San Sebastián to Mundaka

Saturday-Sunday, 13-14 April 2013

San Sebastián and Irun

I had intended to spend the weekend in San Sebastián and continue walking on Monday.  I wanted to watch some of the rugby matches involving the Irish clubs – it was nearing the climax of the season, but there was no wifi in the pension. Moreover the room was uncomfortable and rather expensive, at least by my standards, so I decided to return by Euskotren to the comfortable and inexpensive hotel in Irun for the weekend.

Despite the forecast of heavy rain over the weekend, I woke to blue skies. I passed the morning wandering around and spent some time in a tiny café, with a coffee and reading the newspapers. Every bar and café in Spain (and most of Europe) has the local and national papers readily available to read, and I usually took advantage of them.

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The cathedral in San Sebastián

Early afternoon I caught the Euskotren back to Irun, arriving in time to watch the first game.

 

Monday 15 April 2013

San Sebastián to Zaraútz – 20 km

I left the hotel early and shortly after 08h00 I was back in San Sebastián, on my way to the beach and the promenade along Bahia de la Concha. The pavements and benches were still wet from the overnight rains, but the sky was clear and the early morning sun felt warm and reassuring.

From the end of the promenade the path climbed to the top of the headland and from there it undulated, parallel to the coast, finally descending abruptly to the little fishing port of Orio.

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Orio (photo from internet)

I stopped in the little square by the river and had my typical lunch – una caña y una ración de tortilla con pan.  I sat outside, in the shade, as the sun was strong, even if it was still early in the year.  On one side of the square were several examples of apartments with dark wooden balconies and façades. They looked so solid, and reminded me of similar buildings in the old quarter of Lima.

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Typical wooden balconies and facades in Orio

From the square the route crossed the river, and then followed the riverbank toward the sea. Just before the headland, the path turned up a steep valley, and ahead of me I could see a rather frail old man, moving very slowly.  He had a large pack and sticks in both hands.  When I caught up with him he turned out to be an old Frenchman walking to Santiago de Compostela from somewhere near Bordeaux.  He spoke no English nor Spanish and he seemed to be more than a little bewildered.  We chatted for some time about nothing and everything – he reminded me very much of my old friend Roy Bishop. Eventually I wished him ‘Buen Camino’ and moved on. The old man had about another 700 km to walk to Santiago.  I suspect that he either made it, or died on the way. He neither looked like nor sounded like a man who would ever give up.  One day that may be me.

Once at the top of the valley there was a short walk along an escarpment followed by a steady descent to the main road into Zaraútz.

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Coming down from the headland to the beach at Zaraútz, with the golf course below

I had no problem in finding an inexpensive room, but it turned out to very cold and damp. It felt like a room that had not been inhabited since the previous summer. But once showered and dressed and seated in a nearby bar with a beer and a newspaper, I was quite revived.  I had a walk around the town, but there was a cold wind from the sea, so I returned to the bar and snacked on tapas, washed down with a delicious red wine.

Being a Monday evening, the bar was quiet and the barmaid had time to chat.  I asked her about the walk next day to Deba and she said that it was similar to the walk from Zaraútz. But she said that the next two days after Deba were quite challenging. Apart from the small village of Markina-Xemein there was nothing for about 50 km, not even a farm. And there were some steep sections. She advised me not to tackle it alone, especially as there had been a lot of rain and me with a noticeable limp.

When I went to bed it was once more raining heavily.  I was not quite sure as to what I was going to do the next day.

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The deserted beach at Zaraútz in late afternoon

 

Tuesday 16 April 2017

Zaraútz to Mundaka

Next morning, when I saw how wet everything was outside from the overnight rain and with more heavy rain forecast for the next few days, I decided to call a halt to the walking and leave it for another time and warmer weather.  The camino and the mountains will still be there.

So after a leisurely breakfast, I headed to the station and caught the train to Lemoa, where I would have to change to another train to Mundaka. The train progressed slowly, going on a long loop to avoid the mountainous area that I had intended in crossing on foot. It took over two hours to get to Lemoa, where the train to Mundaka left just as I was crossing the bridge to the other platform.  I had to wait for an hour on the deserted platform of the unstaffed station for the next train.

