Andrej Raider

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Next Stop: Paradise

Posted on | February 11, 2012 | No Comments

After this 3 days the country was not the same for me as before. Nevertheless I felt too much respect of this new habitat and culture to continue walking. So I changed the place. Rafael referred me to Eric and his Family. Eric, from Miami, who has been living 4 years in Brazil, received me cordially at a train-station, not too far away from Rafael’s place. A great time.

I was sharing my stories with him and he shared his. He showed me lots of flee-markets, shopping-spots and taught me what you need to know about Brazilian food and drinks. While Eric showed me the Brazilian life-style, Luciana – his wife, told me about the Brazilian church and the Christian community. My Portuguese teacher was Joshua, their 2 years-old son. Sometimes he came to me with a picture book. I pointed the finger on one of the images and he pronounced the word. Children are the best teachers.

One sunny Sunday Luciana asked if I would like to visit the church with the family. Of course I joined and in the same evening we went all together to the church, which was standing in one of the dozens of favellas of Rio De Janeiro. On the way I note that the street seemed like a gloomy corridor and the old huts at the sides seemed like the corridors old walls, without light, without life. Only one twinkle of light was visible, coming from a little old house, which might have been a garage in the past. But not only light, also music, voices and a bit of a party-vibe came from inside. We entered. It seemed that all the life of the favella gathered in this little place. People of all ages, genders and skin-colors, all together, everyone with a smile on the face. Live-music, dancing and singing.

“Who is new today?”, a woman asked on the platform at the back of the room, where the band just stopped playing. Out of approximately 60 people, only 1 raised his hand. Me.

And all people said in unison: “Welcome to the church. May god bless you. And may you come back time and again”.

It was a very touching experience, seeing people, lots of poor people, who do not have anything material in their life, but who shine with their joy and heartiness, and with every second my sympathy for those people grew and grew. Not because of the psalms and prayers, neither Jesus or Maria, but because of this wonderful vibe, the shining in their eyes and their contagious happiness, it was the first time that I felt a bit closer to god in a church, instead of farer from him.

The next day I made my first steps through Brazil. I walked along a street towards to the coast. Once I would arrive there I would walk at the beach side until Santos. After the first kilometers I started wondering. What was going to be in front of me? What was waiting for me? I stopped for a moment and closed my eyes. I felt the warmth of the sun; I breath the fresh tropical air; I heard the exotic singings of the birds and the sound of the palm-leafs in the wind. I felt an inner smile and open my eyes. There was a small Brazilian flag lying on the ground, right in front of my eyes. I picked it up and fastened it at my backpack.

After 35 km walk, I arrived in Mangaratiba. A small but magnificent village at the coast. Ocean, mountains, forests and friendly people, all at one spot. At this place I was hosted for 2 days by Alexandre, a very sympathetic and interesting person. Alexandre showed me the village and the beaches. Another thing he showed me was the amazing movie “City of god” in its original language. The second day, I met Luis, the first Colombian I ve seen, who was also hosted by Alexandre for a couple of days. Luis was the one who told me about the magnificences of his home country with a shine in his eyes. He showed me pictures and video which eventually took away my fear of the rumors that Colombia was one of the most dangerous countries.

The same day we sat in the port of the village and enjoyed a meal in the sun. Some roads were closed and no one could pass. Many people gathered at the port, not too far away from us. There was a little tumult but I couldn’t catch a word and didn’t understand what it was all about, until Alexandre said smiling “something´s gonna explode”.

“BOOM!!!”. Maybe 30 meters away from me, right at the runway in the water, a ferry was blown up with a spectacular flame inferno. Pieces of wood and burning parts of the boat flew through the air and landed in the water. Terrorists? … No. I had just been witness of the shooting program of the new Silvester Stalone – movie: “The missionary”. And as this is a Silvester Stalone – movie, of course something needs to be blown up. Just spectacular. Pitty it was only one boat.

Upon the recommendation of many people I decided to make a detour to Ilha Grande. “This Island is paradise”, they say. So if it was even more paradise than Mangaratiba, I thought I should go there. At 6 o clock in the morning I took the ship to the island. And indeed: Caribbean atmosphere, beaches even more beautiful than the ones you see on the post-cards. Clear, celestial colored water, palms, little forests, and of course friendly people. I slept on the camping and the next day I took the ship back to the continent, the very next city: Angra Dos Reis, where a Brazilian-Buddhistic girl, Camila, received and hosted me. We shared talks, chant experiences and eventually went to have a drink in a kind of samba-bar.

Next morning I continued my way to another small village which I reached when the sun was setting. I stopped at something like a open-air-bar, where I asked the tender if can build up my tent for a night in the bars yard. The bar-tender was as friendly as everyone and allowed me to do so. While building up the tent a Spanish speaking gentleman passed by with a bike and spoke to me. We got into a chat and I told him about my journey. He invited me eventually to stay at his place “If you want to see exceptional things you will like that place”. I accepted and we walked about 5 kilometers through a woody path into a forest, which became wilder and woodier every kilometer, and finally arrived in the pure jungle. I have never seen a place like that before: Exotic plants and fruits, gigantic trees, rivers, lakes, cascades, rocks, strange sounds of even stranger animals coming out of bushes and trees. An unbelievable composition was built into this melee of life, made out of jungle-materials between lakes, waterfalls, rivers and mountains, standing on a clearance.

Renato, the man who brought me to this place, introduced me to a friend, saying “he build this all up”.

A looked at small tiny man, maybe between 50 and 60 with an indescribable vitality and clarity in his eyes and a silent smile in inner calmness. Just the imagination that this bio-tropical fortress has been build up by one man was mind blowing. I was shown around. Gardens, leafs which had the size of my body, streams of cascades falling from various lifts, ending up in ditches which were like beautiful drawings on the ground, coming together in a lake (which was also usable as swimming pool) and falling down on the other side as another cascade. A marvelous view, especially from the hammocks on the highest level of this creation.

