein quote.

Months later, in an email to some of my male friends I asked if anyone would have a 50 foot Ethernet cable laying about unused, and if so, that I would be interested in buying it. The above mentioned friend replied to all the group, and here I will try to be faithful to his email by translating it from a foreign language, and it goes like this, “My friend, you should use the privileges of our friendship, you should ask ‘if anyone has an unused cable, lend it to me’…”.

To this email I responded, again translating, “Exactly for that same reason I did it, I do not like to ask for loans and like less to owe.” I felt this explained my position on the issue of asking for things on loan, and especially how I feel about owing. This I thought gave me an opportunity to bond with him, and allow him to get to know me better.

A quick response came back, “Friend, are we friends or not…? It is ok to ask and to receive. If not, what is the purpose of being pals… don’t be selfish… open up a bit… we love you, don’t kid” To me this was more of the same from before, with the exception that it was “more”, I did not follow the criteria of the argument. I decided not to respond to this email, since I wanted to avoid any escalation.

The following day, at a celebration of my niece’s college graduation, we met in person. Everyone was having a great time. At my return to the party after taking my daughter to the movies, and as I entered the main living room, I see my wife, my dear friend and another good friend looking at me as I walked towards them. I sensed that they had been speaking about me, a feeling of dread or guilt for doing something wrong. They looked at me with that face that says “oh Manuel”. Yes, I have been there many a time before.

Friendship quote.

Friendship quote.

This automatically made me go into fight or flight mode, as most of you who know me, I live for a fight, not a fist fight, but for a fight of wits with words. I approached and inquired as to what had I done this time. As far as I gathered at the time and later confirmed with my wife, my dear friend had vented his incomprehension at my attitude about accepting favors and lending practices. I figured quickly that they had reach agreement in about my guilt. I need some moments to gather my thoughts to be able to mount an effective offensive.

Later that evening, after some tequilas, I found myself sitting at the head of a table with my dear friend seated to my left and three other friends around us. My dear friend decided once again to present his arguments for my dismissal of his offer as unfriendly behavior unbecoming of close friends. I listened with care because I wanted to find out what was so hideous about my refusal to accept his generosity. The tone of my dear friend’s explanation sounded more like a bitter lament of betrayal. It became obvious to me quickly, that our difference were at that moment irreconcilable, too many tequilas, too much bitterness and emotion, and knowing when to get out of a fight I decided not to repeat myself.

I took the opportunity at this time to reiterate my belief that there is no disinterested acts; everything we do has a motive, again no free lunch. This of course did not aid in our understanding; I knew that this was something most people and my dear friend found too cold and calculating for human beings to exercise. Nevertheless I expressed because I thought it could help express believes.

Expectations quote.

Expectations quote.

After going over in my head the events that led to this evening, the only thing that I can take from this fascinating experience is that I am certainly different than the rest. I have been told so many times, and I know it. Another thing learned is that understanding anything, especially something foreign such as other people’s behavior and their way of thinking is extremely difficult when there is not any common ground. Also, I noticed intolerance that borders on disrespect of ideas foreign to us.

I wonder how much is one allowed to get upset or offended with a dear friend that refuses a generous gift, or one that makes us feel guilty for not accepting it.

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The Foreign Gentleman’s Wrath

Location, location, location.

Location, location, location.

Just the other day, a couple friends of ours dropped by our house, and we decided to try a new restaurant. The trendy restaurant is situated in a fashionable area of the city. Our arrival was prompt, also, with what my spouse calls my most envious luck, I again found an ample and legal parking space, not a block away from its door.

The restaurant was small but charming. We were taken to our table and started reviewing the offerings from the kitchen. We started considering several options of combinations of dishes to maximize our eating experience. This took some time since one member of our party is very much opposed to sharing.

A very nice young waitress with a charming foreign accent approached us asking if we would like to order something to drink. My wife recommeded not to try the house wine, since she mentioned that some friend of hers had tried it and had not liked it.

Wine country.

Wine country.

The owner approached our table to open the wine, he mentioned its birthplace, and mentioned that the wine we were about to taste comes from vineyards that used to be apple orchards. It tasted like wine with apple cider to me after that. The power of suggestion…

The appetizers arrived, and they were delicious. The evening was going well, the conversation flowed like the wine, and we ordered a second bottle. Our main courses arrived, they looked great, and they were better than expected.

All of a sudden, my spouse pointed out that the wine we were about to finish had not been the one we had ordered. A strategy was devised to bring this error to the management’s attention. I asked, “What do we want to get out of this?” aloud. Not a satisfactory response did I receive.

Right or wrong wine?

Right or wrong wine?

The unsuspecting owner came around to ask the customary “How is everything?” and my spouse used this opportune moment to candidly point out the wine faux pas to the restaurateur. He apologized by saying that he had asked one of his helpers to hand him the bottle, and since both labels were so similar, he had not noticed the mix-up. He graciously mentioned that he would “…make it up…” with some grape liquor from his country of birth.

At his return with the liquor, he placed two small glasses in front of the men in our party, and proceeded to pour a small amount into them. He immediately noticed our discontent, and proceeded to furnish two additional small glasses, into which he poured even smaller amounts of the elixir. He stated that this liquor was very special, and that it was very possible that neither of us had come within reach of such a delicacy.

It did not become apparent to me until I was recounting this story, that one never knows if anyone is listening to what you say, and that when we dismissed the owner’s wine we might had unleashed the wrath of a nice foreign gentleman.

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El Juguete Encantado

Historia de descubrimiento

 

Cuento de Rudy Morales. Adaptado, ilustrado y animado usando Flash por Manuel Valencia.

La casona de Rodrigo.

La casona de Rodrigo.

Ahora que llegan las navidades, Rodrigo miraba a unos niños jugar, mientras pensaba que se había portado bien y que recibiría los regalos que el quería.
Su bella casa estaba lista para la visita de San Nicolás y sus renos.

Rodrigo salía a jugar al parque donde algunas veces encontraba al hijo de la vendedora de castañas. Juan, tenia un juguete hecho a mano. Tenia ruedas y dos bloques de madera pintada que semejaban a un coche.

El parque.

The park

El juguete de Juan, hacía peripecias que Rodrigo nunca había visto.
El juguete de Juan era fuerte, rápido, esquivaba todo tipo de obstáculos y hasta volaba. Rodrigo quería jugar con el.

Rodrigo, le pregunto a Juan si pudieran intercambiar sus juguetes.
Juan, sin poder creer su suerte, no entendía porque alguien quisiera su juguete. Acepto el cambio y ofreció su juguete a Rodrigo.

El juguete encantado.

El juguete encantado.

Rodrigo, contentísimo, empezó a jugar y a probar el juguete, esperando sus poderes.
Después de varias pruebas, Rodrigo solo podía hacer que el juguete hiciera las maniobras que sus otros juguetes hacían.

El había pensado que el juguete estaba encantado y que obteniéndolo podría gozar de sus poderes. Pronto reparo que el juguete no estaba encantado, sino que la magia que el pensaba que tenia, se la daba Juan.

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Racist I?

The late tragic and criminal events between races has made me again think of their rationale. I am a believer that nothing happens without a reason, even such abhorrent events as these; I think that there must be an underlying cause and effect.

I have made this journey before, and every time I visit these lands, I start by asking myself, what can make this possible.

Started by considering the terms that inevitably are used as possible causes. Racism, defined as the prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior, and bigotry defined as, intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself, come to the forefront.

Anti semitism.

We all know, or have heard these terms used together or interchangeably, but what I find most fascinating, is that we do not examine the reasons why these exist. I would like us to consider these questions, maybe it is not that these concepts exist, but that they not only exist, but that they perpetuate.

Their existence is unquestionably, and trying to find out their origins may prove more laborious than I would entertain here, suffice it to say that, they go a long way back. Their perpetuity is a far more perplexing issue. As most or all things that enjoy some perpetuity, such as water turning into gas, then to snow, ice or rain, retuning to water, these elements perdure.

It may be easily argued, that since this is a human affliction, it may be man made. Noting that, it is a concept and nothing more, it lives in our communal consciousness, and it affects, if not all, most human beings. By accepting this, we could also argue that it is cultural like a hereditary trait, meaning that it is passed by word of mouth from one generation to the next.

Intolerance towards the Roma or gyspys.

If we can accept these premises, we can then contend that by its nature, being man made and passed down form our elders, that it may be malleable, not set in stone, therefore, revisable. As society has experienced, concepts of the unknown, which still abound, have been met with mainly inadequate explanations. Very few of humanities beliefs remain unchanged, such as, ideas on the center of the universe and more mundane ones, as the precipice at the end of the ocean’s horizons.

Racism like most concepts is not immune to the passing of time. Proximity to new races, provided by advances in travel, have presented humans with other humans somewhat, or as some would pose, very different, and inhuman. When we lived in a somewhat homogeneous group or tribe, we only knew that, meaning that anyone outside our scope of knowledge was considered foreign or alien.
Segregation, naturally occurring, such as defined by geographical areas where different races evolved, or forced as created in ethnic neighborhood, ghettos, or concentration camps, did not advance the understanding required to lessen or the elimination of racism. The question remains as to why is this concept perpetuated.

We may be consider that concepts that perdure, owe their resilience to some element of conservatism, which tends to guard and maintain its beliefs, sometimes in the face of considered outdated and proven erroneous. Many examples abound. Some of the most entrenched concepts in the human cultural fabric share one common ingredient, it appears that fear is at the essence of their strength.

Fear is a natural, and some say, a very essential human feeling that has allowed the species to survive and even flourish. But fear of the unknown, is like fearing fear. When the unknown becomes known, we cannot fear it anymore, since we have seen and conquered it. When the unknown remains unknown, by choice or by ignorance, fear is quite a motivating element.

Finally, when it comes to deciding what to believe, we have two major options. One is to believe what all has been taught to us, or by picking and choosing concepts that we can understand and embrace, which is what most of us do. As to the concept of racism, as many others, we also have been given the same choice.

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Paradise?

Paradise?

Paradise?

As the evenings of the late summer days become shorter and cooler, when the crisp air of autumn begins, most adults, look forward to the quiet after the rush of summer. I have finally decided to reflect on some of our favorite summer activities.

My family has been fortunate to be able to squeeze two or three of these vacation excursions into a year. Most families vacation during the summer months, since children are away from school, the days are longer and the outdoors is more welcoming. One of the most desirable destinations are bodies of water. It may be our reptilian brain that draws us back to that watery element from where we come from. Top on most people’s list of vacations spots are exotic and beautiful sandy beaches with coconut trees and a comfortable lounge chair. I surmise this much by the barrage of ads that feature this type of idyllic locations just when the days are coldest and shorter in the dead of winter.

Choices vary from lakes, rivers, inland seas and, of course, the mother of them all, the ocean. Most families have a preference, usually determined by what the parents were exposed to when they were children; we seem to be creatures of habit. There are two main camps, the fresh water and salt-water enthusiasts. Some even enjoy both of these watery habitats. In our family of three, my daughter Veronica is undecided, even though she has gone to the salty ocean element every summer of her life. My wife Marie is decidedly on the salty camp; she argues, as often as the subject arises, that she would love to have a view of that watery body for the rest of her life. I, on the other hand, have discovered a few years ago that I have a marked preference for mountain lakes.

Sometime last autumn my dear wife reminded me to draft our annual letter of intent for the rental of an apartment at the shore from the gentleman from Ellicott City that we have never met, for our usual two week stay. I complied; without questioning; I have been doing this for the past ten years. This reminder from my wife, starts a series of events that culminate just this week with our return from the shore, only to begin again sometime in a couple of months.

Letter of Intent

After posting my letter; where I reiterate our interest in renting for two weeks the apartment, usually for the second and third week of August; a brief discussion centers on early planning for that excursion months away. We consider if and to whom we might extend an invitation for either a partial or whole period of our stay. Great thought is given since cohabitation with strangers is often idealized as being better than what it usually turns out to be. A companion friend for Veronica is considered first. Her wellbeing and consequently ours is definitely on top of our list. Company for Marie and me is as well considered, if only to maintain some modicum of domestic peace. Discussion of my need to briefly return to the city closes the conversation.

Several months later, Marie again reminds me to print an envelope, insert the cheque for the deposit to secure the rental of the apartment, and to make sure it goes out with the next day’s mail. This, I do automatically, and once again we made additional plans for those days.

By about the middle or the end of June, when Veronica is finishing her school year, when longer and warmer days are upon us, a more in depth exchange happens, since the anticipated vacation is getting closer. It always seems to me as if we were planning an intergalactic voyage, full of unforeseen surprises, as well as extremely rewarding moments of sheer pleasure spent with dear friends and family.

The first time we went to the shore ten years ago as a family included Marie, Veronica, my mother-in-law Amelia, my sister-in-law Rosalind, and myself. We met at the shore with Marie’s then boss Dick, his wife and their three kids, that had been doing this much longer than we had. Since then, the apartment building where we rent has accommodated for various lengths of stay, several of our dear friends and extended families.

That first salty water excursion of two weeks left a mark on me. I not only produced a list of essential items for purchase specifically for the trip, but I had to find a way to pack them all into my then family four door sedan, which proved to be a daunting task. The morning of our departure, with checklist in hand, I was attempting to complete the task of fitting everything in the car. I had started the day before. I had placed in the trunk some items; such as the beach chairs, umbrella, sand bucket and playing toys. These items could remain in it overnight. Thanks to my previous experience as a employee in a transatlantic shipping company, and my own personal delight in cramming as many things as possible into small places, I was able to make space for Marie, Veronica, her infant car seat, my mother-in-law, myself and the assorted cargo of bare necessities for our sojourn to the shore. Rosalind was meeting us at the shore since she had travelled separately.

About four and one half hours later we finally entered the paradisiacal grounds of the Sunspot building. Ordinarily, this voyage takes only about three hours without traffic. “How long did it take you?” asked Dick coming out to greet us, I said four and one half hours. “You must have hit traffic”, he said and I agreed. We had to stop for the customary exquisite nourishment (McDonalds), as well to relieve our over extended bladders, and, of course, the filling station.

Joys of travel

The trip was adorned by the inescapable heavy traffic. We were privilege to experience not only the good, but also the not so courteous drivers: the speeders, the ones that drive too slowly, the ones that feel they own the highway, driving on the left lane at or below the speed limit, and drivers that either by ethnic, physical, emotional or mental handicap should be barred from driving at all.

The highway to the shore in those days had only two lanes each way, requiring drivers to stop at a toll booth, produce U.S. $1.75 for a two-axle vehicle, to cross a large portion of the bay over a narrow bridge. Since then, this has been alleviated by the construction of another four-lane bridge, and additional travel lanes on portions of the route to the shore. Unfortunately, all this progress pales in comparison with the additional traffic that has rendered the improvements inadequate.

After unpacking the family sedan of all “essential” items, we proceeded to arrange things in their proper location, my wife Marie, always insists on doing this immediately upon our arrival at any domestic or foreign destination no matter the time of the day or any other circumstances that may possibly postpone it. She reminds me of a sign my mother had me design and print for her refrigerator, it read “a place for everything, and everything in its place”.

This process sometimes takes longer than I would prefer, but I am a patient man, I’m on vacation, and since I will have two weeks before I have to pack it all back into the family sedan for our return trip home and unpack again, I do not complain. Finally, with every sock neatly folded and every head of lettuce stored in its proper place, we are free to enjoy our two week stay in paradise. Depending on the hour of our arrival or how we feel, we usually proceed to venture into the elements, air, sun, sand, surf, crowds, kiddies, fun, etc.

