I went to Pamplona to run with the bulls and catch a couple of bullfights. I had never been to a bullfight before and didn’t know what to expect. I had rather a detached and academic approach towards the whole affair but I must admit I was fascinated by what I saw and emotionally moved.
To prepare for my journey I brought with me to read, Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway. I have prepared some quotes from the book to accompany the pictures I took. No on can quite explain the experience of bullfighting like Ernest Hemingway. He it the master.
There are three acts to every bullfight. They are always the same. The first act is where the bull charges the picadors and the matador distracts the bull with his cape. The picador drives the steel of the pic into the neck muscles of the bull to weaken it.
Act two is the banderillas. They are a pair of sticks about three feet long tipped with a harpoon-like shaped steel point at on the end four centimeters long. They are placed two at a time in the humped muscles at the top of the bulls neck as the bull is charging the matador. They are designed to complete the work of slowing the bull down. Four pair are usually put in.
“So, I went to Spain to see bullfights and to try to write about them for myself. I thought they would be simple and barbarous and cruel and that I would not like them, but that I would see certain and definite action which would give me the feeling of life and death that I was working for. I found the definite action, but the bullfight was far from simple and I liked it so much that it was too complicated for my then equipment for writing to deal with, and aside from four very small sketches, I was not able to write anything about it for five years and I wish I would have waited ten.”
-Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
The last act is the sword and the muleta. The muleta is a red cloth folded over a stick. With the muleta the matador masters the bull before going in for the kill. Finally the matador kills the bull by thrusting the sword high between the shoulder blades of the bull.
“The bullfight is not a sport, that is it is not an equal contest or an attempt at an equal contest between a man and a bull. Rather it is a tragedy, the death of the bull, which is played more or less well by the bull and the man involved, and in which there is danger for the man, but certain death for the bull.”
-Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
“So far, about morals, I only know what is moral is what makes you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by those moral standards, which I do not defend, the bullfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on and have a feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality, and after it is over I feel very sad but very fine.”
-Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
All photos by the author except the photos of himself which were taken by his wife, Maureen
On the 16th we went to the Lady Gaga Show sponsored by the Lake Chapala Society. This is a club for ex-pats. They put on shows and have a beautiful compound with many attractions for members and guests. The show was quite entertaining and the performers were excellent.
A conversation with Al Mitchell. While waiting for the Show to start Al and Maureen were conversing. I was just half-listening and sipping my red wine and enjoying the beautiful day.
Maureen: When I broke my foot, I had to wear the black boot of death.
Al: I know people who when they had to wear a boot on one foot would wear one on the other foot just to keep their balance.
Me: Whoa! Wait a minute there, Al! Who do you know that wore two boots?
Al (laughing): Well, I can’t remember their names.
Maureen: It sounds feasible.
Me: Give me a name. Name me one person who wore two boots.
Al (laughing): Well, I might have made that up.
Me: You damned right you did! That is preposterous! Your whole story is preposterous! Caught you, didn’t I?
Me and Al both laughing. We “clink” out plastic cups of wine together and let it drop. So it goes.
Later that evening had dinner at the Peacock Garden Restaurant. Al Mitchel, Maureen, and a few others who were at the Lady Gag Show. Later Cindy Joined us.
What I like about Ajijic is the number of fine restaurants it has to offer and the chance to socialize with friends and meet new people.
Ajijic is a great place to wander around to get to know the area and its inhabitants. It is a charming little village of about 11,000 people. Many expats live there and others from around the globe travel to Ajijic frequently. We had friends that were there so we were able to socialize with them while on our visit.
Below is a working farm just around the corner from where we were staying at La Casa Campbell. We walked by it everyday.
The other pictures depict some of the streets near where we were staying . We were walking distance of Lake Chapala so we usually walked there everyday.
Earlier this year, my partner Maureen and I made another pilgrimage to the land down under (the border) to visit the charming village of Ajijic, Mexico. This was my second visit and her first. In order to get to Ajijic one flies into Guadalajara then taxis the rest of the way from there to Ajijic. It’s 54 kilometers and the trip takes about an hour costing 500 pesos with tip.
