#3-Wales

The countryside here looks so much like Oregon I feel quite at home. When I arrived in Lampeter Trevor met me at the bus stop. We hugged like old friends and walked toward their house just down the street. It was dark and cold but felt great compared to the inside of trains and busses. At the house Kathy and I hugged, of course, also like old friends. I’m pretty sure we all knew each other in some past life. Instantly I knew I could stay here a while, or come back.

Kathy had made chicken stew. The best chicken stew I’ve ever had. With dumplings. She taught me how she makes them so the next day I made my very own Welsh dumplings. We stayed up and talked until one or two and drank Merlin which is a bit like Irish cream the Welsh way. They don’t work anymore so they stay up late playing music from Trevor’s huge vinyl collection and Kathy knits. She showed me photos of the amazing sweaters she has made and a pair of fingerless gloves. I told her I loved them so she immediately started knitting me a pair. Out of llama wool.

They had lunch plans so I wrote and relaxed in their beautiful 100 year old house with a glass conservatory and a back yard full of wring neck doves coming and going. Eventually I made my way around town which didn’t take long. Lampeter is tiny. I bought a lamb and potato pastie and ate it while I walked by the sheep that live right in town just a block from the university. I have a life long habit of gobbling at wild turkeys and bleating at sheep when I pass them. It just happens. I can usually control it when I really need to, at least from coming out of my mouth, never in my head, but hell, I’m 46, I figure at this point I can bleat at sheep if I want to so naturally, I did. They all looked at me like sheep do and I realized I had the pastie in my hand and lamb breath. As much as I hate wasting food I threw the last two bites away, the former vegetarian in me feeling a little ashamed of myself. Back at the house I stuffed myself with more stew and dumplings and tea and flapjacks. The Welsh blood in me was definitely guiding my appetite.

Kathy finished my mitts and they taught me to play “Settlers of Catan” which was wonderful with whiskey and flapjacks.

That night I slept for ten hours. I’m not sure if it was the dumplings or the fact that I wore my llama mitts to bed but 10 hours is two or sometimes three nights worth of sleep for me in my normal insomniatic life so I’m going to keep eating dumplings and wearing my mitts to bed.

The next day after coffee and Barleycup we headed of to Carreg Cennen Castle which has caves in the cliffs beneath the castle. There is a foreboding doorway that leads to steep stairs descending down into the caves/dungeons. It definitely requires a torch. It’s dark and wet and creepy. I know for certain that it’s creepy because two men came up as we were coming down. One was carrying their unhappy looking tiny dog who wore a knitted sweater, the other said “be careful….it’s creepy down there”.

I was fine as we made our way down until Trevor said “it’s like Shelobs lair”. Only moments later I steadied myself by putting my hand on a huge rock and my fingertips brushed the edge of a massive spider web shaking the enormous spider inside. When I turned to look the shadow cast by the light of my headlamp made her look like she had been there, growing, for several hundred years. Never mind the fact that she was undoubtedly blinded by our lights, if you know me, you know that was exactly when I was ready to turn around.

It was interesting to think that the people who lived in that castle were not all that much different than us. On a fundamental level. They cooked food, they had jobs to do, they slept and had dreams, they held hands, they made love, they got sick the got well, they birthed and died and were happy and sad and angry and disappointed and hopeful. They sang and danced and drank beer and mead and some wrote while some told jokes and some fought and some prayed. Some built and some destroyed. They said good morning and good night and I love you you and fuck you, or some equivalent there of.

They did not have Internet and video games and washers and dryers or grocery stores or electricity or paid sick leave or mascara or SUV’s but they survived. Had they not, the rest of us would not be here now. That’s something to think about while walking through the ruins of history.

In the parking lot I insisted we take a selfie which I hate doing. Teenage girls with their duck faces taking pictures of themselves doing absolutely nothing important in no place special have totally ruined the selfie for the rest of us but we did it non the less and I am so glad we did. It’s a great photo that captures a moment in a great day.

From Carreg Cennen we went to Pyle which is my Fathers name, to spread some ashes. As we drove into town we saw immediately an old cemetery and Parrish. I said I need scotch to drink if I was to be spreading ashes so we went a couple of blocks up to the co-op. On the way down the hill back to the cemetery although it was not yet becoming dark, the cross on top of the church lit up as if to say “I’m over here”. We all agreed it just felt like the right place to be.

