The next chapter in my ever-changing life has begun. Catch up with all the latest and greatest from my time in MEXICO at:
"I have itchy feet."
The next chapter in my ever-changing life has begun. Catch up with all the latest and greatest from my time in MEXICO at:
Landing in Los Angeles
09.24.2009 - 10.07.2009
On September 24th, I landed back in Los Angeles, 385 days after I left. Pat, Eli and Gur picked me up just after 11:00pm. I was eager to grab a burrito and a beer and share some stories with the boys.
We swung by Venice to drop off my stuff. Eli grabbed my bags and led the way into the courtyard surrounding his two-story pad. I was pretty beat, a bit disheveled and rolling with the flow when 20 of my closest friends pranced upon me from their secret hiding place. Welcome back!
Stunned! Like a deer in headlights, I froze and my jaw dropped as everyone formed a hug-giving line. And to top it off, they were all wearing t-shirts with my face on it. “The day Izzy came back. I’m old. The world (check!).” The party began.
It was an overwhelming and truly appreciated feeling. After taking on much of my travels alone, to have such a welcoming of friends stay up late on a ‘school’ night to join in the excitement of a year around-the-world was rad. Who is luckier than I?
Two days later, I was back ‘on top of the world’. Actually we all were. The 8th annual trip to our butt-posing slab in the hills of Malibu Canyon took place yet again. This is where my trip had started some 99 blogs earlier, so it only felt right to have it end there as well. Nineteen homeys rocked it out one more time in true Bagavagabond fashion.
I have circumnavigated the globe, clocking in over 60,000 miles (enough to go around the equator 2+ times). I have seen many of the world’s biggest and best. I have been there and done that. I have checked many things off my life-long list. So what have I learned? Has the experience changed my life? Yes, yes it has. I am more optimistic than ever that we live in a safe, caring, sharing kind of world. We, as a people, are good, no matter our differences. Everyone strives for one simple truth, to be happy. Lets not complicate our lives with unneeded stresses and start appreciating the beauty of the bigger picture. I see things through different lenses now. Now I know it/us/we can work.
Thanks for following along. Thanks for being supportive. Thanks for the needed feedback and encouraging words. Thanks for letting me know you were thinking of me, rooting for me and praying for my safe return. It has been a trip for the ages, a dream come true and a testament of what you can do if you really want to. I am blessed in so many ways. I realize how lucky I have been. Now I want to share in those blessings and use them to help others. Starting tomorrow, I will be volunteering in Tepoztlan, Mexico – working with the Tashirat Kids. I am using this opportunity to help jump-start the next chapter in my life. So if you are not tired of reading about my traveling tales, keep posted – a whole new experience will be unfolding soon.
Travel Clothes put to Rest
09.20.2009 - 09.20.2009
I didn’t buy a lot along the way. I mean, yeah, I picked up a couple things here and there, but clothes and souvenirs were not part of my agenda. And as many of you could tell through my pictures, I have pretty much worn the same things over and over again.
I started with five pairs of socks and I ended with five pairs. I started with five pairs of underwear and I ended with five. One pair of jeans, one pair of hiking pants, two shorts, a swimsuit, a handful of tees and two collared shirts were all that I had. For the most part, that is all that I came back with.
Some socks and some undies perished along the way, a t-shirt or two became stained beyond scrubbing and a few bandannas disappeared some how or another. They were all replaced to keep my calculated laundry cycle at a stretched two weeks, if necessary. And it always seemed necessary.
So when my mom asked if I had anything to wash when I finally got home and settled, I said no. Instead of attempting to breathe continual life into my travel beaten threads, I decided to put them to rest. They had served their purpose, many beyond any manufacturer’s wildest warranty offer. They had completed their mission.
Honestly, I never wanted to see them again. Neck-holes, shirt-sleeves and elastic-bands had been stretched, while my underwear and socks had been flipped and worn inside out one too many times. These articles of clothing were past salvable and needed to be burned. A ceremony ensued.
The fire was stoked and I solemnly walked out back to the pit. This was a cleansing experience, out with the old and in with the new. This chapter of my life was done. Piece by piece, I remembered the good times we shared together. The lengthy journey around the world, battling the elements, engaging with strangers and bonded together for one entire year had come to an end.
“May the spirit of your stitches and threads live on in others daring enough to take on such a task. Thanks be to Cotton. Amen.”
