Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Traveling with Trixy

Trixy, my long-suffering and almost constant companion for most of this century….. let’s be honest, if not for Trixy I might be lounging on a Thai beach or puffing my way up to Machu Picchu right this minute…… might be. Click the link for Trix’s story.

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The most fundamental belief I hold is that everything is possible in some form or other, if you give it enough thought, want it enough, and are willing to make compromises, so when the foot itching became unbearable over a year ago, it became clear that the only way I could travel was with Trixy. Thus it was that she squeezed into my van at an unspeakably early hour on a dark morning last October, and nestled between bags and boxes, eager not to be left behind, wherever I was off to.

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The Ferries

That morning we were off to Los Cristianos to take the ferry to La Gomera, a crossing of only an hour, but we were setting off into the unknown, however close to “home” it was!

It’s a powerful thing when a pet trusts you, and if I had any doubts about this trip at all it was when I left her in the Spartan kennel on the ferry, knowing that we had far longer ferry trips in the months ahead. If ever looks spoke louder than words it was when I went to “rescue” her as we docked in San Sebastian. At that point the trip became as much about traveling with dogs as about anything.
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That turned out to be the only time I used the kennels. By the time we came to do the five-hour trip to Fuerteventura we’d both become accustomed to her staying in the car. Sometimes I checked with the ferry staff, but honestly they didn’t really have a clue whether or not it was permitted to leave a pet in the car, and Trix was definitely much happier with her own blankets on the comfy back seat.

Two ferry companies ply this route daily, Fred Olsen Ferries and Naveria Armas. I used both, depending on which website was working, or which office was staffed when I arrived at a terminal.

The only reservation I now have about doing this arose a couple of months back, when there was a fire in the hold of one of these ferries. A truck apparently caught fire, and though, happily, no one was hurt, you have to wonder if a dog is really safer (i.e. easier to rescue) in kennels in those circumstances.

1-DSC_2424Getting from La Gomera to Fuerteventura means taking 3 ferries. The first was the accustomed crossing to Tenerife, then a drive from Los Cristianos to Santa Cruz and a ferry to Gran Canaria. We’d been able to crash with friends (Trixy’s adoptive “godparents”) overnight so there was plenty of time to exercise luckily. The second goes from Santa Cruz to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where at midnight we drove clear to the other side of the port to board the Fuerteventura ferry.

In Santa Cruz there was a moment of panic as an Armas staffer noticed Trix in the car, and told me that I needed some special paperwork for her. This was the first I’d heard of it, we were next in line to board, and I had to rush over to their office to fill in the form, which basically said I wouldn’t sue them if anything happened to her.

My instructions were to check in and do the same at reception onboard the second ferry, where a mystified staff member asked me if I minded waiting as she doled out cabin keys to the dozens of truckers who needed their sleep, and then went off in search of instructions, clearly this was something she’d never dealt with before. Eventually, all signed up, I curled up on a seat and resolved to take a cabin if I ever did this crossing again. Trix, snug as a bug on her comfy bed on the comfy back seat of the car, apparently snored her way around the islands.

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After that it all became a familiar routine, surrounded by her own blankets or bed, she didn’t show any signs of nerves at all. If I was traveling on foot I’m not sure how I would feel about having to leave her in the kennels. You can’t expect luxury, but they seemed a bit harsh, and several times, descending to the car deck at the end of a crossing, I heard dogs that seemed to have been barking the entire trip. Trix isn’t a barky dog, but other dogs barking relentlessly would have upset her.

When I booked our last trip, from La Palma to Tenerife I noticed a paragraph on the Fred Olsen website I hadn’t seen before, which indicated that if you travel with your dog it has to be insured. That seemed fair enough too, but I ignored it, knowing that Trix is too old now to be accepted for insurance, and I wasn’t asked for any proof.

All in all there were no real problems. I always arrived early, so we could have a walk, and make sure she had plenty of water. It meant that I was calm and relaxed about leaving her, if I hadn’t been, chances are she would have picked up on it, and not settled down so well.

