Thursday, February 26, 2015

16: On the Irian-Southwestern Railway Line

Alan's train, seen here cruising along the Putney Bay shore.
Mt. Hayes, in the distance, is often snow-capped in winter, and shows its plume of steam. 

Alan settled into his seat in the middle car.

The first car was also the engine, and the last car was the dining-and-club car, plus baggage and mail. The train had an aged, and often-restored look to it, that somehow felt comforting. As he entered the car, Alan saw a small brass plaque mounted by the door, which declared, in Russian and English: "This train car, proudly built in 1956, is a gift of the people of Czechoslovakia, 1982." Cream-colored paint and varnished wood trim filled the cars' interior, with seats of fabric upholstery sporting patterns of slightly-faded red roses and wisteria. The seats were spacious, arranged in sets of two that faced the next set of two, instead of all facing forward.

He settled into his seat with a new book titled Eleanor and Park, a novel about a pair of 16-year-olds. Other passengers selected seats around him. He noticed many teenagers and slightly older-looking men and women with backpacks, and a few families; but the car was nowhere near full when the train started out.

It took only a few minutes to reach the first stop, in Alison, and more passengers boarded. Here an older man in shorts and a flannel shirt sat in the seat apposite of his, jarring Alan's comfort zone. He wasn't yet ready to engage in any conversations this early in the morning...

His seatmate didn't say anything, so Alan looked out at the scenery. The tracks followed the coastline just above the beach, and Alan watched the long and sizable waves rolling in. The ocean was calm except for the incoming swells. "That is pretty-good sized surf for this stretch of coast." the guy said, "I'll bet they'll be much larger once we round Roaring Cape! Do you surf?"  "Oh, no," Alan replied, finally looking at the fellow, who seemed friendly enough. "I grew up by the ocean, but I wasn't a big swimmer. I like watching the surf, though..."

The train stopped again at Margaret Beach: a cluster of small houses, a store, a pub, and a tiny train station next to a small sandy bay. "That's Ten-window Bay", offered his seatmate, to which Alan had no reply. Sloops and gaff-rigged sailboats sat still next to a boat ramp and repair yard. Not much happening; mail bags were exchanged, but no one got on or off.

As the train gathered speed again along the back side of the bay, Alan watched the grassy lowland glide by, and he could see massive Mt. Hayes looming in the distance to the north, a tiny plume of steam flowing from its peak. "Uh, do you know about that mountain?" Alan asked his neighbor. "I'm just wondering if it has ever erupted, or if it might some day..."

"Well, it hasn't erupted for many years, as far as I know. As for the future, I've heard many stories and rumors that it either won't ever erupt, or it'll go off tomorrow...take your pick!"


The volcano in question lies about 35 miles to the north, at the upper left corner on the map.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

15: Alan Takes the Train

New Island Railways
Schedule A-2
Victoria Harbor to ROSEVILLE with connections to PUTNEY.
Note: flag stops are listed in italics.

lv             Ustimovitch Sta. VICTORIA HARBOR       AM             8:00
arr            Alison Beach                                                                         8:08
arr            Margaret Beach                                                                     8:19
arr            Ruth                                                                                      8:26
arr            Grapevine                                                                                8:28
arr            Salazar                                                                                   8:32
arr            Eureka                                                                                    8:35
arr            de Salazar Ruins                                                                       8:38
arr           Newport                                                                                8:55
lv             Newport                                                                                 9:10
arr            Ocean Grove                                                                         9:14
arr            Sims Creek                                                                              9:24
arr            Roaring Cape                                                                           9:33
arr            Ocean Yard surf spot                                                                 10:03
arr            Brandonbeach                                                                       10:15
arr            Briarwood                                                                                10:41
arr            Palmer                                                                                   10:52
arr            Barnard, Thames, Wetwater                                                       10:57
arr            Beachwoods                                                                               11:01
arr            Thursby Bay                                                                              11:11
arr           Irian                                                                                       11:16
lv             Irian                                                                                        11.31
arr            Old Irian                                                                                11:36
arr            Contentment                                                                          11:46
arr            Stonebill - Clearcreek                                                 PM            12:04
arr            Beastey                                                                                   12:11
arr            Basker                                                                                    12:36
arr           Pendleton                                                                                1:10
lv             Pendleton                                                                                 1:25
arr            Antrim                                                                                     1:57
arr            Sajak                                                                                        2:14
arr           ROSEVILLE                                                                          2:30