Since this our major excursion to the shore, the inevitable yearly concern arises. I started looking for my infamous bathing suit, thankfully, since we occupy this same apartment every year, we have found it easier to put our things back in the same places as before to avoid adding to the feeling of being in an unfamiliar location. I get my bathing suit from the designated bathing suit drawer, I try to get it up my legs without ripping, attempting to hide the inevitable effects of that force of nature called gravity on my once youthful body without much success. I have not renewed my bathing attire in years, add to that at least eleven months of hibernation, not speak of the unappealing and sickly color showing that that my skin has not had direct sunlight in as many months.

The process of disrobing starts, so far so good, no one looks at oneself in the mirror naked at this age, unless they are looking to get depressed. Now the fun part begins. As the swimsuit is carefully pulled up, I begin to notice that this grander, paler and whitish body, riddled with new wrinkles, blemishes, may not be suitable for public display. With renewed vigor and possibly a total disregard for public decency, gained after years of practice, I make myself believe that there may be worse cases out there on this sandy paradise. What a consolation.

After, I have totally convinced myself of this and achieved with great effort my task at hand, the next step is to apply copious amounts of an oily ointment to the entire surface of my exposed skin. Assuring not to miss any skin surface during the application, I make sure to chose well when deciding which level of protection is suitable for my skin tone. Too high a protection and you look as if you have applied white powder, too low, and for me at least, means that I may have to spend a couple of days in a darkened room applying aloe vera to my scorched skin every 15 minutes. My skin is very sensitive to the rays of the sun even though I do not possess a very fair complexion, this has force me to discarded my previous assumptions that darker skin fares better to the ravages of the sun. Last but not least, an even application is preferred than globs and shallow patches, this will ensure an almost even, natural tan, as opposed to those red, pinkish, and peeling areas of human flesh.

Brigitte Bardot

A point about tanning, tanning is the process of making leather, and until the late 20th century, most mortals avoided the tanning practice, preferring the beauty of ivory white skin. Leave it to the French. It was not until some French sexpot starlet started wearing a new two-piece bathing suit called bikini, that the amount of clothing covering the skin as opposed to showing it was inverted. This meant that the abdomen and entire back were exposed in addition to her face, arms and legs. “Quelle domage”. Undoubtedly people followed, as people unwittingly do. Excluded, of course, were the lily-white folk, and the proletariat that was being exposed to the elements as they worked out of doors. The tanning fad has reached epidemic proportions, now prompting warnings from most authoritative health specialists that remind me of those placed on tobacco products.

Sun and fun.

After the application of the sun protective ointment is achieved, a collection of items for the better enjoyment of the beach, are located and collected for transport to the shore. With my zeal for packing perfection, I try my best to pack these assorted items as well as possible to minimize weight and bulk. Unfortunately between a folding chair for each beachgoer, a bag full of sun block and sun tanning lotion of various degrees of efficacy, a cooler bag stocked with drinking fluids of various kinds, a cap, sunglasses, snacks, cigarettes, reading material, T-shirt, shoes, and a parasol. You almost need a checklist and a porter to make it out the door every day.

Beach Essentials

The apartment is ocean side, meaning about a block away from the beach, the shore is about another block away. This “short” pilgrimage is repeated at least twice daily, to and fro. Sometimes Mother Nature provides a cloudy or rainy day. The trip back to the apartment is usually a bit better for me since the fluids and snacks are mainly carried by whoever consumed them, have evaporated sweating or have been conveniently released during a visit into the ocean. Although the return trip is made slightly less pleasant by some sun burn and the grains of sand that inevitably find their way into places in our bodies I cannot even pronounce.

Things get a lot better after our return to shelter. A quick shower that attempts to remove the ointments applied making sure to remove sand, salt and other ocean dwelling creatures being transported by our bodies. Then a quick trip to the refrigerator for an additional snack accompanied by the fluid of choice, and a moment of rest before diner time.

Dinner can be either a family or a communal affair. Outings to local restaurants, cookouts, and or pre-cooked meals are common. General over-indulgence is the mantra of these vacations. Food and drink are greatly consumed. This daily routine is carried on thru sunny days.

When visiting local restaurants one has to remember that one is on vacation, patience is necessary. Most shore restaurants make patrons wait between one half to one and one half hours, depending on demand. Prices also reflect the vacationing location. Our restaurant outings are like a barometer of our financial situation and reflect the economic success or disgrace of the year that had just passed. There are fat and lean years.

I have never been too fond of the beach; there I’ve said it.

The Great Wave

While I was writing this story, which I started years before I finished it, I realized that when I was a child, my first experience with the ocean was in my native land of Peru, specifically Lima, where I grew up until my late teens. I do not recall at what age I was introduced to the majesty of the sea, since I lived not more than three blocks away from it most of my life there.

I recall that I was in awe of the fortitude of the surf; the waves towered over the swimmers that dared to confront them, the thunderous pounding and trashing sound produced by crashing waves made me fearful. After assessing the raw power of the ocean, I decided that it would be best not to yet face it, but to give my back to it, as I did. I have often considered why would I opt for this simple but certainly revealing option. I had forgotten my childhood approach to the ocean, until some years ago my dear mother jokingly reminded me of it.

After some analysis and regressive therapy, I realized that the strength of the ocean was formidable, and that was too big for me to comprehend, I chose to ignore it. I now reconcile my then incomprehensible fear and later respect for it.

Sea of people

I remember at least twice of being lost on the ocean shore with a sea of people in front of me, a roaring ocean behind me and my parents nowhere to be found. I have also witnessed on more than one occasion, the daring, or unskilled and certainly unfortunate swimmer being pulled out from their watery grave. I believe these are the answers I was looking for to explain my fear of the sea.

Things were not made better by the timely intervention of my godfather. I liked him well enough until he volunteered to teach me the pleasures of the ocean, or as the expression goes, to make a man out of me. I believe my parents did not know how to deal with my rejection of the sea. In retrospect I shudder to think that this gentleman, my godfather, would have inherited me, the ocean hater, if, heaven forbid, my parent would pass away.

I remember, when I was about six years old, and was carried by the ignorant, but well intended godfather, into the bowels of the ocean. I could not release myself from his grip; he was intent on making an ocean lover out of me. He took me beyond the point I would have considered prudent, but what did I know at the time, I was only six. I figured he was standing in my father’s shoes.

I was floating in his arms, he was treading water. I soon realized that the dark waters below my toes, where the habitat to creatures that could consider my flesh part of their daily diet. I was afraid of the dark, the unknown, which, since I could not see what lurked below, terrified me.

In conclusion, after seeing what the ocean could do to people, and unable to see into it’s depth, I figured that keeping a cautious distance was the wisest thing to do. This knowledge has colored my entire experience of the ocean ever since and all activities relating to it.

Now, I have grown up and have been able to coexist with that great body of water, which I feared as a child. I learned to swim, and was able to enjoy the ocean. One would think that I would have overcome my earlier fear and was cured, unfortunately not. Fortunately, where we go on vacation, the surf is docile, warm and gentle, the sand is soft and the experience is muted by seeing my daughter, wife and friends enjoy this inhospitable habitat. I used this term, because to me it remains inhospitable.

First, there is the inclemency of the sun, for which a coating of protective sun block is necessary to avoid first and or second degree burns, not to speak of long term damage to the body in the form of skin cancer.

Second, the ever abrasive sand, that feels good for about five seconds between your toes only when it is warm; not cold or scalding hot, but when a slight breeze blows, you can resemble a breaded piece of veal. No wonder it is the main ingredient in sand paper; you would not consider replacing toilet paper with sand paper, would you? Not to speak of how much work it is to remove said sand from everything exposed to it.

Third, there is the labor of having to lug all kinds of items to ameliorate the shore for a comfortable stay, such as drinks, chairs, towels, sun block and the piece de resistance for me, my savior, the parasol. The parasol that barely makes my long stay by the shore almost bearable.

Fourth, there is the ocean itself. This body of water has its own temperature, rarely one that agrees with mine. You see children frolicking in it; adults usually remain in it for much shorter periods. As they come out and rejoin their tribe, the ever present almost meteorological description follow: water temperature, tide direction, surf strength, presence of fauna, air temperature, all as a measure of how each body reacts to it. On the other hand the ocean provides a refreshing break from baking in the sun, where sunlight is reflected by the ocean and sand acting as mirrors. No wonder I never step even an inch outside the shade of my parasol and yet by the end of the day I still feel my skin tingle.

As you leave the ocean, you are reminded that this magnificent element is a challenge to any air-breathing creature, and that its surface is the beginning of an entirely new environment, inhabited by creatures that do not share our air breathing world. You always have to be vigilant; the ocean has been known to swallow imprudent and ignorant individuals, giving them a good tumble, making them savor its liquid nectar, and for those unfortunate, a more final resting place.

Lastly, these moments at the shore are spent by most people reading, conversing, and watching the surf and every celestial body orbiting around them.

About conversation, most people try to gather in groups for this activity, which makes sense. After all we see our immediate family members all the time, and there is not much more to talk about. Conversation with them is generally limited to instructions to make sure the household runs smoothly. Neither my wife, my daughter, nor myself would want to talk between ourselves for more than twenty minutes at a time. When it comes to conversing with friends, lets be frank, the conversation dries up quickly, and only additional outside guests make it bearable after a short period.

Look at it this way, why would anyone get excited to go to a place so perilous. An inclement sun that burns the skin possibly causing irreversible damage, a body of water that is just waiting to test your strength and stamina, that could threaten your, and those tiny grains of sand that seem to be attracted to you and to all your possessions.

Beyond this unwelcoming habitat, add the cost of the stay, the carting of objects back and forth to the shore, an unfamiliar bed, shower, etc. It all seems like someone is playing a joke on us. We have been sold the hedonistic idea of a laid back, carefree, indulgence, when in reality it’s only a great marketing idea, and by now, I am not surprised that we buy it.

Some paradise. Tsunami anyone?

Surf's up

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Sospecha

Un viaje que probo mas intrigante que edificante.

Anecdota contada por Mario Cecere

Altiplano Boliviano

Altiplano Boliviano

El cuento realmente no empieza aquí. Algunas dudas existen sobre su origen. Recuerdo que veinticuatro primaveras habían pasado, la procedencia, o mejor dicho, como me halle ahí, o no lo recuerdo bien, o quizás quisiera olvidarlo. Lo que si se, es que fue una de mis travesías o peregrinaciones anuales que me fueron muy generosamente brindadas por mis padres, por los contactos que había conseguido y por un insaciable deseo de conocer un poco el mundo que me rodeaba.

Lo que si es verdad, es que recuerdo cruzando el Lago Titicaca desde Perú a Bolivia. Mi dirección era de oeste a este. Lo mas probable, sin certidumbre de memoria, es que viniera desde Chile, haciéndome el paso a través de la cordillera de los Andes. Llegando a Puno, desde donde recuerdo con lujo de detalles este cuento.

El ómnibus interdepartamental o hasta quizá internacional de la compañía Morales Morralitos, estaba casi listo por zarpar rumbo La Paz, la alta capital Boliviana. Los pasajeros cerciorándose de que sus equipajes, cajas, bolsas y todo tipo de pertenencias para la travesía, estuvieran con seguridad incluidos en la gran bodega de carga de nuestra nave. Asegurándose, que dichas pertenencias, no vayan a llegar a manos de malhechores, los viajeros aparentaban, todo menos mantener el ojo puesto en sus valijas. Esta vigilia impedía la ordenada toma de los asientos por los navegantes, hasta no confirmar la clausura de las bodegas de carga.

El fenómeno es como una danza, los pasajeros conocedores de los peligros de hurto, entregan sus pertenencias a los empleados que las arrojan dentro de las bodegas de la nave. Permaneciendo con cierta cercanía en guardia de sus valijas, sin mostrar el temor causado por la separación, sabiendo que hasta que no cerraran las compuertas, no estarían suficiente aliviados para abordar la nave hacia su próximo destino.

 

Al reconocer este ritual, el cual había visto muchas veces en mis viajes por Sur América, note que a diferencia de la mayoría de los pasajeros, habían aquellos que no parecían inmutarse por la psicología de las masas. Parecían despreciar sus pertenencias, desconocer quizás los peligros a los que sus bultos estaban expuestos. Entre estos personajes, había un grupo de tres muchachas jóvenes nórdicas de entre veinte y veinte y ocho años, que conversaban, reían y tomaban una gaseosa de esa área llamada Sinalco.

La mayoría de los pasajeros tendrían destinos cercanos, parecían habitantes de esas zonas y tenían valijas pequeñas. Excepto por un personaje distinto que me llamo la atención. Un señor de unos cuarenta a cincuenta años, viajando aparentemente solo y vestido como si fuera a ir a la oficina, con traje, camisa blanca y corbata obscura. Atuendo no muy visto en esa zona, y no lo mas apropiado para la larga travesía por venir. Parecía un burócrata en misión de trabajo.

En camino

En camino

Aparte de las nórdicas, el burócrata, los nativos y yo, había otro individuo como de mi edad que parecía ser extranjero, ya lo había visto durante mi visita a Puno, pareciéndome haberle visto por lo menos un par de veces. Acercándome para detectar su acento, escuche el acento chileno. Halle la forma de entablar conversación, y me dijo que iba a visitar a unos amigos en la Paz.

Al abordar la nave, subimos y nos sentamos juntos. Le pregunte si sabia cuantas horas de viaje eran necesarias para llegar a la Paz. Me dijo que era su primera vez en este tramo, pero que sus amigos paceños, le habían dicho que el viaje duraba once horas sin demoras o percances. Pero dados todos los imprevistos, era común que el viaje durara entre trece, quince y hasta veinte horas.

Yo le comente que también era mi primera vez, y que también me habían dado la optimista versión de la empresa naviera, y q había escuchado algunas historias que parecían mas como pesadillas, que de viaje de ómnibus.

Agua, montaña y cielo

Agua, montaña y cielo

Tomándole la palabra a la conocida y reputada empresa de transportes Morales Moralitos, donde aseguran una salida a las 8:00 p.m. con llegada en la ciudad de la Paz a las 7:00 a.m. del siguiente día, consideramos el tiempo, condiciones climatológicas, condición del vehículo, aludes, destreza del conductor y hasta asalto a mano armada. Todos y cada uno de estos factores podrían adversamente afectar la pronta llegada a nuestro destino de la Paz.

Nuestra salida solo tuvo un retraso de veinte y cinco minutos, algo que reporte en mi diario. El diario y la disciplina de hacer anotes, fue inculcado a una temprana edad por mis padres. Ellos eran fervientes creyentes en el valor agregado a las experiencias al ser volcadas al papel. Descubrí también a esa edad que prefería confiar en mis memorias, por mas tenues, que a los anotes que después hacia por la influencia de todas las otras experiencias hasta el momento de ser vertidas al papel. El chileno, mi compañero, también hizo sus anotes en un cuaderno, un par de horas en rumbo a nuestro destino.

Me comento también de sus observaciones de nuestro acompañantes esa noche, comparamos notas sobre la naturaleza, procedencia y propósito de las nórdicas y el burócrata. Concurrimos que muchos Europeos, viajan cómos las nórdicas, en grupo e ignorantes del posible peligro.

El burócrata nos había dejado con muchas preguntas. No parecía medico, tampoco vendedor, era mayormente circunspecto, con un aire de autoridad y seguridad. Mas allá de un profesor. Note también en el un poder de observación singular. Parecía inocuamente mirar sin ver, pero en mi opinión, se fijaba en todo.

Las tres primeras horas transcurrieron sin novedades, ya se acercaba la media noche, la obscuridad que nos rodeaba solo se rompía con la luces altas del ómnibus y las tenues estrellas en el firmamento. A los bordes de las luces de la nave se podía percibir el pasar velozmente del ichu, pasto duro de medio metro de altura, nativo del altiplano. De cuando en vez las luces de otra nave en la noche se divisaba, para después cruzarla y perderla de vista otra vez. Por los lados traseros y la cola de la nave se podía percibir la gran nube de polvo que se creaba al travesar la recta y larga sección de carretera no asfaltada del altiplano.

