Tuesday, October 28, 2008

madrid to munich

It's cold and raining here in Madrid and I'm a little shaky from my night train ride...it was a very good deal, just under 60€...but it was coach for 10 hours and therefore sleep was elusive.

But tonight I'm in a nice little hostal room, I've got my travel clothes drying for tomorrow (I am soooo looking forward to being able to go to a laundromat when I get home and I thought I would never say that - but two months of hand washing my clothes in a sink....) and I just had a nice meal and am ready to tuck in for the evening.

I just got done spending a couple of hours at the Museo Nacional del Prado, one of the great art museums in the world (and it also happens to be the oldest public art museum, established in 1819). I only saw a portion of the collection, but two hours is really what I'm able to do and still appreciate the work.

They have works that I've studied in school hanging there live in front of me (most well-known to me were Velazquez' The Drinkers and Las Meninas. But there was also the tripped out Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch, eerie still-lifes and rock anthem pieces by Raphael, Fra Angelico, Goya and El Greco. I will be back in Madrid for about 8 hours in a couple of weeks and plan to come back to see the pieces I missed since the museum is only about a fifteen minute walk from the train station and there's a place at this train station where I can stash my backpack for the day.

So tomorrow I get on the Metro and head to the International Terminal of the Madrid airport and head on into Munich. There's something still kinda fun about figuring my way around a city. Taking public transport, consulting the little maps...when I'm in the right space it's just a big game board and I'm this tiny figure trying to maneuver points A to B to J.

I came out of the movie theatre last night (saw W. - was disappointed) and it was just pouring rain. It had been clear skies when I went into the show, so it took me by surprise. I knew I had about a fifteen minute walk back to the Metro station...and fifteen minutes in a downpour can wreak havoc when you're walking around in it. The thought of wet boots for an overnight train ride did not excite me. But it's funny...I had this moment of panic about it until I remembered that I wasn't in a hurry (I had over two hours before my train left) and so just sat there under the awning for a few minutes, put my raingear on, wrapped up my pack in it's little cover and by the time I settled in, so did the weather and I strolled through a light Portland-ish rain without much trouble.

I love how panicked I can get on one occasion, and in the next be perfectly calm. There's no rhyme or reason to it at all. A couple of days ago this girl was so rude to me in a cafe that I almost started to cry about it...but I tried to turn it...I've been taught over the years that a cure for this kind of stuff is to pray for the person you feel has wronged you...and even though I wanted to yell at this young woman, and I did (in my head)...I decided that living with that resentment all day long was just going to bum me out, so I said a prayer for her and for everyone else out there that maybe had a moment of feeling like an outsider on that morning.

I was watching TV the other night and there was this program about this little ten year old girl who has that horrific disease where you turn old at a very young age...I can't remember the name of it, but it's one of those tragic illnesses that they can't cure and it causes these kids to go through a terrible amount of pain and disfigurement before the disease claims them.

But this little girl was such a spitfire, and she had this great mom, and an adoring older brother and these two really great friends and she has just been in my thoughts ever since. The show was in Portuguese so all I was able to do was watch the pictures. There was a scene where she was in a ballet class and it both broke and lifted my heart to watch her there, on those aching, wobbly legs...being quite graceful along with her classmates. She was so physically different from these kids, but she had this great expression on her face of concentration and joy and it was really just very beautiful. Talk about feeling like an outsider in the world...whenever I feel like that, from now on...I will think of little Claudia, whose strength in that aspect, shone through loud and clear.

Okay...need to get back out in this weather and make a phone call to the German goat cheese woman and then get on "home."

Thanks Big G (and PJ!) for your comments. It's funny, I was thinking about that "produce hose" bit the other day as well. I was running a few of Ellen's routines through my head and cracking up out there on the trail. I'll have to watch that too when I get back.

Okey doke my friends...say a little prayer that we have grand weather for flying tomorrow just after noon. You'll all be tucked into your beds, but maybe you can think about me before you go to sleep.

Lots of love, I hope I get to talk to you soon.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lisbon to Madrid

I arrived in Lisbon a couple of hours ago and am wandering around this massive and busy city in search of something to fill the 8 hours I have before catching the night train to Madrid.

I ended up wandering in here to say hi to y'all.

I'm trying to find a movie theatre...haven't seen a movie in quite some time and thought there might be an American movie at the Cineplex. It's a few blocks up the street, so when I'm done here I'll see. It's Monday and most of the museums are closed. I also have my backpack with me which loads me down and makes me feel vulnerable, so I don't like to wander too much with it on. I'll be back here for a couple of days before I leave the continent and will get in a decent spate of sightseeing then.

Went to one of the Fatima shrines this morning before getting on the bus. This place, unlike the massive sanctuary, is set in the oaks not far from the childhood homes of the little shephards. I was wondering yesterday where the greenery was in all this shrinedom. Mary did appear to shephards who were grazing their flock...and yet the sanctuary built around her appearance seemed to be have no natural life to it.

But I talked to a guy this morning and he pointed me in the right direction and I found another site where She appeared and enjoyed the setting much better. Except I was so saddened to see that even here, there was cigarette butts, candy wrappers and toilet paper (!!!) littering the area right around the statue and marker of this sacred site.

We have soooooo far to go.

I want to read more about Fatima and the words of St. Lucia...but it seems the basic gist of the messages she received were that we were all to pray for the sinners and convert to Catholicism. In this the world would be healed. That's a pretty thumbnail sketch.

I'm not converting to anything today...I like the broad spectrums of faith out there too much to bow before one idea. But I do agree that a deep conversion needs to take place if we are to ever evolve. Maybe we're not really supposed to...it seems like an unmanageable task to shift our consciousness at this point. We still call each other names based on skin color and the flavor of each other's accents for pete sakes. We still traffic in the slavery of humans, four-leggeds and our winged ones. We value money over land, river and sea. These all seem to be base concepts that we are pretty far from changing globally.

