100 Days of Sabwavique

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It’s been 100 days (more or less) of this Sabwavique experiment, and it’s time for a midterm review and a preview of what’s ahead.

As I write this post we are finishing the European portion of the program. It has been a bit aimless and winding, as it was meant to be. It has also been good training for the rest of the Sabwavique. To summarize, it has included:

(1) Paris / Stuck in Paris due to air traiff controller strike;
(2) Camino de Santiago, i.e., 800km of walking across the north of Spain in 35-40 days and passing through more towns than I could ever remember;
(3) Impromptu trip to Germany for John to visit friends made on the Camino, including Hanover, Hamburg, Sylt, and Berlin;
(4) Backpacking around Athens, Santorini, and Crete, featuring epic hikes and sleeping out on the beach on Crete;
(5) 3+ weeks in Portugal, including touring around with John’s parents and godparents, and 2 weeks of stay in Porto while John took language classes;
(6) Belgium beer tour with Cris’s mom, including Brussels, Tournai, Brugge, and various countryside breweries/abbies/restaurants;
(7) Scotland and England wandering, including Edinbourgh, Glasgow, Mull, Iona, Ulva, Oban, York, Newbury, London (still with Cris’s mom).

As a result of these experiences, I can now say:
– I can order coffee the way I like it in 7 different European countries;
– I have rented and driven cars in 5 of those countries, including that whole left side of the road thing;
– Americans have mastered the art of breakfast but failed to export this mastery.

Two of the biggest lessons for us going forward are: (a) it is hard to avoid tourism while traveling; and (b) we must avoid tourism. The best experiences we’ve had thus far have been the more in-depth and unusual experiences, such as the Camino de Santiago and backpacking around Crete. Part of the original idea was to do the kinds of things you just can’t do on the average vacation.

To that end, the next stage of the Sabwavique is as follows:

I go to Utah for 28 days of survival skills training at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School starting next week. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s cool because I will learn to rely minimal resources. Also, the wilderness has always been a place of rejuvenation and spirituality for me, so I’m looking forward to that. I will provide more explanation in the coming days, but if you’re interested, check out the description of the 28-day field course at www.boss-inc.com.

Meanwhile, Cris will head to Brazil to organize and then conduct a training conference for leaders of support groups for people with family members suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This is one of Cris’s true passions and something she became intimately familiar with as the marketing director of Clearview Treatment Center. She’s doing this on a strictly volunteer basis because she’s seen the amazing impact that Dialectical Behavioral Therapy can have on patients with BPD and their family members. After that, she heads to Montezuma, Costa Rica to spend about 4 weeks at La Escuela del Sol (which was founded by a friend of ours from the MBA program) to work on her yoga, scuba diving, surfing, and fire dancing. That’s right, fire dancing. For more on that check out their website at www.laescueladelsol.com.

After that, we join back up in California to spend some quality time with my brother, his wife, and their three awesome little dudes. Then, we will attend Burning Man up in the far reaches of Nevada before heading off to southeast Asia for more international roaming.

So, a hundred days in and it’s looking great. I’m going to close it out with a few words from Cris (unedited stream of consciousness, I swear):

“In summary, the countryside of Spain looks exactly like the countryside of France, the countryside of Belgium, and the coutryside of the UK. Edinbourgh is the Athens of the north, Mull is the Crete of the north, and York is the Brugge of the UK. Paris, London, Lisbon, and Santorini are still unbeatable but something must be done about the mounds of tourists. Please go somewhere else in your next vacation. Oh, forgot about one, Iona is the Santiago of the north. Ah, something needs to be said about the Portugal. The song for Portugal is: ‘Church, church, church, port wine.’ This of course was derivated from the Camino Rap, which is: ‘Wheat, wheat, wheat, little town.’ In summary, I like beer, I like wine, and I like cafe con leche.”

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So long, Europe.

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So, Scotland Really is Special…

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Okay, I’ll admit it. Cris and I came to Scotland because we didn’t check the whole Europe visa thing until after we bought our tickets. So, when we checked it out, the UK seemed like the most viable option for dealing with the fact that our flights out were about 10 days over the 90-day limit. Fine, we said, we’ll just spend some time getting to know the Scottish side of life. This seemed nice since my grandmother always claimed a direct link to the MacQuarrie clan. Plus, I own a modernized version of a kilt with the MacQuarrie tartan (see: sportkilt.com), so I’m totally Scottish.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that fired up about this part of the trip. I wasn’t going to be able to play golf, we didn’t have a reason to include Scotland other than bad planning, and it was going to be expensive. The good news, however, was that in the spirit of my brilliant wife, we didn’t plan it beyond a couple days. That gave us the flexibility to follow our urge, once we had arrived, to check out the Isles of Mull, Iona, and Ulva.

