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No Square Corners

Just what would a yurt look like on the inside? Let me give you a pictorial tour of my previous home (little text).

A Very Good Bed
A Funky 3-compartment Sink

Is this a candidate for House Beautiful? Far from it. Still, a unique adventure.

The Semblance of a Kitchen
An Old Refrigerator and Space Heater
Wardrobe
Control Central

The bed is the best object in the yurt – actually a very good bed. The sink is impractical and takes up too much room. The kitchen includes a single burner plate, a toaster oven (a good one), a rice cooker, a coffee pot, and a griddle. I make these work for me. The old refrigerator needs to be defrosted every week or two. The wardrobe is functional. Control Central at 3-feet square for working and eating is totally impractical.

The walls are heavy canvas which undulate with the wind. They are covered inside with crisscross slats. There are two large, screened windows on the side, which each have an external heavy plastic shield that can be rolled up in hot weather. There is a large round daylight “window” typical of yurts. You can see a bit of this in last week’s blog.

Altogether, living in a yurt is certainly a new experience to add to my life’s experiences. I’ll look back on this someday and marvel that I lived here.

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Villa Gauguin

I am now ensconced in Boquete, Panamá. After six days in a hotel, I found housing! The amazing story is that I am now living in a yurt way up a mountain side among the coffee plantations. How cool is that? Actually, it is cool in the nights and mornings, but a good comforter solves that problem. I’m at 5260’ foot elevation, about like Denver. The yurt is beautiful, with a separate building for bathroom facilities.

My Yurt

The owner is “everything Gauguin;” Gauguin’s reproduction paintings are everywhere on the grounds, in addition to Gauguin murals on buildings. Five years ago, this was a flat piece of land sloping down to the road. Now it is sculpted land with a home, apartment, cabins, and yurts. It began life as an Airbnb, went to long-term rentals, and now it’s back to short-term rentals.

My Bath House

My first day, I woke up to fog on the mountain tops –  a usual occurrence at least this time of the year. As it lifted, I saw that I had a very long-distance view. I’m told that on a clear day I should be able to see the Pacific Ocean and islands beyond. That would be nice.

A little closer in, I had my first visitor – a baby lizard. He came up on my front deck looking for food scraps. Two days later, not finding any, he left and hasn’t returned. Replacing him has been a small sparrow. This bird will come into the yurt and peck around on the floor for something to eat. I thought this was cute and didn’t discourage him. Eventually, he even brought his pregnant spouse. I have had to discourage these visits, though, as they always leave droppings on my floor. So much for having pets.

Villa Gauguin

Up above my front deck, I found that I had growing three bunches of bananas. Perhaps when these are ripe, I’ll have some breakfast already available. There are all kinds of fruit trees on the property. I tried the guava but couldn’t hack all the seeds, so gave up on those. There is a fruit that tastes like a mild orange; it must be a cross with something else. We also have some vegetables and many herbs growing on the grounds. There are some raised beds waiting to be planted.

My Bananas

Boquete is a town of about 25,000, 5,000 of whom are expats  Most of the expats here are Americans or Canadians, with many other countries represented in smaller numbers. The town is nestled in a valley (probably a dormant volcano) and extends up the mountainsides. Boquete means a pass in the mountains. It was used by miners traveling through to the California Gold fields in the 1860s. There are many YouTube videos of Boquete if you’d like to see more.

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Arriving in Panamá

Greetings from South of the Border, way south of the border. I have arrived in Panama, frazzled from complications and lack of sleep. But, I’m here, and my new life has begun.

After 6 days of estate sales and multiple trips to the thrift stores, recycling center, and transfer station, I got rid of everything. I left an empty house, except for those things my landlord/best friend wanted. He even bought my car and drove me to the airport! Anything to get rid of me :).

The first day of travel was very complicated due to the new use of QR codes to exit and enter a country. I was not prepared for this. It took professionals an hour to get me out of Atlanta and another hour to get me into Panama. I have a learning curve to take on with this subject. I had long waits for shuttles, a late plane, but an early arrival. It all worked out, but I needed much more sleep. I got up at 3:00 am to catch an early flight because I forgot to set my clock back an hour. Panama has no daylight saving time.