There are a lot of American programs on T.V. here in Portugal. But they seem to show an episode of National Geographic every afternoon. It's heartening to see all the good work happening out there, and I know there's a lot of it...but my goodness we are digging ourselves out of a deep, dank hole.

That's what I was thinking about this morning as I was wandering the paths in those Holm Oak groves.

My time is just about up here. I'll probably find a spot in Madrid to write again.
I'm looking forward to having more than thirty-sixty minutes of writing time when I come home!

Lots of love.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

there must be something about me and goats...

Ellen DeGeneres has a hysterical routine about marrying a goat...I can't remember which DVD it's on, Big G would know, but I was running it through my head the other day while I was working thru this plan. (and here it is...thanks to YouTube)

Anyway...last week I met a German woman at an alburgue in Barrios. I was telling her that I was going to have an extra couple of weeks on my hands and I wasn't quite sure where to go once my walk was over.

She suggested I come work on her friend's farm in Bavaria where she raises goats and makes about fifteen different kinds of specialty cheese from their milk.

Well, that sounded like something.

So it took a little finagling, but on Wednesday morning I'll be flying into Munich and then heading into the mountains to hang out and work on this farm for a little over ten days.

I'm pretty excited about getting my hands dirty and learning how to make goat cheese. I'm also looking forward to being in one place for awhile. There's a lot left to see here in Portugal, but I'm way over hotels and pensions and having to look for places to stay every night. I hope I can come back here at some point and tour it again, maybe in a car...

I am writing you today from Fatima. It's quite a place. The cathedral and the shrine devoted to the vision of Mary by three young shephards here in 1917 is extraordinary...

As are the sheer numbers of devotees. It's Sunday, so this bumps the numbers up I'm sure...but man, you should see the parking lot, it's filled with tour busses and RV's. People picnicking, grills are going. It's like a big, holy tailgate party.

And with that comes some moving, reverant sights, like the people walking on their knees, or crawling around the chapel built on the site where the first vision occurred. I didn't take any photos of this either for obvious reasons, but here is a picture of the plaza early in the morning before Mass.

There's also a massive pyre where people by the hundreds line up to offer candles.

Mass this morning was beautiful and I wandered the crowds, watching people, listening to the words I couldn't understand piped over loudspeakers, and loving the sounds of the choir as they sang in between.

Those moments make up for the bazillion shops selling plastic Fatimas and beads and trinkets galore. It's like Fisherman's Wharf. Cellphones going off during mass, people talking on cellphones in the Chapels...eegads...makes me crazy.

Anyway...have to get off the computer now. I will try to write to you when I can. Tomorrow I go to Lisbon where I am boarding a night train to Madrid and then to Munich from there. I could've flown from Lisbon, but it would've meant changing planes in Madrid anyway and so I'd rather take 2 flights instead of 4 (I have to come back to Lisbon to catch my flight home). Don't think about it too much...it makes sense to me. I like trains better...if it wasn't going to cost me and arm and leg I would've taken a train all the way to Munich...but there you go.

SO I don't know what my scene will be like in Germany. I know I am going to be in the town of Kempten in Allgau. And that's all I know right now.

So...I'll talk to ya soon! Oh, by the way, Big G? You are hysterical and I knew you were going to have a quote for me. But you know what scene I was thinking about? The one where she and Ryan O'Neal decided to pretty her up a little bit and they get that ribbon for her hair and the lady says something like, "Well it makes all the difference." Can't wait to watch that movie with you again!

Lots of love folks

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Seriously, you would think I was lurching around the town square with a flour sack over my head the way some people have been looking at me these past days.

And okay, I will admit that I'm looking slightly less than "well put together," but I mean c'mon, I don't think I'm ready for the bell tower just yet.

And it's difficult to convey a sense of style (and for me, difficult is the tamest of words I can use here) when you´ve been living in the same pants and t-shirt for two months. I long to buy new clothes, but the ones I've got have been perfect for the hiking I've been doing, and any other clothing would just be something else to carry.

So I probably have a bit of a street urchin look going on for me, which really stops working once you get past the age of say...ten. I've also lost a considerable amount of weight, so these cargo pants that were comfortably loose for walking have become clown-like. We won't spend time talking about this t-shirt. I wore it for LW2, and all across Spain and I should really get rid of it...but I can't, just can't do it. And then there's the decidedly male flannel shirt I wear over everything to really bang that outfit home.

So, okay...maybe I get it a little bit.

I was telling Gwen that if I was in Portland, no one would look at me twice. But I happen to be in Western Europe where fashion is quite the thing. It's like being in New York...people look good here. When I was trouping with the pilgrim hoards on the Camino Frances, there were so many of us dusting around in our shabby clothes that no one noticed us. But, that's not the case here either and so even in the smaller villages I regularly get "the once over." And I'm not just talking about furtive little glances. I'm talking about full-on, eyes covering me from head to toe, trying to take it all in. Children, teenagers, workmen, the woman watering her garden. Doesn't matter. I'm the side-show of Portugal.

Yesterday a guy was walking across the lane a couple hundred feet in front of me and he actually stopped and backed up a few feet to take a gander. And I'm not entirely sure about this, but I think he may have crossed himself.

And maybe for someone more secure, all this attention would be somehow fulfilling, or at the very least not bothersome. But this isn't "Hey, Breck Girl!" attention, and it bothers me a great deal. I can't seem to get very comfortable and have become downright clumsy with it.