lv             ROSEVILLE                                                                        3:03
arr            Hazelhurst Ruins                                                                       3:07    
arr            Hazel           (Alan will get off here)                                         3:10   
arr            Rosslea                                                                                   3:20     
arr            Skegness                                                                                 4:09
arr            Killen – High Spen                                                                 4:20
arr            Abbotsford                                                                            4:37
arr            Port Orford                                                                            4:55
arr            Portmore                                                                                5:22
arr           Putney Station PUTNEY                                                     5:30

After breakfast, Alan waved to a pedicab driver to get him to the train station, and he made it with only a few minutes to spare. The Ustinovitch Station, named after a famous Soviet railway builder, looked very European, though not as large as those in say, Paris. Once inside, he found his train easily enough: three-cars, electric-powered, rather elderly-looking, but turned out with a fresh coat of red paint. Another two-car train was waiting at a track marked "Blindhaven" which is a town to the coast to the southeast, Alan noticed on his map*.  A few other passengers were getting on his train, but it was otherwise quiet in the station, perhaps because it was early.  

He was taking this local train so he could see the coast and as much of the island that he could before getting off at his destination near the town of Hazel.  He could catch the late-morning Victoria-Putney express, which would get him there much faster...but perhaps another time. With his train schedule and his map in hand, and finds he'll be going down the southern coast to Roaring Cape, then on to the western end of the island, and then curving back to his destination near Hazel. Cool!

He climbs aboard, finds a seat, and hopes they have coffee.

*Alan is carrying the New Island Travel Map. To get your own copy, for $12 including postage, send a note to Lee at

Alan will be heading southwest; Blindhaven is the other way.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

14: No Cell Phones?

The next morning, Alan went downstairs early for breakfast; he needed to catch the 8 AM train to Hazel, his ultimate destination and home base. He was looking forward to getting there, a place he could only imagine, since he has seen no pictures. He brought along the train schedule he was given yesterday, and while looking it over, he noticed a few other lodgers already having coffee and reading the paper or talking. Then it hit him: no one was using a phone!

He also realized that he hadn't seen anyone with a cell phone last night at the cafe, or on the street...

Alan is no phone addict but he used it to check his e-mail, and was even learning text-messaging! Now he'll have to find a computer somewhere (he didn't bring a laptop) to see how his life is going. He wonders what Michelle is doing, but beyond her, he can't really think of too many people he'd want to talk to... And he has a hunch no one (except Michelle) really wants to talk to him either. He recalled verbatim his counselor-guy's suggestion to just "live in the moment, and pay full attention to whoever you happen to meet."  Hm.

At breakfast, he still feels unable to start any conversations. But when the young waitress comes for his order, he asks her about phones. "Well," she replies, "We just use the telephone in the hall." When he shows her his smartphone, she says, "Wow, I've heard of these, but I've never seen one up close - may I look? Holding Alan's phone, she marvels at how small and thin it is, and when she brushes a finger over the screen, she's flustered when all sorts of graphics and pictures flash at her. "Oh my, I don't know what I did here!" and hands it back. "That's okay," he says, and then orders from the menu.

Resigned to no phone, Alan realizes that maybe that's just as well. He likes the idea of not having to keep up with the damned thing! He gets his order of eggs, some sausages they call bangers, a glass of orange juice, and some oatmeal with raisins, butter, honey and milk. Ummm. The coffee is good too.