Waiting for us at our destination was the owner of the Airbn we were staying at, Lupita Campbell. We were very happy with the accommodations which, to say the least, exceeded our expectations. We had an entire guest house, La Casita, at our disposal which was beautifully furnished and full of art. We also had a fenced in yard with a fountain and a cabaña in the back. From the roof we had a magnificent view of lake Chapala.
Ajijic is wedged between the mountains on one side and the lake on the other. Lake Chapala is the biggest lake in Mexico and is quite beautiful to look at and to visit. It has a wonderful malecon where you can take an evening stroll and watch the sun go down.
The weather is perfect. We were there in January and it was a little cool in the morning but by noon it was quite warm. No need for heat or central air. The hot water heater was warmed by solar power so we had to wait a bit to get a hot shower.
There is a large expat community living in Ajijic supported by the Lake Chapala Society. They are mainly American and Canadians. The locals sometime refer to Ajijic as “Gringo Land.” We have friends who live there and some who travel there quite frequently and we were planning on catching up with them on this visit.
There are many fine restaurants and shops in the village and is a fun place to visit and socialize.
I drove the 117 miles to Owensboro and arrived at Buddha’s in the early afternoon. This was the first leg of our journey to the heart of the American Dream. I gassed up the White Whale, a 2011 gas guzzling Nissan Maxima, the day before, and put together a road trip mix to listen to on our way down to Galveston. We were going to Galveston to recapture our past and rekindle a friendship that had cooled off over the years.
We had both been to Galveston before and though we had separate memories we were both eager to see her pretty sea wall, hear the sea wind blowing, and see her dark eyes glowing.
I like to listen to the sounds of the 60s while on a road trip with nothing else on my mind but driving fast, grooving to the music, and avoiding the law if at all possible.
Daniel “Buddha” Hildenbrandt was one of my oldest friends and a spiritual adviser. He was also a teacher at the local community college. He taught communications and was fond of saying, “the main problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
We called him Buddha because of the pudgy nature of his physique. He just looked like a Buddha.
When I got to his place, we watched TV until about 5:30 pm when his daughter, Mara, arrived to fetch a key. After she left, we went out to get a bite to eat at Owensboro’s one and only Sushi place. I knew it was going to be a problem when I noticed the chefs behind the sushi bar were Mexican. I had the Hibachi Chicken. It was terrible.
We went back to Buddha’s place for drinks and more TV. I lucked into a Harold Pinter play on YouTube I’ve been wanting to see: “The Birthday Party,” starring Harold Pinter himself and Joan Plowright, in a BBC production. It was pretty good, but you have to be into Pinter to enjoy it. Buddha wasn’t so he went to bed to read while I watched the rest of the play.
The next day was Friday, October 2. I woke to the news that Donald Trump and Melania Trump both have contracted the coronavirus. Is that karma or what?
We are living in strange times. I was thinking of love in the time of Coronavirus. 1,000,000 dead and Donald Trump was still president. This was before the insurrection at the nation’s capital and Moscow had yet to declare war on Ukraine. The best was yet to come.
We packed and loaded the car. We had to make a pit stop in Evansville so Buddha could see his psychiatrist and check up on his meds. Apparently, I am traveling with a madman. That’s OK. We’re all as mad as hatters here. All the best people are.
We finally got on the road and headed west. I figured to push as far into Arkansas as I possibly could before stopping for the night. We made it to Hope, which was in the first ring of hell. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but it was getting there. We crossed the river Acheron into the abyss. The dreams weren’t broken down there, but they were definitely walking with a limp.
We checked into the Best Western Motel. The maskless clerk behind the desk kept asking us if we wanted one bed or two.
“Two beds, dammit!” Buddha muttered, shaking his shaggy head.
“Do we get a discount?” I asked. “AAA? AARP?”
“Yeah, I’ll give you a discount alright,” the clerk snapped.