Today I was at this diner type place, and so many people were looking at me that the piece of chicken I was cutting flew onto the floor while my cutlery clattered and screeched to a halt on the plate. I looked up with that goober smile I have as if to say, "ha ha, silly me!" But instead of sympathetic shrugs people quickly averted their eyes back to their meals, hoping to stave off any further outbursts.

So...maybe now that I'm done walking, I'll try to find something else to wear. Think they make gunny sacks in a size 8?

Think I'm done.

Done with walking that is. Had a couple of hard days in a row (cold rain, well-meaning locals misdirecting me way out of my path) and after 7 or so weeks of slugging around with a backpack, decided to bus it down here to Porto and go from there using the wonderful cheap and easy public transport of Europe.

Part of it is that I'm simply tired, both in head and body. But a bigger reason I think is that as I near Lisbon (or Fatima...I'm going to both places), the walking is becoming increasingly tiresome with the ratio of heavy traffic roads outweighing the quieter country paths. And here, as in Spain, the traffic moves very fast, there are little or no shoulders to walk on and it just seems foolhardy to continue like this. Plus, it's annoying. And actually, there was a stretch yesterday that was so ridiculously dangerous that it pissed me off.

So, in the alburgue last night at Rates, after talking to other pilgrims who were making their way towards Santiago (and here they are), I decided to end my walking tour there. They had told me that the walking was sucky from Porto on up, and that I may as well just take the train or the bus.

So there we are.

So, I found a little pension here (little is the operative word!) in the amazing city of Porto, with the ocean in the background, and I'll spend a day or two here, enjoying the sites and figuring out my next move.

This pension, Pension Duas Nacoes - right in the heart of the city , is a mere 14 euros for a single room...yay. And even tho it's REALLY small, it's very clean and relatively quiet.

I still have three weeks here to float around and I'm working on a couple of extra options to fill that time without burning through my last cent on hotels and pensions; there are few alburgues here in Portugal..but you know what they do have? The Bombeiros Volunteer Fire Departments where you can stay for free. I stayed in one the other night...got to sleep in a dorm room above all the firetrucks. My little friend Hank would've been all a flutter in that place.

Anyway - so there's a quick update. Over the next couple of days I should have a plan worked out and I'll fill you in. Lots of love to everyone.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Thanks Everyone....

Thank you, all of you who sent me birthday wishes...it was really sweet and super welcomed this morning as I'm sitting here in a public library in Ponte de Lima, Portugal.

I've been in Portugal for two days now and am so far enjoying this country quite a bit, despite having absolutely no way to communicate with any ease at all. I keep finding myself slipping into Spanish, which people don't fully seem to mind, but I would much rather garble Portuguese. And yes, it's similiar...but it's not similiar in the way that say American and British English is similiar, you know? They are entirely different languages and my comprehension level has dropped down to nearly nil.

I will say though, that I find it a lovely language to listen to...softer than Spanish in many ways. But... I just don't think I'm gonna get much of anywhere with it in the short time that I'll be here.

In case you're curious -- I had a wonderful birthday - it was full of magic and grace and fun.

It didn't start out that way as I had to leave very early from the alburgue in Pontevedra to catch the train to Tui. There was only one leaving that morning (a Saturday) at 7:00am. The woman at the ticket booth was only mildly helpful that early in the morning, but I got my ticket and then immediately screwed up by getting it validated in the machine. But instead of punching my ticket, the machine sucked it up, leaving me standing there, with that "well that was stupid" look on my face.

Then I realized I was in Spain, not in France and that perhaps you didn't validate your ticket that way. Regardless, I had 4 minutes to catch my train and I needed to purchase another ticket. So I went back to the lady, explained what I did...she actually rolled her eyes at my stupidity, as if it would cost her an extra 3.15€, and slipped me another ticket just as the train was being called. I made it.

Had to transfer in Redondela, where another non-helpful attendant told me to listen to the announcement instead of just telling me what track I needed to be on. I tried to explain that I couldn't always understand the announcement, but that wasn't really his concern. Thankfully, there was a nice guy standing there and let me know where I needed to be, as he was heading the same direction.

I made it to Tui (it's funny...what would've taken me three days walking took me about 25 minutes by train) just as the sun was rising and, shaking off the whole train experience, got a tea, found out where downtown was and headed off.

There's a bridge, called the Puente International, that separates Spain and Portugal. It's not overtly flashly or symbolic, but it had a fine footpath and as I walked across the Minho River, the Cathedrals on either side of the water chimed out the hour. On the Spain side, it was turning ten o:clock, and where I was heading, the bells tolled out the earlier hour of 9. It was good I was gaining and hour, as I was getting a pretty late start and still had 20 kilometers to walk.

I made my way easily through the city of Valenca and suddenly I was back in the lovely eucalyptus trees, heading further south.

I don't have a lot of time left on the computer, but I can tell you that I received a Mars bar from a group of British Columbians I ran into.

Two lovely men, a retired opera singer from Hamburg and his Galician partner, are in the habit of inviting pilgrims into their home for refreshments and I was the lucky recipient that day. Sitting by their pool, overlooking the Minho valley and having Nestea and German cookies.

I arrived at the alburgue in San Roque around 5:00, and was greeted by three Brazilian pilgrims who had just cooked a meal and invited me to join them. The food was good and ample and although they didn't speak English (Jose spoke very little), we had a lovely time. Later, I was talking to their friend Valter and he was asking me where I was born...I told him that I was born on "this day" near San Francisco and his face lit up and he grabbed my hand and led me back into the dining room where he excitedly told Jose, and his wife Maria, that it was my birthday. Whereupon they leaped up and sang me the most rousing version of Happy Birthday I've ever heard...with clapping! Then they all hugged me and it was all very festive and sweet.

Turns out we were the only four people in the alburgue that night, so we got to spread out. And there was a nice courtyard and a lovely night sky for me to sleep under the stars. So...in all, it was a truly lovely way to begin my forty-third year.