I noticed that in tropical areas, things generally are bigger. Gigantic leafs, huge mosquitos, palms of an unbelievable hight. Just like the spider, which crossed our way when the gentlemen were about to show me the place I was supposed to sleep. This spider was bigger than a mans hand. Renatos friend, still smiling, took his machete and split the spider in 2 parts. The spider who seemed to be very unimpressed by this, simply kept running without his back part. Even after the second slash, the remaining parts alive kept running. Only after the spider was cut in several pieces, it calmed down.

Later on, on the highest level, enjoying a wine, me and Renato had great talks, sharing stories and experiences, and enjoying the nature around us, and next day I said good bye, continuing my walk for further 35 km to another little village, where I slept in my tent, and another 35 the day after till I arrived in Paraty a dreamlike seaside town, where I was received by Michelle, a French sailor who lived in his ship at the bay of this beautiful place.

To be continued…

The New World (Rio De Janeiro)

Posted on | November 28, 2011 | No Comments

Rafael left in the morning. My nervousness made me ask him if the area is safe and he affirmed that it is. “Sometimes you can hear gunshots but it shouldn’t scare one off”.

“Fair enough”…

After some hours I decided to make my first steps on Brasilian ground and dared to walk to the supermarket around the corner to get some food. I observed the dark-skinned people, who walked with a few clothes through the streets. The air was very humid and had a totally different smell than the air I was used to. I arrive at something like a cafe and sat down outside at the tables. Drinking a cofe and eating a roll after some time a family (father, mother, daughter, son) sat down at a table next to me. We start chatting and I asked the father to tell me a bit from his country. He talked very passional. However I understood only parts. “Drugs, danger, beaches, sun, fruits, murders, great food, animals, poorness, beautiful women, samba, vagabunds,…”, a cocktail made of heaven and hell.

Enjoying the story I rolled a cigarette and people around me seemed curiouse. Children called: “look, he makes his own cigarette”, and the teller of the story asked me to teach him how I do it. I did and he invited me for a beer. A short time later a tall black man sat down next to me, smiling all over his face “can you teach me, too?” Totaly fascinated he watched me rolling the cigarette. It seemed to be not very common. Only filter-cigarettes here and there. Or maybe they liked the fact that I was a foreigner? In any case, I enjoyed a lot chatting with the people, especially the curiouse kids: “Who are you? Whats your name? Where do you come from? Do you speak our language? You look like Michael Jackson”. After this I hit the supermarket and got some pasta, which was tasting awefull, in opposition to the incredibly tasty bananas.

In the night I was thinking how I could survive walking through this country with a European backpack, without being kidnapped or murdered. The myths about Brazil as one of the most dangerous countries were rotating in my head, as well as the experiences of the taxi-ride of the previous night… I decided to go to sleep…. Was that a machine-gun which I just heard?

The night was restless. In the morning I was woken up by the same noise which I also heard at night. Gunshots? Even in the morning… I entered the living room where Rafael sat completely relaxed at his computer. I went to the yard. I heard more noise. People screaming something somewhere in the neighborhood. I started worrying…

“Rafael, are you sure its safe for me to leave and walk around?”

“Of course”, he said while the gunshots were still ongoing in the background. I asked about the noises outside.

“Oh, thats just fireworks. There´s a party going on. We have national football-championship and today are the finals. You can join us and watch the game if you want.”

…I felt like the biggest idiot ever…

It was time to get into the move and see the country (or at least the city). I went with Rafael to the center. We took the train and after half an hour I found myself in a place, where city, forests, mountains and ocean came together. It was a miracle. We went through various shopping-miles. The prices were amazingly low, the taste of the fruits and juices were like another miracle, sunlight and movement, and it seemed like, although there was poorness and homeless people everywhere,however there was much more life than in any other place i have been before.

I was telling Rafael about my pilgrimage. “Most likely you wont find many people here, giving you money … They mostly ain’t have enough for themselves”, he said.

And indeed: At every corner you see people selling something, singing (or trying to), making jokes, playing shell-games and more. Magicians, artists, dancers, sellers, poets, religious and other types of people for which I could not find a word which would describe them or their actions.

Finally we arrived at the beach…

Ipanema beach

Ipanema beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ipanema beach

Ipanema beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and Rafael

Me and Rafael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t have to say that it was the most beautiful one I have seen so far.

And finally the famous “Sugar Loaf”, a little jungle on a little mountain. When I entered this little jungle, I was astonished by the nature, lianas, strange flora and fauna, the weired and newish way of plants growing and appearing, new colors and forms. I felt like a 6 years old, running through the jungle, up the mountain, jumping over bushes and rocks, climbing trees and plants, fascinated about this world.

little monkey?

little monkey?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I kept bouncing up the mountain. “Look there”, I heard Rafael saying, “we call it kiss-flower”. I looked at the spot Rafael was pointing at and couldn’t believe my eyes when  saw – for the first time – a real flower bird, my favorite bird, half the size of my thumb, 400 heart-beats, 250 gasps and 3.000 wing-beats per minute. A really beautiful moment. This little miracle grabbed a random insect out of an old tree, and flew zigzag-like towards my face, stopping and staring at me for 2 breathtaking seconds, then flying a couple of centimeters backwards and disappeared from my sight.

Unforgettable. Such as the few from the top of the hill, when we arrived.

Rio De Janeiro

Rio De Janeiro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar Loaf

Sugar Loaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christ - monument. One of the new 7 world-wonders

The Christ - monument. One of the new 7 world-wonders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day on the planet of amazement.

 

Taxi! (Rio De Janero)

Posted on | August 9, 2011 | No Comments

Original date of post: | April 18, 2009 |

Rio De Janeiro. The first time I was outside of Europe by myself. For some reason my nervousness disappeared as soon as the plane landed. With curiosity I made my first steps through the Brazilian Airport. I was asked to present passport and the ticket back to Lisbon, which I had but I knew that I wouldn’t make use of it. Its 10 pm, dark and my only orientation was a piece of paper which was supposed to show me the way through the 3,9 km (according to google-maps) till my destination, Rafaels place. Rafael was my last-minute-rescue. He was the only one on couchsurfing who accepted my request to stay at his place for some days, when I wrote to him from Lisbon. I have heard that if there is something you can do wrong in Rio as a foreigner, then it was walking at night through the city alone. But 3,9 km… should be manageable, no?