Accommodation

Trixy thrived in La Gomera, and perhaps her happiness was something to do with me extending my stay there. I think the cooler weather agreed with her, and some of the stiffness in her back legs seemed to ease up. Odd that, you’d think it would be better in the warmth.

1-DSC_2482Finding the La Gomera apartment had been one of those twists of Fate that leave you wondering about how the universe encourages you sometimes, but I will write properly about accommodation another time, this post is specifically about the canine side of my “adventure.” I’d been able to introduce one of the apartment owners to Trix when he passed through El Médano, so I was happy that he knew she was old and quiet.

In La Gomera getting into the car became a happy semi-leap instead of the awkward fumbling it had been, as she went with me more often than not as I toured the island. The apartment was perfect, which meant I was able to leave her behind if I was going somewhere like a restaurant, or walking for longer than she is able to do. The peace was perfect for her. Never a fan of loud noises, the only times she was spooked were when there were fireworks i.e. for the Bajada de la Virgen and New Year’s Eve.

These days, at her advanced age, she’s happy to lie under the table, and so I could enjoy a meal and/or work in peace as she dozed – so long as we were outdoors, which was ok for the first 3 months and last couple of weeks, but which, ….. er, didn’t exactly work during the two months of torrential rain, which comprised the rest of last winter! She’d also been happy to lounge on the back seat or on a blanket by my side when I worked at the beach, but, come the rains, I had to leave her behind when I worked in bars, which, actually also worked out fine, given the great apartment.

 

Sitting outside the apartment just before we left La Gomera for the first time.

Sitting outside the apartment just before we left La Gomera for the first time.

Saying goodbye to Playa Santa Catalina when we left the island for the second time at the beginning of June

Saying goodbye to Playa Santa Catalina when we left the island for the second time at the beginning of June

My idea had been to arrange accommodation ahead, and so when we arrived at the home stay in Fuerteventura I knew that she would be accepted, but that she would have to sleep in the garage with the owner’s dogs. I didn’t have problem with that. Although she’s always slept in the house, she stays in an outdoor kennel when I go away, and this is a totally different thing to do in this climate than it would be in a colder one. The garage turned out to be fine, clean and cool in the hotter climate, and she got on well with the other dogs.

Waiting patiently in the shade while I take snaps in Tetir, Fuerteventura

Waiting patiently in the shade while I take snaps in Tetir, Fuerteventura

For me, however, it was different. I missed her being around for one thing, and for another, visitors often left the front gate open, and the dogs would get out. For the family dogs, in a small village, that wasn’t a huge problem, they inevitably found their way back sooner or later, but for Trix, who has no road sense and is now deaf anyway, it was different, and I worried.

It definitely meant that I wouldn’t leave her alone, so she came everywhere with me. I only once left her behind for any length of time. It was kind of nice, having her there behind me, but a problem when I needed to leave her in the car of course as the weather got warmer.

 

Yeah, it was kind of windy in Fuerteventura. On the dunes of Jandia looks as if she is about to take flight!

Yeah, it was kind of windy in Fuerteventura. On the dunes of Jandia looks as if she is about to take flight!

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Happy on the beach!

Happy on the beach!

When I received the invite to stay at the Sands Beach Resort in Lanzarote for a week, there was no option but to leave her in kennels. I chose to use kennels on that island rather than Fuerteventura, so if there was a problem I would be closer. I reached out to fellow blogger Julie Cliffe-Jones for a recommendation, and it proved to be absolutely marvelous. In fact, the best kennels I’ve ever used anywhere! From the moment I left her I sensed that she was in good hands from what I’d seen, and I was able to relax completely and concentrate on work for the week.

Trixy loved the countryside and the cooler air

Trixy loved the countryside and the cooler air

Our final port of call on this trip was the island of La Palma. There I found the first utterly negative aspect of traveling with dogs, which I mentioned in this post, so I won’t repeat myself. Thankfully it was only an overnight stop, and thankfully it was resolved, without me or Trixy having to sleep in the car.