“Well, what’s the rate?”
“$75.00 including tax. Do you want one bed or two?”
“Two beds, dammit!”
“OK! Can I see your credit card?”
“Any restaurants in the area?”
“You can Google them and they will deliver.”
“OK. What room?”
“105. Right around the corner.”
Buddha was already heading out the door on his way to the room on foot. I drove around. We unlocked the door and unloaded the car, then took a moment to get settled. Buddha went to get ice.
I Googled the restaurants in the area and found a Pizza Hut and a Dominos. I called both but got put on hold at both places. Well, what could you expect in a little town called Hope, deep in the Arkansas interior? Bill Clinton territory as it were. The town sucked just like Monica Lewinski. Finally, Dominos answered.
“I’ll have a medium Supreme delivered to room 105 at the Best Western Motel, please. When will you deliver it? One hour? Wow! Well, go ahead. We will just have to wait.”
While waiting for the pizza to arrive we made the drinks.
We had picked up some liquor a few exits back. We got separate liquors because Buddha always buys cheap booze and I can’t stand the whiskey he usually gets, so I get something a little better. Turns out he got Ezra Brooks and I got Jack Daniels.
“Well, hell, if I’d a known you were getting Ezra Brooks, I would have drunk your booze. Ezra Brooks ain’t bad!”
“No, you wouldn’t! You’re not drinking my booze! You just drink your Jack Daniels!”
“What the hell Buddha? You don’t think I would have replaced your whiskey? You mean to tell me you wouldn’t have shared?”
“I don’t want to have this conversation right now!”
We drove the rest of the way in silence.
Meanwhile, back in the motel room, we decided to watch a little TV while waiting for the pizza. It was 9 pm EST and 8 pm Central. Buddha grabbed the remote and engaged the “on” button. TV said, “No Signal.”
“Call the front desk and tell them the TV doesn’t work,” I said.
Buddha grabbed the phone, listened intently, punched the dial hooks repeatedly, looked up wild-eyed.
“No dial-tone! Motherfucker don’t work!”
“Call him on your cell phone.”
Buddha stared at the black desk set and started stabbing the numbers into his cell phone.
“Hello? Yeah, this is Buddha in room 105. The phone don’t work…. I’m calling you on my cell phone…. OK…OK…Ok. That’s not why I’m calling you. The TV don’t work either…OK…. OK…Ok.”
He hung up.
“What’d he say?”
“He said he would come down and try to reboot it himself.”
“Well OK then.”
So, we waited a few minutes, freshened our drinks, and munched on some smoked almonds. Pretty soon there was a knock at the front door.
Buddha let in the night clerk who again was maskless, but he was at least pretty friendly. He took the remote and began trying to reboot the TV.
About that time, we got another knock at the door. It was Dominos. Buddha answered the door. He paid for the pizza, $20.00 including tip.
The smell of the pizza filled the room.
“Wow, if you are getting pizza, I’m getting hungry.” This from the maskless night clerk.
“You want a slice?” I asked.
The clerk didn’t have any luck getting the TV to work either.
“Let’s see, the TV don’t work, and the phone don’t work. Don’t you think we should get another discount?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ll give you another discount. I’ll give it to you right now.”
And with that, he left.
Buddha and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Then we devoured the pizza.
A little later on that night, the night clerk showed up with our receipt which included our discounts. All in all, an $85.00 room ended up costing us $65.00. Not bad.
We got up early the next morning and hit the road again right after breakfast. It was around Texarkana when the drugs started kicking in. It was only a matter of time before we would see the bats.
As soon as we crossed the Texas state line the environment seemed to change. The horizon stretched out further, the roads became wider, and the countryside a lot brighter. You could see further in all directions. There were also a lot of Trump signs. We were definitely in Trump country. If there ever was time to be traveling armed, this was it.
Donald Trump. The 45th president of the United States of America was nothing more than a screaming hyena, a barking dog, a snake oil salesman, and a carnival barker. But he held a death grip on American politics for four years, and even though he was impeached twice and lost a fair and free election he still has a death grip on the GOP and a large number of the electorate. One-third of the country thinks the election was stolen and that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. What a mess! But I digress.