Several people had mentioned that the Isle of Iona was a special place, or as they say, a “thin” place – in the sense that there is a thin layer separating the material and the spiritual. As for the Isle of Ulva, it was the seat of the MacQuarrie clan. To get to either one you must first take the ferry to the Isle of Mull. So it seemed obvious that we’d go to Mull, spend a night there, and figure out later if we wanted to go to Iona or Ulva first.

In spite of my lack of enthusiasm, Iona did not disappoint. It’s hard to describe the feeling of the place. The best I can suggest is that you imagine watching the sun set over the sea on the western horizon at 9:30pm. Then, while the sun is still setting at 10:30pm, you turn for a moment to the eastern horizon and a bright full moon is rising above the sea on that side. The feeling is something like that. No pictures could really capture this, but here’s our best effort:

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The next day, we drove across to the other side of Mull to the “ferry” that takes you to Ulva. The ferry is just a guy with a little motor boat. He crosses the one-minute distance from Ulva to Mull to pick you up only when you move the white panel to expose the red panel, like so:

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Ulva was another place I’d like to visit again. It’s almost hard to imagine that a whole clan, among other kinds of tribes throughout history, inhabited this tiny island. I can, however, imagine camping here, which is more or less what entire communities did throughout the milennia. Again, it felt like a “thin” place, and I wish I had more time to explore the place that the Vikings who would become the MacQuarries called “Ullfur”, their word for Wolf Island.

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Porto, Belgium, Passports, and Scotland

Well, I’m again overdue for an update. It’s been hard to get around to it while constantly moving from one hotel to the next, each of which charges a ton for wifi. (Seriously, how is it that I pay 5 euros at a hostel and get free wifi, but then I pay a boatload for a real hotel and it’s 15 euros more to connect to the internet?). Oh yeah, and then there are those little issues like the fire drills associated with your wife losing her passport somewhere in Belgium a couple days before you’re required to leave continental Europe or risk incurring potential fines and travel bans. But I’ll get to all that. Just to warn you, in order to make up some time, this single post will cover all of the following, each section labelled so you can skip to whatever interests you most:

– 2 weeks in Portugal
– 6 days in Belgium and its Beers
– The Cristiane Passport Experience
– 3 Days in Scotland (so far)

2 Weeks in Portugal
Since I lasted posted an update, Cris and I have spent two weeks in Porto, Portugal, where I took Portuguese classes and she prepared for the conference she’s organizing/leading in Brazil in mid-July. We got very comfortable in Porto and enjoyed the general lifestyle and the low prices for good stuff. Our days were on more of a regular routine than we’ve had in a while, and it was nice to settle somewhere for a change.

Meanwhile, my Portuguese has improved notably, which is great because I’m the kind of person who always wants to look back at things as somehow productive (hence, the “sab” in “sabwavique”). This was particularly clear when my final assignment was to give a 10-minute talk about my life as a lawyer and my reasons for taking a year off. I found that I was able to communicate more or less what I wanted without much struggle, which was not the case two weeks prior. So I’ve made great strides with respect to that goal, which feels good. That progress has continued since Cris’s mom joined us in Belgium. Say hi to Fatima the Fabulous:

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6 Days in Belgium and Its Beers
So we met up with Fatima (pictured above) in Brussels and tracked down as many types of Belgian ale as we could handle in 6 days. The beer was delicious, the cities and country villages were charming, and the people were more than delightful. We rented a car (reasonably sized, for a change) and hit Tournai, Leuze-en-Hainaut, Westvleteren, Brugge, headed back to Brussels to visit the Brazilian Consulate, and Antwerp for the afternoon before leaving. I love small countries, and I highly recommend Belgium.

