Friday, June 14, 2019

Camino: Thoughts from this Adventure

How do you pull together your thoughts from an adventure like this Camino?

Do you focus on the history & spiritual side of the Camino? Dwell on the beautiful countryside? Or perhaps think back on the many lovely people who entered your life?  Maybe it's best to crystalize what personal learnings you can take away from the journey?

Or do you focus on the physical side of things- the way your muscles grew to crave movement & the simple fluidity of walking? How good it felt to taste fresh orange juice after walking for a few hours. Or the wonderful smell of fresh clean laundry or warm soft bread.

Uncategorically, I can say that this Camino was worth every hour of thought & preparation & I would do it again in a heartbeat. Why?

I enjoyed the challenge. I liked setting a goal & overcoming obstacles to achieve it. I liked self-sufficiency. I liked being faced with unpleasantness & choosing to ignore it & power through. I know, most people would find that strange. The Camino was good for me with its measurable progress toward a goal. And the sellos were colorful reminders of progress &  dandy reasons to take time to investigate churches & cafes along the route.

I liked not knowing what is around every corner. While I felt well-read on the Camino, I felt constantly surprised & intrigued. I liked getting ridiculously excited about simple things like a red poppy in a big field of yellow flowers or a hammock set up by a food truck in the woods. When I felt tired or was in pain, I liked finding the positive & humming a favorite song to put me in a splendid mood. I liked running into folks who brightened my day.

I liked fighting through the language & surviving on pantomimes to communicate (try explaining jousting in Spanish!).  I liked sitting quietly at dinner or on the trail & listening to the many languages & accents surrounding me. I liked that I had daily conversations on wide ranging topics with folks from wildly different backgrounds & no one got riled up or argumentative. It struck me how we can all be so different but all working toward the same common goal. Together.

I liked epiphanies I had on the trail.

One was about signs. I was alone while navigating into Pamplona, my first big city along the Camino. With the sudden glut of people, traffic, street signs & noise, I found it hard to focus & find the trail signs. After I missed a lovely riverside path I began to question my decisions. The signs & arrows hadn't changed but my ability to find them had been altered. There were small signs like metal shells in the walkway. Off in the distance from time to time, there were big ones. I felt discomfort when I didn't have a fellow pilgrim to confirm decisions. It hit me how this is a lot like decisions in life. We look for big signs right in front of us to hit us over the head so we are clear on exactly what we need to do. Often the little ones are right there in front of us- just when we need them. We don't need to necessarily depend on others but can trust that we will make the right decisions & often if they aren't correct, they are correctable & everything will still be OK. And by the way, I made it fine into Pamplona & had a splendid day on my own.

Another was about how I would spend my time. I came into this Camino thinking I would relish glorious time alone & would plop down under trees to sketch & paint almost daily. I learned that while I liked days alone to keep my own schedule that I actively sought out lively conversation with most everyone I met. And I found I like to keep people in my world
by reaching out when I hadn't seen them in a while, just to be sure they were doing well. I think of myself as a bit of an introvert so I especially enjoyed these one-on-one more meaningful interactions. As for that painting, it quickly morphed into making minute-long videos to capture and save the memories I made. There is still time to paint when I get home.

I also had no sense of how long it would take for daily hygienic tasks like getting packed, fed, laundered in addition to the obvious hours of walking & sleeping. I didn't recognize how impatient I could get with a simple thing like siesta. The idea of closing down an entire town for three hours during prime business hours was beyond my comprehension. After a few weeks, it felt normal & I just adjusted my tasks to fit around it. I admit, I still had problems with the late restaurant opening times on the Camino. That was my stomach ruling my head. 

I'm still noodling over how I want to keep my Camino alive in my day-to-day life back home. I realized how much I valued short calls home & how I looked forward ever so much to talking daily with my husband who constantly supported me in this adventure. I realized how much I enjoyed pulling back from media & now am attempting to enjoy music not TV. I am also going to have to kick a nasty cafe con leche habit & give up full bottles of Rioja on a daily basis. Baby steps.