The train to Mundaka consisted of two small carriages, more like two joined-up buses on rails.  Progress was slow and there were frequent stops, including two in the town of Gernika-Lumo, better known as Guernica. It was the scene of the first major aerial bombing by the German Nazi Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. They had been ‘invited’ by Franco to practice their tactics on a real target. The town was razed and official reports claimed that 1654 people were killed. It inspired the famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso.  I don’t imagine that many Mercedes, BMWs or Volkswagens are ever sold in Guernica.

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Guernica by Pablo Picasso

The station at Mundaka is on the hill at the edge of the town and from there I walked down through the narrow streets to the open square in front of the church.  There I found a room in a very comfortable hotel.

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The hotel in Mundaka

I was about to start my search for the Lázaga family (see here).

Saint-Jean-de-Luz to San Sebastián

Thursday 11 April, 2013

Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Irun – 14 km

I set out in high spirits soon after breakfast – the sun shone and the air felt warm. The road climbed out of the town and into the country, past beautiful Basque farms with their traditional houses of white walls and red roofs, doors and shutters. The road climbed and descended without cease.

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Typical Basque architecture on the outskirts of Saint-Jean-de-Luz

The way was well marked, or at least it was, until I realised that I had not seen a sign for some time. I could see the sea in the far distance, and rather than retrace my steps, I decided to continue and follow the coast to Hendaye.

Eventually I came to a sign for Hendaye Plage. It was soon after that the wind picked up and I could see a huge pile of black clouds over the mountain, heading directly towards me. The rain started slowly and then suddenly with full force. I was drenched before I could react and get out my poncho. There is not a lot one can do with no shelter, except press on and hope it soon passes.

But it did not pass and I eventually reached the centre of Hendaye Plage only to find out that I should have gone to Hendaye Ville, for which I never saw a sign. The guy who gave me the bad news that it was a further three kilometres, offered to drive me there, for the storm was getting worse. He was a surfer complete with board and I squeezed into the back seat.  He did not seem to mind that I was rather wet.  He said that he had once hiked around England and had received so much help from local people, often going well out of their way to help him find accommodation. He said that it was now his turn to be the Good Samaritan.   He dropped me outside the train station at the Spanish border.

I caught the local Euskotren for four short stops to a hotel in Irun and checked in, still dripping wet.

 

Friday 12 April, 2013

Irun to San Sebastián – 25 km

I had a schematic map of each stage of the route across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, and from my hotel room I could see what was almost certainly the path cutting across the mountain that stood between where I was and the sea.  As the day was going to be somewhat more challenging than the days since Bayonne, I had an early breakfast and set off before 08h00.

I caught the Euskotren two short stops back to Irun, asked in a bar for directions and I was soon on the path, following the familiar yellow arrows indicating the Camino del Norte. The arrows are painted on walls, rocks, trees, posts, pavement etc. all the way to Santiago.  The Spanish are rightly proud of their many well-marked caminos and whether one is a genuine religious pilgrim or just a casual hiker, the local people make one feel genuinely welcome. At least that had been my experience over many weeks of hiking in Spain in the previous two years.   In contrast, my recent short walk in France did not leave me with such a positive impression.

For the first hour, the going was easy – a flat walk through marshlands, and then a steady climb to a path that followed the contours of the mountain, the same path that I could see from the hotel earlier that morning.

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Looking back to Hendaye Plage, on the other side of the river, from the path starting to ascend the mountain

For the next ten kilometres, the going was gently up, gently down, until finally a sharp descent down to an inlet of the sea, at Pasai Donibane.  I ended up on a quay, with no sight of the bridge that I had expected to cross to the other side. I spotted a man fishing and I asked him how I could cross the water. He laughed and said that I could walk across, but he did not recommend it.  But just around the corner there was a boat that I could take.  I did not mention my expected bridge, but I felt rather foolish nevertheless.

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The short crossing from Pasai Donibane to Pasai San Pedro

Once on the other side, the yellow arrows resumed and led me seawards. Eventually, they pointed towards a steep stair cut out of the rock of the cliff face.  The steps were steep with only a low wall and I soon felt my heart thumping.  I ascended slowly.  The steps seemed to be interminable and I was glad that the rocks were dry; with rain, a strong wind and my bad leg, I would have found it quite challenging.

Once up and away from the cliff, the going was straightforward, with several short climbs and descents. Finally, there was San Sebastián below with its beautiful concave beaches. It reminded me of Acapulco in Mexico.

But I had not noticed the gathering clouds and before I got off the mountain, the rain started. I sheltered under some trees until it passed. It was obvious by the dark clouds that more rain was on the way, so I continued on my way down and to the centre of the town, to find a hotel for the night.