At the exit a random taxi-driver rushed to me and offers me a ride. I told him that my destination was close and I wouldnt need a taxi. “There isn’t anything at all close to here” he said, and to my surprise I understood his Portuguese better than the Portuguese from Portugal. I went to the official taxi-reception and asked how far was the place I wanted to go. The place was indeed 35 kilometers away and a Taxi cost 105 Reals (the total amount of money I had left was 140 Reals). But the taxi-driver who was insisting to bring me to my target said “I ll bring you for 85 only”, so I got into his cab and the show got started.

My driver introduced himself as Fabio and started the motor. The journey resembled a roller-coaster ride. Fabio accelerated, made a shortcut through a one-way road (in opposite direction) until he got to the main-street. Since there was a traffic-jam, Fabio decided to bomb down the sideway and after some time he managed to push himself between the other cars and drove s long as it was possible on the division line. The bus-driver (who actually had right of way) was simply scared of by Fabio not-breaking. With curiosity I watched Fabios way of driving and noticed that it didn’t really differ too much from the style of the other drivers. Things like lanes, street-signs and traffic-lights served simply for street-decoration. The traffic-lights got some attention though. Green meant: Rush through! Red meant: Look to your left, then to your right, and rush through!

After 10 minutes Fabio slowed down and said: “Sorry, we have to stop now…” and braked. I stared out of the window and realized that a machine gun barrel was staring back at me on the other side. Two heavy armed guys dragged Fabio out of the car: The police. While one of them was frisking Fabio the other one opened the door and asked me if I was kidnapped. After assuring that I was just a normal passenger the guys asked me to get out of the car as well. I was frisked and my backpack as well. No weapons or drugs found. Fabio and me could continue the ride.

But after another half an hour, Fabio starts despairing: “Where the heck is this god damned street?”. He made 5 or 6 calls and asks where the street might be. Nobody knew. He drove through little alleys and ghetto areas, stopped here and there to asked for the street. But no one could help. Speculations: “Try here and there”,… I was just glad we agreed on 85 Reals. The actual price would be far over my budged of 140 already. While Fabio was blustering around I started to worry about where I would sleep tonight. For the about tenth time he stopped to ask for the direction passing his nervousness on the pedestrians who were still walking around at midnight: “Please!! Where is this god damned street?!” and he went of the car and talked to some people at a bar. They were all almost naked. Even at midnight there were about 25 degrees. I got out of the car as well and listened to the people when they finally all agreed that the street I needed to go to does not exist. I joined the group. They started asking me who I am and where I come from. I told them about my plans and they started giving me directions of hotels. When I told them that I have only 140 Reals with me Fabio freaked out: “Oh Christ! He´s mad! He´s gonna die somewhere here on the street and the police will be behind me. He needs to go back to Europe! I need to bring him back to the airport!” He took his phone and started dialing a number. Meanwhile half the area gathered to have a discussion “how to safe the tourists life”. A Spanish-speaking girl came to me and told me how lucky I was finding them and not the evil guys who already would have killed me (and she gesticulated 5 or 6 different ways of killing somebody with her hands).

“You can sleep at the place of this man”, she said and pointed to one of the friendly guys.

“But only if you don’t have any drugs!”, was added by a woman who seemed to be his wife. “So, do you have drugs?”

“I don’t.” I said. “No drugs?”, the woman asked again. “No drugs”, I confirmed. “No drugs at all??”, it seemed that she couldn’t believe it. She wanted to check my tabacco. I let her and she gave her OK.

The chat was interrupted by Fabio who finished his phone call and suddenly rushed to us very excited: “I know where it is!!”. I went back into the cab. Alexandro on of the lovely people, and his wife joined us to get sure that I would arrive safe at Rafaels place. We arrived in front of a house with a yard, enclosed by a huge iron fence and gate. Fabio rang the bell. He rang it again and again hysterically. Then they started to bang against the gate. The dogs of the whole neighborhood were going mad. Alexandro hit the gate stronger and stronger and tried to call Rafael out. I was just imagining how I would feel if a group of strangers smashed my gate at 2 o clock in the night shouting “Get out!!! We are your friends!! Open the door!!!”

But after about 15 minutes we heard clicking and clacking behind the gate and it sounded as if someone was about to open. The gate opened and Rafael was standing in front of us. Fabio was relieved. The nightmare was over for him. The 5 of us now kept chatting for about 5 minutes. Fabio gave us a briefing of the most adventurous taxi-ride of his life and the group left. A bit tensed, but also relieved I entered Rafaels house and went to sleep.

To be continued…

Good Bye Europe (Fatima – Lisbon)

Posted on | July 31, 2011 | No Comments

Original date of post | April 15, 2009 |

Lisbon came closer.

Lisbon was planned to be the last station of Europe. On the way I was thinking how to leave the continent. The first idea was to check the port and ask if they let e work on the ship/container. If that doesn’t work out i ll have to look for a little job and work until I have the money for crossing the big lake. I didn’t know how, but somehow I would get out of there.

We slept in Alcanera, as usual at the fire-fighters, and walked a pretty long way to Santarem the next day. We arrived in an inn starving and were fed by the young and friendly bar keeper. He advised us that the fire-station was still 10 kilometers away. This last 10 km were a literally a pain. The entrance hall of the fire-station was a bar with lots of (drunk) customers. Even the some fire-fighters were drunk. The bar-keeper, who was absolutely wasted, tottered around the counter and asked us what we want. I explained our situation. On my question if it was possible to sleep there he replied with a slurred speech: “its difficult” and kept tottering upstairs without any further comments. After a minute he came back with another drunk woman. I had to repeat our story. She seemed to have understood us and brought us to a huge hall, where we had 2 mattresses to sleep on. She explained us the house-rules with a mix of English, Portuguese and French language. Unfortunately we didn’t understand anything. But in this situation, just nod and smile and you ll be fine.