Carretera encalaminada

Carretera encalaminada

Partes de la carretera se habían encalaninado, fenómeno que se presenta cuando un camino de tierra recibe un golpe de una llanta, esta salta y al volver a caer, comprime la tierra donde cae, haciendo una depresión. El evento se repite creando unas ondas como pequeñas olas que atraviesan la carretera perpendicularmente. El encalaminado se empeora con el subsiguiente golpeteo rítmico de las llantas, profundizando las ondas. La única solución que conozco para evitar el golpeteo en el vehículo, es de andar a una velocidad donde las llantas no tengan tiempo de caer en las hondonadas, sino mas bien solo andar sobre las cúspides. Esto requiere experiencia y destreza, ya que al aumentar la velocidad, especialmente sobre un terreno no fijo como el de tierra, aumenta la posibilidad de perdida del control de vehículo.

Después de un largo día en Puno, con el zumbido del motor diesel y el ocasional pegar de una piedra en los guardafangos, era posible y deseable dormir. Me despedí del chileno y acomode lo mejor posible para dormir sin parar hasta mi llegada a la Paz. Mientras pensaba en como me iría en esa ciudad quede profundamente dormido.

Siento un tirón en mi hombro, me digo, tan rápido hemos llegado? Mientras despertaba, note que la nave estaba obscura, la luz del día todavía no penetraba los cristales con su bienvenido calor. Me percato que es el chileno que me ha despertado, susurrando me dice, “creo que estamos en problemas”, esto me completo de despertar, le pregunto que cual es el problema, me responde que la nave esta estática, el chofer no esta en su puesto y el resto de los pasajeros aun duermen.

¿Una avería? ¿Un accidente? ¿Un asalto? Me pregunto. El chileno me dice, que no haga ruido, que esperemos un poco a ver que sucede. Noto también que el burócrata que estaba sentado detrás del chofer, no esta en su asiento. A la distancia y en la dirección de la parte de atrás del ómnibus se pueden escuchar unas voces.

Trato de incorporarme para por lo menos tener una mejor vista del asunto impedido por los altos respaldares de los asientos, cuando siento como un tirón en mi antebrazo, era la mano férrea del chileno impidiendo mi libertad de acción, sus palabras ahora mas imperativas me decían, no te muevas, creo que esta pasando algo y es mejor mantener la calma.

Aparte de la fortaleza de su puñado, sus palabras tomaron un matiz distinto, eran como si tuvieran autoridad o por lo menos un conocimiento que era sin duda mucho mas extenso que el mío. El chileno mostraba una calma y una posible estrategia hacia los eventos que me sorprendieron, y que serian indicios de la formulación de su persona durante nuestra corta y extraña convivencia.

Los demás pasajeros dormían o así lo pretendían. Pensé que esa es la estrategia del avestruz, que enfrentado a un peligro, mete la cabeza en la arena, con la esperanza de que el peligro pase, no por que el escondite sea adecuado, sino por que el peligro ya no se puede ver. Lo mismo sentía yo, no pudiendo ver nada. Muchos recursos tampoco teníamos, éramos muchos pero probablemente poco preparados para cualquier tropiezo.

Sentí voces acercarse, todavía sin comprender el dialogo. Eran dos voces, de eso podía estar seguro. Sus pasos se escuchaban mientras avanzaban de la cola al frente del ómnibus. Nuestros asientos estaban en la parte derecha y las voces y pasos venían de el otro lado del ómnibus. Pese al total silencio dentro de la nave, solo una que otra palabra pude reconocer, dichas palabras no me ayudaron a crear ninguna idea coherente del dialogo, escuche, gente, intercambio y club.

Las siluetas de las dos persona brevemente cortaron los destellos creados por las luces altas del ómnibus, que habían permanecido encendidas durante este episodio. La puerta delantera fue manualmente abierta por una de las dos personas, ya que había estado cerrada. Dos individuos entraron al frente del ómnibus en silencio, uno se sentó en el asiento del chofer, el otro quedo a su lado momentáneamente, como si haciendo una consulta, hasta que la nave retomo la ruta y el segundo individuo, se sentó en uno de los dos asientos vacíos que había ocupado el burócrata.

En la obscuridad, no pude identificar a los individuos como el chofer o el previo pasajero de la primera fila, solo sus negras siluetas eran visibles contra los destellos de las luces altas del ómnibus. La nave nuevamente cruzando el desolado altiplano en total obscuridad, me brindo el arrullo que tanto necesitaba para poder dormir y olvidar el ansioso e inentendible episodio vivido.

Un sacudón y el crujir de la carrocería del ómnibus sirvieron para despertarme. Ya era de día, estábamos ya dentro de la ciudad, vehículos de todos tipos, colores y tamaños rodeaban al ómnibus como peces en peregrinación. El día estaba brillante, el aire enrarecido por la altura. El ruido era infernal, las bocinas, las ruedas metales de carretillas sobre los adoquines de las calles, los silbatos de los oficiales del orden, junto con la música de locales, cada una mas alta, hacia de mi despertar una experiencia nueva.

Me percato, que mi compañero de asiento, el chileno, no estaba en su asiento, pensé que probablemente había encontrado otro asiento donde pernoctar mas cómodamente. La luz del día trajo muchos nuevos estímulos sensoriales, y por un rato les dedique toda mi atención.

Terminal de Autobuses de La Paz

Terminal de Autobuses de La Paz

Al llegar a nuestro destino, la estación central, empezamos a colectar nuestros pertrechos para dejar la nave y recoger las valijas que la nave nos devolverá de sus entrañas metálicas. Aun, ni rastro del chileno. Pensé que, probablemente en alguna parada antes de mi despertar, el chileno, había aprovechado para dejar la nave. Me hubiera gustado por lo menos despedirme de el. Si yo hubiera sido el, al verme dormido, tampoco lo hubiese despertado para despedirme. Espero poder reencontrarlo.

Note también la ausencia del burócrata. A mi parecer, casi todos los demás pasajeros estaban presentes, detalle que mas tarde me ayudaría a explicar los eventos de mi llegada a esta ciudad en las alturas. Los pasajeros aparentemente ignorantes del percance durante la travesía recogían sus pertenencias con apremio, deseantes de llegar a su destino final y olvidar el tropezado viaje. Las jóvenes nórdicas, alegres y curiosas manoseaban todo tipo de chucherías que vendedores de todas edades trataban de acercarles con la intención de conseguir alguna venta.

Sentí un tirón en mi manga izquierda, era un niño, uno de tres niños que aparentemente cruzaron en altiplano en nuestra nave acompañados de una monja en habito negro. Me dijo, que el señor de la primera fila, le dijo que me entregara la nota que me había dejado. Le agradecí, y leí la nota, que decía,

Querido visitante,
Espero goce de una muy buena estadía en nuestra ciudad. Si necesitara asistencia alguna, pregunte por Álvarez en el numero 11 de la plaza del Quemado.

Su digno servidor,

Gonzalo M.

Tomé mi valija, mi bolsa y emprendí camino hacia el centro de la ciudad, al caminar, admiraba la arquitectura y la interacción de los pobladores con su ciudad. Me dirigía hacia la dirección en la nota que supuestamente el burócrata había entregado al niño con la intención que yo la recibiera. Durante mi caminata, pensaba en que intención había tenido en dejarme la nota, por que yo?

Se me ocurrieron varios posibles escenarios. El primero, considerando siempre lo peor y terminando con lo mejor, fue que el burócrata me estaba o iba a usar en contra de mi voluntad con el propósito de alguna nefasta empresa que me pondría al menos en algún peligro personal o delincuencia, convirtiéndome en un prófugo de la ley. Este tormentoso escenario incluiría el transporte de algún material ilegal que hubiera sido introducido en mi valija durante la parada nocturna del ómnibus, que seria recobrada por los malhechores a mi llegada al 11 plaza del Quemado. Esta empresa me convertiría en una común mula, actividad criminal duramente penada en este país.

Esta pesadilla me asusto de tal manera que decidí buscar un local donde pudiera revisar con detenimiento mis pertenencias y poder eliminar este aterrorizante escenario, apaciguar mi incontrolable paranoia y reanudar mi confianza en la humanidad. Encontré un cafetín con cuatro mesas en la acera donde algunos turistas tomaban un café. Mire al interior, medio obscuro, vacío, angosto y especialmente con bancas contra una de las paredes, brindándome un sitio donde poner mi valija y examinarla sin despertar ninguna sospecha. Decidí dar una vuelta con el propósito de ver si alguien me seguía. Según mis conocimientos de estos casos, las mulas son seguidas por asistentes de los malhechores asegurándose de que el material transportado no sea descubierto por la mula y consiguientemente destruido, asegurando la recuperación del valioso material sin eventualidades y con el menor esfuerzo posible.

Uno de los métodos aprendidos en mi largo examen de la información cinematográfica de genero aplicable recomienda el ingreso a un local que brinde una salida alterna. Al no conocer el terreno, decidí entrar a una iglesia, sabiendo que como histórico santuario tendría al menos varias puntos que permitiera fácil egreso. Una misa con pocos feligreses estaba en curso. Después de mostrar el respeto necesario, identifique una puerta por donde no había ingresado y asegurándome que nadie había ingresado después que yo, salí mirando hacia la derecha e izquierda cerciorándome que nadie estaba esperando mi salida.

Calle Jaen

Calle Jaen

Volví al cafetín, entre me senté en una banca, pedí un café y empecé a revisar mis pertenencias en búsqueda del posible material escondido. Después de una exhaustiva búsqueda, encontré que mis sospechas no estaban bien fundadas y que ningún material no de mi pertenencia existía. Esto me dio un alivio con el cual podría desechar este escenario. Ahora, podía proceder en mi travesía con un poco mas de tranquilidad, aun con la intrigante pregunta de la razón para la sospechosa nota recibida.

Page el café y mas tranquilo decidí encaminarme a mi destino. A mi salida de mi ciudad, tenia una dirección de llegada. Un amigo de mis padres, había sugerido mi visita a un primo suyo que vivía en esta ciudad, tenia la dirección, y después de pedir varias indicaciones en como llegar a su departamento, finalmente me encontré frente al edificio donde me recibirían y albergarían durante mi estadía.

Ingrese en el recinto, el portero se acerco y pregunto a quien visitaba. Le dije que visitaba a la familia Rodríguez, su cara cambio, me dijo que la familia había salido de la ciudad y que el no tenia autorización para darme acceso al departamento. Esa noticia me causo un malestar que me dio un pequeño mareo. Nuevamente, empecé a dudar en la integridad de la raza humana. Aquí me encontraba con otro problema que tenia que resolver.

Calle Jaen

Calle Jaen

Salí del edificio pensando que tenia el resto del día para encontrar albergue, solo tenia dinero para mi estadía excluyendo costo de alojamiento. Tendría que ver como iba a hacer con mis limitados medios para sobrevivir estos días de viaje. Decidí empezar a buscar alojamiento. Camine por las calles centrales indagando los costos de varios hospedajes, la mayoría de ellos estaban fuera de mi capacidad de pago, los otros presentaban serios problemas de salubridad y de seguridad personal.

A las dos y media de la tarde me encontraba almorzando en un restaurante popular de calidad inferior a mi acostumbrado consumo ya que mi capacidad económica estaba seriamente reducida por la ausencia de alojamiento gratis. Decidí releer la nota del oficinista, recordé algo de la oferta de asistencia. Recordé lo siguiente, Álvarez en el numero 11. Saque la nota y la leí con detenimiento, quien era este Álvarez, por que buscarle a el? Un asociado, subalterno, amigo del burócrata? 11 plaza del Quemado, donde era esto? Un edificio de vivienda, una oficina privada, o un oficina del estado?

La catedral en la Plaza Murillo

La catedral en la Plaza Murillo

Decidí acercarme al numero 11 plaza del Quemado y averiguar que tipo de asistencia el burócrata me había ofrecido. El restaurante donde almorcé, se encontraba a pocas cuadras de mi destino, camine a la plaza. Al entrar a ella, mire en todas direcciones notando una iglesia y varios edificios privados y públicos, algunos con banderas extranjeras y nacionales. Por donde ingrese a la plaza, los números eran en los cuarentas.

Deduje que el 11 estaría en la esquina directamente opuesta a donde estaba. Camine en esa dirección, notando una notoria presencia de las fuerzas del orden, me imagine que estos eran importantes edificios privados y públicos requiriendo esta vigilancia. Al llegar al 11, note una bandera nacional izada sobre un portón resguardado por un agente del orden armado con una arma automática de rápido disparado. Busque en las paredes a los lados del portón sin encontrar ningún rotulo o emblema que indicara su denominación.

Me acerque al agente armado y le pregunte que tipo de oficinas alojaba el edificio, me miro con sorpresa, me imagino que asumía que todo el mundo lo sabia. Sonrió, al darse cuenta de mi procedencia extranjera. Me pregunto que a quien buscaba, sin contestar a mi pregunta. Álvarez, dije, al señor Álvarez. Un momento me dijo, al estar casi apoyado contra el portón, golpeo con los nudillos de su mano izquierda el portón sin inmutarse, manteniendo su otra mano sobre el arma y sus ojos fijamente puestos en mi.

Una pequeña ventanilla de abrió, Álvarez, dijo el agente y se cerro la ventanilla. Unos momentos después, el portón izquierdo empezó a crujir y se abrió solo suficiente para permitir un cuerpo humano pasar. Pase, escuche desde adentro. Tuve problemas en acceder al local por mis valijas, el portón se cerro tras mi entrada, el ante patio era la típica entrada de las antiguas casonas o palacios españoles, notaba el piso de adoquines, habiendo otro portón al final de la entrada que impedía la entrada de luz haciendo este recinto casi totalmente obscuro.

Las paredes a mi izquierda y derecha eran idénticas, con una puerta de dos hojas y dos ventanas de dos hojas también a cada lado de las puertas. Podía notar estos detalles in casi total obscuridad porque detrás de las ventanas y puertas cerradas notaba una tenue luz blanca y verduzca posiblemente procedente de lámparas fluorescente. Sabia que estaba acompañado por la persona que me había dejado pasar, pero mientras mis ojos se ajustaban a la obscuridad, la puerta a mi derecha se abrió dejando escapar mas de esa fría luz institucional.

En el marco de la puerta pude distinguir la silueta de un individuo que con un gesto de su mano, indico a mi acompañante que me guiara hacia el. Sentí la mano izquierda de mi acompañante en mi espalda guiándome hacia la puerta abierta, el hombre ya no estaba en el umbral. Camine hacia ella, y después de dos escalones ingrese a una ante sala con dos escritorios a mi derecha e izquierda y nuevamente una puerta de dos hojas frente a mi. La ante sala estaba iluminada por un par de luces fluorescentes colgando casi a mitad de la distancia del piso al techo, las luces solo iluminaban el tercio mas bajo de la sala, sobre la línea de la luz era difícil saber que pudiera haber. Las altas paredes estaban pintadas en un color verduzco recordándome los hospitales públicos que conocí a mi niñez, ese tipo de pintura lavable que tiene un poco de brillo, y de notar era que no había nada en ellas, no un calendario con alguna bella mujer en paños menores, una cuenta, o un memorándum.

Este recinto mas asimilaba en mi imaginación a un nosocomio para enfermos mentales. Los antiguos y abusados escritorios tenían cada uno una silla para un cliente o paciente, estaban vacíos. El individuo que permitió mi ingreso, gesticulo con la cabeza a mi escolta, haciéndolo retirarse, lo note porque la puerta por donde habíamos ingresado, se cerro tras mis espaldas. Durante estos momentos, mi anfitrión y yo nos examinábamos con la mayor discreción.