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San Sebastián with the rain about to fall

Finding a hotel did not prove to be very easy. Normally I would look for hotel signs, but where I expected there to be hotels, there were none.  All I could find were pensiones and sleeping in somebody’s spare bedroom was not my scene.  I asked some locals and they did not seem to know of any hotels and recommended that I find a pension. By now the rain had started falling heavily.  I tried several pensiones, but all were full.  In the end, I found one that had a room available, but the old lady that answered the door would only let me have it, if I paid for double occupancy. By then I was getting tired and quite wet, so I reluctantly agreed to an exorbitant rate for a room with a little bed, no table, no chair and the only socket contained the plug of the only lamp. And of course, no wifi.

But after I had showered and put on dry clothes, I felt better.  It was still raining heavily, but I found a McDonalds close by, with wifi, and I caught up on my mail and the sports results.

And despite the crap bed, I slept the night through, without once wakening.  The fresh air and the exercise always seem to have that effect on me.

 

 

Bayonne to Saint-Jean-de-Luz

6-7 April 2013

Uppsala to Bayonne

I had not intended on returning to Uppsala until the end of April, but the heavy rains, flooding and unseasonal cold weather in Extremadura caused me to abandon my walking north from Seville to Astorga, and I reluctantly returned to Uppsala to conserve my funds.

But April in Uppsala is not great either. Even though the snow may have largely gone and the hour changed to summer time, the ground can still be frozen, the northern winds quite bitter and the paths thickly coated with grit, that will not be completely cleaned up until well into May.

It did not take me long to come up with ‘Plan B’ – to go to Mundaka to see if there remained any evidence of the Lázaga family, a family history research task that I have had in mind for several years.  I have traced my sons’ ancestry through their mother’s ancestors to José Ramón Lázaga, who was born in Mundaka in 1838, but prior to that date I have not been able to verify the information that was passed to me, regarding three further generations dating back to 1736.

I reasoned that gravestones from the mid-1800s could still be legible and that it was possible that evidence of the prior existence of the Lázaga family may still exist.  It was also possible that there were descendants of that name still living in the village and perhaps the village priest (if they still had one) would let me look at the church records.

And where is Mundaka? It is a small fishing port in the province of Bizkaia, about 40 km to the north-east of Bilbao.  The closest airport to Mundaka from Sweden was Biarritz, so I decided to fly to there and walk from nearby Bayonne, following the pilgrim path (El Camino del Norte), which passes near to Mundaka, at Gernika-Lumo.

So, on 6 April I set off to the airport at Skavsta, about 90 minutes south of Stockholm, stayed overnight at an airport hotel, and arrived mid-morning in Biarritz, to a clear blue sky and a warm spring day.

Another camino was about to begin.

 

Monday 8 April 2013

Bayonne to Bidart – 14 km

As I sat there in the little plaza of Bidart, with its white-walled houses and red roofs, I could see the Pyrenees, as they descended to the precipitous Basque coast with its cliffs, inlets and beaches. The sky was still blue and the early evening sun felt warm and comforting.

But when I left Bayonne cathedral that morning, the western sky was dark and ominous, and the forecast was calling for afternoon storms.  I was tempted to just take a bus to Bidart and avoid another soaking, but as the bus station was close to the cathedral, I decided to check if they really did have a pilgrim desk as stated on their website, staffed between 10:00 and 11:00 during the week.   And sure enough, there was a desk and a very helpful girl, who gave me a rather tiny map, assuring me that the path was well-marked.  So off I set off down the hill from the cathedral to the river, having overcome the temptation to take the bus and oblivious of the impending storms.

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Three different paths to Santiago, with my little back-pack ready to go

For the first hour, the path followed the river until it came to an intersection.  I took the right fork, which led to the Coastal Camino, while the left fork continued alongside the river, eventually splitting into two routes over the mountains to Pamplona, one via Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and the other via the Baztan valley.

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Looking back to Bayonne from the path by the River Nive

On my little map, the route was indicated with a broad-tipped yellow marker and it seemed to twist and turn and meander across Bayonne, Anglet and Biarritz, like a drunken Irishman returning home from the pub on a Saturday night. There were some signs, but they were often not obvious, and at some intersections they seemed to be missing completely.  It was not long before I was lost and asking directions of people, most of whom seemed to have never heard of the Chemin de Santiago, a situation that was to repeat at too frequent intervals.