And we were fine. After having a coffee the next morning we walked to Cartaxo. The fire-station in Cartaxo had a room with blackboards for us.

Refreshing arts- and maths-skills

Refreshing arts- and maths-skills

We continued to Azambuja, where a very friendly and hospitable man, called Nataniel invited us to have lunch with him. He was the very first person from Cap Verde, I have ever seen. He told us a bit from his country and culture and after listening to him I decided: Some day, I go to Cap Verde. He gave us some Euros for the way and we said good bye. This night we slept in Vila Franca de Xira at (what a surprise)… the firefighters.

Along the main street of Portugal we kept walking towards Lisbon. We were almost there, when we saw the famous bridge “Ponte Vasco De Gama”, the longest bridge in Europe, with 17,2 kilometers.

Through couch surfing we arranged a place to sleep in Lisbon. The description written by Joao, the couch-owner said: “My place is small, dirty and always full of people. You com on your own risk. This is not a joke”. Since it sounded like another adventure, we were eager to arrive there. When we arrived at the street, where the place was supposed to be, we were first doubting in its existence. The street looked more like a shopping mile. But indeed: Between a vegetable-shop and a flower-store, there was a small door which lead us to a 1 1/2-room-flat with a dozen of English-speakers in it. The beds, the floor, and the garden were considered as sleeping-surface. We camped in the garden and had an incredible time with Germans, Canadians, Americans, Swedish, Latvians, Chinese, French, Italians, and so on. We cooked together, partied together, sat at the fireplace, singing songs, sharing stories and experiences. In those days I made use of my Reiki-skills and helped Joaos neighbor, (who’s name was also Joao, and was also hosting people at the same time) to recover from an injury he had in his knee and earned some Euros to contribute a bit to the community.

Every day I went to the port, asking for ships hitting to south-America. But it seemed the people working at the port didn’t know either where their ships are going. Not even the port-administration could tell me if the have ships going to south-America. They gave me some addresses and I ve checked them all. Finally, one day I arrived at the office of a commander. I walked on an expensive blue carpet through the long corridor, decorated with statues and monuments of ships, pictures of great Captains and Admirals, until I arrived at the reception where an unfriendly secretary didn’t want to let me in. “Hes out of office!”. I asked her where I can find him then. “He is busy at the moment!”, she replied. “Well I need to talk to him!”, I said and mentioned some names of “important people” working at the port. She picked u the phone, dialed a number and gave me the phone. Of course the commander spoke Portuguese only and I had to focus to make him understand what I want… I greeted, said my name and explained my situation briefly. “Well”, he started “unfortunately we do not have passenger-ships going to south-America”.
“No ships in the whole city?”
“No ships in the whole country.”
“Okay, and how about containers?”
“Yes, that we have. But to take you on a container we would need you to have a seaman-certificate, first-aid formation certificate, insurance, basic nautical-course, ……. ” he kept on and on with the list and on my question, if there is any way to avoid all this, he replied “Maybe 30 years ago”.

But I didn’t want to give up. I went to the docs to speak with the harbor master. Unfortunately the docs were behind a big fence. The entrance gate was secured with a numerical code-security system. Before I could start shouting bad words around, I heard a voice behind me: “two, seven, four, two, five, A”. I turned around and saw a full-bearded sailor loaded with plastic bags which he was about to bring on his boat. I dialed the code and the gate was open. The bearded sailor jumped on his boat and after a little chat he casted of, to France, where I started. And I… I went to the harbor masters office. The old friendly man didn’t even ask me how I got in there, but unfortunately he only could confirm, that there is no way for me to get on a ship. This mission ended with a disappointment, but no-one can tell me I didn’t try.

My next plan was to get a cheap flight. I called my family and told them to quit my membership in our cooperative building society. Since I was not likely to go back soon and get a flat to live. They canceled and I got 300 Euros refunded.
Now it was the time, to grab the sacred little box, which was deep in my backpack waiting for months and moths for this day to come. I took it, and while I held it in my hands for some seconds, I remembered the moment in Spain, when a friend, another spiritual walker, gave me this present with a little notice in addition which said: “This is for your ticket to south America only”…

With 600 Euros I went to the traveler agency and asked for the cheapest flight to south-America they have. After some minutes of searching, the lady said to me, with a smile in her face, as if she knew my situation: “This would be a flight in 3 days, to Rio De Janeiro in Brasil, for 600 Euros.”

To be continued…

The holy way to Fatima (Viana do Castelo – Fátima)

Posted on | July 26, 2011 | No Comments

Original date of post | March 26, 2009 | 

Unfortunately in this week our camera turned to trash. Most pictures are deleted so Im sorry to say the next posts will be without pics.

After a really nice stay in Viana Do Castelo we marched towards Esponde, which we did not reach. A wave of laziness overcame us and we decided to make ourselves a favor and reduce the weight of our backpacks. So we emptied the wine-bottles which we still had from the hunters ad camped on the parking-space of a restaurant. The next day we passed Esponde and walked some more kilometers until a little village called Estela. We reached a pretty nice 4-star hotel with the intention to get permission to sleep on the parking-space. But it came differently. We started to chat with the sympathetic receptionists, who really seemed to like the project. And once more we were overwhelmed by hospitality and friendliness and slept in a 4-star hotel this night.

Hotel room in Estela the next morning

Hotel room in Estela the next morning

We arrived in Povo De Varzim the next day. This day, the fire-fighters-period began… From that day on we have been sleeping at the fire-fighters stations almost every night. Sometimes in a bed, sometimes on a mattress, but always warm, dry, and provided with alimentation.  Same the next day in Vila Do Conde. Eventually we decided to walk some kilometers on the highway since this was the fastest way to Porto, the next big destination. Porto is famous for its “portwine”, or “green wine” as they say. Its growing and being produced only in north-Portugal. A very special and delicious product. In this city we stayed 2 nights at the place of 3 cool girls. Carmo, Monica and Catarina and enjoyed their laughs, culture and company a lot.