For those of you who care (i.e., Greg Richardson at www.strategicmonk.com), below are some of the amazing beers we tasted:

We started with the last remaining brew that is truly a lambic beer. They make it by leaving it out and letting the wild yeast float in and ferment. And they pray a lot. This is how beer was made for about 6000 years leading up to Pastuer’s discovery that yeast was a living organism. It’s very very sour. We have it a lot better than they did for those 6000 years. The pink ones in the second picture are made with sour cherry or raspberry.

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Then we headed out into the countryside and found the last remaining steam-powered brewery in Belgium where Jean-Louis, a history teacher, spends most of his time keeping the Brasserie a Vapeur alive and pumping out Saison de Pipaix (in the style of the farmhouse Belgian ale) and the more modern and spicier Vapeur Cochonne (whose label had to be censored before shipping to the US due to the depictions of a lascivious swine).

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While at Vapeur, we actually met the author of the Lonely Planet travel guide for Belgium, who was extremely helpful in providing pointers for the rest of our time in Belgium.

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Then we ventured into the monastic tradition to explore trappist ale. We headed to Westvleteren where the monks of the St. Sixtus Abbey make just enough beer to support their lifestyle. The only place you can buy the Westvleteren trappist ale is at the cafe across the street from the abbey, which is in the middle of nowhere. It was absolutely one of our favorites and we enjoyed it on the patio on a beautiful afternoon.

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We all agreed that an exceptional example of a trappist was the Rochefort, which we discovered at Gasthoff Siphon, a restaurant that is famous among locals for its river eel (which reminds of an oily version of trout, no joke). As a result of that great beer with that food, we decided we needed a few more.

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They also have cool towns in Belgium:

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The Cristiane Passport Experience
On Tuesday, while in Brugge, Belgium, we were considering driving to Gent when Cris suddenly couldn’t locate her passport. After searching every nook and calling our former hotels in Brussels and Tournai, it was not to be found. Unfortunately, this was not the usual lost passport dilemma, as further descrbied herein:

As non-EU residents, we have to get out of the “Schengen Area” after 90 days. The Schengen Area includes most of continental Europe but does not include the UK, and that’s the main reason the UK ended up on our itinerary. As of Tuesday, we had been in Schengen for 86 days, with one day to go before heading to Edinburgh. Cris needed the final three days in order to get back to Lisbon for her flight to Brazil. Our options were as follows: (1) Cris obtains a document from the Brazilian Consulate that allows a Brazilian who has lost her passport to leave Schengen within the next 48 hours; Cris purchases a last minute flight to Brazil that costs a fortune; John and Fatima head to Scotland without Cris, or (2) Cris – and potentially John and Fatima – stay in Belgium/Schengen and wait for the Brazilian Consulate to issue a new passport; Cris and John risk a fine of 1000 euros and a 3 year ban from travel in Europe. Obviously, neither option was acceptable.

That’s when Fatima the Fabulous (pictured above), suggested we call that one dear cousin who happens to be a Brazilian diplomat of substantial distinction (and who will remain nameless here, but to whom we are eternally grateful). Within 15 minutes, while we stayed on Skype with him, he managed to influence the local consulate in Brussels to provide Cris with a new passport on a same-day basis provided she appear in Brussels the following day with a variety of dubiously relevant documents. Luckily, all of the documents we needed but didn’t have on hand had been emailed between the two of us at some point in the past year. Wow.

Cris spent the rest of the day finding a printer and getting things in order. We then celebrated by toasting to the Cousin over several Rochefort trappist beers (our collective favorite). The following morning we headed to Brussels at the crack of dawn. Of course, we couldn’t find the consulate in Brussels and that was yet another fire drill, but it all came off in the end. Thus, within 28 hours of the moment Cris realized she was in deep trouble, she was out again, unscathed. This is the kind of stuff that makes my wife the legend she is.

Oh, by the way, Cris was required to get the passport in the name of Cristiane Girao Shenk because our marriage is now registered in Brazil, and that’s the name she chose when we registered. Coincidentally, however, several months ago she accidentally reserved her plane ticket to Edinburgh in that name despite the fact that she booked every other ticket on this trip under her maiden name. What? How? (Renata, if you’re reading, is what you were talking about?).

Scotland
Enough of this! I’ll tell you about Scotland next time.