I looked at graves but many of them were far to old and damaged to read. I met two old women there. One was visiting her husband who died a week earlier. She was very old and told me she wouldn’t be far behind him. They had gone to that church together for 50 years. I asked her if there were other old cemeteries because I was looking for some Pyle grave sites. She asked my name and I said Kimby Pyle and she said, “no your name”. I said my Father was Terry Pyle and my grandfather was George Pyle and so on. She put both of her hands on my arm and kept saying, “oh my your name is really Pyle”. She told me that the records there were hard to find and the minister was new and hadn’t had time to try to sort all of that out. She said it would be difficult to find out much in a short amount of time but she loved it that I was a Pyle and offered to take me to the ministers house and help me research. If I had a few days there I would have done it. But instead we said our goodbyes. I told her I was very sorry that she lost her husband and she told me she very happy to meet a Pyle.

I decided to put some ashes along the back wall of the Parrish, took a couple swigs of scotch, said good bye to those family particles and we headed home by way of the tallest building in in Wales, in Swansea where we detoured for a quick drink and a breathtaking view of the harbor and the sea.

We stayed close to home the next day. We ate dried fig with award winning cheese on crackers, Indian food, fish and chips and mushy peas, flapjacks, Trevor’s enchiladas, cup after cup of Barleycup and local beer. I arrived in Wales late Monday and left midnight Thursday and I’m pretty sure that in addition to getting more sleep than usual I ate more than usual too. The Welsh eat well, especially Kathy and Trevor I think.

They have been together for 40 years. They have lived in that house since the 70’s. They are happy together and in life. It was refreshing to be around that. They are generous and open. We talked about everything. Raising kids, health, relationships, aspirations, the past, the future, politics, the differences in our countries and much more including music and culture. They hadn’t realized that Eugene was the second home of the Grateful Dead, the pranksters and Kesey. They loved it that downtown square is now Kesey square.

I introduced them to Country Fair and they remembered when the Dead played there to raise money for the Creamery. We got online so I could show them Faire pictures and as we flipped through I was explaining…”that’s main stage, that’s the dragon, and there’s some boobs, and more boobs, and little kids with painted faces, and painted boobs, and the tree people on stilts, and really huge boobs, and there are some booths, and another picture of a stage, the fire dancers, and an old lady fairy and her boobs, and this one is the sauna, and oh yep, more boobs”….. I didn’t realize that if you google image search the Oregon Country Fair pictures of boobs come up more than anything.

Everyone I met in Lampeter was friendly and warm. Every single person. The lady at the bank and people in the shops I went to, Kathy and Trevor’s friends and the builders who were building a new gate on the back fence. Their names are Both Alan and are probably in their 60’s. The talkative Alan has been Kathy and Trevor’s builder for 20 years.

They drove me to a town about 40 minutes away to catch the midnight bus to the ferry that would drop me in Ireland at about sunrise. In the car waiting for the bus we talked about how awkward saying goodbye is. How you wait in the car trying not to talk about saying goodbye, in our case since the bus was late, for about 40 minutes, then as soon as the bus arrives it’s a frantic rush to hug and say what you need to say and gather your things and get aboard before the bus drives off leaving you standing in the rain. Saying good bye didn’t feel awkward. Just sad.

On the bus I drank my water bottle full of scotch and elderflower cordial, ate flapjacks and read Neil Gaiman, American Gods until getting on the ferry where the scotch worked its magic and I fell asleep thinking about how much I will miss my new friends even after only just meeting them.

iechyd da-

#2- London Bridge is falling Down.

The first thing I notice is that London is dirty. Especially compared to Reykjavik. The woman at the hostile had told me there were several beds available but when I went to make a reservation all 4 hostels were full so I put out couchsurf requests. I woman answered immediatly. They live in Rumford which is 30-40 minutes by train from central London so I learned the train system well and quickly but I must say that riding the underground and the busses at 10 pm is not loads of fun. Before I went on this adventure I never thought I’d say this but I was missing Iceland.

I arrived at their house late and stayed up talking with them-Cash and Stacey. He is from Pakistan and she is from London. They are both in their late 20’s. He like to talk about religion.

