When I was planning for my extended journey, I was focused primarily on Europe, so I read everything I could about Europe. I read about World War I, World War II and the history before that. I also studied maps. I was looking at different ways to travel and their was something called Eurail at the time. With Eurail, you could pay a certain amount and travel as much as you wanted on trains in Europe,but I think it was limited to two or three months. When I looked up Eurail, it was going through countries alphabetically and I saw, “Andorra.” I figured I had picked up the wrong book, as I had never heard of Andorra.
I learned that Andorra was a small principality in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France and had a very small population…I think it was around 45,000 at the time. I noticed online that the population is almost double that now. So, I told myself I had to visit there. I knew nothing else. I think Americans are fascinated by such small countries, like Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, etcétera because America is so large.
In October I was on the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea. I stayed in the main town called, Mahon. I stayed for about 10 days. I bicycled around the island and thought about life. I was actually feeling quite lonely. I wasn´t meeting people and considered calling my trip short and going home. Maybe travelling wasn’t so great after all. I enjoyed it there, but was lonely. Anyway, I did meet a very nice older man on one of my bicycle trips. His name was Jose Sintes Pons. I spent Halloween there.Why I remember that name 37 years later I do not know. He prepared me an amazing meal that included the only rabbit I ever ate in my life, some octopus and some delicious punuelos or doughnut type sweets soaked in honey.
Anyway, I decided I would go back through Barcelona and head up to Andorra. I had no idea how to do that, but would figure it out. When I arrived in Barcelona, I heard there was a bus that took around 5 or 6 hours to get to Andorra. While waiting to board I briefly spoke with a young woman. Her name was Carmen and I had no idea that she would change my life quite a bit at least for the immediate future. She had long, black wavy hair and seemed sort of like a “hippy” of sorts. She explained to me where Andorra was and so on and then I was on the bus. We sat far apart, but when the bus stopped once she came and talked to me. She invited me to sit with her on the bus. Her and her brother, Jordi lived together in Andorra with his girlfriend, Olga. She asked me if I wanted to stay at their place. I wasn’t used to that kind of thing and was reluctant, but then I agreed to stay one night if it was ok with everybody. When we arrived, it seemed like I arrived to a party. Everybody was so gregarious and animated. I was very much welcomed. The first night we went to a loud, smokey, discotheque with people drinking and trying to talk above the noise. It was quite the first night. I slept on the floor of the living room so I was always last to sleep. Carmen and I would sit up late talking about many things and I enjoyed the conversations a lot. I recall vividly a walk we took in the darkness near a kind of mystical building. It fit with her persona. We were in a town called, Encamp on the third floor of an apartment building that overlooked a scenic river. Andorra is mountainous and has a busy winter and summer sporting environment. It is one of the safest places in the world. Shopping there is duty free and I learned quickly that the French and Spanish would come there on the weekends to make purchases. It was crazy busy in the stores and on the streets. Spanish, French and the Catalan languages are spoken there and French and Spanish money were accepted. This was before there were Euros. That first morning it was raining harder than I had ever seen in my life. We went to the store and when we had to cross the street out of the cover of buildings I was immediately soaked. I literally have never seen rain like that. When we returned to the apartment I asked everybody, is this normal? They looked at each other and said…yes more or less. It continued without stop and I would ask every hour or so if it was normal. It was crazy! Later I would learn more rain would fall in 24 hours than they normally see in one year. I would also learn that it would lead to many deaths.
That late afternoon, someone entered my life that remains a friend like no other. She has been my friend for 37 years and we communicate frequently now via Whatsapp, Facebook and so on. She still lives in Andorra but in another town. Her name is Monica Alejandra Valenzuela and is one of the more unique people I have met in my life. In 1989, she came to visit me and my wife in the USA (that is a story in itself). I have not seen her in person since 1989. She and her boyfriend Johnny arrived from Barcelona that afternoon amongst the downpour of rain. She was very quiet and he was a comedian. Very funny guy. He actually sketched me while I was sleeping one day. I loved this whole group like a family. One of the very special times in my life. Monica had shiny black hair down to her waist, brown skin and a very athletic body. To me she was stunning and mysterious. Her dialect from Argentina was much different than the Spaniards but she didn’t say much.I would soon learn that she had been a circus performer her entire life in Argentina and continued her acts in Barcelona. I could write a book about her all by itself.
The rain continued and that night all power went out. The wáter in the river was pounding outside in the complete darkness. You could hear the boulders being swept by the waters and pounding against each other. It was eerie to behold and we were being trapped by a severe flood. We learned of 12 or 13 deaths the next day. Just today I looked up information online to see if there was any record of it and there was. It was deemed catastrophic, the worst in many decades. It lead to 20 deaths and walls were built to protect the city in the future. It was historic! That night we went out to the road and almost fell into what used to be the highway but was now a hole 20 to 30 feet down with wáter cascading by. It terrified me as I could easily have fallen in. I was a mere few feet away from the edge in the dark and did not know it. Products from stores were floating down the Street and we made our way back to the apartment. In spite of the flood, everybody was excited. I contacted Monica today because she is so good at saving photos. Hopefully I have some to share in my next entry.More to come soon about being stuck in Andorra due to the flood.