And when the signage eventually did improve, the first storm suddenly hit, with hail like marbles, followed by torrential rain and strong winds. It did not last long, but long enough to turn the road into a raging river. Thanks to my recent frequent practice in Spain, I managed to quickly don my poncho, covering myself and backpack in record time. I looked like a large green turtle.   I huddled under some trees until the worst was past.  An hour later a second storm hit, but without hail. When it finally cleared, the clouds disappeared, and the sun shone for the first time that day.

The route skirted the airport and later passed by the Biarritz railway station. The first time I was at that station was in 1968, and it was in Biarritz that I bought my first bottle of cheap wine, in a small grocery store.  Later in the hotel room I had to prise the cork out with a pair of scissors; I had no corkscrew.  It was the start of my lifelong love affair with cheap wine.

After the station, the path led to a large lake, and followed the shore to the other end, before climbing to the main coastal road. From there a thirty-minute walk along a busy road took me to Bidart, my stop for the night.

There only seemed to be one hotel open – it was still very much off-season, and I seemed to be the first guest that day.  The rate seemed very reasonable for France, and the room was surprisingly luxurious, with a beautiful view across fields to the mountains.

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The excellent little hotel in Bidart

But finding a hotel with an available room was only part of the challenge; I now had to find my way from my room out of the hotel.  The building contained a maze of corridors and stairs leading up and down. I now understood why the friendly barman insisted in taking me to the room and I should have paid more attention as to the route. For what seemed like an eternity, I went around and around, up flights of stairs and down, ending in store rooms, exits with the door locked, a boiler room. There were no windows and I was completely disoriented. Not once did I even end up at my room from where I had started out.  Finally, I went through an unmarked door to what seemed like a large deserted restaurant in semi-darkness. At the other end were stairs which led to the bar and my friendly barman.

The staff had a good laugh at my getting lost.

 

Tuesday 9 April

Bidart to Saint-Jean-de-Luz – 10 km

As I did not intend to walk very far that day, I went to bed not setting my alarm, and woke up at first light to the dawn chorus. I had a leisurely breakfast of café au lait and croissant and set off in the morning sun, following the path down the hill from the church, as indicated by the Santiago sign. When I arrived at the edge of the village and an intersection with several roads merging, I could not see any further signs, and it was not obvious to me which way I should go. There was nobody around, so I decided to return to the village and get a map.

By that time the tourist office had opened, but no, they did not have any maps. A rather snooty woman said that there was no need for maps, as the paths were clearly marked.  Anyway, I was told, most walkers follow the coastal path, as it is much more scenic and interesting. Turn left, then right and follow the path down to the beach, I was told and she started talking to the postman who had just come in the door. I was obviously dismissed, so I left.  It seemed that the concept of customer service had not yet arrived in Bidart, but come to think of it, Paris was little different.

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Looking back to Bidart

For the next couple of hours my progress was repetitive – a steep descent to the beach, a short walk along the sea, followed by a steep climb back up, sometimes to not far from where I started.  The steps were made with log retainers holding back the earth, and all was wet, muddy and rather slippery, due to the heavy rain of the day before.  And the wind, at times, was quite fierce.  I regretted not having persisted with the ‘less interesting’ inland walk along country lanes.

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Saint-Jean-de-Luz was somewhere in the distance, behind one of the headlands

When I eventually came to a new road development, the signs stopped, or at least I did not see them.  I had enough of the coastal walk and did not feel like going back to find the sign, if indeed it existed. I decided to just follow the road into Saint-Jean-de-Luz, despite the horrendous traffic jam that seemed to have been created by the road works.  It was further than I thought and for the next hour I walked alongside stationary or barely moving traffic.  Not very enjoyable.

But what a delightful little town Saint-Jean-de-Luz turned out to be.  With its Basque architecture, narrow streets, wide beach and peaceful harbour, it was most appealing. I crossed the bridge to my hotel and extended my stay for an extra night, to allow me to explore the town the next day.

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The tranquil harbour of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, sheltered from the wind

 

Wednesday 10 April

Saint-Jean-de-Luz

It turned out to be a beautiful day, and with only a slight breeze, the sea was calm.  I walked along the seafront, but there was not one person on the beach.  Obviously, there were no sun-starved Scandinavians in the vicinity and it was too early in the year for French tourists, at least for those who lie on beaches.