09.05.2009 - 09.24.2009
I spent some quality time at home, though within the first 20 minutes of arriving back in my hometown, I was transformed from the road-weary warrior into the slick-dressed wedding crasher. One of my best friends from high school, Aaron Brown, was getting married and I was just in time. From Madrid to New York to Ohio, I made the wedding with minutes to spare.
While still on the road, somewhere in Eastern Europe I suppose, I had imagined my time back in Doylestown as relaxing, quiet and slow-paced. Who was I kidding? The onslaught of friends and family never stopped, and that’s the way I like it.
Mom graciously fed me one after another home-cooked meals, fattening me up befor my next adventure, while dad had me out splitting and stacking wood – leaving me and my out-of-shape body in pain for three days. I enjoyed lazy mornings catching up on blogs and the world, eating bowls of Cheerios toppled in mounds of garden-fresh raspberries. I enjoyed back-porch conversing, a sunset walk with mom and stops to the Sweet Shop for soft-serve ice cream. I enjoyed family Rock Band sessions and Wi bowling at my sister’s and the group outing to Canal Park for a ball game. I enjoyed games of corn-hole and the family picnic. I enjoyed helping out where I could. I enjoyed being home.
As for my friends, they are getting older, more responsible (so to say), but they still know how to have a good time when we get together. I was able to be apart of my good friend Ryan’s 30th surprise birthday party and for the birth of his first newborn. I was able to tell old war stories with the guys and catch up with friends I haven’t seen in close to 10 years. I was able to prove my dominance in darts and take in a college football game at the new Akron stadium. I was able to have fun with my friends and share in their world.
Doylestown has meant a lot to me over the years, but the people there influence me, still.
Cranberry Lake, NY
09.06.2009 - 09.11.2009
Home again. But not for long. Well sort of, you see, I came back in a flash and then was gone… again. Like a fart in the wind.
But this time I had accomplices. I had a direct mission. I was goin’ fishin’.
At 3:00am dad woke me up. The truck and boat were stuffed to the gills. We made one quick stop to pick up my Uncle Don and then were officially on the road. It was 3:30am.
This was the annual ‘Brothers’ fishing trip. My dad and his older brothers have been setting aside a week in September for the past eight years to fish in upstate New York, to fish Cranberry Lake. Maybe it was their way of welcoming me back to the states, maybe it was their way to ease the pain of coming up fishless in my journey or maybe it was a chance to pluck at my liberal thoughts – whatever the case, I was happy to be apart and eager to test the waters.
My Uncle Ed was hosting us in his newly acquired summer home on the lake. It proved to be the perfect setting for an early autumn fishing trip. We settled in fast and fell asleep faster. Day 1 included a drawn out nine hour drive, 550 or so miles, with a small stop-off (four hours) at a lake on the way (Lake Bonaparte). My fish counter totaled 0.
Up and at’em. We were on the water by 7:30am and had a fish in the boat by 8:00am. The morning was crisp, brisk and clear. We were on the shady side of Buck Island, a supposed hot-bed for smallmouth bass. I was slinging a yellow worm up against the woody and rock slated shore, jigging it back through the dark water in anticipation. Bam! It was hit and run. I had a ‘smallie’ on the line.
I never truly understood the excitement or competitiveness in fishing. From a far, it can seem pretty boring, repetitive, frustrating and totally up to chance. But when you flip a well marked cast into cover, feel the hit, set the hook and wrangle a fighting fish back to the boat successfully (meaning actually IN the boat) – the thrill is tough to beat. Man v. Nature. Me against the fish. So when I pulled in my first fish early on that second morning, it all made sense. Grinning from ear to ear, I let out a “Whooooooo!” that shattered the calmness of the day. Game on. Fishing was fun!
The buzz wore off. I hit a slump, a big slump. As my dad and my uncles steadily caught fish, I was left drowning worms. By the end of three days, my fish counter totaled 1.
It was getting to me. Eight to ten hours a day out on a peaceful lake as the fall colors start to pop amongst the pines can only hold its splendor for so long. I was running out of patience, but in the meantime, I was part of a huge catch – the trusty sidekick with a net.