Working at a picnic area, Trixy tucked herself under the table and snoozed

Working at a picnic area, Trixy tucked herself under the table and snoozed

The next morning we arrived at the accommodation I’d booked, happily, subject to it being ok, and I probably have to be honest and say that Trix probably enjoyed it as much as I disliked it…..once, like me, she’d gotten used to the scuffling of lizards and god knows what else in the ceiling! The accommodation was an independent apartment created from outbuildings adjacent to the owner’s house, and it was ground floor, so there was a little, overgrown garden. Happily overgrown, which meant that she could mooch around to her heart’s content, though rigorous brushing and checking for tics had to be done every day! She loved just lazing in the sun when I worked, surveyed anxiously by the owner’s cat and her brood of five, six-week-old kittens, who gave her a wide berth, so no problems there either!

Soaking up the rays in the garden in La Palma

Soaking up the rays in the garden in La Palma

Would I do It Again?

Yes, I’d do it again – in a heartbeat. Whether I actually will do so I’m not so sure. Trix is definitely showing signs of age now. She has a heart condition and hip displaysia, and I’m happy to be back in the hands of a veterinary practise which knows her and her history. I will think twice before I set off next time about whether it’s the best thing for her.

Obviously some dogs wouldn’t like a trip like this, some get car sick, some are just too exciteable, or don’t get on with people or with other dogs. The dog needs to be fairly tranquil and unflappable. I’m not even sure I could have done this when she was younger. I made make sure that I had the food and bedding organized, but not much more so than at home. I took a load of old blankets and throws to line the car seats, and just threw them out when they became too dirty. Always having water in the car is a must, of course, and when I had to leave her alone in the car it goes without saying that I left windows ajar and put the sun visor across the windscreen. I was lucky to be traveling in places where crime rates are fairly low, so leaving windows open didn’t bother me, given that after La Gomera half my possessions remained in the car! The first thing I did when I arrived somewhere was to make sure that I knew where the nearest vet was too, having located it, I took a picture of the opening hours and phone numbers on their door with my phone, so I had a quick reference in case of an emergency.

There are certain things I would do differently about this trip, which I will address another time, but traveling with Trixy certainly isn’t one of them, and with a younger dog, who could enjoy long walks I’d be even more enthusiastic! The secret to having few problems seems to have been in making sure ahead of each destination that it was dog friendly. On the one occasion that didn’t work out, I had researched, but there was a fault somewhere in the advertising. *******.co.uk were absolutely correct and refunded my money in full, so I was very impressed, and will definitely use them again, although perhaps, having chosen the accommodation, I will ring directly to confirm that they accept pets.

 

Tired out after traveling Trix just curled up in yet another new "home"

Tired out after traveling Trix just curled up in yet another new “home”

In a big way, Trixy made the trip for me. Over the ten months I met some amazing people, formed new friendships (much more so than expected) and experienced heart-warming kindness, but the thing about traveling solo is that you don’t actually share the trip with someone. Being with her in some way felt as if we were sharing, and that was a plus.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to clean my car – Trixy, sadly, is the world’s hairiest dog (in the sense of shedding it wildly!) and the only negative is that there is A LOT of cleaning up to do. Tips for removing dog hairs welcome!


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Of Dream Homes and the Internet

Do you have a dream home? Oh, I don’t mean a house as such, though that would be a part of it, I mean a place. When you travel are you, even unconsciously,  looking for your dream home, that special place which ticks all the boxes in your heart and soul? Everywhere I’ve ever been I believe I’ve asked myself, “Could I live here?” The answer invariably is, “No,” but sometimes there’s a “Yes.” To date, however, the yeses have been too expensive, forbidden (no longterm visa) or too far away from aging family.