Thanks to all those who provided insight, ideas, assurance, mental support & kept the wheels on back home while on this adventure. And thanks to my two adventurous friends, Laura & Betty, who met me during the Camino to share parts of the experience- their humor & friendship made the trip so much richer. And thanks to my husband, Jeff, who constantly nurtures my craving for adventure & while he wants no part of a hike this long, was nothing but supportive throughout this process. He will be glad to not hear about the "C" word for a while. At least until the next Camino...

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Camino: Gratitudes on The Way

Back home, there are so many things I feel grateful for. My wonderful & loving husband; witty, caring & dependable friends; my health; the beautiful nature that surrounds me; an abundance of opportunity to grow & learn; a life rich with travel & experiences. The list goes on & on. I know & recognize- I am truly blessed.

On the Camino, when your daily activities & rituals are peeled back to basics, your priorities

often change. It's Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. When you are just trying to meet your physiological and safety needs, you really aren't focusing on self-actualization.

I can't tell you how many little things brought a smile to my lips or an honest-to-goodness cheer. This list was the brainchild of Marie, a member of my "Camino Family." It's not extensive or complete & I'm always "grateful" for ideas & new items. Marie, sadly, had to cut her Camino short due to illness. I know she will be back to make this list more robust...

On this Camino I've been grateful for:

  • Rooms near the stairs or on the first floor
  • Olive oil for bread
  • Laundry service or machines
  • Shoes with lots of toe room
  • Early breakfast
  • My drugs of choice- cafe con leche & zumo de naranja naturale
  • Local town markets
  • Stores open during siesta
  • Hot showers (& a hook or shelf for your stuff)
  • Pilgrim masses
  • happy "Buen Caminos" directed my way all day
  • Plugs by your bed/bunk
  • Decent & free weefee
  • People who smiled as I butchered the Spanish language
  • working ATMs that didn't eat my card
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Voltaren, Aquafor, Injingi toe socks & New Skin in my footcare arsenal
  • good weather
  • dark chocolate
  • O'Cebreiro cheese & honey
  • Hearing someone speak English (so I don't have to think for a bit)
  • Tree tunnels on the trail
  • Settling into your own pace, rhythm & footcare regimen (that works!)
  • Cold pools & rivers from soaking feet
  • Courtyards with real grass for yoga & stretching
  • Vino tinto that you can somehow drink all night and NOT get a headache
  • Red poppies
  • Fun & unexpected food trucks/ surprises along the trail
  • A sign for a cafe/bar on a long hot portion of the trail
  • The crunching sound the stones make under your feet when you walk
  • A bench to prep feet or adjust boots
  • Aubergues & hostals that take pride in making pilgrim experiences special
  • Hours of interesting conversation with a fellow pilgrim that makes time fly
  • creative sellos with good ink
  • Finding a ladies room with TP & being able to take over the Caballeros room with no line
  • Big drying racks
  • Hearing a half dozen languages at one dinner table
  • Pharmacists that specialize in pilgrim ailments
  • Locals that aleert you when you aren't on the correct path
  • cyclists who use their bells
  • Messages left along the trail by other pilgrims to make you smile
  • Well-marked trails
  • the wonderful variety of shells & different signage used on the Camino by various towns & regions
  • Vast, fertile open countryside
  • WhatsApp & good pilgrim apps
  • Knowing somehow that a person you've only known for a short time will be a part of your life in the distant future
  • KT/Leukotape that somehow sticks in place for days
  • Being able to leave your pack sitting in a brightly colored row on the ground right outside a cafe
  • Seeing so many heartfelt comments from home when you check in- all cheering for you & thanking you for taking them along on this adventure
Keep 'em coming...

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Camino: Going to the End of the World, Finisterre

Today I realized just how little I have been in a moving vehicle over the past six weeks.

We've headed down to the coastal towns of Muxia & Finisterre, billed as the "end of the world." While we could have walked (it is its own Camino) we've opted for the 1-day bus tour. On the way we got the "Cliff Notes" of what the walk might be like- small pristine villages, coastal cliffs, a waterfall, fishing villages, historic churches, eucalyptus forests & beaches.

