Sunday, August 2, 2015

43. On the way to Lizard Point

The Southwest Path just south of Lizard Point.

A woman was sitting off the path with her head in her hands. Alan stopped and gently asked, "Are you okay?"

She looked up at him slowly, her eyes red and teary, and said, "Oh, I guess so. I just don't feel well."

"Anything I can do?"

"Umm, not sure."

"Well...I'm not in a hurry."

She studied his face a moment, then waved her hand in a wide arc, "Sit if you'd like, there's plenty of room!" 

"Um, okay...thanks. I could use a rest."

She seemed in her late 30s, and wore the usual walkers' cargo shorts and a blue plaid long-sleeve shirt, which looked damp from that squall that Alan just went through. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a frizzy pony tail, equally damp, and the sun had been hard on her peeling nose. Her oversize backpack and a hat were cast off to the side, equally damp-looking, and coated with sand where it had tumbled.

Alan pulled off his pack and sat down next to her. Neither spoke for a minute. Alan's mind was running fast - should I say something or just be quiet? I probably wouldn't say the right thing anyway...oh, what to do...? To resolve the question, he pulled out his water bottle and took a drink.

Finally, she let out a deep breath, looked at him again, then said, "I, um, I haven't talked to anyone in a few days, so I might seem a bit incoherent...and you probably wouldn't want to hear what's on my mind anyway..."

Alan looked at her, his mind fumbling about, but his curiosity won out..."Well, now you have me wondering, so why not, uh, talk?" Who knows? Maybe I'll learn something...

She plunged in, "I...where to begin. I don't think I'm up to this trip. I'm supposed to be having a good time. These Long Walks everyone raves about are supposed to be a 'Rite of Passage', right? But so far, especially today, I'm tired, and I'm beginning to wonder why I'm out here." She paused. "You're sure you want to hear this?"

"Keep going."

  
"Okay, let's see. I left my house about two weeks ago. It started out okay, though I thought I'd die the first week -- my feet and legs were really sore. But I kept going. I camped when I had to, but I usually stayed in an inn when I could find one. At Oxbay, I worked for a few days pulling weeds, just to not have to walk for a while. And then we had that rain, and I just sat around in their common room, feeling bummed. So today I got a decent start and was okay until this rain-squall rolled through this afternoon, and I HATE BEING WET!" 

The outburst startled Alan, but he had to agree.

"Well, sorry I yelled, but I think the real problem is I'm tired of hiking on my own." 

"Aaah. May I ask where you started out from?"

"Putney."

"You walked all the way from there?"

"Not quite. I took the train down to Hazel, and then started walking. My plan has been to walk allllll the way around the island, or at least the long way back to Putney!" she said with a wry grin, sweeping her arm."

"Soo, you're not so sure about that now, I take it."

"Oh, I still think I want to do it, but I guess I'm carrying some sadness with me too." She looked at him, "Do you really want to hear this stuff?"

Alan shrugged, smiled at her, and then tried to act nonchalant as he reached into his pack for his energy bars. "You want one?"

"Okay, sure, thanks."

He adjusted his pack to make a back rest, and then stretched out his legs. They munched quietly for a moment.

"Well, I'm Chloe." 

"And I'm Alan."

"Hi Alan." She munched on her bar. "These are good!" 

She continued, "Okay, here goes. I took a leave from my job at the Putney Library, where I'm a reference librarian. Have you been there?" Alan shook his head. "I've always loved that library, and I have worked there since I graduated from university. I lived with my mum, who wasn't well, so I never took the Long Walk after public school. My friends all went, and I really wanted to, but I had to take care of her. No dad, and that's another story!" 

Alan nodded.

"Anyway, when my mum passed away, I stayed on at the library, and have always enjoyed it there. Then they promoted me to Research Librarian, and I sit behind this large circular desk ready for any and all questions. The work can be fascinating, you know? 

And then I met Dennis. He came in there to research some obscure ruins in Roger's Dreamland....you've heard of that place, right?" Another nod. "There wasn't much about that in my library, but I knew the Antiquities Office or Putney University's library might have more of what he wanted. Anyway, he came back again, asking about other topics, and we got to chatting. He seemed such a fascinating chap. After a week or so, I realized I was constantly glancing at the door, feeling like Marion the Librarian from that American film - are you familiar...?