El Oasis Hotel and Restaurant – Agoda.com

I met with my immigration lawyer right after getting off the plane and got the Visa process started. I then took a bus up to my new “home town” and checked into an old, funky hotel which I thought was really kool. After 15 days, I got my temporary Visa. It takes a couple of months to get a permanent Visa. The cost for these Visa is around $1600. These are then followed by an e-cedula (only about $65). The “e” in cedula stands for extranjero – foreigner in Spanish. With that, I will no longer need to carry my passport. In fact, I can travel around much of South America with only the e-cedula.

It turned out to be a rough beginning. The big weekly expat event is the Tuesday Market. I missed the first two (I arrived too late on the first Tuesday and the next I had to go to my lawyer’s office to pick up my Temporary Visa). The private expat group (those who took the tour I took) meets on Friday afternoon/evenings. I missed the first of those because I couldn’t find the hotel where this occurred.

Boquete – Myguiadeviajes.com

By far the biggest problem I had after arriving was the fact that I didn’t have an American phone number. I had given that up. I couldn’t do business with anyone in the US, because I couldn’t accept a security check call. This means I couldn’t access my bank or credit card accounts, in addition to some other businesses. I did get a WhatsApp phone number the first day I got here because most of the world uses the WhatsApp free phone service – that is, everybody but the US. After a month, I solved the phone problem by getting a Google Voice phone number (thank you Melissa!). Now I use that almost exclusively.

This blog is getting to be a bit long, and there’s still so much to tell you. I will continue to do so, reverting to the once-a-week posting on Wednesdays. Thanks for traveling with me.

Dahlonega, Georgia

I left Coker Flats, Tennessee and headed south to the town of Blue Ridge, Georgia, after which I made a beautiful drive up and over a mountain, arriving in Dahlonega. I was quite taken with the Square, the best I’d seen on my travels. I located the Episcopal Church and it felt like home.

Dahlonegaga.org

However, I didn’t feel my traveling days were over. I continued up into Western North Carolina again and started meandering back into North Georgia. It was now October, and the rainy season was working its woes on me. I was cold, wet, and nearly caught the flu. I thought it was time to get out of my truck for the winter. But where should I go? I hadn’t gotten to the Atlantic Coast yet.

I pondered what to do and decided to head back to Dahlonega, as it was the most impressive town I had discovered. Once again (Missouri was the last time), I pulled into town on a Wednesday, grabbed the local paper and found an ad for an apartment. I was prepared to just pull everything out of my truck into an apartment and keep living as I had been. Though the ad didn’t say, this apartment turned out to be furnished, so I just moved in. Sunday, I went to church and the rest is history.

HallHouseHotel.com

Dahlonega is a mixture of young and old people. The University of North Georgia’s main campus is there with a student population at the time of about 6,000. Some magazine in its yearly ranking of best places to retire had chosen Dahlonega as number one in the country. The town makes a good offering of the arts for viewing or participating.

Glenella.com

I unknowingly stumbled on the fact that North Georgia is a wine-producing region. I should have known this, as I had been associated with wine literature for 25 years. I had gotten started in this field when I was living outside the Napa Valley in California. I didn’t know where these wineries were, so I started exploring to find them. This led to the publication of my book Georgia’s Wineries and Vineyards: A Wine Lover’s Guide. Once the book was printed, I had a wonderful time traveling to all the wineries in North Georgia selling my book. That was the first print book I ever published. Despite going through 4 printings, the book quickly went out of date due to the changes in the wines produced by the individual wineries.

After 1-1/2 years, I found my dream home – a cabin in the woods. I had responded to another ad, this time to view an old farm house. This was not for me, but the landlord said he had this cabin that wasn’t ready to rent. I took it on inspection and moved in a few months later when it was ready. It was a 1-bedroom but with three floors. I arranged to have all my stuff sent out from Oregon so that I didn’t have to live with only the belongings in my truck. There was plenty of space in this cabin to set up a home and an office, and I got back into book selling.

