Friday, August 3, 2007

Traveling Solo Contest: Essays Seven, Eight and Nine

by Amy Novesky

A Long Day of the Sojourner
by Michael McLaughlin

Saturday 3:30 p.m. My plan was to take the four hour ferry ride from La Union, El Salvador to Nicaragua. From there on to Managua, the capital. Once underway I looked down to see our giant ferry was being pulled by one tiny tugboat. The "the little engine that could" was going to pull us all the way to Nicaragua. So much for the four hour trip. I spent the entire night playing a card game of "Loco Ochos" with the ship's purser.

Sunday 7:30 a.m. Nicaragua. Me and the mob from the ferry crowded around the one Nicaraguan custom official who sat in an open field at a wooden desk in front of a manual typewriter. By some miracle I was called early and thought the travel gods now looked with favor upon my journey. I would learn how cruel the travel gods could be.

9:30 a.m. I missed the bus and walked to the highway to hitchhike.

11:30 a.m. I got a ride was from an old man. We ran over and killed a dog along the way.

12:30 a.m. I got a ride from a man who had lived in the U.S. and spoke very good English. I immediately knew where the conversation was headed:

"Have you met any women down here?"

"Oh, yea, lots." (I lied.)

"Do you have girlfriends back home?"

"I'm having sex with women all the time." (I lied again.)

"You're a big guy. You have big hands and big feet."

(I smiled, knowing every second in a moving car was golden.)

"I bet you're big all over."

Now that question confused my manhood. If I said, "No" my ego suffered, if I said "Yes" that was not a good answer either. My college education helped. I said something existential, "What is the meaning of big, really?"

2:00 p.m. Standing in the middle of nowhere Nicaragua. The gentle wind my only music. Through a wire fence I scratched the head of a Brahma bull for fun.

3:00 p.m. I finally got a ride from a fat man on a small motorcycle. Right away we were stuck in a long line of cars trailing a slow truck. I start feeling raindrops and two words came to mind "drenched" and "death." As we finally passed the truck I could see we had been driving behind a truck carrying pigs and that rain I felt was really... My long hair was now an insanely twisted bird's nest. I could feel sunburn on my face. Coming down out of the mountains towards Managua I was awe struck----a glorious full rainbow arched over the city of...Oz?

7:30 p.m. Managua. I was let off and a tall sunburn gringo, with medusa twisted hair, smelling of pig piss wandered the city looking for a "barato" hotel.

8:30 p.m. For about 9 dollars I found a place and I took the longest semi hot shower possible. Drifting off to sleep I had to smile thinking of the day's solo sojourn.


The Big Sleep by Jamie Starbuck

"Come follow the ship," my new Navy husband, Joe, invited, when ordered to the Mediterranean. "You can pick up the new Spitfire in London and drive to romantic ports."

I'd never driven a sports car, traveled the "other" side of the road, or even ventured solo in Europe. My high school French and Spanish qualified as dead languages. My money exchange muscles never developed and my night vision ranked as near blind. Yet, I loved adventure and could pump my own gas, a relatively new custom in 1978. I also was naive.

I left London at rush hour, staying in one lane and one gear west to Oxford, arriving after dark totally frazzled. The next harrowing week I visited the Cotswolds, Cambridge, London again and finally Dover, where in the dark I begged a policeman to help me find a night's lodging.

The next day's uneventful ferry ride to France preceded an almost pleasant daylight drive to Paris. The French road signs spoke both words and pictures. I felt confident, until I hit L'Etoile, the circle around the Arc de Triomphe, known locally as "the French Chariot Race."

My French friends offered a parking space, and I gratefully traveled only by Metro during my 10-day visit. When time came to leave, my friends escorted me to the Autoroute to ensure a good start. I drove south two days to the coast, and headed east to Livorno, Italy, near Pisa, eager for my first romantic rendezvous.

But as I left France and entered Italy -- in the middle of a tunnel -- consulting maps wasn't an option. To my horror the new Autostrade emerged as a cliff-hugging road suspended high over the sea. The traffic raced along bridge-tunnel-bridge-tunnel-bridge-tunnel. Town names blurred. I was scared, hungry, tired and had to pee. I cursed Joe and his port calls.

About sunset, I hurled off the Autostrade toward a toll booth. With palms pressed together prayer-like by my left ear, head tilted onto them, I wailed to the toll taker: "I need a place to sleep!" He frowned and dismissed me with a pointed finger.

I drove along the country road until I saw a woman pushing a baby stroller. Again, I gestured with pressed palms and tilted head. "Dormire," I said, thinking French might work. She frowned, pointed, and said something Italian.

A mile later, a heavy-set woman in a long flowered dress and babushka trudged up a hill, a pole balanced over her shoulders. Buckets like five-gallon paint cans hung from each side. Up close I could see the well-balanced buckets filled with tomato sauce. Now, that's Italian, I thought to myself.

I smiled and begged for a place to sleep. She studied my prayer hands. Finally, her eyes brightened followed by "Si, si." She mumbled something about morte and pointed over the hill.

I followed her directions exactly -- straight to the town cemetery.


Mendocino Escape by Annie B Yearout

There I was. Happy as a clam. Or a pig in you-know-what. Driving up Little Lake Street in Mendocino, which winds back into town from the cliffs by the ocean. Far, oh so far away from my lovely, lovely family in Mill Valley. I don't miss them a bit.

Just me and my trusty, responsible, dependable Volvo. Cell phones don't work in Mendocino. "Oh, dang!" I feigned to my skeptical husband. "Well, I guess I'll just have to call YOU this weekend from the B&B." All three carseats in the back, empty, 'cept for smatterings of crushed Cheerios, raisins & sand. Bliss.

WHAM!!!!!! The right side of my car is plowed into by a Massive Brown Tank. My trusty, responsible, dependable Volvo is flung in a circle, glass and airbags everywhere. I'm in shock. But I'm ok.

The driver of the Massive Brown Delivery Truck runs out to check on me. Curious residents from nearby homes come running also. Blankets, power-bars. "Are you ok???"

I've been hit outside of Menodcino's Art Center, a renown art colony tucked into the neighborhood. "Phone, I need a phone." I begged. The cops were on the way, but I needed to communicate with home, hear a familiar voice, listen to my husband say it was OK -- and cells don't work in Mendocino.

I was led into the jewelry-making shop by a lovely artist who'd come running with her wool afghan and had been back and forth with water and snacks. "Wow -- we heard you honk then BOOM -- you doing ok?" asked a handsome jeweler, bending something gold and gorgeous. "Here. Here's the phone. Use my phone card," said my new friend, the lady with the blanket. "Call your husband."

I touched base with home. Sobbing, but not at all embarrassed in front of this crowd. They were used to drama, and were inspired by passion. I felt right at home.

Paperwork done, car towed, the insurance lady from the Massive Brown Tank wants to meet with me before I leave town. No way, toots -- talk to my people. I'm whipped. Crap -- I need an escape plan until my husband shows up, 3 hours away.

Just what my new friend needed to hear -- to the rescue! She takes my hand and whisks me into the Colony. Winding through, I wonder if I would have even stopped to notice this place if it hadn't been for the Massive Brown Tank? A shame if I hadn't.

We scurry to her room -- insurance lady in hot pursuit, we imagine -- run!!! My friend's a painter, she tells me. The apartment is a room, small, sparse. I realize the blanket and snacks she'd been sharing are not luxuries for her. This is real.

This is real. I've been rescued by the large, large heart of a stranger and her friends in a small town called Mendocino, just north of San Francisco, and just north of my home. This is my Mendocino Escape.

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