He left a generous tip, and walked out feeling just a bit lighter on his feet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

13: The Plakaford

Alan's lodgings, the Plakaford Hotel, were on a narrow side street off the Cold Water Channel. Alan felt a southern European influence in the look of these older buildings. The streets were mostly paved with brick or stone, liberally patched with concrete or sometimes asphalt. He loved the flowering vines and all the potted plants around his hotel, and the place itself looked quite inviting.

"Welcome to our hotel, Mrs. Plakaford said as Alan checked in. "We were expecting you."  Alan followed her up the stairs to a small room with a nice view over the outdoor cafe. "The room has a lavoratory, and the toilet is just down the hall and to the left. We serve coffee at 6:30, and breakfast at seven in our breakfast room, and I trust you will join us."  "Oh, yes," Alan said, "that would be wonderful."

Alan stood alone a minute in his room, the sun streaming in the window, and he realized, "Whoa, I'm really here aren't I?"

He then changed into his walking sandals and then took a stroll around the neighborhood, now cast in the pleasant shadows of a waning afternoon. He was finally on his own - wandering! He found that most of the shops, lodgings and restaurants were along a not-very-wide street called Broadway. In a small cafe near the main library, he found some reassuringly familiar dishes on the menu - and ordered a tuna sandwich and a cup of oolong tea. He found a well-thumbed newspaper, The Putney Times, and sat down at a table. The news was from all over New Island, with only one international story, about the Malaysian jetliner that went missing near here last March. The story described the pain of the families who had lost relatives on board, and then stated the the old airport at Vernon will continue to keep its runway lights on, just in case...

The tuna was grilled, served with lettuce and mayo on toasted home-made bread. It was so delicious he seemed to devour it in two bites! The bread, made from brown rice flour, was surprisingly light and fresh. He went back for a scone and another cup of tea, and sat down again and looked around at the other customers. They were having coffee and chatting. Several women and a few couples spoke quietly, giving each other some intimate looks, tweaking Alan's feeling of aloneness. He imagined they were all madly in love with each other. He could start a conversation with the two women closest to his table, but he felt very, uh, foreign, he didn't want to intrude, and he couldn't think of anything to say anyway!

It was getting late. Alan finished his tea and took his scone back to the Plakaford.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

12: A Look around Victoria Harbor

To give Alan a better look at the city, Maggie offered to drive the long way to his lodging. She seemed more relaxed, now that she had delivered Alan to her boss. Alan, also more relaxed, finally noticed the car they were in - a mint-condition VW Kombi!  "This thing must be 50 years old," he said. 

Margaret explained that these vans were imported in the late 1960s and are constantly maintained. "Automobiles are very rare here, due to the high tax on them, and because petrol is so expensive. These cars originally belonged to the Russian navy, and were left to us at Independence. They were already 30 years old - too beat-up to take with them. We cleaned them up and still use them!"

Part of the government fleet

Margaret drove down from Government Hill to the ferry at Archangel (bottom of map). Then she took him through the Bayocean neighborhood to Alison Beach, then north on Hwy 2 to Diane Island, then to Victoria Island (center of the map, above). They passed many pedestrians, some pedicabs, a few strange-looking cars with solar-panel roofs, a city bus or two but very few petrol-driven cars or trucks. The city was busy, but seemed eerily quiet. She drove him to Cold Water Lane where a room in an older pensione had been reserved. She pulled up and told Alan to speak to Mrs. Plakaford about his room. Alan took this as a cue to get his bag - Margaret seemed in a hurry to move on.

"Well, good luck Alan Faramond," she said from the driver's seat as Alan got out. "I trust you'll have an interesting journey on our island, and I'll expect you to call in once a week. There is a telephone at your apartment in Hazel. We've also enclosed some travel money with your other things. If you've no more questions, I must be getting on...!" 

And she roared off. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

11. Alan Meets Margaret and Wainwright

Alan's green card.

Alan grabbed his bag and walked off the ship. Other passengers were coming down as well, and Alan was touched by all the hugging and delighted greetings from friends and relatives - he warmed to the energy of their joy, even though he knew no one!

