Monday, May 31, 2010

Mi Primer Día

Hola!! Estoy en el locutorio en la Plaza Mayor. La escuela empieza a las nueve pero hoy, nececité llegar a las ocho y media para los bienvenidos y para sacar un examen ver en cual clase yo debo estar. Estoy en curso A2 - pienso que yo sé alguna grammatica y escribo más mejor que yo hablo! Pero es bueno porque ahora puedo practicar hablando los verbos preteritos en español.

Después de las clases, fui al Shawarma Queen donde se vende kebabs que son los más mejor en todo el mundo! Le dije al hombre que trabaja allí: ¡¡Tengo sueños sobre este restaurante!! Él risó pero es possible que sea mi español!

Fui de compras en un supermercado se llama "Dia %" y compré champú, detergente, agua, y otras cosas pequeñas. No pude llevar mucho porque mi alojamiento está lejos y ARRIBA (en una montaña pequena - jaja!) de ese supermercado. Quizás que no voy a engordar de todos los kebabs =) Voy a comprar comida luego.

Más luego...
Emy Pequeño

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I can't believe Albayzín Granada again!

Em and I arrived in Madrid a bit after midnight and Dad got us Holiday Inn express 3km from the airport. After a tricky arrival (the cabs want longer rides into the city and are reluctant to have their 1 hour or more wait for a ride be so short) we checked in called home and fell asleep hard.

Given the slightly remote location of the hotel we needed to take a bus to a metro stop but since no driver can break a fifty, we found an American Ribhouse next to the bus stop so we stopped off for an American lunch complete with free refills. Ahh...

With smaller coins available we caught a bus to Avenida de las Americas a bus station, train station and shopping mall all in one. A quick ride to Menedez Alvaro and we were on a Granada bound bus.

Joe, Kerry and her brother Dan met us at the bus station and started us on the long ride to Orgiva. The town is nice, highly walkable and had a surprising number of places open at midnight.

Joe took a scenic route to Lanjarron which anyone who has been to Spain may recognize as the water company with the purest agua in the country. The water is supposed to have magic healing properties. They have a fountain that is dumping gallons on a continuous basis (apparently in July there is a water fight town wide!). We filled up and headed up to their farm.

El Duque de Hazards

As we left Orgiva Joe told us that if we need to switch seats or make any stop to do it now. We were good but I didn't quite understand. Then suddenly I did. The ride up to the El Duque valley is insane. The road is unpaved somewhat narrow and with questionable guard rails for most of the trip. It is 20 minutes of bumpiness until we got to the house. Arriving at night first is actually pretty nice. You don't have to look at the road conditions. As time went on though the road seemed much more normal and less frightening.

The house is off the grid. Solar power for everything but oddly the have internet. How? Well they radio across the valley to a repeater which radios to another repeater which has a connection to town.

Joe had a full house. There were 7 of us at one point staying there. It is rustic but has a view that can't be captured by a camera. Joe is working on a farm so has access to fresh fruits and veggies. We made lemonade, drank claritas and had a great time doing very little.

Commune-ing in Nature

Orgiva is an odd town. It is mostly retired Spaniards and a hippie crowd. The hippies live in a place called Beneficio, a hippie commune in a Spanish national park. A few hundred people live in tents, teepee's and other "structures". During the summer the backpacking crowd increases the size of the commune. There is a "big lodge" where you can stay while you build your home.

Every Thursday the hippies come down the mountain into Orgiva and sell bread, crafts, and the usual mix of knickknacks inspired by eastern mysticism. As a result the mix of people is highly interesting. One dirty looking guy in particular who was selling bread that looked pretty good told me it was homemade and handmade. Hmmm... I think I'll pass for now... but thanks!

That night they were having a full moon party which probably would have been a lot of fun but we were trying to get up to do some stuff the next day (plus Joe had to do some work) so we'll have to catch that next time.

We had some tapas at Bar Agustin in Orgiva. Patatas Alioli (fries with garlicky mayo) with roast chicken, carne con salsa and a few other delicious things. 15 beers 3 glasses of wine 2 cokes and as many tapas for 34 euros. That night we had our own, likely much tamer, full moon party. It lit the valley, we drank beer, listened to a running river and agreed we are 6 very fortunate people.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some photos while I write some blog entries

Sognefjord Tour
Flaam Waterfall
Fantoft Stavekirke
Syttende Mai Oslo

Hasta luego from the outskirts of the outskirts of Granada,


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quick update from Madrid,

I have been slacking on blogging for a couple of reasonsç

1.) Computers have been hard to come by and computers with SD readers have been non existant.
2.) We have been traveling every couple of days without much in the way of "down time". Our one down day was in Alesund. A town with no cyber cafes which you can blame on Scandinavian prosperity and a low immigrant population.

This is kind of a reader's digest version of events

We started off in Barcelona for two days before flying to Stockholm. We met up with Vivi and Bella. Dad stayed with Vivi back in the 70s when he was backpacking. Bella then visited us in 94. We spent time with her family and toured Stockholm (which is a beautiful capital city...). It was pretty cool to see how Swedish families live. Lukas and Linnea were fun to hang around with. They constantly were telling us things in English by running over to whisper to Bella. "Joey, Emily...the flying cheese!"