And now I'm here, taking a kind of undeserved rest day...but this town has a great deal of historical signifigance and I wanted to take some time to enjoy it. Also, there is a three-star hotel here that offers pension prices to pilgrims and I wanted to take advantage of that.

Plus, tomorrow's stage is a full 33 kilometers. That's a very long day on the road, and I wanted to be rested for it as I'll likley be walking nearly ten hours tomorrow.

So...there you go. That's the news...I'll try to talk to you again in a couple of days when I reach the great city of Porto.

Much love, thanks again for all your birthday wishes, I'm sure they helped make that day really special for me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

quickie post from...god, where am I?

It´s so funny how I just lose these city names soooo quickly. I´m in Pontevedre...inching my way towards the Portuguese border, but I´ll be inching them must faster tomorrow as I am taking a bus or a train to the border town of Tui in Spain. I´ll be losing 3 days of the walk, but that´s fine...I´m ready to see another country and something came up that I want to get to...I´ll tell you about it later, plans are still in the works...but I can tell you that it´s fun fun fun!

So I go to Tui tomorrow, and walk to Porto, about 5 or 6 days. From Porto I´ll be taking a bus to Fatima to see that famous shrine. I just missed the big festival on October 13th, which is the date when Fatima first revealed herself to the three small shepherd children in 1917. I´m very much looking forward to going there.
I was going to walk there from Porto, but in talking with people who have made that journey on foot, I´ve decided to bus or train it. Apparantly the roads are quite dangerous and not set up for this sort of travel. So...won´t be doing that.

I´m pretty good. Really enjoying the serenity of this Camino. There are very few pilgrims on it, and everything is really quite mellow, including the alburgues. I´ve been having some difficulty going "backwards," as I´m having to follow all those yellow arrows from the opposite direction. You wouldn´t think this would be any more difficult than having to follow them towards Santiago instead of away from it...but it is. Can´t really explain why. Part of it I suppose is that so many fewer people are walking this trail so you can´t just hang out and wait for the next pilgrim to come by, you could be sitting there a couple of hours. One woman said that it´s psychologically more difficult to go backwards...not sure about that. But, as I´m walking I have to keep looking behind me to notice the arrows, instead of seeing them ahead, which, when you get lost in thought (which I do frequently) can lead to you being physically misplaced as well. Every once in awhile, about every tenth arrow or so, there will be one in blue, pointing towards Fatima - and I understand that once I cross border into Portugal, I shouldn´t have any problems as Fatima is the main pilgrimage destination in that country, not Santiago.
Anyway, I got lost A LOT on my first day...it was really frustrating. I got some great help from locals, including a mechanic who left his shop to drive me back to the Camino after I had wandered off it over 2 kilometers. But...oh man, here´s where my lack of Spanish is kicking my ass. Hourly.

But, today I´m getting a little better at picking up the clues as to where people are coming from and didn´t get lost once today. But yesterday I ended up walking two hours out of my way...which really sucks at the end of a day when you´re lugging all your crap around with you, you´re tired and hungry and just need to land. But...so it goes, if this is all I have to complain about...

The nice thing I suppose is that because I need to be more vigilant, I´m forced to set a slower pace and I´m beginning to really enjoy just putting my trust into something higher than myself. I´ll talk more about this later, but I can tell you that since I left Santiago my spirit has been lightened, and I´m walking these days, literally and otherwise, somehow less burdened . I dare say I´m having fun.

Anyway, my time is nearly up here. Thanks all of you who have emailed me, I can´t always write back to you personally due to the time frame, but I thank you so much. So...for Lisa and my Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Rebecca, Matt and Amy, Big G, Carriefoot and Kathleen (thanks for those Portuguese translations by the way..you´re funny), Gwennie too. Lots of love to ALL of you and I´ll try to talk you again soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

so you think you wanna do the camino?

Maybe you don´t. Maybe this doesn´t interest you at all...if that´s the case, you can go ahead and skip this whole darn post since I´m going to talk about some of the specifics surrounding this journey.

I´m good by the way. You know, Hemingway made Pamplona his home during his ex-pat days, and if I ever want to flee the country and live abroad, I would come back to Finisterre. It´s wonderful here. Don´t want to leave tomorrow, but I need to get back to...not quite sure, but I can´t just stay here.


So, let´s talk about the walk...

Certainly, this has been the most physically challenging thing I have ever done...I could´ve definitely lessened that challenge by taking a few less things on my back and not walking so many kilometers...you can kind of choose your level of intensity there.

The Camino, from St. Jean to Finisterre is generally broken up into 36 stages. And if you want to be an animal about it, you could do it in 36 days or less I suppose, but I don´t know why you would want to. The average distance per stage is probably about 22 kilometers (nearly 14 miles), but you don´t even have to go that distance if you don´t want to.

The Camino Frances, the most popular trail out of the 12 or 15 to Santiago, is extremely well set up for pilgrims and there are alburgues or hostals all over the place...it seemed at times that I wasn´t walking for more than a couple of hours when I saw an alburgue. This isn´t always true of course, but in general.

About 125,000 people will make the Camino Frances this year. It´s an extremely popular journey and is just getting more so. The upside is that there are services and shops specifically designed with the pilgrim in mind. The downside of course is that if you´re looking for a nice solitary journey, this isn´t the path to take.

I mean, you can definitely find your space to be alone...there were many days when I had the trail to myself, but you have to kind of work on pacing yourself away from the other groups, making a later start, going a little slower, what have you. It seemed to me that most people took off like rockets, sometimes before it was light outside, and were stationed at the next alburgue by noon. This was so not my way of walking, and generally by about 1:00 or 2:00, I was walking virtually alone on the trail, which I liked.