I tried selling books and other items in an antique collective for 1-1/2 years, but this wasn’t profitable. I tried whittling down the books via the Internet, but it was slow going. Eventually, I realized that I needed to do something different and probably find a new home for the books and me. The economy and Covid led me to look outside the US. I took tours of Panamá and Mexico and decided I would move to the mountains of Western Panamá.

For five days, I had estate sales and ended up giving the rest away. My landlord bought my car. Suddenly, I found myself with total freedom and no encumbrances. I packed up a small box of a few books and some papers and mailed them off to Panamá. Then I packed some clothes into my backpack, put my computer into its bag, and that was it. I left the US with only those two items and flew south. Now, Panamá was really on the horizon.

Monday Chat

Two weeks ago, you may remember that I talked about the book The Shack. At that time, I did not know that it had been made into a movie. I saw the movie a couple of nights ago. I eagerly waited for the ending to see if the site of the accident showed my bookstore. Alas, the ending was changed, and the accident took place in the countryside. Still, it was a good movie. See it if you can.

Crossing the Mississippi

Going from point A to point B should be a straight forward line easy to follow. Not always! Crossing the Mississippi at Cairo (Kay-ro), Illinois proved to be my most difficult venture. A trestle bridge connects Missouri with Illinois. After about ¼ mile in Illinois, I was across the Ohio River also and dumped into Kentucky. I could see below me the junction of the two rivers with a large triangle of land which I thought would make be a great campground. I went back and forth on the bridge several times but couldn’t figure out how to get down there. Fort Defiance of Civil War fame stands above this point. The entrance to the Fort and its lookout was also a challenge, but once I got there, I could look down and figure out how to get to the campground below.

All that effort was not worth it. This point of land looked like it might have been a campground once upon a time, but now it was totally overgrown and not a person in site. This was lowland which periodically floods. I quickly realized that this would be a very unsafe place to camp. That was confirmed when I got into downtown Cairo. This was the most depressed city I had ever seen. All the buildings were shells of what they once were. It was totally bombed out with only 2 bars operating. Charles Dickins once said of Cairo that it was “a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise”. Cairo had some of the cheapest real estate prices in the United States. It would be ripe for development.

Getting out of Dodge was easy now; I headed northeast in Illinois to the town of Metropolis. Friends in Oregon had put me onto this not-to-be-missed town. What does the town name bring to mind? Yes, Superman. In 1972, DC Comics declared Metropolis, IL  the official home of Superman and he stands proudly15-feet tall in the center of town. Okay, but what about Lois Lane. Well, she only get a 9-foot tall statue a couple of blocks away. I cry foul, though the visit to her was worth it.

From Illinois, I traveled into Kentucky and drove through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Forty miles long, this Recreation Area covers 170,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and open lands on a peninsula between two lakes in Western Kentucky and Tennessee. I was surprised to see this heavily wooded stretch of land as I had had no experience with Kentucky. Also along the way was one nursery after another on both sides of the road. I wondered how all of these survived near one another. An Oregon friend who had had a connection with plants told me these nurseries supplied America’s drug and convenience stores with the plants they sold.

Traversing Tennessee, I found the interesting little town of Tellico Plains. This town in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is the entrance to the Cherohala Skyway, a route through the Cherokee National Forest ending in Robinson, Tennessee. Motorcyclists congregate at Tellico Plains to ride this curvy, hilly, and very scenic route. I stayed one night in a motorcycle encampment, a series of small hostel-like buildings. The manager told me someone with a car was a rare occurrence at this encampment. It turned out to be a great place to stay.

One of my attractions to this foothill community was that it had a used bookstore. I had packed a few boxes of books for this trip, hoping to find a bookstore where I could sell them. Pathetically, I never encountered a bookstore until I got to Tellico Plains (I had avoided the large cities where there undoubtedly were bookstores). I left the books over night for the owner to assess. He may have bought a few – I don’t remember – so I ended up donating the remainder to the local library.

Mysmokymountainguide.com

The next day, I headed up a mountain to a woodsy area named Coker Flats. I stayed there a couple of days. This was my kind of community, except there was nothing there but a Post Office and a restaurant/convenience store down the road. This dream of living in the woods was not one I could make into a reality here. I pushed on to North Carolina.