Alan nodded again, "Ah, yes, The Music Man..."

"Well, you might say I succumbed to Dennis's charms. At first he took me on picnics to the beach or up in the Yellow Hills during wildflower season. And then after only a few weeks he said he wanted to marry me! But I had a funny feeling about him, like he wasn't quite all there. He loved watching the television, and somehow he manged to acquire a set of his own. Later we got into the habit of me visiting him at his apartment, and instead of going out, he would offer me some snacky food and maybe a soda, and then he'd sit and watch stupid TV shows, some from the US - no offence, Alan - or Indian soap operas. He was totally absorbed, and sometimes I had to shout at him to get his attention! Then after a while he'd shift gears and suddenly want to, you know, do it. He was terrible at making love, and I was worried about pregnancies and such, and...oh, I'm going too far here!" 

Alan looked up at her from his listening trance, and shrugged. 

"So anyway, Dennis was really nice, but he didn't really have much going for him, and I didn't see any papers or a computer or any other signs of research in his apartment. When I asked if I could read anything he'd worked on, he was evasive, saying he did all his work in the library. Then we had an argument about food...I couldn't eat the junky stuff he was sharing, and he told me he wasn't going to change - it was his house! Dennis sounded a little too much like my dad, at least of what I remember when I was little. I told him that I didn't think this was working."

"Sooo...you decided this was a good time to take your Long Walk..."

"You got it!"

She sighed, and chewed on her energy bar. "So what about you? What's your story?"

"Well, let's see, I'm not sure where to begin. I'm from the US..." 

"Ha, I thought so," she said.

"...and I'm here to make sketches and pictures for your Tourism Office." He then told her a little about his life in Indiana, and how he came here and about his job making the pictures. "So I've been walking on this path about a week now, staying in some inns or camping out, pretty much like you are."

They both looked at the sun hanging low over the shoreline, and then Alan asked, "Uh, not to be too nosy, but what are your plans now?"

"Well,I heard there is a nice camping ground near Lizard Point...and I was on my way there."

"Ah...mind if I tag along? That's my destination too, as I'm supposed to make a picture of Vanessa Island from there."

She looked at him, ate the last of her energy bar, took a swig of water, and said, "Okay, let's go." 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

42. Painting Capetown, then onward...

Alan's view of Capetown -- a pleasant stop along the Southwest Path

Alan didn't see Capetown until he was nearly at its edge. The town was nestled among some low grassy hills, allowing most of the residents a fine view of the ocean. Bushy trees and colorful flower gardens adorned the yards around some of houses. Alan could see why this place was on his list!  Alan pitched his tent in a public "trekkers' park" near the edge of town. For 50 pense (about $2.50) he had a camp site, access to toilets, showers and even a common kitchen. There he made up some supper of smoked fish and steamed brown rice. He had to put up with two other chatty travelers, who ere talking about walking to Irian. Alan remembered Irian - the one-time Russian resort town where Jeremy disembarked back on that first train ride. These guys were apparently going to visit friends of theirs, a relatively short trip from where they lived at Tuna Point.

The next morning promised good weather, so Alan ate breakfast early (he thankfully had the kitchen to himself) and climbed a hill east of town to make his assigned picture. This was a straightforward rendering - the town and the hills, with the ocean in the distance. It came together pretty fast, and he was done in time for a late lunch.


After lunch he read his Naked Husband for a spell, then packed up and got on the path. He immediately noticed that some distant nimbus clouds that were out on the horizon that morning had moved in, and sure enough, he was caught out in a blustery shower. Luckily, his jacket and a floppy hat he wore kept him reasonably dry, and he was glad it was fairly warm.


His next stop was Lizard Point, about two more miles along the main path. He was supposed to make a picture of Vanessa Island from the point, so he thought he would camp out there. He hoped to see the surfing club's sailboat, if it was moored where Amelia said it might be. The path was much quieter here, perhaps because most traffic went inland at Capetown.


