It’s a Homer!

Cheryl and I have been serious dog and cat lovers since the beginning of time. We both had that childhood pet that seemed to live forever. When you’re a kid, thirteen years is your entire school career (plus one hopefully). When you get older, thirteen years pass rather quickly and you realize you’re gonna have to go through another passing of a best friend. Nigel our black lab is thirteen and he is getting close. Rear end is about shot. I have to lift him up on the sofa when he looks back with those sad eyes. Good god, it takes both of us sometimes to get him up there and my rear end is starting to go too. We look like a hook and ladder truck when the coffee table is in the way. Anyway, the day will undeniably come. We frequently tell him he’s our last dog, our last heartbreak. Pet-wise that is.

Which brings me to a solution to this problem. Since Cheryl and I have been house sitting for over a year, we’ve had the opportunity to keep several pets. They’re like grandkids, ya love ‘em, then you can give ‘em back. With a new pet, it takes a few days to feel each other out and, of course, they will test you like that 2 year old nephew that just gets a timeout when he acts up. “Why my ol man woulda,” wait… that’s for the therapist. We’re dog people dammit and we know the drill. “Don’t you look at me with those big brown eyes… You’re not getting the last bite of my hotdog!” We’ve made the mistake of allowing Nigel table bites and there is hell to pay because of it. Never again.

imageHomer, on the other hand, has been handled much better in this regard. He must sit on a small rug and “shake paws” to receive that treat. Knowing the error of our ways, we are very careful to adhere to this regimen. This nine month old yellow lab crossed with beagle or something is a large part of our current house sit in Sedella located in the Andalusia region of Spain. Homer’s owners told us he is a rescue dog and he has separation issues. Actually, I don’t see any issues. Our dog Nigel gets mad when we go grocery shopping. We used to take him but we have to… Ya know that hook and ladder thing again. Nigel weighs 105 pounds! Uh! My back! Homer on the other hand is a sleek 48.5 pounds (22 kg). Heck I can Richard Kimble (one arm man) him into the car. Cheryl is already in the habit of walking Nigel every morning for a mile or so. Homer… same thing. But he wants it at 6 am and it’s dark here. Did I mention this house sits among the steepest of the Sierra de Tejeda mountains? That’s right, it sits in the shadow of Mt. Maroma at 2,068.5 meters (6,826 feet). Not the tallest, I said steepest. I previously said Homer was a lab crossed with maybe a beagle, but after a couple of days I’m thinking goat. Yes, I take the evening walk with Homer and Cheryl and at first I said things like, “Wait! You want me to walk down there?… Is there a tractor or something that’s gonna come get us?” Mind you I hike the Appalachian Trail and I’m no slouch carrying 30 pounds on my back and navigating some challenging topography. But these are goat paths image(and I know this because there are goats right over there with a shepherd and dogs and everything). After about five days of this, I became acclimated and could handle the steep terrain. It was always a workout though and building a fire and helping prepare dinner afterward was a joy.

There happened to be a cat detail affixed to this house sit that was a big concern to Homer. There were 7, no 8 (not sure) feral cats that the homeowners were feeding and we marveled at the pecking order, rules, and social proprieties. Homer seemed to tolerate the ruling three, but the others, not so much. The three rulers would not flinch when Homer passed by and would continue issuing their orders such as “r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-roooooul (must imagebe Spanish with the rolled R) which meant time to rotate since there were only three bowls. These cats would announce to us each morning it was time for breakfast. Cat mess was at 9 am (but we would get the call at 8:45 to give us time to prep).

When taking a break, we glance out across the peaks and valleys and see two men teams trimming the olive, almond, orange, and carob trees, as well as the grapevines, that thrive here in this dry soil. Too steep for tractors, plowing is done by mule. They plow frequently, so the earth accepts the small amount of rain yielded by this arid climate. This ensures low noise so you can hear the wind and the bells from the ever-moving goat and sheep herds that mow under the trees growing on these steep slopes. It’s extremely remote out here in the mountains. I think it’s like five km to the hard road, then another two to the nearest small town of Sedella. It seems we’ve lost this simple agrarian way of life for the most part in the US. Right before my eyes as a matter of fact. And the quality of food, wine and olive oil is so noticeable in this region. Hand raised, free range, farm to table. It’s very inexpensive as compared to home. I can actually survive on the pittance social security gives me and eat noticeably better. Hopefully Homer’s folks will take another trip come next winter. If so, as Arnold said, “I’ll be back”.

Laundry Day in Southern Spain

It sounds simple enough! We’ve only been traveling for about three days, but when you only carry a backpack for a six week trip, it doesn’t take long before the idea of fresh clean clothes is quite attractive for several reasons! Especially when the outfit you are wearing is the same one you put on and have worn for the past two days since you left home! (OK, Mitch, I get the hint! Stop holding your nose!)

I find myself with a washer readily available at our housesit, so let’s get this done! Instructions left by the homeowners – three small scoops of detergent and one small scoop of “anti-cal” to combat the hard water. Got it! I gather up an armload of dirties and head out the kitchen door to go down to the gym/laundry room to get this chore going.

About halfway down the steep staircase of 18 narrow steps, I feel my feet go out from under me as my middle back hits the hard concrete…tripped up on some dangling dirties! Coupled with some prolonged moaning and bellowing, I do a quick mental inventory of my conditon. OK. Just some scrapes – no breaks! Onward to laundry!

I load the clothes and detergent and then I see this!!!IMG_1239

What??? I need a home ec class for this! Youtube and Google Translate to the rescue! Some of the settings are pretty obvious, others not so much.

Algodon – cotton.

Algodao – cotton in Portuguese!! What – it’s in two languages??

Sineteticos – synthetics.

Delicado/Seda – delicate/silk.