A lot of people were spooked by the idea of showing up at an alburgue and having it be full. This only happened to me once and my understanding is, that if you hang around long enough, someone will find you a spot to sleep..so it didn´t seem to be a real concern to me. Some folks though liked to get in early, claim a good spot for themselves, get to the laundry first, whatever. Bully for them.

So, the alburgues.

I think I´ve mentioned my dislike of them...but it´s not the alburgues themselves, I´m just a freak about personal space and these are not set up with that in mind at all. But, the ones I came across were clean, the people were friendly and the services were great and relatively cheap (talking laundry, phone, internet). You´ll pay anywhere from 3 to 8 euros a night for a bed, everything else is extra, including blankets sometimes...so bring your sleeping bag.

But for this price you´ll be sleeping in a room with anywhere from 4 to 40 people. Sometimes more. On bunk beds. I saw two alburgues, one in Ronscevalles (that had like 120 beds in it) and one I think in Logrono that had double bunk beds...which means if you´re walking solo you could be sleeping right next to someone you don´t know (shudder).

I found one place that only had two beds to a room, and that was awesome. Oh, and these are co-ed set ups as well, sometimes even in the bathroom and shower area. So...if you´re a freak, like me, about this kind of stuff...bring a tent or be comfortable sleeping outside. I loved being able to do this and was only denied once by the hospitalero from sleeping out on the patio. But this arrangement allowed me to sleep just fine.

I have a hard time falling asleep...don´t know why, just do. It has to be quiet and it has to be dark and if I´m in a small room with twenty people snoring and snuffling and moving around on the bunk bed above or below me, sleep will never find me. But you know, if you´re like my friends Corbs or Kathleen who could probably fall asleep in under a minute on a runway...then this wouldn´t be a problem for you at all.

I actually preferred staying in what are called Hospitals.

They were run by donation only and had a really nice community feel to them. Dinners were made an eaten together and a prayer service or some sort of gathering was held after the meal. They were typically small and run by the local church, or sometimes independantly. In fact, when I look back on all my favorite places that I stayed, they were all Hospitals.

San Bol, with the lovely Naiseh hospitalero who spoke 5 langauges and was just as warm and welcoming as could be. I stayed there two days and would´ve stayed longer, but I probably would´ve fallen madly in love with the place and with her and that just wasn´t to be my true path, so off I went. I mean she had a wish list that started with "a horse, a windmill..." and had other things such as "a pilgrim from Tanzania" and "less wind" on there. She´s from Holland..........

Then there was San Nicholas, run by Italians, who continued an ancient tradition of washing the feet of the pilgrims before dinner. This place was so sweet too, with the "Italian mother" as she called herself, feeding us...and wouldn´t stop feeding us. It was great.

Tosantos, with their 12th century altar and church devoted to the Virgin, carved into the rock on the side of the mountain. The guys who ran this place were extrordinarily sweet and one of them had a beautiful voice that he used to sing hymns and folk songs. Lovely.

And the place in GraƱon, where I got to sleep on the floor of the church, staring up at a 15th century ceiling, the moonlight casting down onto the altar statuary. This also had a nice, inclusive prayer service and a terrific feeling of camradarie as people broke into songs in three or four different languages after dinner.

So...try to find the Hospitals if you can, they seemed to really work towards offering people "the spirit of the Camino," and did a nice job of it.

Anyway, enough of that, eh?

Food. Let´s talk about food.

I have had no problem with the food here at all. But I also don´t have any allergies to anything, nor am I a vegetarian or a vegan...so I can´t speak to any difficulties there other than, you could have some. Especially if you´re vegan, but even there you can always make use of the alburgue kitchens and cook your meals every night and really be just fine. Although, if you rely on soy products for your protein, veggie burgers, tofu...I never saw any of these things in any store..so, you´ll be doing the beans and legume thing for your protein.

There are little stores everywhere, and supermarkets in the bigger cities so I bought my own food a lot. Eating out every meal is expensive of course. The biggest difference I saw here was around breakfast. Sometimes in alburgues they would give you "breakfast," but the Spanish version of breakfast is white bread, toasted, with margarine and jam. But sometimes you just get these little cakey things. Protein is not on the list for breakfast food...so you´ll have to supplement. And there aren´t diners to just pop out for eggs and bacon. I did find, after awhile on the road, that some bars have food other than bocadillos (sandwiches, white bread, dry, with some sort of meat or cheese...no veggies, but usually big and cheap), and some bars serve eggs and ham. This was an awesome discovery, but you have to wait until mid-morning or noon for these platos combos.

Then at night you have the option of going out to dinner and having the "pilgrim´s menu," generally between 7-12 euros. I always enjoyed these, thought they were filling and tasty. For that price you get two plates (soup or salad or pasta, and then some sort of meat dish), dessert (yay!) and your choice of wine or water. I thought it was nuts that you could just get a bottle or a jug of wine brought to your table for that price, sometimes people would drink it all, often though, they would just have a glass and be done with it. Never had any of course, just...noticed it.

And I will confess, and it´s funny to me..that out of all the foods I really enjoy, burritos, fish tacos, sushi, mashed potatoes and spinach, hot dogs; do you know what I´m missing the most? Cheeseburgers. Of all things. It´s ridiculously American isn´t it? Actually, here in Finisterre there´s a place that makes a pretty decent rendition of one, but I will tell you that as soon as I get home, the next night, I´m going to McMennamin´s and I´m getting a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake and I will be soooo happy.

What else can we talk about? Food, sleep....