Then he saw someone, hunched over, sitting some distance off from the path. 


   

Sunday, July 19, 2015

41. On to Capetown

All storms pass: later in the day, Alan passed this dancer near Oxbay.
Wind-driven rain was splatting on the window in Alan’s room when he woke up the next morning. Not a good day for walking, so he rolled over and slept another hour. Finally, bored with laying in bed, he climbed out, got dressed, and searched for some coffee and breakfast.

The Poppy Blossom's CafĂ© was deserted when Alan walked in.  He sat at a table by the window, looked at the menu, told the waitress what he wanted, then nodded thanks to her. He stared out the window at the rain. For the first time on this island, Alan felt that old melancholy coming on. He still felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere, that he won't finish the drawings, or they won't be any good, and that he’ll disappoint his bosses. This assignment seems like it will take forever. He was also feeling lonely; it would be nice to have a companion on a trip like this.

Then his coffee arrived, and while stirring in his cream and sugar, an elegant, delicate insect landed on the window glass and slowly walked upward, probably looking for a way out. It’s purple body and huge lacy wings (a big lacewing?) reminded Alan how far he was from anywhere he’d known before. From what Adrian had said, this whole island may or may not even exist, and likewise everything on it!

What is real here?
Why was I invited here?
Hm…

He nudged at the bug with his finger, and it arched its abdomen before moving further up the glass. It seems real enough, he thought. Maybe that’s all that’s necessary, that all this seems real. But he still felt lonely.

Then his breakfast arrived and he realized how hungry he was.

***********************

In the afternoon, the rain let up enough to allow Alan to start off for Capetown. He went into the Pangaea Grocery and Etc. and bought some more camp food, some "Paleo Vanilla"- flavored energy bars, and, on a whim, a paperback titled The Naked Husband by an Australian author. He figured it will be quiet the next few days and he'll want something to read. 

Toward suppertime, the clouds were breaking up, promising a gorgeous sunset. The beaches were interrupted by low grassy headlands that ended at rocky points. He soon could see Vanessa Island to the south, sitting only about four miles offshore, looking close enough to swim to it. It is apparently New island's westernmost point. Along the way, He passed the settlement of Oxbay, a cluster of houses adjoining a large community garden. And near there, on a bluff, a woman in a red dress was having a great time dancing and twirling to her own rhythm. She was by herself, and seemingly unconcerned about being observed. He admired her free spirit, and found his own spirit lifted as well! It was a treat to walk along this coast... 




Saturday, July 11, 2015

40. Storm Surf at Samas



Alan awoke to a gray sky. The sun was reddish as he crawled out of his tent, and the place seemed eerily quiet - no birdsong to speak of, but a faint, low roar drew his attention to the distant ocean. From his hillside vantage point he could barely make out a band of white beyond the barrier beach protecting Sandy Bay. It was the spray of great crashing waves! Even from this distance, Alan could see that the ocean was churning!

The surf reminded him of Amelia's prediction that storm surf will likely predate a storm - so Alan ate a quick bowl of Muesli cereal with canned milk, then packed up his gear and set off for Capetown, which he figured he could get to before the weather turned nasty. 

The air was cooler today, and the path was well-maintained so Alan felt he could make good time. The Southwest Path was busy here...many travelers pushed narrow handcarts, a local design with two large wheels, called a felix-hauler. Others rode fat-tire bicycles or trikes, and a few of them rode a kind of recumbent-style bike with a solar-panel roof that powered a tiny motor to assist on the hills. The roof provided the added benefit of shading the rider - ingenious! In contrast, others rode small shaggy ponies or crept along in narrow carts behind ponies, llamas, or pairs of goats! 

There was a liveliness here - a lot of chatting among the walkers and travelers. Everyone seemed friendly enough, and Alan could now spot the young trekkers and other wanderers from those hauling goods or on other business. All this without the sound of a single engine!