“I think I snagged a log.” My dad’s pole was completely bent over as he tried to relieve the hook from the source. Maybe a section of tree, maybe an old mud-filled boot or maybe the largest and gnarliest fresh-water dragon-fish I’d ever seen. Pops had hooked a northern pike. It was a monster, not just in size, but in looks as well. I was ecstatic. We had to get this baby in the boat! I fumbled around for the net, extended it to full reach and then as the monster came top-side, swooped it up like a seasoned veteran. But this guy was almost too big for the net and with one last fight, flipped out of the net and onto the deck of the boat. The team work had paid off. Holy S%&#! What a rush!
Day 4 during breakfast, dad was trying to feel out my intentions.
“So… taking a break today? Maybe a hike through the hills?”
“Are you kidding me!? My pride is on the line here! I’m fishing!”
For the next two days, obnoxious and jubilant “Whooooo’s!” were constantly heard throughout the lake. I found a groove. I found my technique. I found the fish. Back and forth, my dad and I reeled in one smallmouth after another (mixing in a largemouth here and there). My pride, and my sanity, had been saved.
This time together was as traditional a male bonding experience as one could draw up. I learned a lot about fishing. I enjoyed our evening fire-side chats. I ate a lot, a lot. I appreciated the beauty of nature and I got to spend quality father-son time with my dad, fishing. And as long as I can block out the big one that got away on our last day – the fish to end all fishing trips (or at least this trip, for me) – I will look back at those five days with a smile, both for what it meant and in anticipation of the next trip. Uncle Don, Uncle Ed, dad… thanks for inviting me.
NYC pick-up mission
09.04.2009 - 09.05.2009
After another sleepless night, still hyped up from the Jensen surprise party, I watched the sun come up over the east side of Manhatten. The boys were close.
Dave 'Mad-Man' Manko and Ryan 'Rone-Yard' White, lifelong hometown friends, were on a pick-up and delivery mission. The mission went something like this...
They left Akron, Ohio at midnight, drove straight through, and landed in Manhatten just past 7:00am on Friday morning. We exchanged a moment of true jubilation and then headed to the hotel. It took over an hour to go five miles.
We dropped our bags and wandered the financial district, catching up on the past year. We were a confabulating crew with nothing to do. It was more about fellowship than direction. We stumbled upon the sites, posed for pictures and took in the hustle and flow of New York's monetary mecca.
The day slowly slipped by, but we had big plans for the night. Mets v. Cubs. Ryan is a diehard Cubbies fan and it just so happened that they were in town. We have baseball pasts, so what better way to celebrate my return to the US than with a nightcap of the national pastime?
We rode the subway out to Queens, to Flushing Meadows. We were early to arrive at the brand new Citi Field, in time for batting practice and a few frothy brews. After a leisurely stroll around the inside of the park, we parked out on the left field porch in anticipation of a barrage of BP balls. Dave and I were closer to left-center, while Ryan set up shop down the left field line. Dave and I talked, sitting ten rows back of the wall. A few balls came close, but nothing worth getting up over.
Later, I joined Ryan and helped him drink the two beers he had purchased. Then as Milton Bradley, of the Cubs, stepped into the box for his hacks, Ryan predicted a ball coming our way. And sure enough, two pitches later, Bradley roped one down the left field line. Ryan's eyes lit up. This ball had his name on it. He shuffled down the aisle a step or two, turned around and played the ball perfectly off of the upper-deck level facade. The ball hit and ricocheted hot and hard. The sure-handed Rone-Yard White had the ball hit him in the hands and then watched as it rolled away and into the grasps of a nonchalant fan. Ouch! It is still a sore subject, so please don't bring it up in casual conversation - I wouldn't want the poor guy lose any more sleep over the fumble. Ten minutes later, the Mad-Man caught a ball on the fly, effortlessly. Afterwords, he was quoted saying, "It doesn't hurt when you actually catch it."
Being at the park, the yard, the ole ballgame is like being a kid in a candy store. And one of the must-have treats is the Italian sausage, smothered in grilled onions and peppers and topped in stadium mustard. It brings a smile to my face just thinking about it and it dripped all over my face as I downed it that night. Deliciousness.
The actual game, well nothing of note really happened. The hometown Mets beat the Cubs in a pitcher's duel turned late inning free-for-all. This night was more about the experience, the experience of being back amongst friends and enjoying each minute of it.