Muxia, a picturesque fishing village is known for its rocky point where the rustic Nosa Senora da Barca church sits. Legend has it that Mary appeared to St. James here. There is also the Pedra dos Namorados where couples come to declare their love.

I preferred Finisterre with its expanse of wild ocean and lonesome lighthouse on a bluff. The town is a lovely fishing village wrapped around a marina dotted with seafood restaurants. Here, we enjoyed our final pulpo & toasted our adventure. The lighthouse is a popular spot for pilgrims to cme at sunset & contemplate their journey, revel in satisfaction, give thanks for those they have met & welcome their next adventure. Sounds like a grand idea!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Camino: Breezing around Santiago de Compostela

It was strange to wake up with no alarm set & to know exactly where I would lay my head at the end of the day. It was also impossible not to walk.

So what to do? Take a walking tour, of course. This gave us the opportunity to learn the lay of the land, investigate Santiago's many Prazas (as they are called in Galicia), learn a bit of the rich architectural heritage of this fine city & see where all the fun cafes were. We also took advantage of a Cathedral Museum tour that gave us a glimpse into this historic building & even walk its outer balconies overlooking the square.

My favorite stop was, of course, the city's market. This sprawling permanent market not only houses hundreds of vendors for produce, cheese, meat, fish, wine & bread but also offers a dining hall where you can enjoy informal dining on the market's fresh items- one shop will even cook your newly-purchased fish for a few Euros. I was even able to find O'Cebreiro cheese & honey to bring back as a gift for Jeff.

It was also a pleasure to have dinner that didn't start before 6pm!  

Friday, June 7, 2019

Camino: O'Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

It's hard to process that this is the last day we will gear up for a long day of walking. It makes you appreciate each sight & step along the way. I asked Betty if we could go slowly so I could enjoy the final sounds, sights, sound of crunching boots & the murmurs of many languages along the final kilometers. We found lovely cafes for zumos & coffees. Sun peeked out but drizzle, and finally downpour, dominated the day. 

We spent some time at parque Monte del Gozo, famous for its first glimpses of the cathedral. It features several prominent pilgrim statues & oddly huge buildings of utilitarian rooms & pilgrim support services.  We are assuming they are readying themselves for the onslaught of pilgrims in the upcoming 2021 holy year. The site can house hundreds of pilgrims who would quickly overrun the existing available rooms nearby.

After a brief stop for lunch in San Lazaro (in honor of Betty's husband, Lazaro), we made our way into Santiago. After over a month of countryside, we had to be careful to obey traffic signs to avoid an accident in the final home stretch. While arrows abound, at this point you just follow pilgrims, like zombies trudging along en masse.

From a distance you start to see narrow roads lined with churches & historic buildings. Then you hear the bagpipes. Around a quick corner & voila, the Praza de Obradoiro, the golden square of Santiago is underfoot. You can't help but be drawn to its cathedral. While luckily, its outside scaffolding has been removed & external renovations completed, much of the internal work is currently underway so we won't get to experience the iconic swinging of the giant incense burner Botafumeiro during a pilgrim mass. This ritual requires a half dozen attendants to swing the giant burner & originally started as a way to fumigate the sweaty & possible disease-ridden pilgrims. I'll save that for a future Camino.

Weather cleared for us to take pictures & enjoy watching others reunited with other pilgrims from earlier in their journey or just standing in the square with tears in their eyes. You're torn on how long to stay as you are eager to go to the Pilgrim Office to get in line for your Compostela.

I don't know why I found the Compostela process so stressful. To be granted a Compostela, pilgrims must complete at least the last 100k of the Camino & get two sellos/ stamps each day to serve as proof.I triple checked my sellos & dates imagining the volunteer quizzing me about varying legs to be sure I had, indeed, met all the requirements.  It couldn't have been more pleasant. Once my number was called, I met with volunteer & church deacon, Angel, who provided congratulations, checked my credentials & completed the paperwork for my certificate. I even asked Angel if I could give him a hug? He opted for a hearty handshake since a hug would require me climbing over the counter.