Alan had been rounding Sandy Bay since yesterday, and near Samas he noticed great flocks of gulls, terns, pelicans and other birds he couldn't recognize milling around in the channels and on the mud flats, presumably to sit out the storm. Smaller birds flitted out of the salt grasses and then landed again nearby, not sure where to rest. Their nervousness gave Alan a dose of anxiety - he didn't like being caught out in bad weather!

The path slowly edged onto higher ground as it approached Samas, and Alan noticed a low bluff to his left, and he could also hear the ocean over the low dunes ahead. He passed a few acres of raised-bed herb gardens, which he later learned were the "business" of the Samas tribe - dried herbs that they sold to a packager in Pendleton. A few inns, a grocery-and-variety store and a surf shop also supported the settlement.

In town, Alan found the Poppy Blossom Inn and was able to get one of the last rooms, about the size of a closet. He felt lucky he checked in early - apparently a lot of other walkers didn't want to camp out tonight.

It wasn't quite suppertime yet, so Alan followed a few other people out to the beach, about a half mile from town. The path ended at a long wooden bench and the view was breathtaking. Huge breakers thundered offshore, crashing in long white lines before surging up onto the sand. The sun peeked out among gathering banks of cumulus clouds, lighting up the waves here and there, leaving others threateningly dark! He overheard a couple of onlookers talking about riding these...Think we could get out there? ... Naw, it's too closed out - we would only get pounded!


The sky was changing and the surf was building...

Far beyond the breakers Alan spotted a sturdy-looking gaff-rigged sailboat beating over the swells, and a bystander near him said, Hey, I think that might be the Westenders' boat heading out to Vanessa Island...Gawd I wish I were on there. I only surfed out there once and it was a dream! Indeed, it looked like it could be the boat Amelia talked about, plowing and tacking into a freshening wind. Alan figured they knew what they were doing.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

39. On to Shores, Solon, Fernley, Bender and Samas

Alan's route will take him south, around Sandy Bay, to Capetown

Towards evening, the air had cooled off and everyone was back in their clothes. 

Alan wanted to meet these young islanders, so he worked up enough courage to walk over to where most of the crowd was camping. This kind of thing has never been easy for him, though he believes that his "social coach" back in Indiana has been helpful. Plus, he thinks he sticks out like a foreigner. At least he speaks their language! 

Okay, deep breath, off we go...

He also brought along his package of McVitie and Price's Digestives (imported from England). When he showed up at their campfire, he held out the package and they laughed, and a girl said "Ace!" They in turn invited him to supper, and he was grateful! 

All of these campers (the  oldest might have been twenty) were on their Long Walk. Most were paired up but a few were walking solo, and they all had stories to share. They feverishly chatted about places all over the island that Alan had no clue about, and when he brought his map over, they showed him the location of the Berea Cliffs, Samantha's Wild North, the Beatty Ruins, Gay's Asylum, and that strange place none of them had yet ventured to: Roger's Dreamland.

He enjoyed chatting with them as they sat eating a kind of communal fish gumbo. They mostly talked about where they'd been and where they were heading, and Alan listened in, enchanted by their energy. His head was swimming with all his new information as he finally bid them good night and went to his tent. He slept surprisingly well.

The next morning, his muscles were quite stiff, probably from all the running and chasing yesterday. He manged to get dressed, make some breakfast, and then get a fairly early start on to his next picture assignment, in Capetown. On the way, he noticed he'll pass through several small settlements, including the Shores tribe that those girls mentioned. 

His route to Capetown went right by the Hooksands Light, a noble, red-painted stone tower, whose light slowly revolved. He noticed that it must be laundry day at the adjoining cottage, since there were sheets billowing on the clothesline as a woman (with two small kids running about under her feet) put up some towels. She waved and he waved back. This was like out of a picture book, he thought: the keeper's wife (or the keeper herself!) living out at the lighthouse. No automation here yet!

He figured it would be a three-day walk all the way to Capetown, and he was glad he didn't have to rush. He liked the relatively glacial pace here; he didn't feel he had to be anywhere, and, surprisingly, he didn't miss his phone or Facebook or e-mail! He'd like to hear from his friends, perhaps Michelle, but for now he felt okay just seeing what will come next!