Oh, it would truly behoove you to learn a little Spanish. You don´t have to be fluent, but learning a few basic phrases, the polite expressions will go along way in easing your time here. People in Spain do not learn English as a general rule, if they speak a second language, it´s likely to be French or German, so don´t assume that people know even a little English, because it´s just not a part of the culture here. And you´ll be shopping, and ordering food and you´re gonna need stuff, so learning a few key words and verbs will be helpful. (I want, I need, I have is a good place to start) And if you have friends or family that speak it, practice it a little with them. I mean, I have relatives and friends who speak fluent Spanish, so I´m kinda kicking myself for not practicing a little before I left.

And you could get by without it, people did. You can stammer and point and make your way just fine, but really, it´s kinda fun to play with a new language and people do seem to appreciate your effort for the most part. Not always, but for the most part.

We can talk a little about physical fitness. You don´t have to be a marathon athlete to do this walk. It seemed to me that most people were my age and over. Saw lots and lots of retired folks. It makes sense though doesn´t it, who has 6 weeks to do this thing? So there were people of varied physical ability that seemed to do just fine. It would help to be a little in shape of course. This isn´t a straight path walk. There are a lot of very steep up and down days, sometimes the path is asphalt, sometimes you are walking on cobblestone or rough, rocky roads for hours. There is the weather to contend with. We didn´t have any rain save for one day...but there were days when it was very hot and we were walking in open land, no shade, for hours.

And you´re carrying all your stuff with you on your back for 5-8 hours a day. Some people who weren´t able to pack around like this used a transport service that would carry their luggage from one town to the next and they would just hike with a small daypack. It didn´t seem like this was prohibitively expensive and I saw lots of people doing it. So that´s an option too.

And you don´t have to do all 5 or 6 weeks either. A lot of people do one week a year and work it down that way. For my money, if I only had a week, I would do the last five days into Santiago, through Galicia and then on to Finisterre. These were really just primo walking days, really pretty, very sweet.

And if you want to do this, there is ample, ample literature out there. People have been writing about walking this trail since it´s inception a thousand years ago. There are tons of guide books out there as well. I used John Brierley´s Camino de Santiago, which was wonderful and small and amazingly accurate. There is also a terrific website by the Confraternity of St. James with all kinds of info. You can go to www.csj.org.uk and check them out.

You know, I loved this adventure, it was wonderful and exciting and hard and fun. The Spanish country is gorgeous and I loved seeing it this way. And I´m sitting here talking to you like I´m done, but I´m leaving tomorrow for Santiago and then I´m off again to do the Camino Portuguese for my final three weeks here. I was going to hook up with Peter and Kinga, but it seems we´re on different wavelengths so it doesn´t look like that´ll be happening. I toyed with the idea of going back to Sanilles, but I think I should stick with my original plan. The Portugese Camino is a little daunting, ´cause it isn´t as well set up...I don´t speak any Portuguese and I don´t have a map at this point.


So, we´ll see how that goes. So let me just tell you that I don´t know when I´ll be able to contact you all again. I will when I can for sure. I leave tomorrow morning on the bus and will be in Santiago tomorrow night and that´s all I know.

But...I love you guys and will talk to you soonly.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Camino

Just got done walking out to the lighthouse..the spot at the end of the world. Certainly the Romans thought so when they named this place Finisterre...it´s lovely and full of the life energy that only the sea seems to bring to a place.

There is so much I want to say about thse past several weeks, and I´ve been thinking in my head of how to phrase all of it. And now, as I sit down to write about it I don´t know where to begin.

I think the last two weeks of walking was when things really started to gel for me as far as things coming to the surface and working themselves out in the pace of my walking. Sometimes I felt, in the distances and struggle I was putting on my body, that I was trying to wrench out of my muscles the oldest of pains, letting them sweat themselves out of my pores. I was only mildly successful.

But I think, the greatest gift this time has given me has been the knowledge that it´s not my struggles that are at my foundation. It seems that for the longest time, years and years, I´ve felt that my inner demons have been at the very core of my being. That my sadness of the way "things are" for me has kept me low, kept me from really enjoying this life that´s been handed to me.

And I´ve found that´s simply not true.

A few days ago, walking through the deep green woods of the Galician valleys, I was coming out of a place of tremendous sadness. Some of you know me in this, that place I can go. But on this morning, there were lambs and cows and magpies and crows. There was an autumn breeze and creekwaters flowing over ebony rocks. There was sunlight and dew and an earthen path to walk along. And it struck me that it´s not pain that makes up my being, but gratitude. I say this because even though I was feeling sadness, I realized that everytime I can moan about my travails, what brings me out of it consistently is thanks for the very place that I am. I´m glad I can feel these things, because it tells me that I can feel. I think those of us in recovery know that our past abuse of drugs or alcohol or food or what-have-you is directly linked to trying to blot out anything painful, anything hard, anything at all. And for me, I spent years in a daze...years.

And here I was, working on completing a life´s dream, to walk this particular path. And I was doing it sober and without much physical concern. Certainly I was sore, and I was tired...but my legs worked, my shoulders held my pack, I was breathing fine, I had no blisters. In fact, I made this entire camino without any physical injury. No blown knees or shin splints, no twisted ankles, no illness. I was luckier than many of my compatriots in this way and I am thankful for it. The journey was hard enough, I can´t imagine having to do it in the kind of physical pain some of my friends had to contend with.

So, you know...I´m not saying I´m never gonna be laid out by my sadder emotions. I don´t think we ever fully "get rid of" core issues that we come into this world with. But I think we can find ways to treat them differently for ourselves. And I feel, that for now anyway, when I am struck with some of what hurts me so, I know there´s a deeper truth there, and that´s a fine gift.

And there´s really nothing wrong with sadness. Like joy, these emotions will come and go - but it´s how we act these feelings out that can make a difference. And so, we´ll see where all this takes me in the end.