El era alto, robusto de unos cuarenta años vestido de civil, con un traje no ordinario. La tez blanca, el pelo y ojos obscuros, casi negros. A quien busca, pregunto bruscamente el después de un largo tiempo en le cual hice un esfuerzo muy grande de no ser el primero en intercambiar palabras. Le dije que buscaba al Sr. Álvarez. Me miro con mayor detenimiento, dijo, cual es su propósito. Le explique que tenia una nota que había recibido en mi travesía desde el lago Titicaca con ese nombre y dirección.

Saque la nota y se la entregue, la leyó y la guardo en el bolsillo izquierdo de su saco, cosa que me pareció muy extraña. Me dijo que el ya sabia de mi posible llegada y que me podría brindar un modesto hospedaje. Hasta este momento no sabia la envergadura de la nota recibida. Me dijo que recogiera mis pertenencias y lo siguiera pasando por las puertas al final de esa sala.

Claustro

Claustro

Al cruzar el umbral entramos a un patio interior de piedra rodeado con arcadas y tres puertas cerradas de dos hojas en cada lado. El sol ya se había puesto y poca luz natural alumbraba la ciudad. Caminamos bajo la arcada derecha hacia la puerta del medio de la pared en nuestra derecha, al abrir la puerta pude ver tras la ancha espalda de mi acompañante un angosto y largo corredor con innumerables puertas. Se detuvo frente a la tercera puerta a nuestra izquierda, lentamente abriéndola como si estuviera cuidando el sueño a alguien.

Al entrar note un cuarto cuadrado sin ventanas, dos camas simples y dos bancas rusticas, cada una al pie de las camas. El mismo alumbrado, pintura y ausencia de decoración usados en los recintos previos se repetían en este cuarto. Estirando su brazo izquierdo y con la mano abierta, en un gesto que interprete amistoso y de generosidad, mi guía comunico sin palabras que me ofrecía ese modesto alojamiento. Hasta este momento, no sabia si el era Álvarez, si me estaba llevando a conocer a Álvarez, y menos el por que me estaba haciendo esta oferta de hospedaje. Escuchamos el crujir de una puerta cercana y el golpe seco y fuerte de la misma cerrar. Mi guía me dijo que espere, y que volvería pronto, salió y cerro la puerta tras el. Decidí acomodar mis cosas para pasar la noche ahí. La puerta del dormitorio se abrió de nuevo y mi guía gesticulo con su mano derecha a que lo acompañe. Salimos hacia nuestra izquierda en camino al final del corredor. No podía distinguir si había una puerta impidiendo la entrada de luz o es que durante la estadía en el dormitorio, la luz de ese día había dejado de iluminar la ciudad, y ya era de noche.

El 11

El 11

Al llegar al fin del corredor, confirme que en verdad la noche había caído y descubrí un nuevo patio con dos filas de grifos de agua incrustados en una sola estructura de lavaderos. Esto me recordó aquellos patios de lavandería de humildes casonas donde varias familias hacían su hogar en mi tierra. Otra idea fue que semejaba también a una abadía o quizás una escuela militar o un cuartel.

En este preciso momento, recordé que aparte de la criptica nota recibida del burócrata, no había podido determinar la función del 11 plaza del Quemado, donde me encontraba dispuesto a pernoctar. Estuve tentado en preguntar a mi guía el propósito de tan extenso edificio, pero decidí utilizar mis habilidades deductivas para conseguir la respuesta a mis tantas preguntas.

Mi guía me dijo que podía pasar la noche ahí con la condición de que restringiera al uso solo de las áreas que le me había mostrado y que podía salir y entrar al edificio a mi gusto, excepto que tendría que llegar no mas tarde de la una de la madrugada, ya que pasada esa hora no tendría acceso al 11 plaza de Quemado. Caminamos hacia mi dormitorio donde se despidió con una buena noche.

Ingrese nuevamente al dormitorio, acomode mis cosas para pasar la noche y pensé en que podría hacer hasta la una de la mañana. El chileno me había mencionado varios nombres de sitios para cenar y también para espectáculos nocturnos. Decidí visitar al menos unos de los restaurantes recomendados, ya que se encontraban a corta distancia, dos de ellos los había pasado a mi llegada a la plaza del Quemado. Fui al patio de los grifos, me lave la cara y manos y regrese al dormitorio a recoger mi diario y un saco para salir a descubrir la vida nocturna de la capital mas alta del mundo.

Recordando mis pasos a mi ingreso del edificio, regrese al portón de entrada. El portero, abrió nuevamente la puerta suficientemente para que mi cuerpo pasara y la cerro rápidamente detrás de mi. El agente del orden armado en el exterior me hizo una venia, como de aprobación. Procedí a caminar hacia la entrada de la plaza por donde había llegado, y por donde estaba seguro encontraría los restaurantes ya vistos.

Mire el menú del primero, El Faisán, la oferta del menú era internacional con algunos platos autóctonos de la zona. Los precios estaban dentro de mis posibilidades, ya que dada la intrigante generosidad del burócrata, no tendría que gastar en alojamiento, al menos esa primera noche en la ciudad. Decidí investigar el otro restaurante que había pasado. Al acercarme, note que parecía mas popular, tenia mesas en el exterior a un lado con manteles, posiblemente destinadas para cenar, y la otro lado sin, destinadas para beber o comer algo ligero. Esta modo de segregar a los clientes era muy común en restaurantes europeos.

Restaurante

Restaurante

Los mozos con camisa blanca, corbata negra y largos mandiles negros me recordaron a Paris. Estufas a gas permitían la estadía en el exterior, ya que la temperatura de la noche bajaba precipitosamente gracias a la altura y sequedad del aire. El menú era muy similar al restaurante anterior, los precios tenían un promedio de diez por ciento de recargo, algo que me parecía mas que justo por la diferencia de calidad del local. Tendría que ver si la cocina justificaría el recargo. Decidí optar por este local y cenar ahí.

Gesticule a un mozo para obtener una mesa, desde donde estaba levanto la mano e hizo con la mano derecha el símbolo universal de dos. Respondí haciendo el signo de uno con mi mano derecha. Me gesticulo con la mano que me acercara, e indicando con la mano abierta una pequeña mesa puesta para dos en el lado a mantelado cerca de la entrada del interior del restaurante. Me acerque y senté mirando hacia la calle. Los cubiertos y copas del otro lado de la mesa fueron retirados por el mozo. El menú estaba ya en la mesa. El mozo me pregunto si deseaba algo de beber. Le pregunte si pudiera sugerir alguna bebida alcohólica popular consumida por los locales antes de la cena. Respondió que habían dos muy populares, una era el Singani solo, y el otro era Singani con licor de cerezas.

Indague sobre el Singani, ya sabia lo que era, un destilado de uvas similar a la grappa del norte de Italia. Pensé que mostraría mi situación de turista, estrategia que funciona si los locales sienten orgullo de poder enseñarle al turista su cultura, no obstante es contraproducente si consideran un pesar tener que instruir al inocente turista. Este mozo, tenia cara de bonachón y aposte por darle la oportunidad de ser el del conocimiento.

Algo que estaba aprendiendo era que la arrogancia promueve el despecho y que la humildad, ya sea genuina o fingida, era preferible a la arrogancia por ser esta siempre fingida y una muestra de definitiva inferioridad. Opte por el Singani con licor de cerezas.

Mientras examinaba el menú, también observe mis contornos. Había una pareja de señores aparentemente locales, bien vestidos, cenando en una mesa aledaña, los dos fumaban y leían revistas. Los cigarrillos en dos ceniceros, y dos copas de algún aperitivo frente a cada uno de ellos. Note, que desde mi llegada no había intercambiado palabras. Al llegar sus platos, pusieron sus revistas en el piso al lado de sus sillas, y apagaron los cigarrillos. Empezaron a comer sin comentario alguno. Ella levanto la mirada y la dirigió a mi, aproveche la cercanía de nuestras mesas para desearles buen provecho, con el propósito de entablar una conversación. Ella respondió diciendo gracias. El la miro como con desapruebo, y entablaron una susurrada conversación, la cual no pude escuchar.

Pensé que quizás la idiosincrasia local impedía este tipo de contacto humano, y que posiblemente el la había regañado por su falta. Esto fue descartado mas tarde, cuando al terminar su cena, el me pregunto mi procedencia, dando cabida para un grato intercambio de información. Ellos eran locales en una de sus salidas semanales a cenar fuera. El era jubilado del servicio diplomático y habían vivido unos años en la capital de mi país natal. Considere momentáneamente preguntarles si conocían la función del edificio en el 11 plaza del Quemado, pero decidí en contra, no quise dar mas información sobre mi que la necesaria.

El resto de nuestra cena la pasamos intercambiando historias de lugares visitados, tan amena la noche que el tiempo voló y no tuve oportunidad de examinar al resto de los comensales que nos rodeaban, excepto por dos hombres de mediana edad que parecían estar fuera de sitio, una perpleja incongruencia. Estaban vestidos con trajes obscuros de ordinaria procedencia, casi no hablaban, miraban con disimulo sus alrededores. Después de observarlos entre mi inter acción con el jubilado y su pareja, llegue a pensar que podrían ser agentes del orden publico, investigadores privados o hasta guarda espaldas.

Tuve suficiente latitud durante mi conversación para observar, que no había nadie, a parte de la gentil pareja, que pudiera merecer el servicio de guarda espaldas. La opción mas convincente era que fueran agentes del orden en misión especial. Su presencia, en vez de tranquilizarme, me daba un poco de ansiedad. Llegue a pensar que podrían estar investigando una célula radical de elementos contrarios al presente y democráticamente elegido gobierno.

Este país estaba sufriendo de nuevo una resurgente pugna por el poder. Grupos armados e intentos en desestabilizar al gobierno, habían hecho incursiones cuasi militares en varias ciudades importantes, y anunciaban también desafiar al sistema establecido aquí en la capital. La ciudad vivía una paz nerviosa que se notaba en las calles y aun mas en las caras de sus pobladores.

En un momento de silencio con mis conocidos, pude ver a un grupo de tres personas caminado en la acera del otro lado de la calle. Distinguí a dos hombres y una mujer al pasar debajo de uno de los dos postes de luz que podía tranquilamente ver desde mi asiento. Conversando se trasladaban de derecha a izquierda. Al ser iluminados por la luz del segundo poste, uno de los hombre volvió su cara en nuestra dirección, la luz descubriendo unas facciones que me parecían conocidas. Por un instante pensé identificar al chileno que viajo conmigo a través del altiplano. Inmediatamente los tres desaparecieron en la obscuridad al doblar la esquina.

La pareja de incongruentes sentados en la mesa cerca al la acera, súbitamente se levantaron y sin hacerse notar se dirigieron en dirección de la calle por donde los tres habían tomado. Empecé a pensar en las posibilidades que esta secuencia de hechos pudiera brindarme como argumento para formular una convincente hipótesis. Me imagine que el chileno, como yo estaba gozando de lo que la ciudad nos ofrecía. El me había contado que había visitado esta ciudad varias veces y que tenia amistades, las cuales visitaría a su llegada. Lo raro fue la posible coincidencia que los incongruentes hallan decido dejar el restaurante tan abruptamente después de divisar a los caminantes, hecho mas evidente que dejaron sus bebidas casi sin tocar, y aumentado por la dirección de su salida.

Deje de pensar en esta observación, ya que mi vecina se dirigió a mi indicando su partida, y también su deseo de que mi estadía en su ciudad natal fuera de mi entero agrado. Respondí deseándoles una muy buenas noches y agradeciéndoles sus tan gentiles deseos. Pedí la cuenta, y mientras la esperaba, pude observar que los demás comensales eran una mezcla de turistas y pudientes residentes locales interesados en la buena bebida y comida. Me prometí volver.

Recibí, pague la cuenta y mirando mi reloj vi que eran las diez y cuarto, estaba un poco cansado, pero me dije que al menos caminaría un poco antes de volver al 11 plaza del Quemado. Se me ocurrió buscar alguno de los sitios de entretenimiento nocturno que tenia en mi lista. Camine por las calles aledañas, descubrí un local de donde salía luz, voces y se podía escuchar el sonido conocido de vasos alegres. Al llegar a su puerta escuche las cuerdas de una guitarra. Entrando al local note que tenia a un lado un bar lleno de clientes y un numero de mesas pobladas de gente joven de toda procedencia. Al fondo derecho había una tarima pequeña, un micrófono y un banco donde estaba sentado el guitarrista. Logre acercarme y conseguí un sitio en la barra. Pedí una cerveza y mientras trataba con el barman, escuche un trio de voces femeninas venir del fondo del recinto.

Al voltear a mirar al trio, me sorprendí al ver a las jóvenes nórdicas cantando una de las canciones de Abba mas populares. Cantaban en castellano con acento extranjero. Al terminar la canción y después de recibir un fuerte aplauso y agradecer al publico con varias venias, se sentaron en una mesa al pie del escenario. En la mesa habían sentados tres personas cuyas facciones no podía distinguir ya que me daban la espalda. Reían con placer.

El local era rectangular situado en una esquina y tenia una puerta cerrada que daba a la calle lateral por la cual yo no había ingresado. El guitarrista toco un solo de una canción andina muy conocida y obtuvo un gran aplauso también. Las luces fueron bajadas y una mujer vestida de largo con guantes hasta los codos se adueño de micrófono, el guitarrista empezó a tocar “A mi manera” de Sinatra, y la mujer la canto en castellano. Me imagine que este local era uno de esos locales que fomenta a los espontáneos y que tanto las jóvenes nórdicas como el guitarrista y mujer de vestido largo solo tenían que presentarse para tener un medio donde ejercer su arte.

Antes de que acabara de cantar y con las luces bajas, las jóvenes nórdicas y sus tres acompañantes se incorporaron y salieron por la puerta lateral del local. Al dar vuelta y acercarse hacia la puerta vi que los acompañantes eran dos hombres y una mujer. La poca luz me impidió distinguir sus caras, pero sus formas y tamaño me dieron la impresión que pudieran ser las tres personas que había visto en la calle frente al restaurante donde cene esa noche. Momentos después, dos hombres salieron por la misma puerta. Esta vez mi línea de visión estuvo impedida por el torso de un turista que bloqueo parte de mi visión, pero no enteramente, dándome la sensación de formar una imagen de los dos que semejaba a la de los incongruentes.

Este local me agrado mucho por su apoyo a los artistas y su ambiente bohemio. Mire mi reloj y eran las doce y diez, con un poco de cansancio decidí volver al 11 plaza del Quemado. Salí del local y me fije bien en su ubicación para regresar. Llegando a la plaza del Quemado, sentí mucho frio, estando la plaza desolada, me acerque al guardia, no era el mismo de la tarde. Le di nombre, saco un papel de su bolsillo, lo reviso y igualmente que el guardia anterior golpeo la puerta con su mano izquierda. La puerta se entreabrió y el portero me hozo pasar. Camine a través de la antesala y por el angosto corredor hasta llegar a mi dormitorio.

Al entrar vi que en la cama izquierda había una persona postrada, apague inmediatamente la luz para impedir que se despierte. No se movió. En silencio entre a la cama de la derecha y como si drogado quede profundamente dormido. Un gemido de dolor me despertó, no sabia de donde había venido, si de mi compañero de cuarto o de otro lado. Quise quedar despierto por la eventualidad de que se repita el gemido, pero nuevamente escuche otro mas fuerte gemido, esta vez estaba seguro que venia no de mi acompañante. Al levantar mi cabeza para usar mis dos oídos para fijar la procedencia de los gemidos, moví las cobijas haciendo ruido con ellas.