There we were, driving along US Highway 59 with an open road in front of us and Ruby and the Romantics blaring on the radio and I couldn’t help but think that here we are, 20 years into the next century. I remember the 60s as being a beacon of hope when the culture hit a high watermark. If you look back and squint your eyes just right, you can almost see where the crest of the wave finally broke and rolled back. It’s been downhill pretty much ever since.
Maureen and I recently went on road trip to Berea, Kentucky. We took Miss Scarlett, our newly acquired 1984 Porshe 994.
I said, “Maureen, why do you call your car, Miss Scarlett?”
“Because, I don’t give a damn, is why!”
Well, ask a foolish question…
Berea is a small Kentucky town known for it’s arts and crafts, it’s beautiful trail ways, and of course Berea College.
Berea College is tuition free, but the students have to work to earn their tuition. The hotel where we stayed is completely run and staffed by students. As a matter of fact, my own father attended Berea College when he was a young man and he too worked at the historic Boone Tavern and Hotel.
We visited the artisan village, walked around the college campus and one day I hiked the pinnacles while Maureen stayed behind and went shopping.
A very enjoyable stay only three hours from Louisville. We would definitely go back!
One of the most enriching aspects of our trip to Costa Rica was meeting the wonderful people that live there. They were friendly, hardworking, happy and always smiling. The have a saying in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida,” and it punctuates everyone’s speech. They say it in greetings and in goodbyes and whenever else it makes sense to say it. It means, “the pure life.” And they surely enjoy life in their beautiful country. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures I took of these happy inhabitants.
Fernando was our driver on our first day in country. He picked us up at the airport and drive us to our first destination, the Arena Volcano. On the way we stopped for lunch at Mi Rancho.
This is our guide, Grevien. He took us on a tour of the rainforest.
This is my guide Corry. He took me on a waterfall tour and to the beach.
Editor’s note: I published this story previously, but I have rewritten it and made revisions and I hope have improved it. Please give it a read and let me know what you think. Thanks in advance!
The first thing you see when you get off the plane at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport after the “Welcome to Kenya” sign is the sign which says, “DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS.” There were other signs I saw along the way during my two weeks stay in Nairobi but I chose to ignore them. In Uhuru Park, there was a sign that read, “Beware of Human Beasts, Don’t Be the Next Rape Victim, Every 30 Minutes a Woman is Raped in Kenya.” At the Nairobi Serena Hotel, before we were allowed to drive onto the property, a uniformed armed guard probed the underside of our car with a long-handled mirror. Once inside and checked into our room I looked out the window and saw a uniformed guard standing watch. At a restaurant we went to called The Carnivore, we passed through a security fence that was manned by security guards carrying automatic assault rifles and flanked by large German Shepherd dogs straining at their leashes. Yes, I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.
I had traveled to Kenya with a companion who was there on business attending a worldwide meeting of company officials who were stationed around the globe. While Mary was going to meetings, I was on my own.
On the first day, I hung out at the Hotel. The Serena is a Five Star Hotel and very nice. I had breakfast with Mary in the dining room and later I had lunch out by the pool by myself. I enjoyed a cheeseburger with fries and a Tusker beer. This is the beer of choice in Kenya. Their motto is, “My beer, my country.” It tasted crisp and refreshing. After lunch, I took a dip in the pool and sat in the sun reading as the water slowly evaporated off my body.
After a couple of days of this, I decided to venture out on my own. I had walked the mean streets in some of the toughest cities in America, so I wasn’t too worried.
I struck out mid-morning on a beautiful sun-drenched day. The skies were azure blue with cotton candy clouds. Nairobi is a mile high so the atmosphere was crystal clear and every object stood out in vivid colored relief.