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As evidenced by signs on many buildings and streets, the town’s main claim to fame was the royal wedding on 9 June 1660 between Louis XIV of France and María Theresa (the ‘Infanta‘), the daughter of Felipe IV of Spain.  Louis XIV is best remembered as the ‘Sun King’, who built Versailles and ruled France for 75 years.  The marriage was a result of the treaty ending 30 years of war between France and Spain.

I went to the church where the wedding had taken place, but I found it locked.  It was quite a small church – it was probably a small town in 1660.  I guess that only a few of the court could have witnessed the ceremony.  Interestingly, after it was over, the main door of the church was bricked up. I have no idea why.

According one notice that I read, Anne of Austria – the mother of Louis XIV arrived in the town about a month before the ceremony and stayed until a week after.  She was joined by the Infanta two days before the wedding.  The building where they stayed is quite striking, with pink stonework.  It belonged to a rich merchant.

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The house used by the Infanta of Spain

In the past few years I have read several French historical novels set in the era of Versailles and the Sun King. I was not aware of the wedding in Saint-Jean-de-Luz and being there somehow seemed significant to me.  Perhaps it reminded me of many evenings during my years in Paris, reading Alexandre Dumas novels over dinner and a carafe of wine in a restaurant, and later walking around the old city to see if a building or street I had read of still existed.

In a nostalgic mood, I went to the little central square, found a comfortable table in the sun, and ordered a cold glass of rosé.

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The main square with trees still bare of leaves

 

 

Emmanuel

If I have internet access, my mornings are little different, whether I am in Cape Town, Montevideo, Chamonix, Uppsala or Timbuktu; I rise early and update my investment accounts, read the business news, answer emails and usually write a little.  And by no later than midday, I set off on a long walk.

In Cape Town that walk usually encompasses one or all of the Waterfront complex, the Stadium, Green Point Park or Ocean View Drive, along Signal Hill.  And all my walks inevitably pass along the ocean promenade for as far as I feel comfortable.  That is my routine and I love it.  On those walks I do most of my thinking.

In Green Point Park, I look for the massive pike in the lake, for the Egyptian Geese and their eight goslings and the coots with their six little chicks.  And the huge scruffy bird that I have not yet identified; he or she always looks so sad and lonely.

Along the promenade I watch out for dolphins and whales and am always thrilled when I am fortunate to see them.  And the raw power of the ocean when it sends its waves pounding against the sea wall and launches its spray over me, as I pass by, reminds me so much of my native coast in the north of Ireland.

At Sea Point park, I often stop to watch the paragliders land from Signal Hill.  I have often watched them in Chamonix, landing on a run, but these people drop like a stone and suddenly stop in mid-air, slowly drift down for the last few metres and step down, as if they were getting out of bed.  They make it look so very easy.

When I return on the promenade along Mouille Point, I often see a young guy sitting on the wall, making models of sharks, whales, birds, penguins etc. from wire.  He is an artist with wire.  He is there most days, almost regardless of the weather.  When the waves sweep over his corner of the promenade, he retreats to a bench beside adjacent Beach Road.  His name is Emmanuel Chitsinde and he is from Zimbabwe.  He has been in South Africa for a while now, first in Durban, then Port Elizabeth and now in Cape Town, which I think he prefers.  He has a wonderfully cheerful disposition.

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Emmanuel in his workshop, with Pingu

I don’t know what people in Zimbabwe are like, but the vast majority of those that I know of, or have heard of in Cape Town, are all hard working and reliable – staff in the bars and restaurants that we frequent, Uber drivers, the girls where Lotta gets her nails manicured.  Most save hard to send money home to aid their impoverished families.  It is depressing to hear of the deprived state to which the corrupt Zimbabwe government has reduced their country.

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Pingu the penguin

 

Like Emmanuel, I also once went away from my homeland, more than 50 years ago, when I was young.  Fortunately, I eventually prospered and could send money home every month to help my parents.  I did that for many years, until there for was no further need; until they were no longer.

I feel empathy for Emmanuel and his compatriots.  I wish them every good fortune in their struggle.