At the day we continued we got out of the city very late. The sun was already about to set. So we arrived in another little town, Gaia, late at night, where we met an elder lady, who first gave us some Euros, then a whole bag of food and afterwards insisted to come with us and search for a place to stay for us. We reached a huge fire-station which was closed. The friendly lady started to knock the door, and since they did not open we thanked her for her help and were about to continue. But apparently the lady was unwilling to give up. She started to hit the door that strongly that apparently the firefighters started to panic. A firefighter opened a window in the second floor and asked what we want. The lady asked him kindly to let us sleep at their station. When he refused, the friendly lady lost her friendliness. “You WILL let them sleep at this place!  You hear me boy?!” Eventually we thanked the lady and the firefighter for letting us sleep there. The next day we reached Espinho and from that day on our way went along the road N 109. 150 kilometers N 109 and the permanent sound of motors in my ears.

Without special events we continued through Ovar and Estarreja until we reached the small Saleru at night, where we decided to not finish the last 10 km anymore since there were drunk and strange people all around on the streets. We escaped into a bar. When we entered the customers stared at us with kinda shocked faces. We seemed to be the highlight of the evening. As usual, we asked if we can sleep in the backyard and the first reply was a plate with fries, rise and chicken, plus an amazing breakfast. It was an amazing feeling to see that the people who watched us with mistrust at first sight, said farewell to us with wishes of luck and little presents. In Aveiro an incredible heat came over so that we were almost crawling to Ilhavo, which was only 5 km away. But hose 5 km seemed endless. At this point I realized for the first time, that people get louder and anxious, the more we went down to the south. Now, company was sometimes stressful. Between the national road and the highway, we wandered to the bigger city Figuera da Foz which we first liked so much that we planned to stay for some longer. But the city – though so big and full of people and possibilities – didnt offer a lot for us. We could not find a place to sleep, not even a safe place outside, no food, not much help in general. We were resting in a bar called “keep walking” and finally decided to keep walking. Next stop: Vagos, a tiny village. In the deep night. Where a couple of men invited us to drink a beer and then brought us to a little hospital, where we could eat and sleep that night. From the next day on, an interesting occurrence began. When people spotted us on the street, they called us “Fatima-pilgrims”. It was true that we were thinking of visiting Fatima. But now the curiosity grew. People told us stories about pilgrims who were cured from their sicknesses when they were walking to Fatima. The irony was, that the closer we came to Fatima, the more we started to feel sick. it seemed like we were picking up the sicknesses other people lost on their way. This part of the way felt very heavy and depressing.

One day, when we – once more – did not find any place to sleep, we decided to build up our tent on a croft of some farmers, hoping that we would manage to get away the next morning, before the farmers could find us. The morning came. And when I got out of the tent, I saw the farmers wife standing on the other side of the field, staring at us. In the same moment she shouted something to us. She sounded angry. She rushed to a tree and started to pick oranges. I warned Janina: “Janina, get out of the tent, the farmers wife saw us and it looks like she wants to stone us with oranges for ruining their land.” We started to strike the tent but it was too late: The woman rushed to us with the oranges and I prepared for acrobatic obstacle avoidance maneuvers. But in all the excitement we seemed to misunderstand the situation. The woman gave us the oranges to be a supply for the way for us and wished us all the best on our way to Fatima. We kept walking to Fatima. And finally: We arrived. In Fatima we reached the worst state of our health status. I almost couldnt talk. My throat pained. I had fever. We had to spend the first night on a parking space and 2 more nights in a very dislikable hostel. Fatima is the center of Portugal’s christianity. Men and women were separated and under no circumstances we could meet in one of the sectors. The really bad thing for me was, that there was no food. At all. Women, at least had a huge kitchen in their are, so if they were hungry they had the right to prepare food. Men did not have this right. But therefor the men had a television and cards to play (?). The women were locked in their rooms at 10 pm and could not leave anymore. The mens shower was so dirty that you would probably be dirtier than before, when you took a shower. The hostel keeper was just like the hostel: Very dislikable.

We really did not like the place but we decided to stay for 2 nights to recover from the sicknesses we picked up on the way. But it did not help. At all. After the third night in Fatima, we still felt unbelievably bad and decided to get out of there.

We kept walking. And for some reason, with every step away from Fatima, step by step, we got our health back. What is the meaning of this? 42?

To be continued…

First steps through Portugal (Valencia-Viana do Castelo)

Posted on | July 18, 2011 | No Comments

Original Date of Post | March 1, 2009 |

With curiosity we crossed the bridge and made our first step through the first city of Portugal, Valencia. We searched for a hostel keeping walking along the main road, thinking that we are hitting the center of the city. But after an hour we realized that the road actually lead us out of the town. It seemed like there was no center. We didnt worry anyway. It was pretty warm and I believed that it shouldnt be a big deal to spend the night outside. So after some more kilometers we arrived at another little village and build up our tent on a big grass land. Then we went to a gas-station to ask for some food. We didnt speak or understand a single word Portuguese. I hoped that our bad Spanish would be enough to make him understand. And it was. When I asked people if they spoke Spanish, they basically said: “I understand it”. The guy at the gas-station gave us a big bag of crisps. Wasnt the healthiest dinner, but better than nothing.

I crawled into my sleeping bag and was assuming that it was going to get warmer after some time. But the opposite happened. It even got so cold, that it was impossible to sleep anymore. For some reason, while my body was shaking like hell, at the same time Janine was sleeping tranquil like a baby. After another hour it felt like the blood in my vanes started to freeze. It hurt. I started to move around as much as I could to keep my circulation running. This continued until the dawn. I crawled out of the sleeping bag and looked literally frozen at my tent.

Frozen tent. After a cold night in Portugal

Frozen tent. After a cold night in Portugal

The mornings sun melted the tent. We started to strike it when a happy pilgrim passed by. Erwin from Belgium, who infected us with his cheeriness so much, that the we forgot about the cold of the last night. He was the third pilgrim we have seen on our way since Santiago. And it didnt take long for the forth one to come: Joseph from Fatima, who has been walking on the ways of St James for seven years. He seemed sympathetic but at the same time also mentally confused. 7 Years of walk left their marks. I wonder if the same will happen to me?