At the dock, Alan saw someone holding a sign with his name on it, and figured that might be Margaret the secretary.

"Hi, I'm Alan," he told her and they vigorously shook hands. Margeret was grinning and said "Well, I'm Maggie and it's a pleasure to have you. Um, let's go this way; I have a car and we'll go up to the Hill." She walked like this was a speed march. "Nice trip?" "Yes, very relaxing time on the boat." He then chatted on about the long airplane journey as he managed to keep up with her into the "foreign passenger" part of the shed. Just then he spotted Carla with some of her band-mates, but she didn't see him. Flustered, he turned back to Margaret, "I definitely loved the impromptu music on board the ship."

At the customs line, Margaret gave Alan a green card. "Here, sign this and you can legally stay here as long as you like. The customs agent will want to see it, along with your passport." The agent at the gate greeted Alan like a long-lost soul, surprising him. He asked a few questions, seemed pleased at Alan's replies, stamped his passport, and moved them through with a wink to Margaret. Alan was getting the idea that she is well-known here!

It was a fast trip to the Ministry of Trade. Margaret led Alan upstairs to the Tourism office, and Wainwright greeted him warmly. "We've been looking forward to meeting you ever since Maggie here so excitedly reacted to your drawing!  I trust you had a pleasant journey, yes? I have met only a few Americans, and very few of us here have ever ventured to the States...a frightful place if you believe the news we get here... Now, let's have a seat and we'll get on with it.

"I have a list of places we would like you to depict, Mr Faramond, places that we think speak strongly about this island-nation of ours. I'm sure you'll have questions, which Maggie should be able to address. Here is the list, and there are phone numbers so that you may reach us. I've secured a 90-day rail pass good on all train, bus and streetcar lines throughout the island, but unfortunately, I'm not able to give you a car. But then, many of the locations will be accessible only on foot! Here is also the address of the lodgings we have reserved for you, a train schedule, and a road map. Any questions Mr. Faramond?"

Alan looked over the paperwork (what a list!), then at Wainwright, a genial-looking guy he hoped he could rely upon. He was getting a little nervous about all this: it was really happening, he would be sent out to wander around this island and draw pictures for a guidebook. Did they think he could really pull this off? Are the natives friendly? Alan sure hoped so!

"Ahh, I'm wondering how long, or how much time I'll have to do these drawings?"

"Well, said Margaret, as long as it takes, I'm sure."  Wainwright nodded in agreement. They stood there a moment not saying anything, and Alan couldn't think of any more questions, so he said "I guess I'll be going now..." and Margaret offered to drive him to his lodging downtown.

Some of the stuff Alan received...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

10: Arrival on New Island

First sighting of  New Island - rounding South Cape...

...and now entering Victoria Harbor. These are some of Alan's first sketches.

After another evening of dancing (for a while) and reading in his bunk, Alan rested well aboard the ship. The rolling of the swells helped lull him to sleep, and he began to feel a connection with the rolling of the ocean under the ship, something very comforting. The next morning, he walked around the decks hoping to run into Carla, but she was not to be found. 

He did spot land off to the west, however. "This must be the New Island coast", he thought. "Wow, a whole new place."

Alan realized that he was actually seeing something new with nothing to guide him - no Google maps, Vimeo pictures, Lonely Planet Guides, pages about the details on Facebook, or blogs like this one telling him about all the must-see places the authors have already been to!  He had wondered at this at first, but Alan felt he wouldn't question things here too closely, such as why Google Earth only presented open ocean where this place should be. He had his ticket, and a real letter of intent offering him a job that seemed ideal...wander around and sketch the scenery, how cool is that?

At almost noon, the Charles Ames pulled up to the Australia Dock in Victoria Harbor. Alan saw that this was not nearly as big a city as he imagined; no high-rise buildings, no big resorts on the beach, just small houses and some larger buildings visible along the waterfront and on that low hill to the right. The surrounding hills were an astonishing green, and looked completely uninhabited. And was that snow on the tall mountain? Cool!