Now, off to clean up & enjoy this fine city.

22k to Santiago de Compostela (population 96,000)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Camino: Ribidiso to O'Pedrouzo

After a hot cafe con leche we bundled into our rain gear for a decidedly stormy day. The tree canopy was greatly appreciated while long roadside stretches of pelting rain kept us focused on any upcoming cafe.I'm starting to get a little sad as this is one of our last two days. I'm starting to try to process what this journey has meant & how I can best incorporate the experience into my life back home.

The Camino safed lots of nature & special sights for the end. We spent hours walking through eucalyptus forests & enjoying huge bleeding heart & hydrangea bushes. We experienced a variety of art styles today. At Tia Dolores everything that wasn't moving had been turned into beer bottle art- the cafe, the fence & most impressively, an horrea. After this amazing site, we turned a corner to see another display, this one of a wall of lovingly placed hiking boots planted with colorful flowers. This one was my favorite.

We arrived as drowned rats at our pension in O'Pedrouzo, eager for nothing more than to peel off our wet clothes & start things drying for our final day into Santiago. We ventured out into the storm to enjoy a particularly non-pilgrim menu at a tiny gourmet food shop/tapas bar with a pilgrim pal, Rosa. We laid out all our gear for the last day- much like readying for graduation day.

24k to O'Pedrouzo (population 5000)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Camino: Palas de Rei to Ribidiso

I made a Pilgrim 101 error last night, leaving my boots outside to air out on an evening that turned into torrential rain. There was no chance of drying them for the day so I stuffed them with newspaper (the part of Pilgrim 101 I actually remembered) & sent them ahead to meet up with me in Ribidiso. This left me without my trusty waterproof boots on a decidedly rainy day. A lesson I won't soon forget!

We stopped frequently to warm up & dry off in small cafes along the heavily wooded path. We really can't complain as weather has been exceptional during my Camino.

We were particularly excited to stop in the bustling town of Melide, famous for its highly-recommended Pulpo a la Gallega in restaurant Pulperia Ezequiel. I'm not normally a fan of octopus as I find it can be rubbery. I'm now a fan after Galician pulpo. Prepared with olive oil & dusted with paprika & sea salt, the dish is meaty & perfectly paired with hearty chunks of bread & Ribeiro wine served in big ceramic cups. We were forced to force down two plates & a full bottle of wine.

Heavy rain made our lovely pension in tiny Ribidiso a happy respite. The wet chill set in so I made a wet run to the nearby cafe for hot chocolates & we hunkered down in our lovely room for a cozy evening of laundry & boot drying. Just what the doctor ordered.

27k to Ribidiso (population tbd- two buildings & a cafe)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Camino: Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Since we are blissfully unaware of dates or days of the week, we use the number of remaining pages in our guidebook as a measure of our progress.We have a measly 20 pages left in our Brierly Guide- the "bible" for planning the Camino Frances.
Betty & I traveled separately for much of the day as we experienced frequent drizzles & had to don our rain gear for the first time in weeks. Sun peeked out just enough to require frequent clothing changes. Much of the day was on tree-lined paths passing through small hamlets.  Grain storage horreos are prominent now. A highlight for me was a stop at the tiny romanesque Capela da Magdelena, a former hospital of the Knights Templar. The blind caretaker provides a special sello stamp to visitors. I also passed through Lameiros & its ancient Casa de Carneiro where King Phillip of Spain stayed on his way to mary Mary Tudor.

After laundry in Palas de Rei (notice a pattern here yet?) our stomachs forced out for our earliest dinner yet. We've noticed an oddity in Galician restaurants. FOlks have balance coins in crevices on the stone walls. I wonder if it is a good luck thing? With daylight until after 10pm, we work hard to darken the room so we can hit the hay to catch a good night's sleep.

27k to Palas de Rei (population 3600)