Me and Janina ket walking and tried to take a “shortcut” to our destination. This shortcut made our way about 10 kilometers longer. We found ourselves in a huge field of scrubs, pest plants and thorns, and fought our way to an abandoned rocky hill where we discovered a narrow and gloomy cave. Our childish love of adventure was just too strong to ignore it. We grabbed a flashlight and went in.

Cave from inside

Cave from inside

For about 30 meters we followed the darkness and hit a dead end. For a minute we felt like Indiana Jones in the temple of death.

Finally we arrived in the next village where we didnt only have a free hostel, but also an amazing 3-course-meal from the very friendly bar-keeper, when we asked for a bit of food. And after a good rest in a cozy bed we received a 5-star breakfast in another bar. This occurred frequently and I have to say that never before I have seen such a hospitality as here in Portugal.

The way to Ponte De Lima was hard. Janinas knee started to hurt again and we decided to not walk for a whole day in order to give it some rest. We could stay in a youth hostel for night. For the second night they allowed us to camp in their garage.

In the garage of a hostel of Ponte De Lima

In the garage of a hostel of Ponte De Lima

Next day, when we were walking through a little woody area, Janina got the idea to go to Viana Do Castelo which is apart from the planned route. It is situated in the south-west, directly at the ocean. Under no circumstances I wanted to go there. I definitely had enough from water and from the sea. Moreover I did not want to walk further unnecessary kilometers. Our discussion was interrupted by sounds of gunshots. We came to a grass-field where 10 gun-toting men were in green were sitting and celebrating. One of them spot us and shouted: “Hey there. Come over and have a beer with us”. We joined the 10 hunters and were filled with beer, bread, wine, the meet of their prey and – as always in this country – friendliness. There was a bit of everything in the air. Laughs, songs, stories, music, talks, bullets, and hats pierced by the bullets. Christoph from Luxemburg, one of the hunters was traducing between us and the others. And eventually they invited us to go hunting with them. Of course we accepted. I have learned the basic rules of hunting and for the first time of my life, I fired a gun. I did not shoot birds. I chose some tree-branches instead.

Content, satisfied and with 2 wine-bottles equipped we kept walking until the sun set. We stopped at a little bar which was located at a small river and made a little break. The night was so dark that we thought it would not be a good idea to keep walking through woody areas, so we asked the bar keeper if we could sleep in the bar after it closed. He accepted and we continued the next day. And apparently we already were lost when we rested in the bar. Because the way we were walking on lead through highways, swamps and pathless forests to Viana Do Castelo.

I was full of anger when we arrived. But we found accommondation at the fire-fighters who fed and hosted us for 3 nights in which Janina was able to recover her knee. In this 3 days we kinda fell in love with this beautiful town. Via couchsurfing we found a couch at Ritas place. I huge, enormouse house. Almost a castle with a big garden, protected by 6 giant dogs who looked like bears. Unfortunately Rita was abscent almos all the time. But yes, we did fall in love with Viana Do Castelo, its gorgeous beaches, friendly people, nice infrastructure and the best hot-chocolate I have ever drank. Thank you Rita and fire-fighters.

After this amazing rest we wanted to go south. And the quickest way to get to the southern cities goes right along the ocean.

To be continued…

Mountains, Madhouses and English-lessons (Pontevedra-Valencia)

Posted on | July 17, 2011 | No Comments

Original Date of Post | February 26, 2009 |

The sun followed us the next days. Between Pontevedra and Arcade we laid down on grass-fields multiple times, just to rest and enjoy the sunlight. We arrived very late in Arcade and first tried to find some help in the church. But after they heard that we dont have money, they seemed to be very disgusted and kicked us out. We were lucky to find a park and camped there.

Janina and the tent at night in Arcade

 

Next day we hit Redondela. Redondela also has the Pilgrims hostel, but also this hostel doesnt help  pilgrims without money. The entrance for both of us was 6 Euros. So we started to search for this spark of light which normally always appears when there is no-where else to go. This time we were not that lucky. Exhausted we decided to leave the city. We prepared ourself to have a very tough and cold night. On the way to the exit we passed an English-school and couldnt believe it was still open.  In the entrance-hall the English-teacher welcomed us enthusiastically in English: “Hello and welcome! Whats cooking?”. We explained him our situation and he asked us to follow him into the class-room, where 6 confused students started staring at us. Happily the teacher pointed with both hands on us saying: “This guys have a problem. They look for a place to sleep. Does anyone of you know any place?” Silence. “Come on! Any place to sleep.”, “a hostel”, said one pupil. “Right!”, said the teacher. “How about a hostel?” We explained why we couldnt go to a hostel and a bit of our story. Surely the students didnt understand everything but the teacher listened very excited and gave us the 6 Euros we needed for a warm bed this night.

The next morning we walked to Vigo. The way to the Capital of Galicia was sunny, beautiful and hilly. When we arrived in the center we stopped at a bar. The girl at the bar was just preparing a Cappuccino when we disturbed her to ask if there might be a place to sleep for us somewhere. She asked where we come from and we told her a bit of our story. “So you are walking around the planet, right?” she asked. “Thats right.” I said. “Well I know a place for you to stay” she replied and wrote an address on a piece of paper. Only 20 minutes later we arrived at a huge white building. In the entrance-hall it smelled a bit like hospital. The old lady at the reception had a scary smile in her face. We greeted and she asked us if we were the worldwalkers. I guess the woman from the bar called in and told her that we would come. Suddenly 2 people with white lab coats appeared and wanted to separate us. I started to panic “Whats going on here?”. Then 3 more of them appeared and we were surrounded. I was confused. “Be calm, sir. We just want to help you”. I realized that we were in a madhouse. Thankfully I refused any kind of help and we went out of there. We decided to move on to plan B. We managed to find a couch via couchsurfing for 2 days. Days full of nature, city, the sea, night-life and great compny thnks to Alba and Roberto.

