Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MLG Travel Update: Day 87 – Day 91

Vichy Doorway & Spiral Staircase
(click image to enlarge)
Photo/Text © 2012 Sean M. Madden. All Rights Reserved.

DAYS 87 to 91 (Fri 10 Aug – Tue 14 Aug '12): It's been five days since I last wrote an update. If you missed the rather crucial Day 86 update, you can read it here. 

The five-day gap was wholly unintentional, as each day I've been looking forward to getting back on the computer and writing updates, blog posts and such. But it's been one thing after the other which, despite my best intentions, has left me devoid of the time and energy to write these. 

That said, I've exchanged much personal correspondence with folk who've thus far donated towards Mufidah's and my travels, and who offered their love, understanding and support to boot. So the details of these past five days have been amply recorded elsewhere. 

I've also written the first draft of an article which might well stand, too, as a chapter in my forthcoming book on creative writing. You can learn more about and pre-purchase the book here for just £3.49.

In this post, I'll share with you a sort of extended bullet-point version of some of our trials and tribulations, and various other goings-on, since last Friday, the morning most folk received the Day 86 update via email. If you've not subscribed to receive MLG blog posts, you can easily do so here (don't forget to click on the confirmation link you'll then receive via email).

Anyway, here's a brief overview of our day-to-day goings-on since last Friday morning:
  • Donations began flowing in directly after the Day 86 MLG Travel Update was sent out via FeedBurner, but all the more so when my MLG newsletter recipients received their version in their inboxes. We've received £500 pounds thus far from a wide assortment of folk. And beyond that, we've received much in the way of warmhearted love and support from these and other folk who, themselves, are not in a position to donate financially.
  • Despite the above donations flowing in — via my public request for help as well as a similar request which Mufidah sent privately to a number of close friends and associates — I began having second, third and fourth thoughts about whether I had made the right decision to lay bare our situation for all to see.

    A relative tiny few folk seem to take a request for help as a sign of weakness, or, worse, relish the opportunity to kick you when you're down — no matter how hard you've been working or how much creative energy you've been investing, day-to-day (year after year), into not only trying to keep afloat but to build something fresh and sustainable, and which, in my case, has helped hundreds of people to live more creatively, more in touch with themselves, and, thus, more happily in a sometimes crushing world. Don't take my word for it.
  • But later that evening (Friday still), I received an email from a mentor of mine whose words are chockablock with wisdom, and this helped to put my soul at rest, he believing I did the right thing, not only in terms of my openly asking for help, but, furthermore, in modeling for my students the importance of asking for help from others. This email followed his own PayPal donation, which was accompanied with the simple message, 'Take heart'.
  • We've also received a few donations from UK student-friends who transferred money directly into the bank account which I use expressly for such purposes (and, therefore, don't keep funds in but for a minute or two until they are whisked away to another non-publicized bank account), the same account they're used to paying into to pay for classes and such. This was particularly helpful as it gave us immediate access to much-needed liquidity, without having to pay PayPal fees. If you'd like to do the same, please send me a brief email and I'll forward the relevant bank details to you.
  • On Saturday, Mufidah and I decided we could breathe some semblance of a sigh of relief, and walked into Vichy. Our initial plan was to walk downstream along the Allier River to watch part of the four-day-long French championship parachuting competition (Vichy is host to all sorts of sporting events like this, having built huge sports complexes along the river). But, first, we decided to splurge on grilled chicken paninis with frites and a small glass of Turkish tea at the Turkish restaurant and kebab shop I've written about previously, directly across from the Vichy railway station. We sat at the large table just inside the restaurant which opens straight onto the pavement. So a sort of indoor/outdoor café experience which we savored. We were supported in our doing this by a donor, a German photographer living in Sussex, who suggested we enjoy a petit déjeneur or plat du jour on him and his wife. Thank you, guys!
  • After lunch at Kanki, we walked across town towards the river but didn't make it so far as the parachuting event. Instead, we stopped in to the Hall des Sources to drink a cup each of Célestins water, free on tap there. Then we walked outside and noticed some folk playing a game of boules. We sat down under the shade of the plane trees to watch, and got to talking to a couple of thirty-something-year-old guys who organized a follow-up game on our behalf, to introduce us to the game.