Okay, one teaser:

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An Overdue Update from Portugal

Well, it’s been a while since my last post, so here is the quick blow-by-blow since last time, followed by pictures:

– Returned to Lisbon and met up with my parents and godparents, debriefed two months of Camino, Greece, etc;

– Toured Lisbon for a few days guided by tour-guide Cris, crashed party for donors of Royal Palace Museum @ Royal Palace, which is now a museum (um, the people who donate to a royal palace/museum are the people who still have their grandaddy/king’s old miter….), regretted choice of jeans for evening wear, thanked god for choosing not to wear flip flops this one single time in your life

– Rented 9-person van for 6 people, suffered near heart attack driving unnecessarily large vehicle around tiny ancient European streets

– Headed to town of Sintra, read the brochure for a former residence turned amusement park, Quinta da Regaleira, which is described verbatim as “a magical symphonic poem in stone revealing the cosmic dimension of a phantasmogoric mansion”, enjoyed cafe beer, took nap, returned to appreciate phantasmogoric-ness of the entire town the following day, felt satisfied with level of magically symphonic stone poetry, etc

– On to town of Evora and it surrounds, checked out ancient Roman ruins and ancient-er Druid ruins, marvel at how they were able to move those stones around without the use of an opposable thumb, or whatever, drove 9-person van through smallest corridor in 9-person van history

– Arrived in Porto, ate good food, tasted Port wine, purchased Port wine, drank Gin & Tonics, appreciated parents and godparents for indubitable sense of self

– Said goodbye and thanks to parents and godparents for a ton of fun, reflection, and new memories

– Settled into new home for two weeks in Porto, realized that it’s on the actual route of the “Portuguese Camino”, assumed it was a sign from God

– Started Portuguese classes, explained to Portuguese teacher that the Brazilian accent is actually the proper accent….

Check out the photographs below.

Visiting various important locations in Lisbon:

The one and only photo we were brave enough to take of the Royal Palace/Museum party crashing:

Phantasmogoric / cosmic / metaphorical town of Sintra:

Ancient ruins in and around Evora:

Special thanks to our tour-guide:

More special thanks to Godparents:

Final special thanks to Parents:

Now, off to Portuguese school.  Follow that arrow:

Seeking: Private Greek Beach

As I mentioned in my last post, we spent about 10 days roaming around the Greek islands. After a few bumpy rides (see last post), we had several peaceful days taking in stunning views, hiking the beautiful Cretan coastline, sunbathing on remote beaches, and enjoying the hospitality of the Greeks. The following pictures tell the story the best.

First, a couple of unplanned days on Santorini.

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Then we took the horrible boat to Crete (see last post for details).

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This was our route around Crete.

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The hike to Sougia was full of stunning views.

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While we were in Sougia, we heard a rumor about Sweetwater Beach, reachable only by foot or kayak. But the car was in Paleohora, and the way to get to Sweetwater was by hiking from Loutro or Sfakia.

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As you can see, we reached Sweetwater. It was amazing. So, since we had sleeping bags and the weather was perfect, we just decided to spend the night under the stars. Applause for Cris, who had never done that before. Here are some pictures of the last few stages in the journey around Crete.

Goats on the road to Sfakia, a typical sight.

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A 30 euro hotel with ocean view in Loutro. Not bad at all….

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Sweetwater Beach from above.

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Some wine and simple Greek food for lunch and dinner at the shack on the beach. Iorgos, the shack owner, left the wine and food behind so we would have a romantic evening on our private beach.

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The goat that woke us up to see if we had his breakfast.

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The amazing hike out of Sweetwater to Sfakia.

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Then we took an overnight boat (with beds) back to Athens and had a day to explore the ancient sites and modern cafe/bar scene.

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After all that, we returned to Lisbon to meet up with my parents and godparents. It was a wonderful wander around the islands, and something I would recommend to anyone. Now we’re off to walk around Lisbon and hear stories about my awesome little nephews, Cole, Dean, and Emmett. (For more on them, see: Diving Into the Waves).

First: Figure Out How to Get to Crete; Second: Figure Out the Rest

If there were a road to Crete, I would have taken it. Crete, however, is an island, which is one of the several things I’ve learned in the past few days of our impromptu side trip to the Greek islands. Here’s a retrospective itinerary of how we got to Crete and then to the idyllic town of Sougia.

STEP ONE: GET TO CRETE

5/21

– 11:40 pm flight from Lisbon to Athens, arriving 5:30 a.m.