I walked the half-mile stretch along Uhuru Highway to downtown Nairobi. Traffic was going about in a chaotic fashion as I walked to the corner of a busy intersection crowded with people. I was approached on all sides by people who wanted to sell me things like trinkets or cheap jewelry. A rather large and burly individual who was a head taller than me and wearing a tight red T-shirt walked up to me and pounded his chest. “Promote me! Promote me!” He said over and over again, striking his chest for emphasis.
I just walked away. Soon others were following me and asking me questions. They all wanted to know if I was from the States? Did I know Obama? One fellow dressed in raggedy clothes stopped me and asked for money to buy some rice. I wasn’t inclined to give him any, especially in front of the crowd and all, but I did say to him, “I’m not going to give you any money, but if you will meet me here in one hour, I will buy you some rice and give it to you.” He looked a little disappointed but reluctantly agreed.
I continued to walk along the street deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. As I walked along, I noticed another fellow tracking me and falling into step beside me. He was wearing a dark brown suit, but it looked like it had seen its better days. A little shabby with frayed cuffs. He had on a soiled white dress shirt and a thin black tie loosened at the throat. He was wearing black dress shoes that were run over at the heels and in bad need of a shine. “Hello!” He said, flashing me a big smile. “Can we have a conversation?”
“Sure,” I answered. “What did you want to talk about?”
“I like to talk to Americans about politics and history.”
“Ok. What did you want to know?”
“Can we go somewhere and sit down at a table to talk?”
“Where did you want to go?”
“I know a Tea Room not far from here. We could go there.”
I started to get a little suspicious at this point and I wasn’t in any big hurry to go anywhere with this stranger.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Sudan,” he answered. “I am staying at a refugee camp near the border.”
“I’ll tell you what. I am going to walk around a little bit, you want to meet me here in an hour, we can talk then. How’s that?”
He hesitated a little bit but finally agreed. So, I had the same arrangement with two strangers I had met in Nairobi and I had only been in town for 15 minutes! I thought chances are either one or the other or both wouldn’t show up, and I had bought myself a little time.
I spent the next hour exploring the city. I went to gift shops, hotels, and had lunch in an outdoor café. I checked my watch and saw it was time to head back to meet my new friends.
I got back to the corner at the appointed time and guy #1 wasn’t there yet. I looked around and noticed a market about half a block away. I walked over to it and went in. After my eyes adjusted to the low-level light, I saw baskets of various products including rice. The pungent smell of spices hung in the air. I secured a bag of rice and walked out returning to the corner. My new friend showed up with a big smile on his face.
“Jambo!” he said
“Jambo!” I returned.
I handed him the rice. We made eye contact as he took hold of the bag. He nodded his head. I could tell he really appreciated the gesture. Then he walked away.
Now the second guy, the guy with the suit. I thought was going to be a no-show. I waited about 15 minutes and was about to leave when he rounded the corner. He greeted me warmly and pointed his hand out in front of him and said, “The Tea Room is down this way.”
We walked about six blocks and I was beginning to wonder where we were going.
“Say, where are you taking me?”
“It’s just a little further.”
We walked on another two blocks. While we were walking along, I learned that his name was Asim and that he needed to get back to his camp sometime before nightfall. My friend became a little more excited as we stopped in front of a rather imposing-looking two-story structure in the middle of the block with a wide set of concrete steps leading up to the front door.
“Ah, here we are,” my companion spoke to me as he swept his arm up the stairway in the direction of the entrance. We had arrived at the Jade Tea House.
Once inside I had a distinct feeling that I had stepped into a time portal. I felt as though I had been swept away to another time and place, like something out of Casablanca, the Blue Parrot perhaps. The interior of the Tea Room was dark and the blades of the overhead fans were whirring about pushing the hot air around the room. I felt a little uneasy as I looked around. Others were seated around at various tables deep in what seemed like a conspiratorial conversation as if they were plotting some crime against humanity or an act of terror. Or maybe they were just plotting to get out of Nairobi if they could just get their hands on the letters of transit.
We went upstairs to another level where it was a little brighter and sat down at a table. Soon a waiter come over and we each ordered a cup of tea.