Well rested we continued from Vigo to Porrinho. And eventually we planned to reach Tui, a little town which lies on the border between Spain and Portugal. At that day I looked onto the map and announced that this is going to be a nice, short walk of 8 km through flat ground. So we left the city pretty late. …. But as it always comes different, we got lost and found ourselves on a path which led us into the mountains, 600 m high. After 6 hours of walk we arrived in a tiny village, 25 km away from our starting point, without any clue how far and in which direction our actual destination lies. Nevertheless I have to say that this was one of my most beautiful getting-lost-experiences.

Sunset in galician mountains

Sunset in galician mountains

The way into the unknown

The way into the unknown

The very idyllically situated village seemed to be without people. There was only one man on the small road enjoying the fresh air of the night. He looked at us as if he was seeing other people for the first time of his life. We told him that we got lost and if he know any place to sleep for us. He shaked his head without saying a word. I guess he was just too shocked. We walked around through the silent streets and after 20 minutes we heard noises coming from a big house at the border of the village. It was the inn of the village which was actually closed. But it seemed that a small circle of guests was having a good time inside anyway so we knocked the door. A man opened up and let us in. It seemed to be something like a family meeting. We got sandwiches, hot chocolate, warm and friendly company and eventually they opened up a party-room in the back-yard of the inn, where we could sleep. We spent a very nice evening and kept walking to Tui the next day. As usual, the church refused to help us, but again, thanks to the hospitable people we met here and there, a warm place to sleep was arranged. So that next morning we finally reached the destination we were eager to reach so much:

The bridge which leads to Portugal

The bridge which leads to Portugal

 

To be continued….

Dark days (Finisterre-Pontevedra)

Posted on | July 4, 2011 | No Comments

Original Date of Post | February 14, 2009 |

Compostellas, Fisterranas and Muxianas, 2 each, in total 6 certificates which are the symbols for a “completed way”. A completed Camino De Santiago. One of a lot of things I learned on the way until here is, that completing the outer way does not really count if you havent completed your inner way yet. Further thinking about it, I realized that there is even a “pigrims ID” existing which I possessed and used all the days. This credential makes you officially a professional pilgrim (for only 1,50 €) who then has the right to walk the way of St James and utilize pilgrim-services, such as discounts in Bars, church-tours with guides and 4-star hostels (if it was 5-star we wouldnt be pilgrims anymore, but tourists, right?)…

I cant say its bad. Since it was one of the most incredible experiences until here, and I learned a lot, I was (and still am) very thankful for this 1500 kilometers of walk through France and Spain. But now it was time to leave this part of the way behind and start a new chapter, apart from the Camino De Santiago. I was no longer Santiago-Pilgrim. Therefor I said goodbye to my certificates and pilgrim ID and left them to the fire of Finisterre, where pilgrims use to burn old things which no longer belong to them.

After a long stay in Finisterre, full of dark clouds, mental and emotional challanges, storms and rains which were reflecting my inner life, the walk continued to the south, towards Padron. We had a couple of problems on the way. Janinas knee was injured, it was still storming and our financial background was almost bacl at 0 again.

In the town Padron we managed to get medicine for 58 cents for Janinas knee and moved to a hostel. Of course we still had the cheap hostels there as we were now on the “Portuguese Camino” which leads from Santiago to Portugal. We arrived at the hostel which was right next to the church of Santa Maria, who welcomed us with the wonderful sound of the bells. We entered the hostel “Santa Maria”. The friendly lady at the desk asked us kindly for the Pilgrims ID… After I explained what I did with my pilgrims ID, the lady said that she cannot let anyone enter the hostel without this ID. She opened a drawer with her left hand and threw a pilgrims ID onto the desk: “Another pilgrim left his credential here last week. Just use this one from now on. As long as you are on this way, stick to the rules”. I had the feeling that Santa Maria didnt want me to get rebellious yet.

We slept in warm and cozy beds and found ourselves in rain and storm the next day again. The sky was so clouded that it appeared to be late evening all day long. The next day was the same and the day after as well. The way seemed cursed. I got depressive. We fought a lot. During a little time-out in Caldas De Reis, we paused and noted that this walk turned to a big fight and our nerves and motivation was down.  Eventually we decided to keep fighting and faced Pontevedra. The money was over. At that day the rainstorm turned to a hail-storm. And the darkness persisted. We walked along a long road and I was chanting the Gāyatrī. We arrived in a bar which was standing at the side of the country road, where people from the side-villages, guests and stewards were rushing to us, attending us with soup and dry clothes. I was so glad, released and amazed by th fact, that there always seems to be a spark of light, a spark of energy in the dark, keeping us going forward and forward through the darkness. We kept walking through woods, paths and at night we walked along a highway. At a gas-station we were invited for a coffee by an old man. Eventually we passed the small town Caldas. I am actually not too much religious but I felt to pray to a big Santa Maria statue. I prayed for sun and light… and warmth.

Finally we reached Pontevedra, the biggest town since Santiago. We arrived at the hostel. He asked for the pilgrims ID, which we had this time. But what we didnt have this time were the required 3 Euros. He kicked us out. We were to tired to move on. Sitting at midnight on the ground in front of the hostel, we ate the last sandwiches we had from the bar with the kind people, and for some reason, laughing about this ridiculous situation. Now we had nothing. No place to stay, no dry clothes, no cent, no contacts, and the last sandwich was eaten. We had nothing which didnt mean that we coudnt give anything. We decided to wander to a bed&breakfest place and offered our help in the kitchen or wherever its needed for a bed this night. The owner hesitated but eventually smiled and said: “No need to work. Be my guest “.

He brought us to a tiny room with two beds a little table, bathroom. We entered. The walls were bleak as the weather which followed us the past weeks. But there was one thing in all this bleakness hanging on the wall and looking at me:

Santa Maria

Santa Maria

When I woke up he next day, I opened the window and the sun was shining into my face, in the cloudless sky.