5/22
– 6:00 am bus to the port, arriving 7:00-ish
– 7:10 am, realize there is no boat to Crete until 9:30 pm, but there is a boat to Santorini at 7:30am
– 7:30 am, board the boat to Santorini, hope to get a ride from there to Crete
– 3:30 pm, arrive in Santorini port, get in a van to Tony’s Villa. Tony “The Legend” drives and talks
– 6:00 pm, talk to boat ticket agent who says there’s no way to know about boats a day ahead

5/23
– 10:30 am, inquire about boats to Crete, still no information but maybe they know in the port
– 10:35 am, drive to the port, even less information, boats to Milos cancelled due to weather (weather looks great to me…)
– 11:45 am, drive to Oia, enjoy a gyro and the view of the caldera (see caldera below, plus bonus view of beautiful wife)

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– 2:00 pm, drive to capital of Fira, ask about tickets to Crete. “Um, I don’t know, it doesn’t look good. I will have to make a call.” She makes a call, no answer. We wait. There are still two seats on a 6:00pm boat. Hooray!
– 6:00 pm, the boat has not arrived, two other boats to Crete are in the harbor, having a hard time getting people on and off due to high wave situation
– 7:45 pm, the two boats to Crete that are not ours have finally gotten people off and then on and have now left, making room for our boat
– 8:15 pm, we board our boat to Crete, it is only half full and we wonder why those tickets were so hard to come by. The boat begins to rock from side to side. Violently.
– 8:30 pm, boat leaves the port, still rocking violently from side to side and now front to back as well
– 8:35 pm, boat engine stops
– 8:40 pm, boat engine starts again
– 8:45 pm, boat increases speed, rocking increases tenfold, puking commences
– 10:00 pm, 95% of the passengers have utilized the special bags that were passed out by the crew, including Cris and me
– 11:30 pm, the 2-hour journey concludes after 3 hours of pain

STEP TWO: FIGURE OUT THE REST

– 11:50 pm, the first two places do not have rooms, Hotel Irini has a room, take it

5/24
– 12:05 am, look for food, feel lucky that a convenience store is open, wait, there’s a happy noise around the corner – a restaurant is open! Enjoy delicious Greek fare.
– 1:00 am, get to bed. Where do we go tomorrow and how do we get there? Figure it out in the morning.
– 9:00 am, wake up, fall asleep, wake up, shower, nap in shower, get out of shower
– 9:40 am, get coffee/breakfast, buy map, rent tiny car.
– 11:40 am, check out and pick up tiny car (see car below)

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– 12:00 pm, drive to Paliohora via Hania – “just follow the signs to Hania”
– 12:40 pm, realize you went the wrong way
– 1:20 pm, back to square one, realize there are no signs to Hania
– 3:20 pm, get to Hania, stop for directions to Paliohora, verify directions to Paliohora
– 3:40 pm, begin drive over mountain to south side of the island on extremely curvy road, remember how you felt last night on the boat
– 4:40 pm, arrive in sleepy beach town of Paliohora, realize this was a good idea after all (see picture below)

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– 6:30 pm, eat even more delicious Greek fare, hatch plan to walk to Sougia the next day

5/25
– 7:00 am, wake up and get breakfast buffet worth every penny
– 8:45 am, begin hike to Sougia, take in perfect weather and views of blue sea, beaches, cliffs, Mediterranean awesomeness, realize that this was the best idea ever, arrive in even sleepier beach town of Sougia and reaffirm the fact that this was the best idea ever. Enjoy a drink on the beach. (See pictures below).

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Arrival

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Well, two days ago I walked into Santiago de Compostela. It was a little bit triumphant, a little relieving, and little sad. It was nice to arrive, but as they say, it’s about the walking, not the arriving. So, I won’t try to sum up the journey with trite conclusory statements other than to say that it definitely fell into the category of things delicious. Now for some statistics.

The Butcher’s Bill
790 kilometers
36 days
8 blisters
2 sore tendons
1 24-hour flu
0 regrets

Country’s Represented
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, USA, Venezuela (and I’m sure there were others I can’t remember now)

Inspirational People Who I Saw Walking the Camino
– A woman with her physically and mentally disabled son
– Autistic 24-year-old twin brothers
– Blind woman guided by sister
– 80-year-old man
– Cancer patient

Who walks the Camino? He or she who chooses to.

What is the ultimate lesson of the Camino? If you really need to know, start walking.

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