Posts Tagged ‘hospitality’

PILGRIM NOTES: Grace / 17.01.13

“…not because of anything we did, but because of his mercy…” -Titus 3:5

“I don’t think I can do another climb.” It was getting into late afternoon, the time our cycle group Fueled By Rice usually starts looking for campsites. But now it was just Kallie and I, biking along the east coast of Italy to meet up with the other four team members at a host’s house about twenty kilometers further. Twenty kilometers isn’t too bad, on the flat; but lately the mountains had been getting noticeably more mountainous and a 10 km climb on the switchbacks would probably be another hour and a half. Kallie was tired; so was I.

We had just descended to sea level and we had one more climb to go before we arrived at Miki’s house in Chiavari. Since we were in a town, we decided to check in with email and see if any plans had developed and to let the others know our intentions. Fortunately, the only WiFi we found was a gelato café, so we were obliged to indulge in ice cream while we were online. With some extra gelato power and an encouraging note from Tori saying, “Hot soup is waiting!” we decided to press on.

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Chapter Five: Meeting Rainbows / 14.01.13


Thessaloniki. A college town on the coast of Greece, full of shopping, frappe, and social unrest. We arrived late at night with our loaded bikes after an 18 kilometer walk from the airport outside the city. Without a host, we found ourselves tired and in search of a cheap hostel to rest for the night. While waiting by a lamp post for devin to return after backtracking to find my lost bike lock cable, I made some new friends. First a boy about my age with a similarly loaded bike came over to me to introduce himself. His name was Gus, and he had been cycling by himself from his home in France for five months. Not a moment later another young man walked up and introduced himself, Martin was his name and he too was solo cycling across Europe. We all exchanged information, and within minutes were connected swapping stories of our travels, checking out each others gear, and wondering where the others were staying for the night.

After a difficult and seemingly endless day, this meeting of cycling tourists gave us a new energy and let us know we were not alone in our mission. Others just like us have the same ideas and curiosity- we were not crazy for stepping from our day to day lives to explore and let circumstances take us where they may. We really had no idea what circumstances had in mind for us later on in Greece, but it ended up being a colorful experience that would be hard to forget.

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Grigio Shery / 14.01.13

Grigio Shery spoke quite quickly, kind of like an upbeat car salesman who needs to keep the ball rolling. He had his MBA in marketing and was working in the sprawling city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capitol, in business. Now however he was home to his coastal fishing village for a couple weeks for the Christmas holiday. We also happened to be in that same coastal village on our bicycles as we headed south toward the southern tip of India. Shery stopped by on his motorcycle as we were about to enter a small restaurant for dinner. We had already gone through the usual negotiations with the proprieter:

“Do you have food?” [gesture of putting five fingers to lips]
Head wobble Yes.
“What do you have?”
Head wobble.
“Do you have rice?”
“No rice. Paarotha, dhosa, chicken fry…” [fried dough, pancake material, fried chicken]
“Do you have Sambar?” [thick vegetable gravy broth]
“Mmb. Sambar.” Head wobble.
Turning to the others: “He has chicken, sambar, parotha, dhosa… waddyathink?”
We thought we’d stay.

It was at this point in our evening, as we were getting slowly settled around the one table in the small cozy but dingy food joint, that Shery approached. With an excellent English vocabulary and a lilt and bend that was still difficult for our American ears to catch, he began to find out about us and what we might be needing (he doing most of the talking). When he found out we’d stopped for dinner, he negotiated with cook to get us something to eat. Since we’d already done that, we were a bit fatigued with the interaction and “help”; that is, until he asked us where we were staying.

So far we’d scoped very few possible camp sites, and we really had no idea where we’d stay the night. Our plan was to eat some dinner, cruise to the edge of town where we’d find a faucet or a river to bathe in, and camp somewhere after the darkness fell, so as to attract less attention. When Shery found out we needed a place to stay, he offered to talk to the nuns for us. “I will ask the mother superior, and you can stay at St. Jude’s, if she says yes. There they have a room where you can wash, make yourselves comfortable, you can see the children as they are feeding children and taking care of them, so I think it will be no problem for you to stay there, and you can attend mass in the morning if you like, so I will just speak with the mother and we will see. Don’t worry! This is India, and we are a Christian people! We will take care of you!…”

We arranged that we’d meet him in an hour and a half over at the church to find out the low down on the nunnery, and we thanked him. After all, this promised to be not only a place to stay and wash up, but also a pretty cool window into south Indian coastal Christian culture. Earlier that day, as we were winding our way along the coast dodging pedestrians, rickshaws and buses loaded to the gills, we kept noticing that at every small town or village or turn in the road there seemed to be a huge cathedral style church. Sometimes they weren’t as huge, but all of them had that strange mix of ancient establishment meets garish makeup. Many had grottos to Mary outside, but in the absence of rocks they were made of what looked to be gray spray painted fiberglass material. It was strange because we expected to find more Hindus in India, but here we seemed to be in a Roman Catholic pocket (which we were). That also meant that at several of the restaurants we stopped at they only served fried chunks of chicken or beef–not the vegetable sauce you find at Hindu-run places.

When we found him later, he brought us to the nuns’ quarters and introduced us, where were given a room for the girls with attached bath, and the guys were promised we could sleep in a classroom as soon as the classes let out. We showered up and learned that daily mass was at 6:30 a.m., but the bells would ring at 5:00, 5:15, and 5:45. “No problem,” I remember thinking, “we can handle bells.” And the fact that they were to be rung at three separate times made me think that perhaps they wouldn’t be incessant, and therefore somewhat ignorable if we wanted to sleep past the first two.