Generally for me it’s that middle thing, the not being allowed to live in my chosen spots. Deciding what to do a few days back, I made a list of what it would take to make my dream place. It is, of course, by the ocean, but with mountains within easy reach; it is multi-cultural, drawing color and passion from folk from many different backgrounds and nationalities;  there is good wi-fi; a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices available; it’s lively and has sports facilities; easy access to art is high on the list (bookshops, cinemas, theater, museums, concerts); it’s sophisticated (in the real sense of the word) in a laid back way. The climate is important, but if everything fell into place, and the seasons were as seasons ought to be (i.e. not 12 months of rain and cloud) then that might be less important. In fact, I guess, if enough boxes are ticked, then the ones which aren’t become less significant.Early morning El Médano

And so I come to El Médano; by the ocean; a half hour from the mountains; a half hour from theaters and concerts in Santa Cruz; twenty minutes from the cinema; reasonably multi-cultural; good choice of eateries (sushi, great pizza, crepes, Chinese, fish, original-enough snackeries, bakeries, terrific farmers’ market); decent wi-fi and availability in bars and cafés; laid back lifestyle; not overly expensive; fantastic climate; excellent sports facilities.

El Médano sure ticks a lot of my boxes, but, and this is a huge but for me, my ideal place would have English as its first language. I love the English language. I love playing with words. I love to hear it spoken in all its many guises, whether it’s William Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin,  spoken by Patrick Stewart or Denzel Washington. The music of my soul is sung in the English language, Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll and even some Country. I miss the closeness of this. I miss sharing it.

And yet, as I sit here, street sounds drifting up, kids playing soccer on the street below, the clatter of someone stacking dishes coming from an open window somewhere above me, people laughing as they stroll home from the concert I know has taken place in the town square this evening, this feels strangely like home. Perhaps it is the familiarity – the fact that this is the 5th time I’ve gravitated back to this small town – that makes it feel this way. Perhaps it is that I simply accept that sufficient boxes are ticked at this moment, and that sooner or later the urge to get away will overcome me again. Perhaps if we stay too long in one place we see too much of the negative. Perhaps that’s why the urge to keep moving or seeking.

What I know for now is this. I need a base, somewhere which feels welcoming to return to, and for the rest, for now, there is the internet.

 


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Things I Am Learning from This Journey: No.1 I Am Addicted to Sunshine!

As I left the island of  La Gomera in early March the sun, seen throught the salty windows of the Armas ferry blazed a welcome, and then scurried behind onimous clouds. That was as much as I’d seen of it in that week.

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

The lazy, sunny, autumn days when I first arrived had given way to mostly bleakness in a valley famed for its lushness – so what do you expect, the green needs water.

Hermigua is quite breathtakingly beautiful, and certainly thoughts of coming back to stay crossed my mind. Every time I fell down that rabbit hole I was enchanted anew, and yet there was always this sense of  “making the most of it.” Granted, La Gomera was only the beginning of what I intended to be an indefinite journey, so I knew I would move on, regardless of how much the island tried to ensnare me. Yet the feeling was deeper than that too. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but I knew that I wouldn’t be back to stay – and here is where I admit that, although I see my travels as being infinite, I don’t see them as being unending. In the sense that one day I would like to find somewhere to make a small base from whence to travel as long as I am able. A retreat.

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

What I wasn’t sure about was just why, since I adored this valley, I didn’t see it in my long-term future. I pondered this as the dark shape of the island of  Tenerife came into focus on the horizon, outlined by that rising sun.

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6 Months On The Road: And Still Decluttering!

Decluttering is a bit like striping a plaster from a wound, I’ve learned. You can do it quickly, and get over the pain quickly, or you can peel it off slowly and prolong the agony. It’s a lesson I thought I’d learned – but apparently not!

My old van was just chock-a-block with “stuff” when I set out in early October, and deep down I knew that I likely wouldn’t need/want all of it. The day I left, it took me a while in the pre-dawn chill to finish loading my van, and it was a squeeze for Trix – who didn’t seem to mind so long as she could curl up! It turns out that about a half of what I packed in was “not needed on voyage,” which is why I haven’t written a post entitled something like “What I Packed for My New Adventure,” or some such.