    I've wanted to play boules for years, having watched countless games in France, Spain and England (the latter including a couple of variations on the version played here). Really good fun. Mufidah played on one team, I on the other. Her team kicked our butts, though we did make some sort of a comeback late (all too late) in the game.

    The thing we love about boules is that such a diverse group of folk take part, as happened with our game — young, old, male, female, white, black, French, and, well, Anglo-American. You can just show up somewhere, boules in hand, and join in a game. An inclusive, chilled game, though playful tempers can be put to the test when the tape measure is pulled from a pocket to confirm whose metal ball is closer to the cochonnet (literally, piglet) or small plastic ball likewise called a jack.
  • Anyway, we walked back home, post-boules, with gladdened hearts, made a scrumptious late-night puy lentil stew with homemade flat bread, and hit the sack, well-tired.
  • On Sunday morning we awoke inspired, enjoyed a side portion of the leftover puy lentil stew, served with a fried egg, each, on flat breads which were likewise left over from Saturday's late dinner. A perhaps strange-seeming combination, but it actually worked, a bit like having beans with an egg breakfast. We both thought it tasty, indeed.
  • Later in the day, I made the mistake of charging my laptop via the car one too many times, despite my being almost fanatical about protecting the health of our battery throughout our three months on the road, ALWAYS unplugging our iPhones (which we also use as sat navs), laptops, etc. when the car's not running. But, of necessity — the replacement charger/adapter which we bought just before leaving England having gone haywire and, ultimately, shorting out last week — I had little choice but to occasionally charge my laptop over the course of the previous few days, as I crucially needed use of my computer. But we also didn't have enough petrol to waste driving around so as to charge the battery.

    This is a fine example of the catch-22 situations you find yourself in when you're down-and-out, whether in Vichy or anywhere else.

    If the banksters have their way — they, of course, already are, as they, literally, own the global media, our supposedly sovereign governments, our (anti-)education systems (including our great and free universities, bastions of liberal thought), our so-called (post modernist) culture, and, therefore, many of "our" very own thoughts — a great many more folk will continue to find themselves in these situations.

    Like to do something about this, en masse? Click here (or above).
  • Anyway, the end result — a dead car battery Sunday afternoon. However, a couple of French guys in tent pitches adjacent to ours helped me to quickly push start the trusty ol' Punto, and she fired up straight away. Mufidah and I then drove off to recharge the battery which necessitated, too, that we stop to buy petrol enough for our unexpected Sunday jaunt.
  • We drove first to Carrefour, a large Tesco-like shop on the other side of Vichy, in Cusset actually. We've learned never to go to Total as the petrol prices are astronomical compared to places like Carrefour, Cora, etc.

    We thought we were being thrifty here, somehow also managing to put 5.49 liters of fuel into my 5-litre plastic petrol can (not wanting to turn off the car before it had had a chance to recharge).

    Total price: 8.93 Euros.

    We then drive off towards Gannat — a place I've previously written of, after our first visit there, just before continuing on to Charroux — but we didn't stop this time. We wanted to make sure we didn't turn off the car to test the state of the battery's charge until we were on a steep enough hill to where we'd be able to put the car into neutral and coast to a jump start in second gear.

    On our return trip back towards Vichy,
    after having driven the car for 25 miles or so, we found the ideal place to safely do this. I figured we had driven the Punto far enough at that point to have sufficiently recharged the battery such that the car would start of its own accord. And sure enough, it fired right up, making our well-sought-out hill redundant. But we took the opportunity, roadside, to put roughly half of the five liters of petrol into the car to make sure we had plenty to safely return to Vichy, and then onwards ho to our campsite.