At 4:55 I remember hearing some bells tolling faintly outside somewhere across the open sand lot. “Not so bad,” I thought to myself, and prepared to drift back into sleep for a bit. But that was not to be. Immediately following the bells, there was a loudspeaker crackling, and then the music started playing. Not quiet, contemplative music, but loud Indian music. It was in its own way beautiful, but seemed glaringly out of place in the cool 5 a.m. pre-dawn darkness.

After mass we joined Shery for a stroll through the houses to the coast, to see the fishing operation. “They catch sharks here,” he told us. “We are shark fishermen. The boats go out sometimes for a month at a time, taking everything with them–packing ice, water, clothes, supplies, rice, oil–you know, cooking things–everything. Most of the sharks go to the Chinese and the Japanese…for medicinal purposes.” He told us how at Christmas all the boats come in to the harbor and it’s a real party.

After that he invited us back to his house to meet his family and have some sweet milk tea (chai). His father had cancer. Shery said it was from smoking and drinking too much. “He is an uneducated man. Already he had [cancer], and taken chemo, and then the cancer went away. But he didn’t listen to the doctor when he told him, ‘If you touch this stuff again you will die.'” Shery told us how he, as the eldest, sat his father down and talked to him:

“You have given us everything. You have worked and now all your children are educated and we have this house–don’t make us miss you. Now we will provide, we are grown.”

“Now if anyone says anything to him, he will just listen. If someone says, ‘Don’t do it!’, he will listen. That is how it is with my father. I have become the father now to him, as the eldest son. That’s how it is in India.”

Shery had two brothers and three sisters. We found out one of his sisters is getting married on February 7, and that is cause for both celebration and some work. He said that for her dowry he must contribute 2.5 to 3 laks Rupees (1 lak = 100,000). This would amount to about $6000. The dowry consists of two treasures. One is the money, collected from the family of the bride to give to the groom. This money is not kept by the groom exclusively, but is distributed among his mother and sisters. The other treasure is the fine garments and jewelry. This is for the couple to keep exclusively.

Even for US standards, $6000 is a lot to contribute for a wedding, and it is difficult to earn this much money in India; especially when you are supporting a family. To make it back more quickly he wants to move abroad and work, then maybe settle somewhere else if he can arrange the visas. The dowry money didn’t worry him so much, because he was also an educated man, he said, and would fetch a nice dowry himself some day.

After he brought us back to the convent, and we had thanked the sisters with a small contribution to their work, we said our goodbyes. It was already past 10 a.m., and we were eager to get on the road. He left us with his flashing smile and a blessing. “Maybe I’ll come to America, and see you there.” Maybe he would.

Chapter Three: Miki’s House / 19.12.12


When riding the hills of the italian coast I reluctantly told Devin and the others that I couldnt pedal any further no matter how hard I grit my teeth or breathed through the pain. The fear of permanant injury loomed in the back of my mind and I didnt want to toy with the concequences of further strain or damage. Devin and I cycled to the nearest town and got on a train the next morning to Chiavari, Italy to meet our next host- Miki.

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Getting Pulled Over in Turkey / 26.11.12

So far, out of all the countries we’ve visited, the people in Greece have been the most friendly. It seems as we move eastward people have responded to us with greater and greater enthusiasm and hospitality. So naturally Kallie and I were curious how Turkey would be…

Yesterday we were humming along on the D550 toward Aydin, getting regular honks and thumbs-up’s from drivers and those seated by the road when a man stepped out from a gas station and waved us down. It was his insistency that first got me to think about stopping, but it was his police uniform that pushed me over the edge.

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Chapter Two: A Lesson in Limping & the Importance of Flexibility / 18.11.12

In the aftermath of the accident, I realized the pain that remained was in my upper leg, and my pride. In spite of the injury, Devin and I cycled 60 km the next morning to the town of Antiebs where a possible host and the promise of rest and recuperation lived. After a beautiful yet painful ride along the rocky coastal roads, we arrived in Antieb to find not our host Manford, but instead his temporary roommate named Juliana- and adorable student from Columbia. She was kind, laid back, a bit bubbly and the apartment was comfy and calm- just what I needed to shake the pounding headache and rest my leg in peace.

Shortly after settling in she told us she was having a couple friends over to make pizza, and invited us to join- a low key night with pizza, perfect! By midnight fourteen of her friends had arrived, each bringing a bottle of wine or liquor and an endless supply of beer. They were all  students around our age and came from all over the world to earn a European Maters in Renewable Energy.  Every person there was awesome, friendly, talkative, and knew English well enough to be our best friend by the end of the evening. Music blasted while custom pizzas flew in and out of the oven- some with eggs on top and even “Mr.Pizza” were created and devoured. Great conversation, music swapping and even dancing pushed until the early hours of morning, and then it all ended with a bang- literally.

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Being welcomed and being turned away / 13.11.12

We are always looking for a place to stay. Whether it be a place to camp, a hostel or hotel, a home stay set up on or, or a spontaneous invitation, we are daily in need of a place. So far on the trip we have had all of these, but we were not always welcome.

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Sunday Water Break, Ichenheim, Germany / 05.09.12


It was Sunday.  In Germany, at least along the Rhein river’s collection of small villages, everything is shut down on Sundays. Our bicycle touring group was winding its way southward along the river pathway for bikes, and we were in need of a drinking water refill.

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