Blueridgeparkway.org

I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the US. I slept one night in my truck and moved on to drive the Blue ridge Parkway in the morning. I was expecting to see the fall colors. This proved to be a big mistake, as the fog was so thick at that time of day, I couldn’t see but a foot ahead of me. I had to give up and return to the entrance of the Parkway. That was a big disappointment. I had no choice but to push on south into Georgia, where I ended up staying for 11-1/2 years.

Meandering Along

I spent two years in Joseph, Oregon after closing my last store trying to figure out what to do next. In frustration, I finally gave up, put my belongings in storage, got into my truck and just started driving. All I knew was that I wanted to go east. I had equipped the truck with a raised bed for storage underneath. I carried dishes, pot and pans, a single burner stove, and miscellaneous items. Above, I had a sleeping bag over a futon, along with extra blankets, food, and four gallons of water.

My goal was to cross the country on the blue highways. I wanted to avoid the Interstates, though this proved to be very difficult in the mountainous West. I just drove until I found a place to sleep; sometimes I figured this out ahead of time, sometimes not. The whole point of this trip was to experience freedom. I had no agenda, no obligations, no commitments, and I didn’t always know what day it was.

Once I hit the backroads (blue highways), I would venture off to right or left to see something of interest. I ended up spending three weeks in Western Kansas because I found so many interesting and wacky things to see. I visited the world’s largest ball of twine, the contiguous geographical center of the lower 48 states with its chapel seating 6 people, and the gallery of They Also Ran (lost Presidential bids). I happened upon some guy’s fence covered with hubcaps for as far as the eye could see, and another guy’s recreation of the Garden of Eden. There is also the Boyer  museum of animated carvings. I feel that Kansas gets a bad rap. There is just so much that demanded my attention.

Venturing out of Kansas, I stopped at the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum.  This adventurous couple has documented their travels in Africa, Borneo, and the South Seas. I used to carry their book in my bookstores, so I was not disappointed to see their museum. I made a quick tour through the lake country of Northeast Oklahoma and then went to  Branson, Missouri.

The Branson claim to fame is its music venues lining the main street. Everything from Dolly Parton’s restaurant to big band nightclubs brings tourists from all over the country (world?). The traffic was bumper to bumper, so it was slow going through town. Not enjoying crowds, I decided to just keep going. I got into Arkansas and took a side trip to visit some attraction (I now forget what it was). I had to park on a hillside, facing up the hill. When I decided to leave, my car would not move up the hill. I had lost my clutch. I had to wait to be towed to Mountain Home, a North Arkansas town at some distance from me. Of course, this was on a Saturday, and I couldn’t get my truck looked at until Monday. Fortunately, the garage was next to a Holiday Inn motel, where I ended up having to stay until Wednesday. Travel has its unexpected adventures.

OzarkCountyTimes.com

I headed north to the Ozarks of Southern Missouri, an area of the country I was looking forward to visiting. I drove into the little town of Gainesville, picked up a newspaper, and immediately rented a duplex, with the agreement that I would stay there for 9 weeks. Having filled my gas tank daily for over a month, I needed some non-travel time to catch up with my credit card bills. Gainesville turned out to be a totally non-exciting town, so I took little day trips around the Ozarks. This small mountainous area is very beautiful, filled with circuitous narrow roads leading to off-the-beaten-track villages.

It was now time to push on, so I crossed the bottom of Missouri, seeing more of the Ozarks. I’m now about half-way to the East Coast with still more to see along the way. Follow along to see the large statue of a character you know well.

[This Kansas portion can be seen at: www.clippings.me/warren-r-johnson]

Monday Chat

I encountered some problems with the last two blogs I sent. The Grand Tour (Europe) had two hyperlinks in it that shouldn’t have been there. Operator error. In the email for Okay, Mr. Whittier (going west) the photos did not lay out as I had uploaded them. This turns out to be a problem WordPress is working on. Not my error.

In place of the email message you get about a new blog being available, you always have the option to go to the blogpost itself (TravelSketches.info). There you would have seen a better layout for the last blog. All of this continues to be a learning process for me. Please overlook any errors.