    Poverty is quite hard work as a good number of you no doubt know, and extremely time- and energy-consuming. But it makes for a good (if quite stressful) challenge, spending hours strategizing how best to part with, say, 12 to 15 Euros while shopping for food to last you for four or five days. Been there done that countless times, both before and during the present travels.

    One spirals into a space in which every little detail — such a thing as one might otherwise take for granted — requires great deliberation.
  • We returned to Vichy in quite good spirits, but were wiped out from the day's travails. Before returning home, we stopped at the Monoprix in the center of town and performed one of the above food-strategizing sessions (we're getting better at these), and returned home to enjoy another late-night Greek salad, again going to bed too-pooped-to-poop.
  • I awoke yesterday, Monday morning, and checked my bank account via my iPhone, as I tend to do each morning, keeping a super-close eye on the available balance so we know exactly what we can spend when we need to spend it. And, voila!, about £75 (GBP) had vanished from my bank account overnight, with no corresponding detail yet showing via the online system.
  • So, instead of enjoying the relaxing breakfast we had planned while at Monoprix the night before, and then embarking upon more email correspondence, writing up some blog updates, and doing some research, etc., I ended up, instead, blowing the whole morning and afternoon trying to sort out the £75 error which the bank customer service representative and I were, fortunately, able to quickly put our fingers on given that I had the past few days' receipts for all expenditures in front of me, along with various notes I'd made before telephoning the bank.

    In a nutshell, the roughly 9 Euro petrol charge was converted by Carrefour into a 96 Euro transaction despite it being an automated debit and my holding a receipt which clearly indicated the former amount having been charged), the difference which accounted for the missing approximately £75.

    That's the good news, our having quickly figured out that this was the dodgy transaction.
  • The bad news is that in addition to consuming virtually the whole of yesterday trying to deal with this nonsensical issue, the bank also told me they wouldn't be able to refund the money until an investigation was formally underway. This would require that I write a cover letter, make a copy of the receipt, and post it back to the UK. Not the simplest of tasks when living out of a tent.

    In the meantime, I didn't stop to eat anything until about 3.30 yesterday afternoon (which ended up being my only meal, as Mufidah and I were too tired to make dinner by the time we returned home and spent time talking with a Dutch couple who arrived at our campsite yesterday evening on lovely motorcycles, his a grey 1300cc Honda, hers a candy-apple-red 1000cc model).
  • But the even better news is that Mufidah typed up a detailed explanation in English (which included the authorization code provided by the bank), translated it into French via Google Translate, mailed it to both our iPhones so that we'd both have it just in case. And we whisked off again in the Punto to Carrefour.
  • We couldn't have had nicer, more understanding recipients of our translated explanation. The two women working there understood what was going on right away, telephoned their merchant bank to urgently request that the difference be credited to my bank account, wrote out a statement and stamped it (twice) with their contact details along with a handwritten signature, and we left with a great sigh of relief, my having pressed my palms together, giving a bit of a bow, and adding 'merci beaucoup'. How lucky we were.

    So the credit is meant to be processed today (Tuesday), and we're waiting to see if it will show up, though quite likely not until tomorrow morning. Regardless, the underlying issue has been affirmed for us in writing.

    Therefore, it seems I won't need to go through my bank's ridiculously slow refund process.
  • Our Sunday having been largely squandered by this series of events, we then went a-hunting for a lead which runs from the electrical outlet to my laptop charger/adapter. They're (well, not quite) a dime a dozen if you're somewhere which stocks them. But we've yet to find any place open which does, despite having tried a bunch of stores. There's a computer shop in Vichy which sells them (we peered through the window yesterday evening and saw them), but, lo and behold, there's a sign on the door stating they're away until next Monday enjoying their holidays. Good on 'em.
  • But we're thinking at this stage that it might, in fact, be better (safer) to order a whole new charger/adapter online, as we have reason to think that the two electrical shorts in the lead might have been caused by a malfunction in the charger itself. Won't go into the details, but suffice to say that I've done a fair bit of investigation into this, including having spliced the shorted wires in the lead. They were clearly burned out, not just worn.
  • Quite tired by this point, we pushed through and went to Cora, the aforementioned (huge) grocery store on the other side of the Allier River from Vichy, and did a quite resourceful grocery shop to supply us with good, nutritious meals for a while to come.