Asim and I started having our conversation about what was going on in America. We worked it around to politics in Africa. There was a presidential election going on in Kenya and we talked about that. Then he reminded me that he was Sudanese and was living in a refugee camp. Oh, boy I thought, here it comes. As we were sitting there, I noticed a lone individual sidle up to the table next to ours and had a seat. It seemed like he was listening to our conversation. He didn’t order anything, he just sat there on the edge of his seat. I focused on Asim while he made his play. I tried to figure out how I was going to handle his request for money. I excused myself to the bathroom to buy some time.
When I got back to the table, I decided I would pay our tab and leave. Whatever change I had that was coming to me I would let Asim have and that would be it. I called the waiter over and asked for the check. When he got back, I handed him a 50 Shilling note and he brought back my change which I pushed over in front of Asim.
Just as soon as I pushed the money over the guy at the other table jumped up and four other guys, all wearing suits, came out of the shadows and surrounded the table. Two of the men led Asim away, one on each side of him. Two others stood guard and the ring leader came over and sat directly in front of me. His eyes were shot with blood and his breath stank of alcohol. He flashed an ID at me and said he was a police officer with the Nairobi Police Department. I didn’t get a good look at the ID but it looked like an ordinary driver’s license.
“Why were you talking to that man?” He wanted to know.
“I don’t know. We just met on the street and he wanted to talk.”
“We have been looking for that man. Did you know he was a drug dealer?”
Uh oh! I thought to myself. Here it comes. First the hook then ….
“He’s also a counterfeiter. I see you gave him some money. Why did you give him money?”
“I was just leaving him the change because I thought he might need it.”
“How much Kenyan money do you have?”
“About 20,000 Shillings.”
“Let me see it.” He reached out his hand.
I slowly reached into my pocket and retrieved my Kenyan money. He reached out his hand further and I reluctantly handed it over. He grunted his approval and started to count it.
“Do you have any American money?”
“Yeah. I guess you are going to take that too?”
“If you are not going to cooperate, we can take you down to the station with us and make you cooperate.”
I didn’t like that idea. So, l reached back into my pocket and got the rest of my money out, and handed it over to him which he promptly proceeded to count. He took out a small notebook and wrote some figures down on a page and tore it out. He handed the slip of paper to me with the amount of money he had taken from me written on it, as some kind of receipt.
“We have a machine at headquarters that can tell if this money is counterfeit. We will run your money through the machine and if it is real, we will return it to you. Where are you staying?”
I didn’t want to tell him. If I ever got out of this alive, I never wanted to see them again. But I felt like I had to play along so I told them I was staying at the Serena Hotel but I gave them a false room number. Like that would do a lot of good.
After that, he stood up and motioned for me to get up. They escorted me out of the building down the front steps to the curb where a car was waiting. They got into the car and sped away leaving me standing on the sidewalk in a total state of bewilderment. It was only then that the full force of the experience hit me.
I looked up at the sky and the tops of the building were literally swirling around in the blue canopy overhead. Or was it just in my head? I didn’t know. I became momentarily quite dizzy and thought I would pass out. I had to find my way back to the hotel but I was disoriented and actually quite lost. Calm down, I told myself. At least you are still alive and free at last. Now just assess your situation and you will be fine.
I looked around again and saw in the distance the top of a building I recognized that was in the direction of the hotel. I started walking in the direction of the familiar landmark, navigating by dead reckoning. The closer I got to the building the more familiar were my surroundings. Soon I found myself back on Uhuru Highway and almost home.
When I made it back to the hotel I went right to the room and collapsed on the bed. Mary wasn’t back yet and I feared telling her what happened. I knew she would be furious with me for putting us both in danger. When she finally got back, I told her the story and she was sympathetic but I could tell she was not happy with me. Hell, I wasn’t happy with myself either. We spent the rest of the trip looking over our shoulders as we never knew if the rough and rowdy crew would show back up again and cause more trouble.
We got out of the country with no further incidents but I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t talk to strangers.