The last few days, I have been madly writing. I have a feature article in draft form; this would be my first feature. I also have an article about my venture in Panamá almost ready to go. I have also started working in my landlord’s consignment shop two days a week. Would that that would get me off the computer except my job there is on a computer. I have no complaints about life here.

Okay, Mr. Whittier

You win. Not so young, though, I’ll give the West a try. Carless, I left the highways to fly the skies. My ventures west were really a fluke. I had been accepted to study in Paris, but it all fell through at the last minute. So I took my Paris luggage and flew to San Francisco. Initially, my travels there were with a monthly bus pass, but eventually I had a Ford Escort and got better acquainted with California. Most of my San Francisco days were spent in the Haight-Ashbury where, as Organist-Choirmaster, I installed a new tracker organ in the neighborly All Saints’ Episcopal church.

Receiving an early retirement from the University of California Medical School, I left San Francisco. Up the coast and inland I went to settle on a mountain outside the Napa Valley and discover the top of the state. By now, I was accumulating too much stuff to move via a car, so a U-Haul truck took me further north to the Oregon coast and then a moving van to the mountains of Eastern  Oregon. In both places, I created a bookstore and did music on the side.

If you ever read the book The Shack, you may remember the tragic accident that happened at the corner in Joseph, Oregon. My bookstore was the second building in with the slanting roof over the sidewalk at that corner. You can believe I sold a lot of copies of that book while I had the store.

After I closed my second store,  I developed a chain of small convenience stores where I could sell books, and I thoroughly enjoyed traveling to service those accounts. Once I went to online selling, I traveled all over Oregon with a pickup truck, sleeping in the back wherever I felt like stopping.

Greattowns.com

And stopping I did. After 30 years in the West, I felt the urge to go back east. So I put a canopy on the truck, stored all my belongings, and headed out for parts unknown. This travel venture was the greatest experience of all my travels. Stay tuned.

The Grand Tour

While living in Portland, Maine, I took vacation time to visit Europe. I flew Icelandic Airlines, which was the popular cheap way to get to Europe in those days. The plane stopped in Reykjavík, naturally, so I had to deplane and walk to the terminal in order say I had visited Iceland! I landed in Luxembourg and began a circle trip, returning and flying back as I had come.

With a Eurail pass, my first stop was Bonn, Germany, when I had the use of a friend of a friend’s apartment for three days. I had never studied German, but I took to it easily and found my way around. Bonn struck me as a boring city, though it had some great buildings from the days when it was the capital of West Germany. A saving grace was the Beethoven museum and concert hall. I took a day to go up to Cologne to visit the cathedral.

nl.wikipedia.org

My next stop was Amsterdam, though it was only a pass-through to Haarlem, the real reason for this tour. I had secured a place in the Haarlem International Organ Course, a big deal among organists. I studied organ works of Bach and Céasar Franck on the organ at the Bavokerk, the “cathedral” of Haarlem. This magnificent organ, the only remaining instrument of the builder, had been played by Mozart. It was a thrill to sit where Mozart had sat and to play the same instrument he had played. I then returned to Amsterdam for a few days to walk the canals, visit the Anne Frank house, and spend time in the Vincent Van Gogh Museum.

Voxusorgans.com

It was time to get back on the train and head to Brussels. Unfortunately, I arrived on a weekend when nothing was open, and no people were to be seen. Another boring city, but with beautiful architecture. I followed this with three days in Paris. I got by with my limited French but found people to be of no help. Pure joy for me was feeding my love for French impressionist art. I spent most of my time in the Louvre and l’Orangerie in the Tuileries gardens. I also attended Mass at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, Franck’s church.

It was now time to head home. I took the train back to Luxembourg, but I made a big mistake. When the crowd of passengers got up to go to the dining car, I decided I would wait for the second seating. Well, there was no second seating. I was absolutely starved by the time I reached Luxembourg City. To make matters worse, my plane was delayed, and I lost my connection in New York. To top this, I was very sick (food poisoning?), had to sleep on the airport floor for a night, and finally got a plane home the next day.

Still, it was a grand tour.