It was a long day. We finished it off, stopping by Time Square en route to our hotel. The lack of sleep had caught up with all three of us. The mission was half over, pick-up complete. The next day would involve an early morning drive back to Ohio for the delivery. I had a wedding to get to.
09.03.2009 - 09.03.2009
It was a weird feeling. My overseas adventure was ending. A gamut of emotions flooded me. It felt surreal. Did the last year really happen? And even though I was exhausted from my travels, on every level, I could not sleep my last night in Spain.
I was anxious to get back, to see friends and family, to share my experiences, but part of me wanted to keep going. I feel programmed to get up and go each morning, looking for the next spot, the next adventure, but for now, I was heading back to New York City.
Everything went as planned, like the 19 flights before, and eight hours later, I was back in the Apple. My Ohio boys were picking me up the following morning, so I was in no hurry. I took the air train out of JFK and connected with the metro into Manhatten. I walked the remaining blocks to the Filter office, where I was crashing for the night.
It was after office hours, so I found the doorman Ronaldo, who was on the lookout for me, and he hooked me up with the keys. I walked through the building lobby, towards the set of elevators. I was tuckered out. I was set on an early night, slowly adjusting back to life in the States. "Hey vagabond!" came from behind me. I turned and half nodded at Ronaldo, shrugging off the comment with a smile. I pressed the elevator button. "Hey vagabond!" Another half turn and nod. But this time, out of nowhere, came the newlyweds - Jesse and Amanda Jensen! A Bagavagabond brother and his beautiful wife. I was overwhelmed. Ecstatic. Surprised. Confused.
I missed their wedding back in April. I was bummed about the absence, but excited about meeting them up in Europe during their extended vagabonding honeymoon. In the end, our times and agendas didn't meet up. But why were they here in NYC? Oh, that's easy, they had just moved to Brooklyn two days prior to live out their acting dreams and in correspondence with the crew in LA (namely Pat), found out that I was arriving in the city and crashing at the Filter office. So like the amazing friends they are, they hopped on the metro, beat me to the office by about five minutes and totally surprised this weary and weathered traveler.
I was alive again. I snapped out of my travel-logged trance instantly. Emotions and excitement stemmed from both parties. We were full of questions, stories and smiles. Man, it was exactly what I needed!
We quickly made our way out to the streets and found the most American eatery we could. We ordered local brewed beers, burgers and pulled-pork sandwiches. We shared the highlights of the past year and looked toward the future. We hung out for hours, like old times, like old friends.
Jesse and Amanda treated me to dinner and to the best return-to-the-States evening I could have asked for. I was back and better than ever.
08.31.2009 - 08.31.2009
Take advantage of opportunities. So when five friends invaded my hostel room and invited me to join them for a dinner experience at a local San Sebastian cider house, I was all in.
Two cabs took us out of town and into the winding hills. We pulled up to a three-story residential homestead with an elderly woman hanging out of the front window. Cab one collected his money and was off. Cab two motioned that the cider house was actually the next property up. It was closed. Uh-oh. We were a long way from town, a cab short and had no clue of what to do.
Cab driver number two came to the rescue. Instead of leaving us for the birds, he turned to me (the group translator) and discussed our options. We needed another cider house. So he turned and called the elderly woman back to her window, like a twisted moment from a Shakespeare saga, and got the scoop. There was another one 10 minutes away.
But one cab could only fit four of our six. No worries. This cabbie was all about improvisation. The trunk opened and one Aussie and one Swede voluntarily made the comfort sacrifice. Unbelievable.
And just like the old lady had advised, the next cider house was open. A few smokers lingered outside the door as we rescued the boys from the back of the cab. We had arrived in style. High fives all around for our cabbie and his dedication to see that we got to our destination - safe and sound. It was still early, but the laughs were already in full effect. Cider time.
As the hostess/waitress showed us to our table, she made sure we each grabbed our own drinking vessel from the crate near the kitchen. This was a home-style kind of place. A do-it-yourself establishment. Options were limited. Menus nowhere to be seen. Plates non-existent. And if you were thirsty, you just made your way to the back with glass in hand.
We struggled at first with the language barrier (my Spanish only got us so far), but after the set-menu was set, we moseyed on into the cider rooms, thirsty as can be. Three temperature controlled holding cells contained 40 or so vats fermenting to maturity. We bounced from one room to the next, sampling different ciders as our personal vat 'pour-er' shot streams of alcoholic apple juice into our glasses. This was an art form. A technique that needed perfecting.