I woke up for my full day in London and bussed and trained to the center of town which was packed, even on the off season. I walked toward the houses of Parliment, Scotland Yard, Westminster Abbey and the other main sights I wanted to see. I decided not to get a map because I wanted to just wander but I could see Big Ben and The Eye in the distance so I walked that direction down a main street. Before long the streets started to fill. It was as if people just appeared out of nowhere. In about two minutes it went from a little crowded to shoulder to shoulder and most were Muslim and most looked angry and rushed. I could hear a mans voice shouting over a megaphone and saw speckles of bright yellow vests of the police scattering and lining the streets. The crowd was thick with mostly muslim men and some obvious tourists, all couples or young european looking men with expensive cameras around their necks. I didn’t see any other women alone so I started to turn around because while I might be borderline crazy for traveling around Europe alone, I am not actually crazy for real, but it was like country fair during the sweep or Disneyland on spring break and there was no turning around so I kept going.
There were men holding signs that said “I love Mohammed more than I love my life” and they were shouting “today is the day, the time is now”. All I could think of was get me the fuck out of here, preferably now. The streets and sidewalks were packed with protesters for several blocks but eventually the crowd started to thin and I started to breath again. I’m pretty sure I have never ever wanted to leave a place more.

I saw parliament and the Abbey and walked the Thames river path to London Bridge and saw the Tower and drank bad coffee. I didn’t talk to anyone all day except a little girl who asked me what I was doing as a sat writing on my Ipad.

Back at the house we watched the news coverage of the protest. They said it was 10,000 strong and Stacey said she had never heard of anything like it in London. She said I was lucky to see it. Hmmm? I was glad to be back at the house. You can check it out here. http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/02/08/thousands-of-muslims-protest-downing-street-over-mohammed-cartoons/

London was a big city with a lot to see. I walked the White Chapel neighborhood and by the bar the Jack the Ripper frequented. And Fleet Street and went to the Tate Modern for a few minutes. I saw a lot in my full day of walking but honestly, it’s pretty much like any big city, you know, that has a house of parliament , mad amounts of history, 10,000 person protests in the street and tea and biscuits on every corner.

Cash did make me British pancakes before I left. Basically lemon crepes. They were amazing.

I left Paddington station at 11:00 the next day headed to Wales. I saw a lot of country side and small towns. The station I needed to switch in was small. I was the only person in the deli. I ordered an amazing Brie, bacon and cranberry sandwich and wine. I asked the woman working there where I was. “Oh honey, you’re in a deli in a train station in Wales…if ya don’t know that I’m not sure you should be ordering wine”. She was great. Showed me a map and told me about some of the cities I would pass through on my way to Carmarthen.

It was sunny on the platform and there were only three other people minding their own business so I kicked off my boots and unrolled my yoga mat and did the first yoga I had done since leaving home. After about fifteen minutes a very old man sat on the bench near me and was laughing and smiling and he said…”now I’ve seem everything, a barefoot American doing yoga on a platform.” He kept laughing and saying “yoga, yoga, yoga”.

I asked him how he knew I was American without talking to me and he said “yoga on the platform”. Everyone else however, ignored me completely.

I’m glad I saw London but Wales…… Ahhh….

#1-The land of the midnight sun.

Today I am traveling with what’s left of my Dad, his sister and their parents to Europe beginning in Iceland. Birgir and I will meet in a few hours but I like him already.He seems kind and thoughtful and smart.

I was feeling anxious this morning as I was leaving Seattle, a nagging what-the-fuck-are-you-thinking kind of feeling gnawing at me but the bus driver with a nice smile made me feel so much better. Noting my backpack with a down jacket and a yoga mat strapped to the side he asked where I was adventuring. Not where I was going but where I was adventuring. I told him I was couchsurfing Europe and delivering the ashes of my family to the mother soil. I said it in my best overly-dramatic voice. He laughed at my drama which was good because I can’t take anything to seriously these days. Life is to perfect.

I told him that I would drink scotch with my dad one last time and toss pieces of him into the sea that his relatives sailed between Scotland and Ireland, I will leave bits of him in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. He would love to be here and there, even if in pieces. Everyone in the front of the bus joined the conversation-a woman who is traveling to Belize soon and another who said she would be terrified and an old Greek man who called me sweetie, touched my arm and said “many blessing are coming to you.”