Una voz grave viniendo de la otra cama me dijo que mejor no preste atención a los ruidos y que tampoco comente esto con nadie. Mi acompañante no movió ni un pelo, fue como si fuera un costal de papas con una grabadora entregándome el mensaje. Con el cuidado mas grande me volví a recostar evitando el mínimo ruido. Me quede pensando en la razón de los gemidos hasta que otra vez quede dormido.

Al despertar en la mañana, mire el reloj, siendo las ocho cuarenta y nueve, me percate que el saco de papas no estaba mas en la cama de la izquierda, y que no había señas de que nadie hubiera estado en el dormitorio conmigo la noche anterior. Recordé que a mi llegada al cuarto y ver esa persona postrada, apague la luz, y no pude ver si había algo mas, una valija, ni siquiera unos zapatos al pie de la cama. Era extraño, y ahora tendría que considerar si iba a seguir sus advertencias, o indagaría no solo sobre su presencia sino también sobre los gemidos.

Este viaje y esta ciudad me estaba brindando misterios inesperados. Todavía no sabia la identidad del burócrata y menos de sus motivos de ayudarme. No había conocido a Álvarez. Estaba alojado en un edificio del que no sabia nada, donde escuche gemidos y fui advertido por un extraño de que no indagara sobre ellos. Además el chileno, cada vez parecía mas fascinante, especialmente en relación a los incongruentes y las jóvenes nórdicas. La ausencia de mis anticipados anfitriones me había puesto en el medio de una novela de espías. Considere también que mi exuberante imaginación estaba jugando con mis poderes de observación y nuevamente estaba viendo y creando historietas donde no las había.

Decidí dejar mis apresuradas conclusiones y acortar mi estadía ya que mis planes habían radicalmente cambiado. Mi interés inicial era de hacer esta visita para revisar unos textos antiguos que pudieran esclarecer la procedencia de mi bisabuelo que según mi padre había llegado de Europa a este país en paso donde finalmente radico y donde conoció al amor de su vida. Dormiría una noche mas en esta ciudad y viajaría vuelta a casa al día siguiente.

Era domingo, día de recogimiento y descanso. Salí al patio de los grifos, me di un baño y al regresar a mi habitación, me vestí con mi mejor ropa dominical. Egrese de la mis manera el edificio, eran alrededor de las once en una mañana brillante. Visite calles desconocidas, parques y plazas, la ciudad era gentil y tranquila. Me acerque a una agencia de viajes para indagar sobre mis opciones de huida de los percances que mi visita a esta ciudad me habían expuesto. Me entere que el transporte salía, en dirección de mi nuevo destino, dos veces al día, a las diez de la mañana y a las siete de la noche. Opte por viajar durante el día, ya que mi preferencia es de dormir en una cama, rodeado por paredes y no en una caja metálica, expuesto a todo tipo de peligros. También averigüe que los boletos del transporte, solo se podían obtener momentos antes de abordar el transporte.

Pase la tarde observando los quehaceres de la población. Al atardecer decidí retornar al restaurante donde había cenado la noche anterior, pensé cenar temprano ya que el día siguiente seria largo y de arduo viaje. Al encaminarme al restaurante por el recorrido ya conocido, empecé a notar detalles que ya sea en mi apremio o la falta de confianza en la ciudad desconocida, notaba por primera vez. Formas, colores, olores, sonidos y hasta sensaciones táctiles.

Las calles del centro antiguo de la ciudad eran angostas, trazadas a fin del siglo quince, cuando los conquistadores, nombre que se dieron ellos cuyo nombre me imagino los previos pobladores hubieran firmemente objetado, de piedra, material noble de preferente uso dada su abundancia. Los edificios, mayormente de tres pisos construidos al estilo palacio urbano, eran imponentes, tanto que mirándolos en perspectiva de una esquina hacia la otra parecían inclinarse hacia la calle como arboles en un bulevar, compitiendo por el espacio vital que en el caso de los edificios solo habían pagado impuestos por el área ocupada al nivel del suelo y no los aires públicos que parecían ahora ocupar.

Al estilo de palacio urbano, muchas de estas edificaciones compartían detalles arquitectónicos que habían sido creados por artistas y estrategas de ese arte. Uno que era muy notorio para mi era la diferencia del acabado por niveles, progresivamente mas sofisticados desde el piso hacia los altos. El piso de la calle era burdo y áspero, según lo entendido diseñado para rechazar el contacto humano. Me imagino que las edificaciones hubieran sido construidas sobre existentes moradas precolombinas, las cuales fueron destruidas para alojar a los nuevos habitantes europeos.

Los segundos pisos mostraban un estilo mas complejo, con ventanas y balcones desde donde estos nuevos habitantes podían presentarse a la ciudad y demostrar su poder político y económico. Los terceros pisos que incluían los techos llevando el mas alto estilo, como si estuvieran queriendo acercarse al firmamento aprovechando el contraste con usual cielo azul que esta ciudad por su situación geográfica gozaba. Las acera eran angostas, de piedra con alcantarillas para la anual época de lluvias.

Al ser domingo, era entendible que las calles estuvieran menos pobladas de gente. Los negocios a puerta cerrada. Los sonidos y olores limitados a lo mas mínimo especialmente siendo el día que el señor escogió para descansar, algo que este pueblo obviamente respetaba.

A mi llegada al restaurante, no siendo hora de cena lo encontré casi vacío, además de una pareja de posibles turistas americanos, todas las mesas esta vacías. Mi cena fue buena y sin nada notable que agregar a mi diario. Regrese al 11 plaza del Quemado e ingrese exactamente de la misma manera que la previa noche. Procedí a acostarme y dormí casi inmediatamente. No se si soñaba, sentí mi cama temblar, las puertas crujían, fue un temblor, fenómeno común en nuestra zona volcánica.

Volví a dormir o a seguir soñando. Escuche unos gritos, mas como mandatos u ordenes, no pude entenderlos bien, estaban lejanos. Mire el reloj, las dos y diez y ocho de la madrugada, me incorpore para atenderlos mejor, parecía un par de voces dando ordenes y un grupo de varias personas mientras se acercaban hacia mi. Escuchaba los pasos acercase a través de corredores y patios. La primera palabra que realmente distinguí fue “silencio” dicho de una manera marcial que me recordó mi niñez.

Empezé a notar unos gemidos casi inaudibles que venían con el estruendo de pasos, botas y roces de cuerpos con las paredes, como si se acarrearan animales. Me levante y decidí indagar, me vestí rápidamente y me acerque a la puerta del dormitorio, poniendo mi oreja contra ella para tratar de identificar la procedencia del sonido y su posible cercanía. Venia del interior, hacia la izquierda de la puerta, según mis cálculos todavía no habían llegado al patio de los grifos. Esto lo podía saber porque el sonido procedente de un lugar cerrado, como el de un corredor se proyecta distinto que cuando es un ambiente abierto, como el de un patio. Si ya hubieran entrado al patio de los grifos, notaria con mas detenimiento los detalles de los sonidos, dada la cercanía a mi dormitorio.

Pensé investigar, abrí la puerta un tris, tenia que saber si fuera a ser descubierto. Mire a la derecha del corredor, cada una de tres lámparas estaban prendidas, escasamente iluminando secciones parciales del corredor, quedando otras en total obscuridad. Ninguna actividad pude notar venir de la derecha del corredor y del área de acceso el que yo conocía. Mire hacia la izquierda y el mismo fenómeno pude confirmar, al final del corredor y al umbral del patio de grifos, por donde estaba casi seguro, los sonidos procedían, era como una boca de lobo. La ultima lámpara del corredor no llegaba a iluminar su fin, pero el reflejo tenue de luz dibujaba el marco del umbral del patio y obscuridad absoluta se hallaba por detrás.

Corredor

Corredor

Salí del dormitorio en su dirección, sigilosamente tratando de mantenerme el tiempo mas corto en las secciones del corredor bañadas por esa luz blancuzca. Al llegar al patio de los grifos y después de que mis ojos se adaptaran un poco mas de luz que las luces de la ciudad brindaban, note que los sonidos ahora eran no de pasos y mandatos, sino de puertas y sillas. Mi impresión era que mas allá del patio de los grifos, al final del corredor izquierdo, era de donde provenían los sonidos, y por consiguiente los eventos que me despertaron.

Cruce el patio por la arcada izquierda sabiendo que bajo su casi total obscuridad no seria descubierto. Al entrar al corredor confirme que los sonidos venían del final del corredor, continúe avanzando hacia su procedencia, sin pensar en las consecuencias que me traería si mi presencia fuera descubierta. Al acercarme a la puerta que estando entre abierta, bañaba el corredor de luz desde su interior, vi una sombra de un perfil humano romper la iluminación. Esta situación inesperada me forzó a pensar rápidamente en alguna posible explicación para de mi presencia.

La sombra se incrementaba, y finalmente vi el cuerpo de un hombre que cruzaba el umbral penetrando el corredor. Puse mi espalda contra la pared en una de las partes obscuras del corredor esperanzado de pasar desapercibido. El hombre volteo a su derecha en dirección opuesta a donde me encontraba, continuo caminando hacia el final del corredor y hacia otro patio interior. Sentí un alivio muy grande, y pensé nuevamente en mi argumento en caso de ser descubierto, mientras miraba al hombre. Todavía inmóvil contra la pared, note que el hombre sobre paro, y dándose la vuelta empezó a regresar, como si se hubiera olvidado algo. Opte por salir de la penumbra y hacer mi presencia visible. Había decidido que diría que había escuchado ruidos y que mi curiosidad me había llevado a indagar, cosa que era la verdad.

El hombre me vio, y rápidamente vino hacia mi, avance hasta la puerta y mire en el interior, en el instante que tuve antes de su llegada pude observar que había un hombre cabizbajo, sentado y atado en una silla, dos hombres con sus espaldas a mi frente a el, y tres sillas ocupadas por tres mujeres encapuchas. Empezó a gritarme, “quien es usted, que hace aquí”. Los dos hombres en el interior voltearon rápidamente, y el prisionero levanto su cabeza.
Antes de contestar, pude ver las caras de los hombres y el prisionero, uno de ellos era el burócrata, el otro había sido el que me había recibido, quizás era Álvarez, y a mi sorpresa, el prisionero era el chileno.

En mi sorpresa, no pude reaccionar y responderle. El burócrata inmediatamente se acerco a la puerta bloqueando mi visión del interior, y respondiendo por mi al hombre en el corredor, dijo, el señor es nuestro invitado, y tomándome del brazo, me dirigió al patio de los grifos. Sin cruzar palabras llegamos el patio, sin dejar mi brazo, con su otra mano, y parándose frente a mi, tomo mi otro brazo, me miro con una mirada paternal y me dijo.

Este local es uno de tantos destinados a la policía secreta de nuestro país, yo soy un funcionario publico dedicado a la lucha anti terrorista. Me imagino que sabes que nuestro país esta pasando por una época difícil? Entendí esta como una pregunta, respondí que si estaba enterado. Eran las primeras palabras que habíamos intercambiado. Su voz era suave, educada y gentil, complementaba bien su mirada, casi como la de un sacerdote.

Me dijo, que lo que había presenciado, era el interrogatorio de un peligroso terrorista, que había entrado el país a través del lago Titicaca, y que fuentes de inteligencia internacional estaban a su asecho, y que gracias a un grupo de dedicados agentes, finalmente había sido arrestado. También me dijo, que yo hasta esa noche había conjuntamente sido considerado asociado al terrorista, y que la razón por la cual me había ofrecido estadía, era para poder observarme y poder descartar esa sospecha.

También me confeso, que las jóvenes nórdicas estaban de alguna manera involucradas con el chileno, que en realidad no era chileno, sino ciudadano de Venezuela, entrenado en Cuba y Moscú. Me dijo, que mi contacto con el chileno, me había convertido en un posible cómplice, y que mis acciones en la ciudad, y la información provista por el chileno, las nórdicas y otras fuentes de inteligencia, me habían exonerado de sospechas, pero que dadas las coincidencias, mi identidad estaría en el futuro posiblemente monitoreada por organismos de inteligencia internacionales.

Continuo, diciéndome, que era mejor que olvidara lo este episodio, y no seria aconsejable compartirlo, ya que esta investigación se había iniciado años atrás y probablemente continuaría hasta que el peligro insurgente fuera completamente erradicado. Me pregunto si pudiera darme un consejo, dije que por supuesto. Me dijo, que pena que tus amigos, los que te iban a recibir, no están en la ciudad, y que había tenido que estar en ese lugar, pero que de cierta manera, al haber sido un sospechoso, eso hubiera extendido la sospecha a quien contactara, y que la familia Rodríguez, mis ausentes anfitriones, fueron exonerados de su colaboración por su consiguiente ausencia.

Continuo, diciéndome que aproveche mi estadía de la ciudad para apreciar los detalles arquitectónicos que tanto me interesaban y que regresara a casa en un tiempo prudente. Que había sido observado por agentes de seguridad desde mi primer contacto con el chileno, y que seguiría siendo observado hasta mi salida del país.

Mas tarde me entere, que las fuerzas del orden, habían solicitado que mis anfitriones se ausentaran, para facilitar mi alojamiento en el local de inteligencia, y poder tenerme mas cerca para poder observarme.

Durante su monologo, trate de prestar mucha atención a sus palabras, quería cerciorarme de que pudiera recordarlo textualmente, para mas tarde volcarlo en mi diario. Seguí su consejo de no divulgar los hechos que me revelo. Cuatro décadas después, y sin menguar la lucha anti terrorista, decidí compartir mis impresiones de un viaje intrigante.

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The Enchanted Toy

A story of discovery

 

A story told me by Rudy Morales. Illustrated and animated in Flash by Manuel Valencia.

Jimmy's grand house

Jimmy's grand house

As the holiday season arrived this year, I was sure that after being a good boy, I would get all the presents that I had on my list, was thinking Jimmy while looking out his home window watching some kids playing in the park across the road.

His beautiful home was by now decorated for the festivities, as he had come to expect and relish in year’s passed. The decorations were in place, the large evergreen in the center of the great hall trimmed and ready for the arrival of Father Christmas.

Jimmy would play often in the park across the road from his house, meeting other kids and playing with them. Sometimes he would play with the boy of the chestnut vendor, a large and jolly woman. Pete was about his age and had only one toy, a rough block of wood with what seemed four wheels making it some sort of vehicle. Jimmy always brought one his many shinny toys with him.

The park

The park

Pete would play with his only toy, and in Jimmy’s the eyes, Pete’s toy would do things that none of his toys would. Pete’s toy was strong, would go fast, and over any type of obstacles, it would even fly and go over and under water. Jimmy wanted to play with Pete’s toy.

He decided to ask Pete if he would like to trade his rough toy for Jimmy’s shinny toy, so he asked him. Pete was surprised, the exchange did not seem fair, and he looked perplexed. Jimmy assured him that his parents would not disagree with the transaction, and that if it were agreeable with him, they would trade. Pete, thought a little about it, and decided to make the trade, after all he was getting a shinny toy, something he had never had. Pete stretched out his arm and offered his toy to Jimmy, exchanging toys.

Pete's magical toy

Pete's magical toy

Pete was so excited; he excused himself and went to tell his mother. After hearing the fantastic story, Pete’s mother thought that she should confirm the agreement with Jimmy, and so she did.

Getting the  magic

Getting the magic

Jimmy, excited to no end, proceeded to put the toy to test, trying to replicate how it was able to perform under Pete’s commands. After a while, he was able to replicate the maneuvers that he his own toys delivered, but sadly not the ones that this toy performed for Pete.