That morning was funny too because as I was thinking all of this, I came around the corner and I saw this man. He was pulling his suitcase, you know on one of those rolling wheely things. And, this particular stretch of road was so not cut out for that...it was full of big rocks, it was steep and he was really struggling with it. It kept twisting on him and tipping and I was thinking, "man, he has really made life difficult for himself there."

And I started to laugh because here was the perfect visual to how life can be for me when I hate my station in it. When I get to beating myself up with this and that. You´re alone, you´re not good-looking "enough", you suck. You know, whatever...this is it, isn´t it? Wrenching along baggage (literally!) that wasn´t designed for the road we´re on. It was great.

And I know some of you out there are wondering if I stopped to help this guy. You who are nicer than me are thinking this. And the answer is no, I didn´t. Said good morning to him though. And I´ll likely spend another couple hundred years in purgatory for that, but...it´s done now.

One of the hospitaleros (and I´ll talk about some of the ins and outs of the camino in my next post) I was talking to told me that the Camino should be walked alone because it´s a journey we should take to "fall in love with ourselves and the Spirit who guides us." I thought this was a truly lovely way to talk about the pilgrimage and have spent some time thinking about whether or not this ended up being true for me.

Hard to say. I don´t think I´ll ever fall in love with myself. I like myself better every year and get more comfortable in my own skin, but love? Some things, yes I love about myself. I love that I can write because I love doing it so much, and I look forward to continue working on it so that I can just get better and better at it. To this end I know now that I need to make my way in this world as a writer, I may live a hard scrabble existence...but it´s what I want to do.

And I definitely have a greater sense that I´m not walking in this world alone, that I do have a Higher Power that helps me along the way. I don´t always listen, and I don´t always trust...I´m truly human in that, but I think I listen better and trust more than when I left France.

There was too much along the way that showed me proof of that. The shephard in the Pyranees, some of the people I met, some of the difficulties and solutions that came out of them. Even just a couple of days ago, heading into Santiago I had the thought that it would be nice to celebrate this event with friends, and I got a little sad that I didn´t arrange to meet anyone there. I didn´t want to spend the night alone.
And as I walked through the city a woman came up to me and asked if I needed a place to stay..turns out she rents beds in her house for little money, and it was the perfect place to land. And as I was leaving her house, having dropped off my backpack and feeling a less burdened, I ran into my friend Pepe, who travelled with Carlos and Angel. We hugged joyfully and he told me that he was meeting them for dinner at 6:00 and I should come and share a celebratory meal with them.

And so I did, and it was a lovely night full of laughter and the sense of a thing accomplished together.

It was truly a beautiful journey.

And so...there it is. I´m sure I´ll write more about it in time. Next time I post I´ll talk a little bit about the specifics of it...that kind of stuff is fun for me to write. Not so gushy...and may be helpful if any of you are considering taking this pilgrimage yourself.

Alright my loves, I´m off to dinner now with this woman from Germany. She started on the same day I did and seen each other from time to time along the way. I just ran into her this morning, so we´ll get to relax a bit now and enjoy sharing stories from the road.


So, here I am in Finisterre, an absolutely lovely little fishing village. When I woke up this morning from my room on the third floor, the sun was straining through the morning clouds, sending beams down onto the fishing boats moored in the bay. I could´ve been in Depot Bay, or Trinidad; with the seagulls sounding off their sweet whistly calls I felt right at home. And so, I went downstairs and asked the lady if I could stay for two more nights and there you have it.

I could´ve slept all morning. When I was in Santiago I was talking with a woman who was finished with her walk, and she told me that when her body finally understood that it could really rest, she just crashed. And that´s about how I´m feeling right now.

If you like sheer numbers, here´s a couple for you.

The mileage from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Finisterre, Spain is 549.8 miles. And I walked all of that, every step, except for about the six miles leading into Leon. Both my guidebook and a guy who had walked that stretch before, told me it was dangerous, along the freeway and not much fun. So I took a bus into town. So, let´s say I walked 543 miles total, just to keep it honest.

It took me 41 days, with 3 or 4 rest days thrown in there. I don´t know what the average time is, it doesn´t really matter. It is what it is. I was walking around 15 to 20 kilometers a day for the first half of the walk, and then really ramped it up towards the end and was pushing 30-35 for probably 10 days or so without taking any days off. Just kind of got to moving and didn´t want to stop and my body was used to the movement and enjoyed (well..enjoy) going all day. Let´s say actually that my mind liked being out all day, and my body just kind of had to tag along with it.

And now I´m done and trying to put it all together. How was it, did I like it, did I learn anything...was it fun?

Certainly, walking into Santiago was something. I usually really disliked walking into the cities, the outskirts were industrial areas or suburbs, and they were generally not very pretty and uncomfortable, sloggy for walking. But, going into Santiago felt different, just because it was.

That morning I crested Monte Gorzo, which was pretty much the last green site we would see. At the top was a beautiful modern sculpture, paying homage to the pilgrimage. There was a lovely little altar there, a small church where pilgrims could offer their thanks and prayers. There were about 30 people milling about, taking pictures and getting ready to walk the last 8 kilometers into the city. We were a pretty jubilant bunch really.

As I made my way towards the cathedral I ran into some folks I had met the day before, "you only have about a kilometer left! We just got our Compostela!"

The Compostela is a piece of paper declaring that you have completed the pilgrimage, you get it from the pilgrim´s office at the end of your journey and need to present your pilgrim´s "passport" to verify that you have really walked the miles.

In truth, you only need to walk 100 kilometers or cycle 200 to receive your Compostela, but it feels nice to have received it for going the distance. Oh, and the "passport" is this little booklet that we all carry around. You get a stamp at every alburgue you stay in. A lot of restaurants and churches and shops all have their own stamp, so you can really go nuts if you want to with the stamps. It didn´t really appeal to me all that much, surprisingly...I got them when I checked into places, and at a few churches, but..I don´t know, they´re kinda cool I suppose. Anyway...