He is right.
The screens aren’t working on the airplane. The woman next to me has been complaining about it incessantly. Seems like such a waste of energy. Is it not enough that we are flying….in the air? Traveling, in only hours, to destinations that before would have taken us weeks by boat? People want more. We have 141 channels and complain that there is nothing to watch. We have a closet full of clothes yet have nothing to wear, we have a beautiful wife or an amazing husband yet we keep looking, we are flying across the ocean at 850 km per hour but are unhappy, or actually angry that we can’t watch the latest Ben Stiller movie. So many people are so angry and petty. She reminds of why I am going away. Why I packed practically nothing and left, alone. I never want to be like her and this is one way to ensure I wont. I am finding peace and calm and remembering to always treat people gently as if they are all family.

In the past I felt anxious during landing and take off. Not now. Now everything just feels good.

I spent yesterday in Iceland and could not understand a word but I drank a beer with a few hundred computer techies at a conference. I learned to say cheers in Icelandic and realized that we are all the same. There are good people and less good people- there are liars and there are truth tellers. We are all just living. Most of us in the best way we can. The others, well, I am no longer concerned with them.

Birgir met me at the bus stop. It was dark and wet and I didn’t mind at all. I knew he would find me. Although we had only met on couchsurfing.com I hugged him because I do that. We stopped at the music hall in Reykjavik so he could pick up his program for A conference later that day. We ran into some of his friends. Birgir introduced me to his master yogi friend whose wife is a yoga teacher. We ate tiny sandwiches and drank coffee. It was by now 1:30 am my time but the day, although still dark was just beginning here.

Sometimes I like the feeling of sleep deprivation. The calm. This was one of those times.

We went to Birgirs apartment where he made me an omelet and told me about Icelandic culture. I was lucky to arrive on the first day of the winter festivals. In Iceland there are festivals to keep the people from pulling out their hair, or the hair of their children during the winter months when it is dark most of the time. And wet. And in the case of today, snowy with winds blowing so hard your eyes can’t help but water.

Birgir was attending an afternoon conference so he dropped me downtown where I walked until my chapped lips hurt and my fingers lost the ability to grip.

In the pub I order a whiskey and sat alone with my computer until a man asked to take a seat at the end of the table. He asked if I was from America. When I go out or travel I wear a ring on my left finger so men will think I am married. A practice I will continue until I might actually have a wedding ring on that finger again. If a man thinks your married he will talk to you like a human, not a potential lover. It is far easier to meet people and have authentic conversations if you remove that element. He looked at my finger and nodded politely so I listened as he told me about Iceland and the elves and the fairies and the forrest girls. This, I realized was why I came to Iceland. Birgir later took me to an elf hill where the elves live underground. I took a picture of us there. We also went to a geiser where the ghost of a woman still “lives” today.

For the winter festival the kindergarteners of Reykjavik drew colorful pictures that were projected onto the entire front of the largest Catholic Church in Iceland. In the freezing darkness the church front was lit with children’s drawings in every color imaginable. It was to cloudy to see the northern lights but I saw inside the minds of the Icelandic five year olds so that works.

Birgirs family ,until last month owned a half block property in downtown. They sold it to avoid family conflict when his father died suddenly. Family is important here. Every Icelander can trace his heritage. It’s wonderful.

At the family house I saw the hidden passageway through a bookshelf to a secret room.

Birgir’s sister, her friend and I talked for an hour about family history. Their grandmother bought the house and was a Taylor. She started with nothing. She had no money and no man. She worked hard and provided financial security for at least three generations. When I slipped through the hidden door in the bookcase I thought again, this is why I am here. She was afraid of nothing. She lost all of her money twice and worked her ass off to rebuild.
She is dead but very, very much alive in her family.

Birgir was kind and quiet. A former cook he made me wonderful food and shared Icelandic culture with me. Here they eat dried fish, lamb, horse, whale, rotten shark and puffin. He made me lamb. He said he has no woman because this way, he has no one to lose. He said it’s easier that way. I understood him when he said that, very much so yet as he spoke I thought to myself that I am so glad I abandoned that idea. His mother asked me if I was afraid to travel alone and I thought “no, I’m afraid to be afraid”.

I am not afraid to travel alone. We attract what we put out. I have made friends in Birgir and his family and I hope one day to repay his kindness.

I am not afraid to love. It is worth the risk. And as I carry my dead dads ashes I know also that although I was, I am not afraid to die.
I am only three days into my travels and know that I needed this to live a full and fearless life.