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The danger in traveling long-term by car or van or camper i.e. on wheels, is that you think you have so much room, so you can easily fit in those “just in case” items. Truth is, however, that even if you do have the room, there’s a lot of inconvenience to carting lots of stuff around with you. A journey is almost certainly a metaphor for life in this sense. I remind myself of this as I search, for the umpteenth time, for my car papers. They are MIA, and wherever they turn up, it’s for sure I can’t find them right now because -

I Brought Too Much!

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Too Much Lotus Eating in La Gomera; Time to Move On

“I want to see something new and for it to ‘wow’ me, take my breath away.  I’m ready for that something new.  I’m beyond ready.” Me: sometime last year.

My whole being ached with the need for new experiences, new sights and places.  I may have written them on my Facebook page or profile. I may have written them in an email to a friend, or I may have just typed them out and kept the file, which I found just now,  to remind me. I don’t remember, but I do remember that feeling. I’m guessing that lots of you will have felt it too.

This time last year my life was very pleasant. I was living in El Médano in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, a town that I liked a lot. I was teaching ESL. I had a pleasant social life. I ran on the beach in the morning. I was writing pretty much as much as I am writing now. For the first time in a long time both of my sons had landed jobs they really loved, and were looking forward to exciting things in the months ahead.

I was 66, and my life could have gone on that way forever. But, pleasant as it was, did a lifetime of same old, same old really appeal to me? Of course it didn’t! It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been able to travel, if you were born with wanderlust, as so many of us are, then you can never settle down. You actually need to keep moving around, to challenge yourself, both mentally and physically.

I've loved El Médano. I couldn't have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

I’ve loved El Médano. I couldn’t have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

“To Dream the Impossible Dream” Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (or at least lyricist Joe Darion!)

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A Toast to 2013: Postcards to Myself

I don’t usually go in for rambling, retrospective, year-end posts, mainly because I think the Web groans under the weight of them at this time of year. What I do is this…….a photo roundup of personal memories of my year.

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2013 was a delightful year for me – seeing both my sons enjoying their chosen paths and having some wonderful visits with them; catching up with dear friends, long overdue; memorable times with friends who were geographically closer ; a beginning to the  more nomadic existence I’ve been craving; an acceptable upswing in the amount of travel, compared to recent years….and a quality of travel which still takes my breath away when I think about it.  Key words for the year: spring flowers, cheese, France, Ireland, amazing food adventures, mountains, greenery, London, La Gomera, Asturias.

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Whiling Away the Last Days of Summer in France & Facing Autumn in England

My bedroom window in France

My bedroom window in France

My eyes opened to this my first morning in France……it was ……..idyllic, like waking to a dream.

After spending the previous night on the cold benches of Barcelona airport, I’d slept like a log, shuffling off a tiredness which resulted not only from the previous night, but from lack of sleep on the two nights before that, waking early and going to bed late to get all my stuff into storage, Trixy into kennels, and complete all those tasks which seem so urgent when you know you’re going away, and have now faded into the past.

That gorgeous window was in my bedroom in my friends’ house. Wendy and Tarik made me feel utterly at home. We ate. We talked. We wandered. We talked. We explored. We talked. This was the longest Wendy and I had been together since sometime in the 70s, and the joys of learning all about the backstories of what we knew had happened in each other’s lives was palpable.

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Deciding, Discarding and Dreaming

This new journey comes, finally, as a relief, something I’ve been planning for ten years, and yet at the same time it’s a novelty.  Not quite like anything I’ve done before. I suppose it’s like an extended road trip in some ways.

Ten years ago, when my nest emptied, I sold my house and wandered off, with very little planning…..and certainly not traveling light – I was lugging Guy’s snowboard, and I’d bought the world’s biggest suitcase. Guy had gone off to university in the US, and there were a thousand things to take over, as well as Christmas gifts – I went for New Year. I’d given away most of my furniture. Sold some stuff at car boot sales, the remains were stored in a garage, and Trixy was in kennels.