Passing through these tribe settlements, Alan felt he was on another planet. The settlements were tiny, with narrow walkways among the houses and the few shops, or the one main building where supplies and groceries could be acquired (bought or bartered for). The buildings were small, but solidly-built, often of sand-bricks. These, he learned, were made of local sand mixed with a bit of cement, dampened, and then pressed into bricks. Ingenious, he thought. 

While passing through Fernley, he watched two women making the bricks - one constantly mixing the batch, and shoveling the mix into a device they call a brick-press; the other cranking on the long handle to make one brick at a time. One of them paused and told him that, after a few hours they would have a few hundred bricks, using no electricity, and for only the cost of the cement!

Alan noticed that some of these tribes were subsistence tribes - they only produced enough to support themselves, and made a little extra income by offering lodging, hot baths, supplies and massages (especially footrubs) to passing walkers. Others, such as the Shores, Solon and Samas tribes, harvested oysters, bay clams or tiny shrimp from Sandy Bay, and then smoked and canned them for sale in the markets. These had to be carried out on foot or behind a horse in a small wagon...part of the charm (and the high prices) of these delicacies.

As the afternoon turned to dusk, Alan stopped to camp on a grassy dune just west of Bender, facing miles of marshlands and the winding salt channels of Sandy Bay. There were settlements nearby, but he was up for a campout. He had enough food but would have to re-stock the next day.  

The sunset over the bay and the ocean was gorgeous!


Saturday, June 27, 2015

38. The Wide Open Hook!

Alan discovered something...when you try to capture a place on paper, 
you're forced to really look at it, and you sometimes connect with it on 
a deeper level. This was happening here when he painted in the details 
of the water and sand, and finally a passing pelican and a few of the 
people here... 

As Alan looked at the wide-openness of this place, and felt the warmth, and breathed the air, he felt something in his soul was waking up. This place was limitless! 

He began to notice things like how the sky varies in color, and the way the long shallow waves wrap around the sand bars; their shimmery patterns bright in the sunlight. He also saw how the sand has been shaped by the waves and the tidal currents, and how the incoming tide was right now changing things. 

The place seemed to say, "Be who you are!" 

Out on the flats, the tiny figures he saw at first were about ten or so young people, fit and tan and with no clothes on at all! They were running, chasing and splashing each other or tossing frisbees. They were clearly delighted by the salt water, the breezy warmth, the sun, and the energy they were sharing. Their occasional yelps were the only sound above constant soft roar of the distant surf.

He took a few deep breaths, and then proceeded to make picture Number 2, The Hook. It took longer than he thought, and the second try seemed to satisfy him. The people were the hardest. 

And then he walked out onto the vast sand bars. 

As Alan walked along, some of the kids waved to him, and he sheepishly waved back. The afternoon was warming up, and Alan, sweating in his hiking outfit, suddenly felt that he wanted to run into the ocean too (just to cool off!). So then he muttered, Oh, crap, why not, stripped everything off and splashed into the waves.

Then he ran, kicking water up to his armpits, and suddenly realized why these kids were doing this - it felt incredibly good! The sensuality of the sun and the water were part of it, but the idea of having absolutely nothing attached to him, not even a ring on his finger, was somehow extremely liberating! Some of the guys and girls ran past him and around him, splashing water everywhere - and he picked up the game, dodging and splashing among them. Totally winded, he finally had to slow down, and he raised his hand at them to wave a Thank You! 

This inspired Alan to camp on the higher dune where he had been sitting, and that is where he pitched his tiny mountain tent.


It is a brisk half-day hike from Biloxi to The Hook.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

37. Breakfast at the Inn, then on to The Hook

The Sand Dune Inn served a complimentary breakfast, so Alan went down early, and found the place already quite busy. The two girls from the spa last night waved him over to join them, and this time he wasn't hesitant. 

"Hi," He said, and then took a chair. "I gather you are both traveling ...?"

"Oh, Yes", the one named Andrea replied. "We're on our Long Walk...You know, where we carry everything with us, walk places, camp out, stay at tribe settlements for a while..." 

