Inspired by a visionary encounter with the goddess Elen of the Ways, author Elyn Aviva and her husband set off on a spiritual trek across Wales with little more than synchronicity, symbols, and signs to guide their way.
by Barbara Benjamin
People travel for many reasons: to get away from the routines of daily life; to face a new challenge, to see new sights, or just to kick back and relax. I travel to experience new cultures, to come away knowing what it is like, day by day, to live in a place I’ve never lived in before. So, when I travel, I always travel on the side roads. Rather than booking accommodations at a travel agent’s favorite resort or hotel, I often land in another country I’m visiting without reservations, and, speaking to the airport cab driver or questioning some locals I meet on the road, I find out where I can rent a house. Occasionally, I am able to find a house far away from the tourist areas that is advertised in my hometown newspaper or on the Internet, and I can book in advance.
Once I find my temporary new home, whether a cottage in the tropics of Jamaica, West Indies, or North Wales or a pre-Revolutionary farmhouse in Downeast, Maine, I begin my adventure of setting up my new household, shopping in the local markets, cooking the local meals, conversing with the local people, and attending the local church. Mingling with my new neighbors in this way, I often make friends and have the good fortune to be invited into their homes for lunch or afternoon tea. That’s when I really learn what it would be like to live in the place I’m visiting, as my new friends enthusiastically share stories about their lives, all the latest town gossip, and their secret recipes for national dishes. I should explain that, whenever possible, one of my first purchases is always a local cookbook, and I often learn more remarkable information about the people I am living among from their cookbooks than from all the history and guidebooks available.
Traveling this way, I always have a chance to observe the demographics of the culture, the rhythms and mores of diverse people in the region I’m visiting, and, unfortunately, the inescapable and ever-present antagonism that exists between different groups of people within a single culture and between cultures. No matter how majestic and serene the snow-capped peaks or how deep and placid the waters that mark the landscape, there is always an underlying tension between the diverse groups of people who live there. Like the tension created by the tectonic plates that rub against or move away from each other under the earth’s surface, the people in every culture rub against each other and move away from each other, often leading to violent social eruptions.
by Elyn Aviva
We were savoring our after-dinner espressos at Llys Meddyg, a “restaurant with rooms,” in Newport, Pembrokeshire, Wales, when my cell phone rang. I looked at it suspiciously.
During the week we had stayed at Llys Meddyg the cell phone had never functioned inside the hotel. There simply wasn’t any signal. To make a phone call, I had to walk down the street waving it in the air until gradually the bars started showing up.
The phone kept ringing. I answered it and heard a woman’s voice, speaking rapidly. “Hi, this is Winifred. I hear you’re going to write about my land. If you write about my land, you’d better get it right!”
“Hello,” I replied. “How’d you hear about us?”
“My friend David told me. When can we meet?”
The phone suddenly cut out. I ran outside the restaurant and down the street, looking for a signal. One bar, two bars, three. I tried to return the call. It rang once and Winifred answered.
“Sorry, we lost the connection.” I said.
“It’s because of all the volcanic rock in the Preselis. It interferes with cell phone transmissions.”
“So that’s why!” I exclaimed. “I wondered.”
by Elyn Aviva
When we told an English friend that we were going to Wales for a few weeks, he looked at us with undisguised pity.
“Surely you’re joking!” I replied with a laugh.
He shook his head grimly. “Trust me. Bring your own food.”
I have celiac disease, and finding gluten-free (GF) restaurant food can be a challenge—even in countries renowned for their cuisine. I must stay away from wheat, barley, rye, kamut, and spelt in all forms, including bread and flour. What travails would await me in Wales, I could only imagine.
Filled with foreboding, my husband, Gary, and I headed off to Wales to do research for our “Powerful Places Guidebooks” series. Late at night we arrived in Cardiff, capital of Wales, and headed to our B&B. Actually, it was a “B” with only one “B”: bed. Our host offered us an alternative to a homemade breakfast: discount coupons for breakfast at the hotel across the street.
The next morning, we strolled over to the hotel’s unprepossessing side entrance, pushed the door open, and walked on faded carpet to the shabby dining room. Plates displaying the gritty remains of congealed eggs, burnt toast, and greasy bacon were piled on the tables. Hesitantly, we approached the barren breakfast buffet. The plastic cereal bins were nearly empty, and the bowl of fruit salad held nothing but a few wrinkled orange slices stuck to the bottom. Apparently, we had missed the early morning breakfast rush. Judging by the unappetizing remains, it was just as well. We began to worry. Maybe our friend had been correct about Welsh food.