In April I was back, and at an impasse. For one thing I was excruciatingly aware of how the travels had eaten into the money from the house sale, and I was unaware of the possibilities of working online in any form, to fund my travels. My lifelong wanderlust had never died, though it had been partly sated by emigration, and the challenges and happiness of motherhood, but it was rising ferociously.  Then I got a job offer, out of the blue, so, in panic,  I did the conventional thing, and bought an apartment (in El Médano as it happens) and kind of settled down………because, you know, that was the sensible thing to do. I, actually, did travel around Europe and the US east coast that year, in bits and pieces. Somewhere I have a diary I kept – a real one, which tied with a bow, and in which I wrote in pen!  Though I’d enjoyed the year unreservedly, I wrote on December 31st, there was something missing. I decided that it had almost been too “nice.”

There is no doubt that if you're ready to settle down, and you don't mind the breeze El Médano is a hypnotic place to choose.

There is no doubt that if you’re ready to settle down, and you don’t mind the breeze El Médano is a hypnotic place to choose.

For two months after closing my diary and tying the ribbon, that thought plagued me. Pleasant as life was, I was restless, and haunted by the feeling that I was missing out on something important. I liked my apartment, my sons were settled, my work was easy, friendships un-demanding. Isn’t this a desirable state of being?

Life was comfortable, and as we know, comfort zones can be killers. I needed for things to wrong, or at least to have the potential to go wrong. Otherwise this pleasant but boring pattern might continue for the rest of my life…..that’s the reality of  on the cusp of 60……that’s what happens to people…….they stop …….. they atrophy.

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Moving On

I know it’s boring, dropping hints about what one is going to do in the future. It wasn’t my intention to tease,  but truth is I’ve been dithering over this for almost a year now, and finally realized that I should heed the words I often preach to others:

“There is no such thing as a wrong decision. The hardest, the very hardest part of the decision is making it, once that it done you just have to take a deep breath and live with whatever the consequences are. There are bad decisions and good decisions, yes, but not wrong or right ones, because even the consequences of bad decisions result in something or other in our lives which turn out to be lessons. We can gain from every experience if only we open our eyes.”

Contemplating the ocean, or the future? Las Galletas a few months back

Contemplating the ocean, or the future? Las Galletas a few months back

Thinking back over changes in my life, the first enormous one was going to grammar school at 11. Granted it wasn’t entirely my decision, the state decided I go to grammar school, and I decided which one, but being thrust out of the comfort zone of my happy childhood into the big, wide world of a 1,000+ pupil school was daunting. After that life turned on my decisions; college, first job, subsequent jobs, relationship decisions, the decision to have first one child, then another, the decision to emigrate, to marry,  to divorce, to become a Red Cross volunteer, education undertaken, to stay in Tenerife. All of these decisions led me to where I now am. Then there were the smaller ones; house moves, pets (to have or not), weight loss, weight gain (definitely a subconscious decision!), mortgages, vacations, books read, music listened to, credit cards maxed out, movies watched (definitely some life influences there), people accepted or rejected,courses done, job decisions, and a million more: all strands in the lives we have lived, which make us what we are at the present moment.

La Gomera seen from the hillsides of west Tenerife

La Gomera seen from the hillsides of west Tenerife

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A Sense of Place ….Or Not

A Sense of Belonging. Travelers often don’t need that, preferring to be the observer, not getting too familiar or too comfortable.

Then again, perhaps we are simply looking for a place which makes us feel that way. Perhaps once we’ve scratched the surface of a place, and find it isn’t what we’d hoped or thought,  we move on, hoping to find it on some far-flung shore. Some travelers need to be in constant motion, skipping over places, perhaps returning, but like a bee at a flower to move on again. And again. I’m nothing like the traveler that some friends or acquiantences are, but I am, and almost always have been, constantly restless, and curious about what’s over the horizon.

The road winds

The road winds

This is to say that I don’t know where I belong.

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