"We've been out about six months now," the other girl, Hannah, added. "We're off to Hooksands Preserve to swim and do nothing for a few days, then to the Shores Tribe where we'll be staying for a while. They raise shellfish on Sandy Bay and we heard they're really cool."

After completing public school, many teenagers take The Long Walk...

"Wow," Alan said, "Six months is a long time! I'm on a walk myself, but only for a couple of weeks, I think."

"Oh, we're just starting out!  We hope to stay on the paths for two years - if we can get on together that long," and they gave each other a look that could have meant anything.

"So what'll you do at this Shores Tribe?" Alan asked.

"Uh, dunno yet. Work in their cannery, tend the gardens, babysit," Harriet shrugged.

"They make the most delicious smoked oysters...very pricey in the shops!" Andrea added.

Just then a very young waiter approached the table, and both girls said to Alan, "Get the sausage omelet!" So Alan said,"Okay", and to the waiter, "Please add a bowl of oatmeal and coffee with cream." 

"So," Alan said after the waiter left, "you're going to wander around for two years...?"

"Yeah, but with a purpose. Didn't you do it?"

"Uh, no. I'm from the States and no one does that there - except a few loners or traveling hobos. The closest thing I guess, would be a long hike in a National Park, but not like you are describing. It would be a dangerous undertaking for young people there, especially just out walking. Everyone drives!"

"Huh! That is so sad, said Andrea. "I don't know how I would have gotten through public school if we didn't have The Walk to look forward to...it's all anyone talks about during our last year."


Then Hannah asked, "So how do people learn about who they are or what they're meant to do in life? Okay, here's an example: When I finished public school, I knew stuff but I didn't know me yet, or what I want, or who I'm meant to be, and all that. We go on The Walk, as we call it, to find ourselves. The guv'ment even helps out by offering money to tribes like Shores, to pay us to work in their trades. Over time, we stay and work in several different tribes, or even for the guv'ment, fixing trails, planting trees, and learning stuff. And then afterwards, some of us go on to university, and others might stay on at one of the tribes."

"And we meet boys, too." Andrea added with a grin.

"Aah," said Alan.


****************************

Thoughtful about all that, and fully restored (The breakfast was perfect!), Alan bought a few trail meals, packed up his bag, and set off for The Hook. Once out of Biloxi, the path turned sandy and slowed his pace. For a few miles, he walked along a narrow verge where the nearly white sand dunes met the salt marshes thick with patches of mangrove-like thickets. He was inside the Hooksands Preserve now and there were no settlements. The dunes cut off any sound from the ocean but the marshes and thickets were full of birds carrying on with melodious calls, strange burps and outright screeching. It was a spare and beautiful landscape!

Finally the dunes flattened out revealing miles of sand bars and shallow channels, the sharp end of the Hook! Now Alan could hear distant surf on the ocean side, and he also noticed, in the distance to his left, a lighthouse, complete with a keeper's house - the only structures anywhere around. 

On the sand flats ahead, he could make out some distant figures - people running and dancing among the shallow pools. It must be low tide, Alan thought.

He finally stopped and sat on the last of the dunes, where he had a good view of the outer sand bars. The patterns of sand and water, and a few people out there, made it an appealing place to sketch. 

He sat down to have some lunch and unpack his art stuff.


   

Saturday, June 13, 2015

36. On to Biloxi

Alan gets back on the main path and heads to Biloxi...

After a long, chatty supper of what Amelia called hamburger soup, plus some grilled toast and tea, they moved into the living room with some wine.  Alan learned that Amelia wrote stories and a weekly column for the Putney Times, and that she is also a dedicated surfer. "My readers love a little gossip, especially what I overhear in the coffee shops and what my spies send me on NetMate. My job is to find out what is really going on, and then, discreetly, blab about it in the Times.

"So I gather that NetMate is your social network here?"


"Yes, and I love it! I don't have to travel nearly as much now to gather the goods! It's quite a new thing, since not many of us have computers, and those smartphones that everyone else in the world have are only a dream here." 