So I walked down these streets, the old narrow winding streets of Spain. I couldn´t get all those pilgrims past out of my head. When they first saw the spires of the cathedral from the outskirts of the city...what did they think? I know I was pretty delighted, not that it was over necessarily...but that it exists, this camino, this way; for the millions of people who have made this journey with their own little heart´s desires and piety and penance. It touched me.

And so I´m walking down the cobblestoned streets and I turn a corner and there it was.

Building started on this Shrine to St. James in 1075, and is still being worked on, preserved, restored, in some places. It really is an amazing structure.

Whelp you guys...look, I hate to end there, but I only have 4 minutes left on this machine and there are other people waiting to use it. I´ve been on for an hour now anyway. But, I´ll be back..let you know how my time went in Santiago..I ran into my old friend´s Carlos and Angel which was a blast.

So...I´ll be back.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

7 minutes...

Hey guys, I´m super-tired right now, so it´s fine that I only have seven minutes to post.

I can tell you that I reached Finisterre about an hour ago and have a nice little room facing the ocean...it´s in a rooming house run by a nice old lady, her husband is repairing his fishing net in the large living room. It´s cheap, and I´ll probably stay here two or maybe even three days and relax, sit on the beach and not walk ANYWHERE.

Well, I will be going out to the lighthouse, another 3.5 K from here, the true "end of the world." But I´ll do that tomorrow.

I will also spend some time writing to you guys tomorrow, rent this computer for an hour or so and tell you how this has all been. I can´t believe I´ve finished this walk...feels good, I feel good. My body is really tired and has been struggling the last three days, but it´ll recover just fine I figure.

Okay, gotta go pay this lady and take a shower. I´m a mess.

lots of love.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Okay, I have 12 minutes

I am 19 kilometers from Santiago tonight. I think that´s about 12 miles, maybe less, so I will be entering this grand city tomorrow in the early afternoon.

It rained gatos and perros on us walkers this morning and so...I´m kind of soggy, but my clothes are "drying" on a line outside this little hostel. I know they have dryers here in Spain, but man are they hard to come by, everything seems to dry by hanging on the line. It´s not raining at the moment, but the sun is pretty much down; so my clothes are more or less just kind of hanging there, assuming the drying position, but I´m not sure how much dampness is truly being removed.

My spirits are mostly good, I´m pretty excited about finally reaching Santiago. You know, this has been one of those things I´ve wanted to do for so many years that it´s a little surreal at this point, not quite sure how I´m feeling really. Just taking it by the moment.

Kathleen and Carrie both asked when I´ll be back in the states and I can´t remember if I answered that in the last blog. So, if I did..oh well, here it is again. I touch down in Portland on November 12th in the early evening. I´ll be visiting the Bay Area probably some time right after Thanksgiving so I hope a visit with Carriefoot and P.J. can happen around that time if they are around?

Okay, my time is almost up, and I need to head back upstairs and take a shower. Dinner is happening in about a half and hour so I want to try to at least be somewhat clean so I can feel okay about joining someone for dinner.

Hope to talk to you soon. It seems the closer I get to Santiago, the more internet places are available, so I´ll try to keep you up to date. Lots of love.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I know it´s been awhile....

Hello everyone, sorry I haven´t written lately...there´s a couple reasons for that.

1) I´ve actually had kind of a hard time finding a computer I can use for more than 15 minutes. It´s tough to write a blog in that short a period of time, so I usually don´t.

2) I´ve been moving at a pretty rapid pace this last week, about 30-35 kilometers a day. So I don´t really do too much except get up, walk and take breaks to eat. I´m on the road about 9-10 hours a day and by the time I get to my stay place I pretty much just shower and crash.

Why am I moving so fast? Kinda want to get done with at least the Santiago portion of the trip. I´ve been on this particular path now for over a month and it´s getting to me a little bit. It´s very crowded with other pilgrims, particularly the closer we get to Santiago, and it´s just kind of a grind. I LOVE the walking part of my day, this part of Spain (I´m in Galicia) is absolutely gorgeous; but having to find a place to stay, do laundry, etc...it´s getting a little tiring in the midst of so many other people doing the same thing.

3) I´ve stopped staying in alburgues where the computers generally are. It´s been to cold now to sleep outside, so I´ve taken to paying a little extra money and staying in fondas or pensions or hostels. I figure the amount of money I´m saving by moving as fast as I am and the fact that I get a really good nights sleep is worth the cost.

4) And lastly, I went through a period last week where I was feeling a little....uninspired, kinda blue and I didn´t want to labor you guys with all of that. But, things have passed through a bit and I´m on a bit of an upswing.

So anyway...I´ve only got a few minutes left and I need to send another email so I´ll sign off. The current plan is that I will be in Santiago on Wednesday the 8th and finish up in Finisterra (literally, the "end of the world") on the 11th. From there I´m not sure what I´m doing. At some point I´m hooking up with Peter, Kinga and maybe Susannah who would like to celebrate my birthday with me. I also want to do a portion of the Portuguese trail, but I may abbreviate this a bit with the train or the bus. I think my body is ready for a little break.

So..on that note...let me wish all my fellow October birthday folks a happy one...Regan (whose birthday is today, actually), Carriefoot on the 10th, Chaela my sweet friend on the 16th and my lovely brother Jake celebrates his 22nd birthday on the 29th (how the hell did that happen!). So, Happy Birthday to you all! I´m sure I forgot some folks in there (I know my friend Julia is also an October girl, but I can´t remember the date).

Lots of love to you all...I think of you a lot out here and hope you are all well and happy.