Jimmy had thought that the toy was enchanted with magical powers, and that by obtaining it, he would enjoy its magic, but soon he realized that this was not so. That the magic he thought came not from the toy itself, but from Pete.

Jimmy realized that appearances can be deceiving, and that happiness is within us and not around us.

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Maiden Voyage

Flying to Paris

One of the longest trips ever!

Trying once again to outdo each other with horror travel stories at a gathering with friends, one trip that I took a couple of years ago became the one for me to share. I had almost forgotten it altogether. I was to meet my wife in Paris after she had spent two weeks in Israel for work. We had decided to take ten days to visit France.

La Corne d'Or. Nice, Villefranche sur Mer, Monaco.

We were almost newlyweds, each bringing our own dowry to the house that we had just purchased. As with most people that do not travel much, we were a bit thin in the luggage department. In view of our deficiency in this area, before her departure, we agreed that we needed to buy a practical and ideally smart looking new bag, to supplement the only two bags in our procession that she was to take on her business trip. She was taking only work clothes with her, so it rested with me to bring along her clothes for our tour de France.

We agreed to purchase a bag not to exceed $120. I began doing some research, focusing on quality, price, material, weight, etc. Ultimately selecting a medium sized hard bag with locking devices. It only exceeded the allocated budget by a bit.

Villefranche sur Mer

Villefranche sur Mer

The day before my departure for Paris, I neatly packet my wife’s touring clothes along with mine in our new bag and went to sleep early, knowing very well that the following day would be a long one.

I woke up, got into housework clothes, had breakfast, and finished all the tasks before leaving our house. I placed all the outstanding toiletries in my travel bag, put it into the luggage, and used the provided keys to lock it. I then showered, did not shave and got dressed with the clothes that I had chosen for the overnight trip to Paris. The shuttle vehicle that I had engaged a couple of days earlier drove up the driveway at the previously agreed time. I proceeded to take my new bag to the entrance of my house, then locked the entrance door and got into the van.

I always get excited when I travel, it may be because since I was a child I would love to go the airport. Airports were magical places where people from foreign lands would converge for a brief moment and soon be on their way to even more exotic destinations. When I was a child, only the very fortunate could fly. People would actually dress up to travel on those noisy tin cans. I remember seeing some of my more economically gifted relatives go to the airport, wearing long woolen coats and hats, as if they were going to a night at the opera. Any excuse we had to go to the airport to greet or wish a von voyage was welcome to me. As a child I dreamed of visiting foreign lands, of dressing in fine clothes and becoming one of those select world travelers. Now, I realize that it was a mixture of a desire to visit unknown lands and a bit of snobbishness.

Les Alpes

I was wearing blue jeans, very comfortable shoes, not tennis shoes, since at that time, tennis shoes were a sure giveaway that you were an American tourist, and I did not want to appear as one. I had learned that Europeans usually dress more elegantly than Americans, and I did not want to stick out. I was wearing a long sleeve blue and white striped loose tee shirt, since I was to spend at least seven hours in coach on an overnight flight. When I arrived at the airport, I went through the check in process without any problems, passed through what today’s standards could be considered very minimal security, and got to the departure gate.

As an amateur observer of people, I located a seat in the departure area with the greatest vantage point to observe the comings and goings of everyone I could see. I like to look at physiognomy, clothing, body language, posture, etc. and create personas, and believable stories to fit them. Scanning the surrounding area, I found many subjects for my entertainment, although one stood out more than others. He was a tall and slender white man of between 35 to 55 years of age, with unkept hair and beard. He wore blue jeans, a wrinkled shirt, overused tennis shoes and had a small worn bag with him. My first impression was that he seemed like a homeless person. I studied him for a while, and concluded that he was without a doubt the oddest individual there. By where he was seated, I could assume that he was going to be on my flight to Paris.

Provence

I began formulating a theory for the possible reasons for his trip. Maybe he was an eccentric wealthy person that did not care about his appearance, and he was going to Paris, to then travel to a large mansion in the countryside, were he was going to spend the summer in luxury. Possibly, he was very poor and was traveling to France to receive an inheritance that would set him on easy street for the rest of his life. Perhaps, he was mentally ill, still not dangerous to society, and had always wanted to visit where Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear. Or even better, he was a terrorist that was going to sacrifice himself in the name of some holy cause, and I was going to become one more casualty in this never-ending holy war. Why me, I don’t even believe in these things. I started worrying and giving more weight to my last theory.

Companie Generale Transatlantique

I was engrossed in the possible life and times of the disheveled man, and noticed that I had spent sometime with him and had neglected the rest of the passengers. I put him aside and began re-scanning the area, and noticed that aside from him, I was probably the closest person in appearance to him, since I was unshaven and wearing very casual clothes. I started to get a bit uncomfortable with the idea that we could be seen as associates. The paranoia began distilling its bitter juices.

Soon came the awaited announcement to board our vessel. As usual with the era of my trip, further instructions were shouted with the usual blurring of speech that only very seasoned travelers understand. Of course the nervous, eager ones, as well as all paranoids jumped to their feet and stampeded to the gate, without having been properly invited into the flying vehicle. I always relish this moment, since it allows me to make additional determinations about my fellow travelers. I know and I suppose that everyone knows that the vessel is loaded according to ever changing and utterly confusing rules. All VIPs of course can load at their leisure. The question comes when dealing with the uncontrolled masses that will have to loaded as if cattle to the slaughterhouse.

Le Mont Saint Michel

This subject is without a doubt a favorite of mine. I contend that waiting until the last sensible moment to board is advisable for the various reasons. Having not to stand in yet another line. Having not to elbow the overweight foreign lady with two unwieldy young children carrying not only her purse but also an array of large and small bags. Having to be comfortably seated and buckled in your assigned, and having to assist the same lady to place the aforementioned array of bags in the overhead compartment.

By boarding when there is no line you have some benefits. Similarly to arriving late to any party, you get everyone’s attention, with possible assumptions of self-importance. You also get to scope out the placement of passengers, and avoid potentially menacing characters, such as snoring individuals, wide body persons impeding access or exit from inside seats, and not to discount misbehaving toddlers and crying infants. By entering later you can also assess the remaining empty seats to be able to capture an empty row to stretch out and sleep during the long sojourn.

Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee

So I waited until there was no line, even though my seat section has been already invited to board. As I entered our transatlantic vessel I was directed by one of the still then courteous flight attendant to use the left side corridor for faster access to my seat. I walked down the long corridor, not without encountering the slow passenger arranging their belongings on the overhead compartment, with no regard to how with their massive body they block the only passageway for me to use to reach my seat. After clearing several of these obstacles, I was getting close to my seat, by way of the efficient numbering system.

All of a sudden I see the disheveled man on a window seat, imagine my surprise, I was seated next to him on a two-seat row. I tried to contain my horror, based on all my theories about him. I proceeded to place my small bag on the closest overhead compartment. I prefer and whenever possible only to carry as small bag that I can either hang on my shoulder since I am a believer in traveling light and do not like to have anything in my hands when walking.

Toulon

I proceeded to sit down and buckle up; I figure that if I am going to be seated I should also remain safely bucked up. I took a moment to collect my thoughts and plan my strategy to deal with the mysterious man next to me. I thought, I will order a stiff drink, relax and see what develops. Knowing a bit about human nature not by any academic study but by personal observation, I figured that like most mortals, given our proximity and the absence of any other person closer, that he would strike up a conversation, specially since were going to spend the night together.

Aix

The flight attendant now not as chipper as earlier, came by handing out a little bag of salty treats, and asking if we would care for a drink, since I was closer to her, I deferred to my seat companion to order first. He ordered a beer, my first real clue, he was an American, it was the accent, and the fact that it was cocktail hour and he ordered beer. I ordered a scotch whiskey. Alcoholic drinks were still free, dating this trip sometime during the last millennium.

I opened the tiny treats bag and begun consuming its contents. Being a patient man, I know that there was plenty of time before sleeping to start conversing. During this time, we were informed about the many safety measures of the aircraft. Only if you have never been on a flight before, this may of interest. But if it is your first time, it would be hard to take in so much information on top of having so many distractions, such as all the buttons on your armrest, the load of marketing material on the back of the seat in front of you, including the empty paper bag neatly folder without any labeling instructions.

Water landing?

Water landing?

I make a point to listen to bits and pieces of the public address system message, to see how the message has changed with the years. My favorite part is when they mention that “in the event of a water landing…” wait a minute, by definition a landing is on land, unless they have come up with landing strips made of water. This vehicle is not equipped with any water landing gear anyway, so why even mention it. After all I want to go to Paris, not the English Channel or even worst the North Sea, my ticket says so explicitly.

Always after this part I start dreaming or imagining what my slim chances would be of survival in case of the aforementioned water landing. I figured, and this I have proved by personal experience, that if I fall on hard ground, such as practically all ground, the damage to my body would be greater than falling on water. I have experienced both.

Since I am in the middle to the rear part of the vessel where the cattle is stored, my chances would be better than the VIPs in front. I have deduced this by my keen observation on the useful and sometimes terrifying “Safety Instructions Card”. The diagram of the possible “Water Landing” shows a generic icon of an airplane on a nose dive towards what seems peaceful rippling water, no landing gear is shown deployed. Therefore no landing is to be had. The real picture is too horrifying to even ponder, but if I was to survive the initial first impact, thanks to my secure waist belt, and be spared by all initial wave of flying objects such as luggage, shoes, meal carts. I would then only have to duck all VIP section debris moving backwards at almost the speed of light accompanied by the rushing water of whatever body of water we happen to have just “Landed” on.

After recovering from this short and unpleasant initial shock, I would have to locate a “Safety Instructions Card” to figure out what to do next since I did not really pay attention to the public address. In desperation, seeing floating around me a myriad of recognizable and unrecognizable items, I would release my seat, remembering something about “Guiding Lights” that would direct me to the nearest exit. I would reasonably disregard that instruction in view that the nearest exit has just providentially materialized by a large break in the cabin located just above my head. My decision to use this exit would also be precipitated by the fact that the cabin in front and behind me would be rapidly sinking into the very dark and of yet unidentified body of water. This horrific experience would resemble most horror films happening at night confirmed by being suddenly woken up in the middle of an otherwise routine overnight transatlantic flight gone bad, as well as, seeing an incredibly gorgeous starry night.

I get myself free from my seat and feel buoyant in the cold water, by now I have my “Life Jacket” securely attached to my torso, I have not given in to pulling the handle that supposedly inflates the “Jacket” as per instructions. The “Light Beacon” attached to the top of one side of the “Jacket” has not yet started flashing even though water has already made ample contact with it. The “Safety Instructions Card” did not specified when or how it would light up, perhaps it needs to submerged for as long as 5 minutes before kicking in, I cannot hold my breath that long!

Enough, I said to myself as I opened my eyes when the lukewarm flight attendant handed me my second tiny bottle of scotch whiskey. Back to my companion, he was reading a magazine not provided by the airline. Contact was still to be made. I had taken some time to let my imagination run wild with the “Unlikely Event of a Water Landing”. Not more than ten minutes had elapsed. The plastic cup for my drink held only held ice covered with a thin film of the Scottish medicinal brew. I drank it, enjoying its smooth taste, and poured half of the contents of the second bottle, so not to dilute the first with the ice.

I could no further restrain my curiosity, and decided to find a way for me to engage my flight companion. Finding not an awkward moment, I casually turned towards him and asked, “Where are you going”. He replied, “to Germany, to be exact to Bonn”, “and you” he asked, I responded to Paris. I continued to keep the conversation going “I am meeting my wife in Paris, she will arrive tomorrow from Israel” I thought he would find this intriguing, maybe the stuff of spy novels. I wanted to divulge more information to extend him an opportunity for dialogue. He said that he was traveling to present a paper at a conference. I asked, are you a scientist? No, he responded, I am a professor.

Now things started to fall into place, of course, how did I not see it, a professor of some field of liberal arts stuck in some sixties time warp, it fitted very well. I asked, what field do you teach? He said English literature; it made sense, an intellectual. I asked, where are you coming from? I live in DC, he said. I was surprised since he seemed somewhat out of place in the very conservative and more formal DC that I knew.

I also live in the DC area, I said. Where about? He asked. I live in Bethesda, and you? I asked, in Silver Spring, but I am not originally from here. I said, nor I, I was born in Lima Peru. He said I am from Brooklyn. So we continued exchanging information. We got to more personal data, he told me that he was Jewish, and that his parents were heavily involved with the communist party back in the forties, that he remembered how they spoke of being spied on by Hoover and the FBI. It was a fascinating story; he seemed to be proud of his parents’ political involvement. Dinner arrived and we continued chatting.

Later came the movie, the lights dimmed, people got as comfortable as possible, and I started to think of how my day was going to be in Paris while I waited for the arrival of my wife. I went through a series of events, disembarkation into Charles de Gaulle airport, presenting the passport to the appropriate authorities, proceeding through customs and possibly having to open my bag for inspection. Removing the keys to our new bag from the back pocket of my blue yeans.

Luggage key

To confirm the location of the keys to the new bag, I passed my right hand trying to feel for the keys on my right back pocket, nothing there. I stuck my hand all the way in the right pocket, to find it empty. Quickly, I switched hands, stuck my left hand into my back left pocket, thinking that maybe it was a simple error of right or left pocket. When my hand reached the bottom of the pocket my blood pressure began to raise, the sign was a throbbing sound in my right ear.

I searched both my front pockets unsuccessfully, now my worst nightmare was beginning to come true. I jumped to my feet, opened the overhead compartment to search for the missing key in my carrying bag. I brought it down, sat down, searched everywhere without any success. A cold sweat coated my skin. I began imagining a best outcome scenario at my arrival at the Paris airport. If I did not get asked to open my bag, I could take it to a locksmith and have it opened before my wife’s arrival. I had 24 hours before her arrival to sort out my miserable predicament. I would not have to tell her that I forgot the key at home, and ensure her wrath. I could possibly come out unscathed.

Les gendarmes

But, what if I was asked to open my bag? This worst case scenario was very dark. I would have to explain in my broken French that I had left the keys at, being the good person that I am, they would immediately believe me. At the time, France had been plagued by a series of terrorist acts, bombings specially. The authorities had deployed a massive force of very menacing black uniformed policemen with automatic weapons throughout city. It was somewhat scary. They may suspect me of having a bomb in my bag, they could throw me to the ground and guns blazing, drag everyone out and bring the bomb squad, remove my bag to a secured location and blow it up with all our belongings in it. How could I then explain this to my wife, this would definitely precipitate her usual wrath. My head was spinning, almost to the point of fainting.

But why was I so worried, to the point of loosing consciousness? Let me explain, my wife is somewhat of a perfectionist, type A. She not only is extremely demanding of herself, which I find at times even hazardous to her health, but as I have learned during my years with her, very demanding of everyone, period. Now, I emphasize it with the word period, because it is her favorite means of ending any discussion, of course at a point to her advantage, not allowing any rebuttal. This singular trait was not there, I did not see it, or was not revealed in the early stages of our relationship. Like most people she only put her best face forward, so did I.

Putting my head between my legs to try to bring back some blood to my scattered brain and recover enough to survive the rest of my trip until meeting my final fortune, I considered my companion. I thought that if I disembarked with him, my presence would be potentially more noticeable, since he and I shared elements in our appearance. I had to find a way to extricate myself from his company, then possibly my chances of not being picked for bag search may decrease. So I started thinking of how to do it.

I also remembered that a friend of ours was living in Paris, thankfully I had her phone number with me. If my bag was not destroyed in the blast, I would call her and ask her if she knew of where to take it to get it opened without even a scratch. Knowing full well that my wife would most likely inspect the bag after its maiden voyage, for sturdiness, structural integrity, locking devices functions, and probably many others that I did not even want to think about at this particular moment.