And when he inquired about the surfboards outside, she lit up. "Oh, surfing is my passion! I live for that ocean energy, that power under me when I ride a wave. We have a surf club called The Westend Surfing Assn., named after this point called Westend on Vanessa Island. We sail out of Paddy and around the Hook on an old gaff-rigged boat and put in on Vanessa's lee side. then we hike over the island and set up camp on the ocean side. There is usually a beautiful mile-long left there." And then Amelia's eyes really lit up when she added, "And sometimes it gets BIG! I can't wait until we go on another trip." 


And they talked about many other things into the night, as the rain stopped and some stars came out... 

The sun was shining the next morning. She made him coffee and a hearty breakfast, and by mid-morning he was finally on his way to The Hook. 
As he walked, he felt all warm inside - happy that he could make a friend and be a friend as easily as he has done here. First Carla on the boat, then Adrian, now Amelia, and yes, even Jeremy. Are the people different here, is it just him, or a little of both?


**************************

By evening he reached Biloxi, and found a place to stay called The Sand Dune Inn and Spa. Biloxi was a settlement of perhaps 50 small stucco-coated houses huddled among some grass-covered dunes. Bushy wind-blown trees and patches of flowering groundcovers added color among the houses. There were no stores, but the Inn boasted a "deli" that offered groceries and basic necessities, including the services of a tiny post office. 

At the check-in desk, an elderly woman, dark and sun-wrinkled, took Alan's money (cost: one roger) and without saying a word, showed him to a tiny room with a narrow bed, then the toilets, and then the "spa", a large, steaming, beautifully-tiled communal pool set in the ground. A roof covered half of it, the rest was under the open sky. The bath was unoccupied, so he tested the water and realized he could use a good soak. 

He returned after dark with his towel and found another fellow in the pool, who said, "Welcome, welcome, plenty of room." In the dim light of the single oil lantern, Alan noticed the guy was naked. Hm, shall I keep my swimsuit on or not? He decided to leave it on and settled into the water. His fellow bather said nothing at all, and that was just fine.

And then two girls, teenagers likely, walked in, wrapped in large bath towels. They removed the towels, which were their entire wardrobes, and without a word stepped into the steaming pool. Alan tried very hard not to look, especially since they both offered their names and asked his. (The other guy seemed to be meditating...) Alan nodded to them, muttered his name and a glad-to-meet-you, and then then also pretended to meditate, realizing he'll probably have to get used to this sky clad thing that Adrian mentioned! 




Sunday, June 7, 2015

35. Alan Approaches the House

Toward the end of the day, Alan unwittingly took a side-path to the beach and spotted this house,
just as the weather began to look iffy...

Not wanting to knock on the door, Alan shouted, "Ahoy, there!" from about a hundred feet away. This is so weird, he thought. 

No response. 

He tried again, "Is anyone home?" Nothing for another long minute, then a female voice almost sang the words, "Who IS it, and what do you WA - ant?"

"Um, I come in peace!" (ouch!) "My name is Alan and I was on my way to Paddy and I must have taken a wrong path back near that long bridge. I just thought that, if you could let me, uh, rest here, I would be most grateful." 

By then it was not only getting dark, but a wet wind had kicked up, accompanied by a long roll of distant thunder. Silence from the house, then "Well, come up to the porch and we can talk. "

Alan marched quickly to the door, and he was met be a very tan, stocky, and muscular 40-ish woman about five feet tall wearing a baggy sweatshirt and what the surfers call board shorts. She smiled tentatively as she examined him through the screen door. Alan studied a couple of surfboards on the porch floor, and tried to think of something to say.

The woman spoke first, "Well, you look innocent enough. Uh, Alan, you said?"

"Oh, yes!" Alan smiled broadly.

"So tell me more... You sound different. Are you American?" Alan nodded. "I thought so. And what brings you out this way, aside from being lost?"

Alan couldn't blame here for being wary, so he tried to sound as normal as possible.  "I'm on my way out to the place you call The Hook to paint a picture of it. Then I'm continuing to other places like Capetown to make more pictures. I sketched the Hazelhurst Ruins the other day, the first place on my list, and then I started out from Hazel just this morning. I had lunch in Albion and then stopped at that long bridge at the Antrim River to rest, and I decided to sketch it." He pulled out a small notebook. "Here's the sketch...I know it's pretty rough, but it's not on my list. It just looked interesting, the bridge, I mean, and..."