There was plenty of time, and cider, for practicing. One after another, we caught the cider from just above the epoxied green floor and walked it up, filling our glasses to about half full. The angle of the glass was key, we learned, allowing the cider to hit the inside of the glass flat and hard, causing a spray of juice up your arm along with adding a refreshing fizz to your drink. In between 'practice' rounds, we found time to eat.
Bread and chorizo came first, followed by catfish omelets, baked catfish and half of a cow (still mooing). It was served family-style and we shared it straight from the serving plates with knife and fork in hand. It got messy and good. Then, to finish it off, whole walnuts (still needing cracked), chunks of Parmesan cheese and slices of a thick cranberry gelatin went down the hatch.
We mingled with local cider goers, befriended our 'pour-er', demolished our meal and closed the place down. It was an interactive dinner that had an unusual start and a rousing end. Another well-worth-it experience to behold and a must-do in Basque country.
08.27.2009 - 09.02.2009 85 °F
The word on the street was, "head to San Sebastian, it's beautiful." The word was right on.
The clock was ticking and I was thinking beach. What better way to wrap up my trip than to spend six days soaking up the Spanish sun in San Sebastian? Beautiful people in a beautiful setting. Muy bonita.
I set up shop on the edge of Parte Vieja, in a hostel with a view of Playa de la Concha. Perfecto.
This place looked like a little Rio de Janeiro. A sultry beach culture surrounded by bays and hilly mounts. A looming Jesus tops the central Monte Urgull much like Rio's Christ the Redeemer, but smaller. Locals walked with confidence through the Old Town and flaunted shamelessly along the sandy shores. The scenery was amazing at every level.
I got my daily dose of sun-drenched vitamin D. The days were intense and the water refreshing. The nights were brisk and crisp and alive. People cleaned up and ambled about. I joined in, dined out, walked around and enjoyed it all. The city was accessible and the weather delectable, much unlike the time I spent in the real Rio many months ago. I felt redeemed as I relaxed my last days away.
Kursaal, the City's Cultural and Congress Center
08.19.2009 - 08.20.2009
I'm a big sports fan. And growing up, ESPN's Sports Center was a daily staple. It was how each day would start off before school, between bites of syrup-drenched Eggos and a glass of OJ. It was my source of news.
And during those seemingly short summers, during the month of July and the Fiesta de San Fermin, there would always be a segment on 'The Running of the Bulls' - the encierro - Pamplona, Spain. I was intrigued. I wanted to be there. I wanted to witness six fully grown (and agitated) bulls rumbling down an 850 meter building-enclosed course at upwards to 24 kph, while a thousand or so people would voluntarily put themselves at risk to run 'alongside' them. I wanted to run.
I was late. A month late. But I was in the neighborhood, so I decided to run in and out of Pamplona to do some course research, knowing one day, I would be back.
Bulls were everywhere. It was an easy sell, a town mascot, the country's trademark. All the shops and restaurants ran with the theme, especially in Old Town. A five minute walk from my hostel and I was at the Plaza de Toros, the end of the run and the start of the fight. The bright red door and coral-like fence at the end of a sloping concrete ramp marked the finish line, as well as the entrance to the stadium and ring. I imagined the chaos. Thousands upon thousands jamming the street-sides, all adorning white with red sashes. The music, the chants, the party. An ultimate atmosphere. On this day, I was the only one in site. It was quiet and calm as the sun slowly set.
I walked on, following the route in reverse. I looked up at the balconies and imagined onlookers cheering as I made my dash. I looked for possible places to dive out of the way if a bull was bearing down on me. I looked for a stretch without dead-ends or nooks to get stuck. I looked for my straightaway.
Off the main drag, I got distracted at the Plaza de Castillo. That's where all the people were. A carnival-esque aura roamed about. Mixed crowds of locals and tourists taking in a perfect summer evening.
I finished the course and doubled back to the stadium. By this time, sunset was closing. I took the long way around and stumbled upon a small park with a stunning scenic view out over the surrounding valley. The stadium darkened and street lights began to glow. A month ago, the party was just getting started. I hungered for that excitement, to live out my own Sports Center highlight with the bulls in Pamplona, but for now, I was just hungry. It was time to eat.