 

Peter Pedrette

Toronto, 1965

I had been in Canada for some ten days, I had very little money, I was only 18, but I did have a job starting the following Monday.  But where could I stay? (see https://lenblackwood.com/2017/05/28/80)

It was the result of a phone call to my dear friends, George and Eileen Darragh, that my dilemma was solved, at least temporarily.  They had just recently moved into a small one-bedroom apartment at the corner of Keele and Lawrence, had few financial resources themselves, and welcomed the pittance that I could offer, in return for my sleeping in the corner of their living room and an occasional evening meal.  And as it turned out, George worked only two blocks away from my new employer, so we travelled in each morning by bus to Yonge Street, and then by metro into the city, a journey of about an hour.  (see lenblackwood.com/2017/05/13/78).

The office of Helyar, Vermeulen, Rae & Maughan (HVR&M) was on the seventh floor of an old building at the corner of Bay & Richmond.  One could tell that the building was ancient by the elevator, with its sliding mesh doors and which could only be operated by an attendant, day or night.  Across Bay Street was the huge multi-storey Simpson’s department store with its multiple storeys, plus a basement and occupying an entire city block.

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The corner of Simpson’s where I first met Sandy

When I joined HVR&M, there were only three employees – an Australian receptionist (Janice), an English bookkeeper (I can’t remember her name), and an English quantity surveyor, Peter Pedrette.  Soon after, we were joined by another Englishman –  Jack Brown, and a rather shy little Jamaican – Leroy, who rarely ever spoke.

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The typical desktop of a quantity surveyor

Peter was 36 when I first knew him and he had only recently arrived in Canada, with his wife, Barbara.  He had spent some years working in Kuwait and it was there that he met Barbara, a school teacher.  They were both devout Catholics and not long married.  Their first child was due later that year.  They were devoted to each other and they always addressed each other as ‘Darling’.  They were well-educated a well-spoken.  Apart from my father and his parents, Peter and Barbara were the first English people that I had ever met.  I developed a great respect for them.

It was Peter who fuelled my nascent interest in equity investment by talking of shares he was considering buying.  One lunch hour we went to the Toronto Stock Exchange and I was fascinated to see how the trading worked in the cacophony of noise, with traders shouting their offers and communicating with their team by hand signals.  And the tickertape of deals, moving relentlessly across the screens.  I was well and truly hooked and I spent many evenings in the city library, around the corner from the office, reading investment books, and forming my own approach to equities.  It has turned out to be a lifetime interest, and my methods today are little changed from my initial approach more than 50 years ago.

I suspect that Peter was quite well off, at least by my standards. One day he asked me if I would help him to carry some gold from the bank where he was going to buy it, to his deposit box in another bank further up the street.  I carried one of the bars for him, while he carried the other.  They were small but extremely heavy.  It was my first exposure to gold and those two bars would today be worth more than a million dollars.

Across the street from the office and a floor higher in Simpson’s, we could see girls in white uniforms working at the windows.  We used to wave to them.  Jack’s fiancée was a buyer in Simpson’s and one day he reported back that the windows were part of the Elizabeth Arden beauty salon.  One afternoon, Jack suggested that we take a large sheet of architects drawing paper and write ‘Telephone number?’  on it, and hold it up at our window, when the girls were looking out.  This we did, and a blonde girl signalled back their number.  But what to do next?  Peter was married, Jack was engaged and Leroy was too shy, so it was left to me to make the call.  Well one thing led to another and before long the girl – Sandy, and I became constant companions, a situation that lasted for the next eight years and through many countries.  And her friend Valerie, who was also at the windows, ended up married to my friend Howard, and thanks to internet, I am still in periodic contact with both of them.

Peter and Barbara lived in a small cottage on Algonquin Island, one of a chain of islands just south of the Toronto mainland.  There were no cars on the island and Peter commuted to work by ferry.  It was an idyllic setting.  Sandy and I visited them many times, sometimes for a meal, once to babysit their little son – Anthony, and another time to help with raking up the knee-deep layer of autumn leaves.  Eventually they bought a large old house with wood panelling, near High Park.  I helped them with the move.

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Toronto Islands, with Algonquin Island on the far left
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And could well have been their little cottage

Inevitably time moves on, we eventually left Toronto on our long journey across Canada to Vancouver and San Francisco and island hopping to Australia.  And I lost touch with Peter.  Apart from a brief business visit in 2001, I have never been back to Toronto.

A few years ago, I tried to trace Peter and Barbara through internet sites, but to no avail; I could not find their footprints.  It was only recently that I stumbled on them.  It turned out that Barbara died of cancer in 2004, Peter in 2005 and his oldest son five months later.