    And as already noted, we returned home, introduced ourselves to the Dutch motorcyclists who pitched quite an amazingly large tent (with a small table and two folding chairs!) across from us. They walked us through where they pack their various camping supplies, explained how they came to travel together via their own motorbikes, etc. Really nice folk.

    This morning they packed up to continue their journey back home, but first walked over to the sunny patch in the empty pitch behind ours where Mufidah and I were eating breakfast (a small pot of natural yoghurt each, plus a handful of almonds and plums, accompanied by a cuppa joe — a simple breakfast we've come to really enjoy), and said their farewells before we walked back with them towards their fully packed bikes.

    We'd both love to travel like this one day, on our own motorcycles.

    One day, perhaps? It's something I've longed to do since I first traveled to Spain and around Europe in 1989, straight out of university, having grown up riding my Yahama DT 100 enduro motorcycle every chance I got. A far cry, though, from the big bikes this couple were riding.
  • We stayed up late last night talking with the French couple who've been camping next to us for a week or so, they inviting us into their (rather palatial) tent which they share with their 9-year-old daughter. Again, incredibly friendly folk. They told us that since French people have a bad reputation (their words) amongst Brits of being rather cold and unfriendly they've taken it upon themselves to do everything they can to overturn this (in our experience wholly unfair) reputation. We've been welcomed with open arms by countless French folk thus far in our travels.
  • When we retired to our tent's chambre, I folded the laundry which Mufidah had kindly handwashed earlier in the day (while I was dealing with the banking issue), and we organized the respective sides of our quite cozy bedroom, putting clean laundry away, sorting out our bedding, etc. And then I stayed up until about 1.45 a.m. writing more correspondence in response to emails which I'd received from our various supporters.
That takes us up to today, Day 91, just beyond the three-month mark of being on the road, a life we're still very much enthralled by. We're not in the least regretful for having taken this great leap into the unknown — quite the contrary.

So, naysayers are hereby invited to look elsewhere for their prey.

To bring this now rather lengthy post to a close — we enjoyed that aforementioned breakfast in the sun, said our goodbyes to the Dutch folk, checked our respective bank balances, washed our dishes, wrote this update (Mufidah's been doing various admin work on her Mac before writing her own update), went for an incredibly refreshing midday swim, took showers, made apple wholemeal pancakes — with wild apples we picked from a tree in an abandoned lot in the center of a small nearby village — washed dishes again (an ongoing task which requires that we walk the full length of the campsite to the washing up area, dishes in hand), took our trash to the recycling area, requested our invoice from the campsite owner-managers, and went for another swim in the evening. As you'll see from reading Mufidah's blog post, above, we're thrilled to be swimming virtually every day here, in weather perfectly suited to it.

All for now ...

With love and great gratitude,



  1. Love the detail of your adventure xx

  2. - and would be really nice if you made some more vids of your time on the road - all the ups and the downs and details.

  3. Yes, I'd like to be doing this as well — as I miss shooting the videos on a regular basis — but haven't attempted it since Hay-on-Wye due to not having sufficient internet bandwidth on the road to be able to upload and edit YouTube videos.

    However, when we have access to the necessary bandwidth, we'll do our best to begin uploading videos again.

    In the meantime, can you perhaps let us know what, in particular, you like about the MLG video updates?

  4. Well the whole travelling-on-a-frayed-shoestring venture is very interesting in all its aspects I guess, especially when people involved are not the usual gap-year backpackers, and especially for those of us leading more conventional lives :)

  5. - and also, of course, the creative/mindful living path you are travelling, en route.