Lana/La – wool (never did figure what La is or how to get that little ~ above the a on my keyboard.)

Antialergias – Hypoallergenic (I’m guessing).

Sport – duh.

Plumas/Penas – feathers (What? No, more Portuguese).

Camisas/Blusas – shirts/blouses.

Ropa oscura/Ropa escura – dark clothes.

Rapido – quick!

Ignoring most of the other buttons, I choose Algondon. (By the way, “Prelav” is like a pre-wash or extended wash, I think.) Then I see the numbers illuminate!! Are you kidding, 2 hours and 45 minutes to do a load of laundry? Guess I will skip my hiking plans for today!IMG_1238

Turns out that these front-loading European washing machines don’t have agitators, so they are gentler on your clothes. But the wash cycle takes forever. And the water temperatures?? US average for a load in hot water is 120°F. Well, here it is 60°C which is 140°F and if you want to get those babies really clean you can up to 90°C (194°F)!!! Dang! Now that’s some clean clothes! I feel dirty again! I never did figure out the other controls – but I realize the little clock symbol is a timer. I guess it would be convenient to load them the night before and have it start while you are still sleeping. Especially if it is going to take almost 3 hours to get the load done! We learned later from the homeowners that many of the locals do their wash at night since electricity rates are lower during off peak times.

So, the washing is done. How about the drying? It is a very common practice here to hang your clothes out to dry. Fortunately, I do that at home too. Saves on the electric bill, makes your clothes smell fresher and bleaches those whites in the sun! But, it has been since I was a child that I saw an umbrella or rotating clothesline!  It is a battle of woman and the wind!  Those sheets were wrapping themselves around me like a mummy!

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Gotta say, once you figure it out and make some adjustments to your schedule, I like it this way! And my clothes have never seemed so clean! Now watch out – I am going hiking!

Beginnings

The fact that you’re reading travel blogs tells me you’re dreaming of that alternative lifestyle which is so prevelent in today’s media. It’s the dream man, the dream. Traveling to those far away, exotic places. Everyone has the dream, they’re just different. It may be Asia, Europe, even South or Central America. The point is that practically everyone shares this dream in one way or another. I’ve been chasing it for years and I am getting closer all the time. For Cheryl and me, the allure of third world countries seems to scratch that itch. Maybe it reminds us of our childhood, a simpler time – not to mention the economy making way for that next trip.

My first trip was to the Caribbean back in 1994. A friend had the opportunity to take their band down and play some venues in St. Croix, USVI. That friend invited me down for a long weekend to check it out. While there, I was able to get around and see some of the sights on this 23×7 mile island paradise.

Sugar Mill

As the plane began its descent and we emerged through the clouds, I could see St. Croix in its entirety. The vibrant green carpet covering the mountainous spined island contrasted against the aqua blue of the Caribbean Sea. Breathtaking! As we drew closer, I could see the houses of various affluence dotting the hillsides. Upon exiting the 747, the warm humid air washed over my air conditioned, hermetically sealed, sardine canned body. My flight mates and I walked down the 1960ish rollaway stair to the tarmac and made our way to baggage claim. The last time I walked on a runway was in the Air Force back in the 70’s. Sharing the concrete floor with chickens and small lizards was a new experience. With the addition of the Cruzan rum stand offering free shots, I soon realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The livestock may have been unsettling to some, but I loved the time warp back to a simpler time. An old black man was sweeping the concrete with a broom. A Cruzan woman pushed a cart and offered locally made trinkets. The cab drivers gathered outside sitting on mismatched chairs and boxes in a corner close to their 15 passenger vans. Again the warmth reminded me of my cooler acclimated clothing and I ducked into a restroom to zip off those long legs and sport a tee shirt.

 

imageThe gang was waiting with cold beer and a couple of jeeps to gather me and my backpack and deliver us to downtown Christiansted. After getting settled, an offer was quickly accepted to tour the island. We four wheeled our way west to Fredricksted. “Left side!” yelled one of the guys. It takes awhile to get used to driving on the Brit side of the road. When we made Fredricksted, we began bar hopping and my friends introduced me to many bar and restaurant managers which would prove very useful in the future. Like the US, St. Croix is a melting pot and peeps turn up from everywhere. Fred was from Indiana, Diana Wisconsin, Tom was from PA. Each owned a bar and each had an interesting story of how they got here.

In the southwest corner, Fredricksted (like Christiansted) has an old fort which once protected the bay from imageinvaders with a cache of cannons and now serves as a museum on protected grounds for tourists to enjoy. Also, Fredricksted maintains the large pier for mooring the 10+ cruise ships per month that list St. Croix as a port of call. After several stops on the west side , we proceeded through the rainforest to the north shore and Cane Bay Beach. On the way, we stopped at the Domino Club to give the beer drinking pigs a non-alcoholic beer. That’s right! Just hand them the can and they puncture it with their tusks and drink it down. How bizarre! Continuing on to Cane Bay, we found more venues and once again introductions were of interest to a traveling musician like myself.

Three years later, Cheryl and I ran into a young man at home tending bar who had roadied for a band that played in St. Croix. I was able to get the contact info of a woman who owned a bar on the east end. I called that bar owner and she not only gave me some dates to play, but picked Cheryl and me up at the airport and found us a place to stay. It was an easy first trip. Everybody spoke English, US currency, free place to stay, and I made enough money to pay for the trip. Little did I know that this was all Cheryl needed to embark on a long list of travels and trips that have continued for over twenty years!

I frequently return to St. Croix simply because I can pay for the trip by playing and singing at the various venues I learned of during that first trip. Each time I return I learn something new, meet new and interesting people, and see the island from a different point of view. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this in St. Croix on our 17th trip! And, of course, not our last.