I formulated a plan to rid myself of the disheveled man. I was going to remain in my seat and let my companion and everyone else in the rows next to me disembarks before me. I would use some idiotic excuse, such as not feeling well, or that my feet did not fit back in my shoes after the long trip, or that I was going to go to the bathroom before getting off the plane. This would also allow me to collect my bag immediately, since it would most likely be going around on the conveyor belt, and try to casually walk after the officials had had their full with most of the passengers on the plane.

I began questioning the second part of my strategy. When I was in high school I found that by seating in the back of the classroom, I was most likely to be caught or blamed for misbehaving. It never failed that when something happened, most teachers looked to the students in the back. I guess that most students felt that being in the back of the room would be shielded by the rest of the students in front of them. I decided to sit in the first row, right in front of the teacher, and take my chances there. It was amazing what I got away with, specially when I whistled without puckering my lips. Inevitably the guys in the back got blamed for it. I suspect this is how camouflage works.

I decided to leave the plane as soon as possible, vetoing my earlier strategy. This is my usual method, I am a fast walker, and I can pass some of the passengers on my way to the first encounter with the local authorities. Achieving this goal, is made possible by the interminable series of corridors, stairs and general obstacles to be found at most international arrivals. I went through the immigration checkpoint without any trouble; I am a holder of a passport from a developed nation. I reached the luggage retrieval location, and noticed that I was the first one there; I must have run in my desperation, I was hoping that this did not arise any suspicion.

There was the chime and the light indicating that the conveyor belt was going to start turning. The first bag appeared, the second and so on. Mine was not yet out. My bag was brand new, of that dark plastic color of all bags of their kind. I could easily single it out, since we had spent more than usual to get it, making it less common. It was also medium sized, not the usual size, I thought. There it appeared, when I went to pull it from the belt, and saw that it had scratches that were not in keeping with its age or use, I realized that it was not mine. I released it, and thought what a coincidence, someone else has the same taste as us. I kept my eye on it to see who would retrieve it. It was a smartly dressed, European businessman. I knew this by his clothes.

He walked away, rolling his bag, the same way I would do with mine. All of a sudden it occurred to me that if by any chance there were other bags like mine on the flight, maybe the passengers would have locked them, in which case they would have the keys to open them. I could spot them, and ask them if they could let me try to use their key to see if it would work on my bag. This theory is based not on any scientific knowledge, but on observation. It seems difficult for me to believe that the small keys and or locks that come with inexpensive to moderately priced luggage could be as unique as say a house key. It is preposterous that if you by a .79-cent lock you probably are actually getting a .39-cent lock with an .11-cent key.

With this new tack, I decided to put my theory to work. My bag appeared, I pulled off the conveyor belt, and stood as if waiting for another bag, hoping not to arise any undue suspicion as to my delay. This allowed be to focus on the remaining bags. I saw two of the same bags appear in sequence, waited until they were retrieved. They belonged to a very smartly dressed, well preserved and good looking middle aged American woman traveling with what appeared to be her teenage daughter. I knew this not because of the mother but because of the daughter; she was dressed like an upscale yet typical private school teen girl.

I approached them and with as much charm as I could muster at that early hour of the morning, asked, “Are these your bags” mom responded, “Yes they are” I said, “I have an identical bags as yours, and I locked them leaving the keys behind in DC”. I did not want to appear anymore the fool that I was by divulging any unnecessary and embarrassing information. My plea needed to touch them to make the time to address my request. I continued, “Maybe you have locked your bags, and you have the keys, and I could try to see if they would open my bag” She looked at me perplexed, thinking possibly, that this had been the best pick up line she had ever heard. It took her a little while to react, suddenly, she said, “I do not lock my bags… but I may have the keys with me” I thought, my line really works, even on this beautiful and affluent middle age women. She could have stopped at “I do not lock my bags” but she was being nice even after the long sojourn.

She put her well-manicured and jeweled hand into her Louis Vouitton bag, and produced an adorned key chain with at least 23 keys of all sizes. She said, “It may be one of these” and handed it to me. I was surprised with her openness. I later thought that we where in a controlled area and that I could not have been a scam artist in search of an easy prey, or was I? I quickly scanned the keys and found small ones that resembled the one for my bag. Her daughter got involved, she came forward and said, “I think I know what they look like” She was also being a Good Samaritan. I said to her “I think these are them” to keep them involved in my misery. I bent down and tried both keys on both locks of my bags unsuccessfully. I almost dropped to the floor, not only my lock and key theory had been shot down, but the impending encounter with the bomb squad seemed more imminent. I recovered as well as expected, and extended my hand to return the keys. She seemed genuinely disappointed, sensing that I had touched her maternal instinct. I needed my mother to come to my rescue in my hour of need. I thanked her, and saw them walk away with a mixture of abandonment and manly desire for the woman that had responded to me in a variety of ways.

I had to pull myself together, during this exchange, several other passengers and more importantly several bags had passed by me undetected. I pulled my bag again toward the bag dispenser, and waited for my next subjects. Not more than two minutes elapsed, when I saw another bag like mine. A stout elderly gentleman from the Indian subcontinent took it, he was accompanied by what appeared to be his wife, they where at the far side on the bag dispenser. I took my bag and approached them with a smile. By now I knew that I had touched mom with the puppy in need line, it had worked. I decided to use the same approach with the wife. She was a bit heavy, had an erect posture and was elegantly dressed; she had a kind face, like the face of a favorite aunt. He was wearing a suit and tie. These were the travelers of my early childhood.

I used the same line on the wife; she responded with even more openness than the gorgeous woman, with a more mature motherly feeling. But before she could say a word, her already sweaty husband that had been collecting their luggage, said “She doesn’t let me lock the bags because I can never find the keys”. I felt relieved, I had found a twin soul, this man had a wife just like mine. Would I look like him if I was unfortunate to reach his age? I guess I was fooled by her gentle appearance. He said “I don’t even carry the keys with me”. I understood very well his meaning, he did not dare even carry the keys, in the unfortunate event that he would without malice lock the bags, then misplace the keys and incur the wrath of the one to be obeyed. He was a wiser man than I.

I recalled why my bags were lock in the first place. During our search for the perfect bag, locks had always been a requisite to my wife. I suppose that her traveling experience has shown the necessity for them. She travels to third world countries where things sometimes disappear, and good locks are an everyday necessity. I thanked the Indians, and they began walking away, she was in front with only her small purse hanging from her right arm, he was pushing a luggage cart topped with bags, and had a large bag strapped across one shoulder.

By now my chances I thought had become very slim, most passengers had collected their bags. While watching the Indians disappear through a sliding door, I noticed on the side a bunch of bags and a couple of luggage handling French employees. One of which, motion to me to come closer, I did, he asked if I had any problem with my bags. It seemed that their job was to make sure bags were pick up, and that unclaimed bags were taken care of. I approach him and said in English “I have forgotten my keys, my bags are locked”. He did not fully understand, but his colleague did. He came forward; looked at my bag closely and said with a French accent something that sounded like “Wait here”.

He turned around, got into a freight elevator behind him and disappeared. His tone was very French, if you know what I mean. I did not know what to expect. I waited about five minutes, during this time I thought that he was going to rat me out to the menacing black uniformed gendarmes with automatic weapons. The elevator doors would open, they would storm out, pull my bag, blow it up with OUR things in it, not to ever recover them. I would be detained as a possible terrorist, questioned for two days, would not be able to meet my wife at the airport, she would kill me!

The elevator door opened, the same employee appeared, approaching me, stretching his arm inserted a key and turned it opening the lock. I almost had a bowel movement. He the handed over the key to me. I unlocked the second lock, then looked at him. With eternal thanks, I said “Merci beaucoup”. He actually spoke some English. He said “Take it” I said “Really… thank you”. He said in his broken English “we have master keys for most of the better luggage brands” Our purchase had been finally validated by a very helpful French luggage handler.

Bon voyage!

Le Voyage de Paris

Categories: Voyages to Real Places | 6 Comments
May 30

Maiden Voyage

May 30th, 2012 · 6 Comments · Voyages to Real Places

Flying to Paris

One of the longest trips ever!

Trying once again to outdo each other with horror travel stories at a gathering with friends, one trip that I took a couple of years ago became the one for me to share. I had almost forgotten it altogether. I was to meet my wife in Paris after she had spent two weeks in Israel for work. We had decided to take ten days to visit France.

La Corne d'Or. Nice, Villefranche sur Mer, Monaco.

We were almost newlyweds, each bringing our own dowry to the house that we had just purchased. As with most people that do not travel much, we were a bit thin in the luggage department. In view of our deficiency in this area, before her departure, we agreed that we needed to buy a practical and ideally smart looking new bag, to supplement the only two bags in our procession that she was to take on her business trip. She was taking only work clothes with her, so it rested with me to bring along her clothes for our tour de France.

We agreed to purchase a bag not to exceed $120. I began doing some research, focusing on quality, price, material, weight, etc. Ultimately selecting a medium sized hard bag with locking devices. It only exceeded the allocated budget by a bit.

Villefranche sur Mer

Villefranche sur Mer

The day before my departure for Paris, I neatly packet my wife’s touring clothes along with mine in our new bag and went to sleep early, knowing very well that the following day would be a long one.

I woke up, got into housework clothes, had breakfast, and finished all the tasks before leaving our house. I placed all the outstanding toiletries in my travel bag, put it into the luggage, and used the provided keys to lock it. I then showered, did not shave and got dressed with the clothes that I had chosen for the overnight trip to Paris. The shuttle vehicle that I had engaged a couple of days earlier drove up the driveway at the previously agreed time. I proceeded to take my new bag to the entrance of my house, then locked the entrance door and got into the van.

I always get excited when I travel, it may be because since I was a child I would love to go the airport. Airports were magical places where people from foreign lands would converge for a brief moment and soon be on their way to even more exotic destinations. When I was a child, only the very fortunate could fly. People would actually dress up to travel on those noisy tin cans. I remember seeing some of my more economically gifted relatives go to the airport, wearing long woolen coats and hats, as if they were going to a night at the opera. Any excuse we had to go to the airport to greet or wish a von voyage was welcome to me. As a child I dreamed of visiting foreign lands, of dressing in fine clothes and becoming one of those select world travelers. Now, I realize that it was a mixture of a desire to visit unknown lands and a bit of snobbishness.

Les Alpes

I was wearing blue jeans, very comfortable shoes, not tennis shoes, since at that time, tennis shoes were a sure giveaway that you were an American tourist, and I did not want to appear as one. I had learned that Europeans usually dress more elegantly than Americans, and I did not want to stick out. I was wearing a long sleeve blue and white striped loose tee shirt, since I was to spend at least seven hours in coach on an overnight flight. When I arrived at the airport, I went through the check in process without any problems, passed through what today’s standards could be considered very minimal security, and got to the departure gate.

As an amateur observer of people, I located a seat in the departure area with the greatest vantage point to observe the comings and goings of everyone I could see. I like to look at physiognomy, clothing, body language, posture, etc. and create personas, and believable stories to fit them. Scanning the surrounding area, I found many subjects for my entertainment, although one stood out more than others. He was a tall and slender white man of between 35 to 55 years of age, with unkept hair and beard. He wore blue jeans, a wrinkled shirt, overused tennis shoes and had a small worn bag with him. My first impression was that he seemed like a homeless person. I studied him for a while, and concluded that he was without a doubt the oddest individual there. By where he was seated, I could assume that he was going to be on my flight to Paris.

Provence

I began formulating a theory for the possible reasons for his trip. Maybe he was an eccentric wealthy person that did not care about his appearance, and he was going to Paris, to then travel to a large mansion in the countryside, were he was going to spend the summer in luxury. Possibly, he was very poor and was traveling to France to receive an inheritance that would set him on easy street for the rest of his life. Perhaps, he was mentally ill, still not dangerous to society, and had always wanted to visit where Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear. Or even better, he was a terrorist that was going to sacrifice himself in the name of some holy cause, and I was going to become one more casualty in this never-ending holy war. Why me, I don’t even believe in these things. I started worrying and giving more weight to my last theory.

Companie Generale Transatlantique

I was engrossed in the possible life and times of the disheveled man, and noticed that I had spent sometime with him and had neglected the rest of the passengers. I put him aside and began re-scanning the area, and noticed that aside from him, I was probably the closest person in appearance to him, since I was unshaven and wearing very casual clothes. I started to get a bit uncomfortable with the idea that we could be seen as associates. The paranoia began distilling its bitter juices.

Soon came the awaited announcement to board our vessel. As usual with the era of my trip, further instructions were shouted with the usual blurring of speech that only very seasoned travelers understand. Of course the nervous, eager ones, as well as all paranoids jumped to their feet and stampeded to the gate, without having been properly invited into the flying vehicle. I always relish this moment, since it allows me to make additional determinations about my fellow travelers. I know and I suppose that everyone knows that the vessel is loaded according to ever changing and utterly confusing rules. All VIPs of course can load at their leisure. The question comes when dealing with the uncontrolled masses that will have to loaded as if cattle to the slaughterhouse.

Le Mont Saint Michel

This subject is without a doubt a favorite of mine. I contend that waiting until the last sensible moment to board is advisable for the various reasons. Having not to stand in yet another line. Having not to elbow the overweight foreign lady with two unwieldy young children carrying not only her purse but also an array of large and small bags. Having to be comfortably seated and buckled in your assigned, and having to assist the same lady to place the aforementioned array of bags in the overhead compartment.

By boarding when there is no line you have some benefits. Similarly to arriving late to any party, you get everyone’s attention, with possible assumptions of self-importance. You also get to scope out the placement of passengers, and avoid potentially menacing characters, such as snoring individuals, wide body persons impeding access or exit from inside seats, and not to discount misbehaving toddlers and crying infants. By entering later you can also assess the remaining empty seats to be able to capture an empty row to stretch out and sleep during the long sojourn.

Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee

So I waited until there was no line, even though my seat section has been already invited to board. As I entered our transatlantic vessel I was directed by one of the still then courteous flight attendant to use the left side corridor for faster access to my seat. I walked down the long corridor, not without encountering the slow passenger arranging their belongings on the overhead compartment, with no regard to how with their massive body they block the only passageway for me to use to reach my seat. After clearing several of these obstacles, I was getting close to my seat, by way of the efficient numbering system.

All of a sudden I see the disheveled man on a window seat, imagine my surprise, I was seated next to him on a two-seat row. I tried to contain my horror, based on all my theories about him. I proceeded to place my small bag on the closest overhead compartment. I prefer and whenever possible only to carry as small bag that I can either hang on my shoulder since I am a believer in traveling light and do not like to have anything in my hands when walking.

Toulon

I proceeded to sit down and buckle up; I figure that if I am going to be seated I should also remain safely bucked up. I took a moment to collect my thoughts and plan my strategy to deal with the mysterious man next to me. I thought, I will order a stiff drink, relax and see what develops. Knowing a bit about human nature not by any academic study but by personal observation, I figured that like most mortals, given our proximity and the absence of any other person closer, that he would strike up a conversation, specially since were going to spend the night together.

Aix

The flight attendant now not as chipper as earlier, came by handing out a little bag of salty treats, and asking if we would care for a drink, since I was closer to her, I deferred to my seat companion to order first. He ordered a beer, my first real clue, he was an American, it was the accent, and the fact that it was cocktail hour and he ordered beer. I ordered a scotch whiskey. Alcoholic drinks were still free, dating this trip sometime during the last millennium.