"Okay, okay. Why don't you come in and we can have tea or something. You're lucky I'm in a good mood!"

Alan put away his notebook, left his pack on the porch, and walked into a warmly-lit living room paneled with old, smooth, honey-colored boards. A large brick hearth at the far end of the room contained a cast-iron wood-stove whose doors were open. "When you were yelling 'ahoy' out there I was just about to light a fire...get the damp off, yes? By the way, I'm Amelia," and she offered her hand, then gripped his firmly.

"Hi," said Alan.

She had already turned to walk into the kitchen to heat up some water. She soon returned to the wood-stove, lit the fire, closed up its doors, pointed to a chair and said, "Let's sit." Alan was looking at a large framed painting of  moonlit waves an a dark beach. "Nice waves up there," he said. Amelia glanced up, "Oh yes, my friend Adrian Graham painted that. Have you seen his work?

"Just recently. As a matter of fact, I live above his gallery."

"Oh, so you're the chap from the States that's doing the pictures for the tourists..."

Alan was surprised at this; news gets around quickly here. She went on, "Someone you met on the train the other day told one of my friends on NetMate*, and she posted it to me."

"Ah, the train ride. That would have been Jeremy - a very talkative chap I had the fortune to sit with. I didn't know my arrival would be so newsworthy!"

"Oh, it's newsworthy. We don't get many foreign travelers here, especially someone with a guv'ment job. Is it true they hired you and paid your way all the way from the States to paint some pictures?"

"Yes, I've agreed to 'depict,' as you say, 105 places-of-interest all around the island. And to be up-front with you, part of me is petrified that I'll never complete them all. My first day out and I'm already lost!"

Just then, they both heard the soft roar of rain on the roof...

"Well, I wouldn't say that, Alan. You're only a couple of miles off course. And if you're heading to The Hook, you should be there by late tomorrow, weather permitting. I heard there might be a storm in a few days, and that the surf should be up as well."

"So this isn't the storm,"Alan asked.

"Oh, no, just a thundershower. We do get some good size gales, especially south of here, and they send us the best surf beforehand!" Anyway, come in the kitchen with me and have tea. We can talk more while I heat up some soup. You eat meat? Oh, and bring in your pack before it gets wet!"
____________________

*NetMate is New Island's primitive version of Facebook.



Saturday, June 6, 2015

34. Alan Soon Gets Lost

Oops!

Alan hadn't walked three hours, and he was feeling it in his legs and feet already. He was definitely ready for a break when he stopped for lunch at the Albion Cafe. Albion was about the size of Hazel. It seemed to be more of a farm town, dominated by a sprawling sort of feed store that also sold lumber, farm supplies, garden tools, hardware and groceries. The cafe, a post office, a hairdresser/barber/massage spa, two taverns, a school, several small houses, and a tiny Buddhist temple made up the rest of Albion. 

Alan enjoyed his tuna sandwich (with bacon!) and a tall, juicy smoothie for lunch, which revived him enough to carry on to his goal of the day, Paddy. There he would find an inn, according to Adrian.

Things went well until just after he crossed the Antrim River foot bridge. He was impressed by this long bridge built for a hiking trail, so he sat down to sketch it as well as get off his feet. Soon after he resumed his walk, he was distracted by the miles of marshes and estuaries around him, and he took a branch-path by mistake. It looked more or less like the main path, but almost an hour later he found that it ended on a lonely stretch of beach.

This can't be right, he grumbled. I must have gotten on the wrong path. No wonder I haven't seen any markers or other people for a while...and I don't like the look of those big clouds out there. What happened to the sunny forecast?

Then Alan noticed the house a short distance down the beach, and he sat down on a driftwood log and thought a minute. 

I suppose I could take my chances and see if whoever lives here might help me...it's way too late to try to get to Paddy now, but I hate knocking on strangers' doors, especially when I'm the stranger...drat!

Alan's sketch just before his detour...