And Peter died the same month as I had my own near-death experience in Stockholm, the day before George died in Coleraine.

Of the three of us, I was the lucky survivor.

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Procrastination

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.

Seneca – 4 BC (Córdoba) – 65 AD (Rome)

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That line comes from Seneca’s essay – ‘De Brevitate Vitae’ (The Shortness of Life), written in 49 AD.

And as Wayne Gretsky, the former Canadian ice hockey star, once said – ‘Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.  You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’.

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I well remember a Qantas commercial from the early 1970s when I lived in Australia.  It started out with a young man saying that when he finished school he was going to travel.  Then it was after he completed his studies.  One saw the young man looking a little older, saying that when his children grew up, he was going to see the world.  Then the man looking much older, salt-and-peppered and conservative, saying that when he retired he was going to travel and see the world.  Finally, there appeared a very old grey bearded wrinkly saying – ‘One of these days…’.

For me, decisions involving my own money – buying a house, shares, a car, a phone, a computer etc. are relatively easy.  I know what I want, I have a reasonable idea of the cost, and when I find it, I buy it.  I really don’t care if I later find that I could have bought it for less somewhere else, or by waiting I could have had a better deal. The deal is done and I move on.  For me the old saying, that ‘time is money’ very much applies.  I very much believe that it is important to know what your time is worth and not to waste it in trying to make relatively insignificant savings.

In a similar manner decisions involving where I live and/or work have also been relatively easy for me and have always been because of what I wanted to do next in life. We have no choice of parents or of where we are born and raised, but we certainly can decide where we want to live.  Consequently, I have left a trail of cities behind me – Toronto, Sydney, Los Angeles, London, Lagos, Caracas, Miami, Panama, Lima, Camberley, Neuchâtel, Paris, Uppsala, Chamonix, Montevideo and now Cape Town.  One of these days I may settle down… 🙂

At work the major decisions are usually much more complex and involve many variables.  Making 5 out of 5 profitable decisions hardly seems possible.  With 4 out of 5, promotion is just a matter of time.  With 3 out of 5, one may remain employed.  Anything less usually results in ‘adios’.  And procrastination on a difficult decision rarely wins respect.

Where I have often struggled is with the negative decisions involving people, for example in terminating a relationship or someone’s employment.  With some, I would certainly never win a popularity contest.  And yet, once the decision is made and communicated, I have usually felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  As is written in the bible, and frequently misquoted, ‘the truth sets you free’.

Life is too short to waste on regretting what could have been…

In the words of Edith Piaf – ´Non, Je ne regrette rien’.

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Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien – (original)

South Africa Residency

I love Cape Town – the ocean, the mountains, the climate and the super-friendly people of all colours, both well-off and poor.  I feel so totally at home here, that after a year and three visits, I have started the process of obtaining a temporary 4-year residence, to be immediately followed by an application for […]

I love Cape Town – the ocean, the mountains, the climate and the super-friendly people of all colours, both well-off and poor.  I feel so totally at home here, that after a year and three visits, I have started the process of obtaining a temporary 4-year residence, to be immediately followed by an application for permanent residence.

cape-town-overview

In most parts, it is not a demanding process.  I must provide apostilled (that was a new word for me) copies of my birth and divorce certificates.  Then there is a basic medical examination and chest x-rays.  I also must demonstrate that I have at least a net annual income of Rand 444,000 (c£26,000 or c$34,000).  But the painful part is providing police clearance from every country in which I have lived since I was 18.

Now for most countries, the process is not very demanding – basic identification data plus a fee.  But the US requires a set of fingerprints on ‘card stock’ plus a plethora of personal data, such as height, weight, colour of eyes, hair etc.  And their northern poodle requires electronic fingerprints, which are not readily accessible outside of Canada.  And neither of their embassies and consulates provide any assistance whatsoever.  To complicate the process, the US has a minimum of a 10-week service level, before the end of which my application could be rejected – I just hope that I did not give my height and weight in metric, leaving me to start all over again… 😦

Once I get all the required documentation, I must book an interview at an RSA embassy, in my case London – there is currently a one month wait.  And if my documentation is accepted, there is a further 33 working day delay until the permit is issued or rejected, during which time my passport is retained by the embassy.  As I also have an Irish passport, the latter is no handicap.

So, if everything I goes according to plan, I hope to be a South Africa resident by the end of this year.

Wish me luck… 🙂