I opened the tiny treats bag and begun consuming its contents. Being a patient man, I know that there was plenty of time before sleeping to start conversing. During this time, we were informed about the many safety measures of the aircraft. Only if you have never been on a flight before, this may of interest. But if it is your first time, it would be hard to take in so much information on top of having so many distractions, such as all the buttons on your armrest, the load of marketing material on the back of the seat in front of you, including the empty paper bag neatly folder without any labeling instructions.

Water landing?

Water landing?

I make a point to listen to bits and pieces of the public address system message, to see how the message has changed with the years. My favorite part is when they mention that “in the event of a water landing…” wait a minute, by definition a landing is on land, unless they have come up with landing strips made of water. This vehicle is not equipped with any water landing gear anyway, so why even mention it. After all I want to go to Paris, not the English Channel or even worst the North Sea, my ticket says so explicitly.

Always after this part I start dreaming or imagining what my slim chances would be of survival in case of the aforementioned water landing. I figured, and this I have proved by personal experience, that if I fall on hard ground, such as practically all ground, the damage to my body would be greater than falling on water. I have experienced both.

Since I am in the middle to the rear part of the vessel where the cattle is stored, my chances would be better than the VIPs in front. I have deduced this by my keen observation on the useful and sometimes terrifying “Safety Instructions Card”. The diagram of the possible “Water Landing” shows a generic icon of an airplane on a nose dive towards what seems peaceful rippling water, no landing gear is shown deployed. Therefore no landing is to be had. The real picture is too horrifying to even ponder, but if I was to survive the initial first impact, thanks to my secure waist belt, and be spared by all initial wave of flying objects such as luggage, shoes, meal carts. I would then only have to duck all VIP section debris moving backwards at almost the speed of light accompanied by the rushing water of whatever body of water we happen to have just “Landed” on.

After recovering from this short and unpleasant initial shock, I would have to locate a “Safety Instructions Card” to figure out what to do next since I did not really pay attention to the public address. In desperation, seeing floating around me a myriad of recognizable and unrecognizable items, I would release my seat, remembering something about “Guiding Lights” that would direct me to the nearest exit. I would reasonably disregard that instruction in view that the nearest exit has just providentially materialized by a large break in the cabin located just above my head. My decision to use this exit would also be precipitated by the fact that the cabin in front and behind me would be rapidly sinking into the very dark and of yet unidentified body of water. This horrific experience would resemble most horror films happening at night confirmed by being suddenly woken up in the middle of an otherwise routine overnight transatlantic flight gone bad, as well as, seeing an incredibly gorgeous starry night.

I get myself free from my seat and feel buoyant in the cold water, by now I have my “Life Jacket” securely attached to my torso, I have not given in to pulling the handle that supposedly inflates the “Jacket” as per instructions. The “Light Beacon” attached to the top of one side of the “Jacket” has not yet started flashing even though water has already made ample contact with it. The “Safety Instructions Card” did not specified when or how it would light up, perhaps it needs to submerged for as long as 5 minutes before kicking in, I cannot hold my breath that long!

Enough, I said to myself as I opened my eyes when the lukewarm flight attendant handed me my second tiny bottle of scotch whiskey. Back to my companion, he was reading a magazine not provided by the airline. Contact was still to be made. I had taken some time to let my imagination run wild with the “Unlikely Event of a Water Landing”. Not more than ten minutes had elapsed. The plastic cup for my drink held only held ice covered with a thin film of the Scottish medicinal brew. I drank it, enjoying its smooth taste, and poured half of the contents of the second bottle, so not to dilute the first with the ice.

I could no further restrain my curiosity, and decided to find a way for me to engage my flight companion. Finding not an awkward moment, I casually turned towards him and asked, “Where are you going”. He replied, “to Germany, to be exact to Bonn”, “and you” he asked, I responded to Paris. I continued to keep the conversation going “I am meeting my wife in Paris, she will arrive tomorrow from Israel” I thought he would find this intriguing, maybe the stuff of spy novels. I wanted to divulge more information to extend him an opportunity for dialogue. He said that he was traveling to present a paper at a conference. I asked, are you a scientist? No, he responded, I am a professor.

Now things started to fall into place, of course, how did I not see it, a professor of some field of liberal arts stuck in some sixties time warp, it fitted very well. I asked, what field do you teach? He said English literature; it made sense, an intellectual. I asked, where are you coming from? I live in DC, he said. I was surprised since he seemed somewhat out of place in the very conservative and more formal DC that I knew.

I also live in the DC area, I said. Where about? He asked. I live in Bethesda, and you? I asked, in Silver Spring, but I am not originally from here. I said, nor I, I was born in Lima Peru. He said I am from Brooklyn. So we continued exchanging information. We got to more personal data, he told me that he was Jewish, and that his parents were heavily involved with the communist party back in the forties, that he remembered how they spoke of being spied on by Hoover and the FBI. It was a fascinating story; he seemed to be proud of his parents’ political involvement. Dinner arrived and we continued chatting.

Later came the movie, the lights dimmed, people got as comfortable as possible, and I started to think of how my day was going to be in Paris while I waited for the arrival of my wife. I went through a series of events, disembarkation into Charles de Gaulle airport, presenting the passport to the appropriate authorities, proceeding through customs and possibly having to open my bag for inspection. Removing the keys to our new bag from the back pocket of my blue yeans.

Luggage key

To confirm the location of the keys to the new bag, I passed my right hand trying to feel for the keys on my right back pocket, nothing there. I stuck my hand all the way in the right pocket, to find it empty. Quickly, I switched hands, stuck my left hand into my back left pocket, thinking that maybe it was a simple error of right or left pocket. When my hand reached the bottom of the pocket my blood pressure began to raise, the sign was a throbbing sound in my right ear.

I searched both my front pockets unsuccessfully, now my worst nightmare was beginning to come true. I jumped to my feet, opened the overhead compartment to search for the missing key in my carrying bag. I brought it down, sat down, searched everywhere without any success. A cold sweat coated my skin. I began imagining a best outcome scenario at my arrival at the Paris airport. If I did not get asked to open my bag, I could take it to a locksmith and have it opened before my wife’s arrival. I had 24 hours before her arrival to sort out my miserable predicament. I would not have to tell her that I forgot the key at home, and ensure her wrath. I could possibly come out unscathed.

Les gendarmes

But, what if I was asked to open my bag? This worst case scenario was very dark. I would have to explain in my broken French that I had left the keys at, being the good person that I am, they would immediately believe me. At the time, France had been plagued by a series of terrorist acts, bombings specially. The authorities had deployed a massive force of very menacing black uniformed policemen with automatic weapons throughout city. It was somewhat scary. They may suspect me of having a bomb in my bag, they could throw me to the ground and guns blazing, drag everyone out and bring the bomb squad, remove my bag to a secured location and blow it up with all our belongings in it. How could I then explain this to my wife, this would definitely precipitate her usual wrath. My head was spinning, almost to the point of fainting.

But why was I so worried, to the point of loosing consciousness? Let me explain, my wife is somewhat of a perfectionist, type A. She not only is extremely demanding of herself, which I find at times even hazardous to her health, but as I have learned during my years with her, very demanding of everyone, period. Now, I emphasize it with the word period, because it is her favorite means of ending any discussion, of course at a point to her advantage, not allowing any rebuttal. This singular trait was not there, I did not see it, or was not revealed in the early stages of our relationship. Like most people she only put her best face forward, so did I.

Putting my head between my legs to try to bring back some blood to my scattered brain and recover enough to survive the rest of my trip until meeting my final fortune, I considered my companion. I thought that if I disembarked with him, my presence would be potentially more noticeable, since he and I shared elements in our appearance. I had to find a way to extricate myself from his company, then possibly my chances of not being picked for bag search may decrease. So I started thinking of how to do it.

I also remembered that a friend of ours was living in Paris, thankfully I had her phone number with me. If my bag was not destroyed in the blast, I would call her and ask her if she knew of where to take it to get it opened without even a scratch. Knowing full well that my wife would most likely inspect the bag after its maiden voyage, for sturdiness, structural integrity, locking devices functions, and probably many others that I did not even want to think about at this particular moment.

I formulated a plan to rid myself of the disheveled man. I was going to remain in my seat and let my companion and everyone else in the rows next to me disembarks before me. I would use some idiotic excuse, such as not feeling well, or that my feet did not fit back in my shoes after the long trip, or that I was going to go to the bathroom before getting off the plane. This would also allow me to collect my bag immediately, since it would most likely be going around on the conveyor belt, and try to casually walk after the officials had had their full with most of the passengers on the plane.

I began questioning the second part of my strategy. When I was in high school I found that by seating in the back of the classroom, I was most likely to be caught or blamed for misbehaving. It never failed that when something happened, most teachers looked to the students in the back. I guess that most students felt that being in the back of the room would be shielded by the rest of the students in front of them. I decided to sit in the first row, right in front of the teacher, and take my chances there. It was amazing what I got away with, specially when I whistled without puckering my lips. Inevitably the guys in the back got blamed for it. I suspect this is how camouflage works.

I decided to leave the plane as soon as possible, vetoing my earlier strategy. This is my usual method, I am a fast walker, and I can pass some of the passengers on my way to the first encounter with the local authorities. Achieving this goal, is made possible by the interminable series of corridors, stairs and general obstacles to be found at most international arrivals. I went through the immigration checkpoint without any trouble; I am a holder of a passport from a developed nation. I reached the luggage retrieval location, and noticed that I was the first one there; I must have run in my desperation, I was hoping that this did not arise any suspicion.

There was the chime and the light indicating that the conveyor belt was going to start turning. The first bag appeared, the second and so on. Mine was not yet out. My bag was brand new, of that dark plastic color of all bags of their kind. I could easily single it out, since we had spent more than usual to get it, making it less common. It was also medium sized, not the usual size, I thought. There it appeared, when I went to pull it from the belt, and saw that it had scratches that were not in keeping with its age or use, I realized that it was not mine. I released it, and thought what a coincidence, someone else has the same taste as us. I kept my eye on it to see who would retrieve it. It was a smartly dressed, European businessman. I knew this by his clothes.

He walked away, rolling his bag, the same way I would do with mine. All of a sudden it occurred to me that if by any chance there were other bags like mine on the flight, maybe the passengers would have locked them, in which case they would have the keys to open them. I could spot them, and ask them if they could let me try to use their key to see if it would work on my bag. This theory is based not on any scientific knowledge, but on observation. It seems difficult for me to believe that the small keys and or locks that come with inexpensive to moderately priced luggage could be as unique as say a house key. It is preposterous that if you by a .79-cent lock you probably are actually getting a .39-cent lock with an .11-cent key.

With this new tack, I decided to put my theory to work. My bag appeared, I pulled off the conveyor belt, and stood as if waiting for another bag, hoping not to arise any undue suspicion as to my delay. This allowed be to focus on the remaining bags. I saw two of the same bags appear in sequence, waited until they were retrieved. They belonged to a very smartly dressed, well preserved and good looking middle aged American woman traveling with what appeared to be her teenage daughter. I knew this not because of the mother but because of the daughter; she was dressed like an upscale yet typical private school teen girl.

I approached them and with as much charm as I could muster at that early hour of the morning, asked, “Are these your bags” mom responded, “Yes they are” I said, “I have an identical bags as yours, and I locked them leaving the keys behind in DC”. I did not want to appear anymore the fool that I was by divulging any unnecessary and embarrassing information. My plea needed to touch them to make the time to address my request. I continued, “Maybe you have locked your bags, and you have the keys, and I could try to see if they would open my bag” She looked at me perplexed, thinking possibly, that this had been the best pick up line she had ever heard. It took her a little while to react, suddenly, she said, “I do not lock my bags… but I may have the keys with me” I thought, my line really works, even on this beautiful and affluent middle age women. She could have stopped at “I do not lock my bags” but she was being nice even after the long sojourn.

She put her well-manicured and jeweled hand into her Louis Vouitton bag, and produced an adorned key chain with at least 23 keys of all sizes. She said, “It may be one of these” and handed it to me. I was surprised with her openness. I later thought that we where in a controlled area and that I could not have been a scam artist in search of an easy prey, or was I? I quickly scanned the keys and found small ones that resembled the one for my bag. Her daughter got involved, she came forward and said, “I think I know what they look like” She was also being a Good Samaritan. I said to her “I think these are them” to keep them involved in my misery. I bent down and tried both keys on both locks of my bags unsuccessfully. I almost dropped to the floor, not only my lock and key theory had been shot down, but the impending encounter with the bomb squad seemed more imminent. I recovered as well as expected, and extended my hand to return the keys. She seemed genuinely disappointed, sensing that I had touched her maternal instinct. I needed my mother to come to my rescue in my hour of need. I thanked her, and saw them walk away with a mixture of abandonment and manly desire for the woman that had responded to me in a variety of ways.

I had to pull myself together, during this exchange, several other passengers and more importantly several bags had passed by me undetected. I pulled my bag again toward the bag dispenser, and waited for my next subjects. Not more than two minutes elapsed, when I saw another bag like mine. A stout elderly gentleman from the Indian subcontinent took it, he was accompanied by what appeared to be his wife, they where at the far side on the bag dispenser. I took my bag and approached them with a smile. By now I knew that I had touched mom with the puppy in need line, it had worked. I decided to use the same approach with the wife. She was a bit heavy, had an erect posture and was elegantly dressed; she had a kind face, like the face of a favorite aunt. He was wearing a suit and tie. These were the travelers of my early childhood.

I used the same line on the wife; she responded with even more openness than the gorgeous woman, with a more mature motherly feeling. But before she could say a word, her already sweaty husband that had been collecting their luggage, said “She doesn’t let me lock the bags because I can never find the keys”. I felt relieved, I had found a twin soul, this man had a wife just like mine. Would I look like him if I was unfortunate to reach his age? I guess I was fooled by her gentle appearance. He said “I don’t even carry the keys with me”. I understood very well his meaning, he did not dare even carry the keys, in the unfortunate event that he would without malice lock the bags, then misplace the keys and incur the wrath of the one to be obeyed. He was a wiser man than I.

I recalled why my bags were lock in the first place. During our search for the perfect bag, locks had always been a requisite to my wife. I suppose that her traveling experience has shown the necessity for them. She travels to third world countries where things sometimes disappear, and good locks are an everyday necessity. I thanked the Indians, and they began walking away, she was in front with only her small purse hanging from her right arm, he was pushing a luggage cart topped with bags, and had a large bag strapped across one shoulder.

By now my chances I thought had become very slim, most passengers had collected their bags. While watching the Indians disappear through a sliding door, I noticed on the side a bunch of bags and a couple of luggage handling French employees. One of which, motion to me to come closer, I did, he asked if I had any problem with my bags. It seemed that their job was to make sure bags were pick up, and that unclaimed bags were taken care of. I approach him and said in English “I have forgotten my keys, my bags are locked”. He did not fully understand, but his colleague did. He came forward; looked at my bag closely and said with a French accent something that sounded like “Wait here”.

He turned around, got into a freight elevator behind him and disappeared. His tone was very French, if you know what I mean. I did not know what to expect. I waited about five minutes, during this time I thought that he was going to rat me out to the menacing black uniformed gendarmes with automatic weapons. The elevator doors would open, they would storm out, pull my bag, blow it up with OUR things in it, not to ever recover them. I would be detained as a possible terrorist, questioned for two days, would not be able to meet my wife at the airport, she would kill me!

The elevator door opened, the same employee appeared, approaching me, stretching his arm inserted a key and turned it opening the lock. I almost had a bowel movement. He the handed over the key to me. I unlocked the second lock, then looked at him. With eternal thanks, I said “Merci beaucoup”. He actually spoke some English. He said “Take it” I said “Really… thank you”. He said in his broken English “we have master keys for most of the better luggage brands” Our purchase had been finally validated by a very helpful French luggage handler.

Bon voyage!

Le Voyage de Paris

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