 

The Coast Of Death (Santiago de Compostela – Muxìa)

Posted on | July 4, 2011 | No Comments

Lets get a bit more detailed. In Santiago de Compostela, my soulmate Janina joined me. We rested 2 days in Santiago de Compostela and eventually started the walk, with a budget of 50 Euros, towards Finisterre, also known as “the end of the world”. At the end of the day we arrived in Negreira and slept in a hostel. A young bask was only company that evening. The following 3 days storms and rain went with us. Permanently. It became quite cold and the sun was setting when I realized that there were still 12 km to go before we reached our target for this day. And it was still raining buckets. This was actually one of those challabges I would like to disclaim. There s nothing I hate more than the cold and rain. There was no point in avoiding the puddles since everything was completely wet anyway. And I really mean everything.

Arriving in the hostel, we rushed to the shower (which was a 1–square-meter–room with a hole in the wall warm water was dripping from). Afterwards we had a cozy evening with the only hostel-companion, Luis, a Brasilian camino-walker. The next day I had the great idea to put on my rain-coat. I was unwilling to put it on the day before. I generally dont like jackets. And besides that, Janinas rain-coat prooved me that in such a strong rain the best rain coat doesnt help anymore. But I was very surprised to see, that this old, dirty, “unprofessional” rain coat, looking like a trash-bag which I found on my protected me so well that not a single drop came through.

We arrived in Casa Miguel in Finisterre. Those who walked the way until “the end of the world” know what I am talking about. Those who didnt, feel free to check in wikipedia. We rested for 2 days and continued our journey towards Muxia. A little dog followed us the whole way to the small town Lires at that day. We continued the following morning through mires, mud and labyrinths of woods, wading through small rivers, until we reached Muxia, the coast of death, the final destination of the way of St James. Muxia, a village which indeed seemed to be dead at that day. The sky was as grey as the walls of the old houses, rain, shabby areas and not a single human being. Like a Zombie-village without zombies.

We fell asleep in the giant – but ugly – hostel. The hostel-ward was the only human being we saw that day. And he seemed as dislikable as the hostel and the whole village. When the morning came I decided to chant at the so called “coast of death”. This was a unique experience I will talk more detailed about in my book. It felt like the waves are answering to my chant. They were dancing and blustering furiously in front of me. And after finishing the chant I opened my eyes and saw a wall of water in front of me, which hit me in the same second and pulled me towards the sea. Whatever this mysterious power was, which rescued me at that day. I am very thankful, that it protected me.

Nature - On the way to Finisterre

Nature - On the way to Finisterre

Finisterre

Finisterre

Muxia - at the coast of death

Muxia - at the coast of death

The beginning (St. Etienne – Santiago de Compostela)

Posted on | June 10, 2011 | 1 Comment

[Briefing]

Original date of post | February 3, 2009

Every big story starts with small things. And every long journey starts with the first step…

Florian, Myriam and Andrej (me), 3 crazy people, decided to go nuts, and left society to travel into the middle of no-where

This journey started in St. Etienne, a little town in France, maybe 60 km away from the more known “Lyon” and there was only 1 rule: The journey is to be done on foot only!

The idea was not just to travel… The idea was to travel and to have amazing, adventurous, dramatic, physical, psychological and mystical challenges; To reach the limits and find out what lies beyond them; To meet the unmeetable, to do the undoable,  find the unfindable… whatever it was.

At this point I will just fly over the first  1.500 incredible km of walk, which were full of happiness, sadness, nervous breakdowns, physical breakdowns, unbelievable people, tears, laughs, enlightenments, walking, hitch-hiking, bus-taking, dancing, swimming, climbing, and much, much more. Those were the experience on the “Way Of St James”, also known as “Camino De Santiago” through France and Spain. I hope you do not resent me browsing it. … Who would buy my books if everything was written here? See my point? :p

Anyway, when we arrived in Le Puy En Valey, my good friend Florian chose a different way, which later lead him to Ireland, new experiences and challenges. Me and Myriam followed the GR 65 signs which led us through the Camino De Santiago towards Spain. We had encounters with wonderful people, places, situations; But also pain, cold, hunger and thirst. In Figeac, Julia (who I was sharing a flat with before we started this travel) joined us and we were 3 again. And the walk continued through mountains, valleys, forests and streets.

I ve learned a lot in France. I ve learned to have veneration of the human mind, manifestation of your thoughts, to receive and to let go. At this point I was already thinking I have learned my lectures. But indeed it was not even a percent of the lectures which were still waiting for me.

In Montcuq Rea (also my ex-flatmate) joined us. The four of us walked to Moissac (Someone who knows French will fall of his chair now laughing about the names of the cities), the town in which Julia left us again. Together with Rea and Myriam we continued to St. Jean Pied De Port, the beginning of the Spanish Camino De Santiago. Together with Myriam, Rea we met Toni and Andi (two other cool walkers) and walked through the Pyrenees-mountains until we reached Pamplona, where everything changed; Where I continued my walk without my friends,… and without a cent in my pocket.

Some might ask: “So how did you do it without money?”, but lets keep browsing for now…

What kept me alive and healthy were wonderful people and wonderful nature. Hospitality and miracles. But of course also (the boring, natural part): little mini-jobs in small villages such as Calzadilla de la Cueza or La Faba, where I was fruit-picker or hostel-receptionist. Everything fell into place until I reached Santiago De Compostella. But from this point on I d like to let the pictures talk:

I need to apologize for the awful quality. The original pictures got deleted and I just have the midget resolution.



The beginning of the journey

The beginning of the journey

With Florian on the way to Aurec Sur Loire

With Florian on the way to Aurec Sur Loire

Giving foot-massages on the streets of Spain

Giving foot-massages on the streets of Spain

Fields of Navarra

Fields of Navarra

In the Pyranees

In the Pyrenees

Myriam in the Pyrenees

Myriam in the Pyrenees

Rea in the Pyrenees

Rea in the Pyrenees

Rea and Julia. Rea giving a little Piano concert in a restaurant of Louzert

Rea and Julia. Rea giving a little Piano concert in a restaurant of Louzert

In the mountains of France

In the mountains of France

Julia exploring a French River

Julia exploring a French River

In the cathedral garden of Le Puy

In the cathedral garden of Le Puy

On top of a mountain in Spain

On top of a mountain in Spain

Cruz Del Ferro - The Iron Cross

Cruz Del Ferro - The Iron Cross

 

 

  • Notes

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