From Stockholm we went to Norway via Goteborg. We had three days in Oslo including their national day Sytennde Mai (17 of May) which was fun to attend. From there we took a mindblowing train ride to Bergen. Our time there was marked by exceptionally good weather a rather rare feat. It is the rainiest city in the world with 310 rainy days a year.

From Bergen we went to Alesund via a meandering path to Oslo (that is how all the trains connect since going across the fjords isn´t really feasible). While we didn't do too much there (we came to visit the island of Runde which because it wasn't fully summer meant that ferries had reduced schedules and it simply wasn't possible). The ride there was spectacular. We came back to Oslo two days ago and spent our last day in the city checking out the Kontiki museum and the bizarre Frogner Park.

Which brings us to Madrid, though not easily. Our location is only about a 15 euro ride from Barajas and the taxi drivers don't like to make it. To the city center they make 100 euros and they have been waiting for an hour or more for the ride.

For now we are working our way to Orgiva, just outside of Granada to visit my friend Joe and his wife Kerry.

We'll post pictures as the opportunity arises but for now a textual "until next time"

'Sta luego,

Joe and Em

Sunday, July 19, 2009

74 (Mile) El Camino

What a walk that was. I'll explain kind of what happened throughout the blog. Fair warning, it was a long walk and it will be a long entry.


First let me give a reader's digest version of what is the Camino de Santiago. If you already got the gist of it, you can skip ahead to La Coruna. Back shortly after Jesus' crucifixion the Apostles began building the new Jewish church and they were called Christians. They spread out to evangelize the known world. One, James, (or Tiago) found his way from Jerusalem to Western Spain in an area called Galicia. When he reunited with his brother John (as in gospel writer John) he was beheaded by King Herod becoming a martyr. His converts in Spain went to Jerusalem to seek his body and relocate it to the Spanish coast.

There are a few variations of this story but one is that Saint James, (or San Tiago) floated ashore covered in shells from an empty ship that had miraculously floated through the straights of Gibraltar to the west coast of Spain. There were scholarly references to James being buried there but the specific location was unknown. Fast forward about 800 years and a hermit named Pelayo comes across a marble tomb in the middle of the woods. They conclude that it is James and the first cathedral in Santiago was constructed on the site.

Once the church was built, Pilgrims from all over Europe began to make the walk to the tomb. Many local, many from France. Over the ensuing centuries it gained considerable importance as a holy site on par with Jerusalem and Rome. As time went on and pilgrimages declined in importance, it was almost forgotten about. During the 20th century it enjoyed a revival among modern day Christians wanting to make a traditional pilgrimage. Its quasi rural location makes it more possible to arrive as early pilgrims did, on foot or on horse (they also allow bicycles). There are several routes to Santiago: Camino Frances, Ingles, de la Plata, del Norte to name but a few. Pilgrims that walk 100km earn a Compostela and their pilgrimage is registered officially. I believe that it may be online but I can't find the link. Anyway, if anyone finds themselves in Santiago, I think you will be able to look me up there :)

La Coruna

Trisha and I had been enjoying our stay in La Coruna in our ultra modern accommodations. I tend to not travel quite as well as I did on that trip. The plan was that we would arrive in La Coruna and the next day head off to Ferrol for us both to start the Camino Ingles. The Camino Ingles was the route of the English and Scandinavians and has two starting places. Ferrol and La Coruna but only Ferrol will get you the 100km needed to register the walk. On the day we were scheduled to leave Trisha started to get a few second thoughts. One, neither one of us were feeling wonderful and two her leg started to hurt. As we sat there we came to the conclusion that we needed to either scrap the camino or do it separately. She had to be in Santiago in four days. Based on my "calculation" I figured we could do it in as little as three if we were beasts. 20 miles a day.

Since that lost some appeal, we decided to hang in La Coruna for the day while we sorted it out. I figured I could get my Pilgrims Passport called a Credencial but time ran out on us. That was a mistake that would not become apparent until later. After some discussion we concluded that I would head off to Ferrol the next day while she took some solo time in Pontevedra and explored Vigo. She wrote about her time on her blog here.

Day 1 in Ferrol (July 10th)

Trisha and I woke up around 8am and packed our things. We carefully arranged the wine from La Guardia and I repacked my bag for minimal torque. Meaning, the bag was packed flat and from end to end. We withdrew some money at the ATM outside the bus station and we went our separate ways. She asked me to stay safe and I told her I would return in one piece. With that I traded in my swanky hotel for the bucolic charm of the Galician countryside.

Once in Ferrol I made my way to a cheap restaurant for a 5 euro meal of calamari, croquettes, fried eggs and fries. This meal would be just one thing that led to a stressful two days for my family.

When I reached tourist information by the coast it was siesta by about 15 minutes. I ended up wandering around town looking for some open churches but there was nothing. As I approached the coast, I ran into a few Eastern European pilgrims who took me to the office in Ferrol. They were looking for their stamp to start the Camino. They did the Camino del Norte already and were headed to Neda for the night. So I sat and waited until 5pm when Siesta was over and when I could get my Credencial from the office.

A few questions and a stamp later I was headed to Kilometer Zero of the trail. It took me up into town along Calle Real. Around the coast and until I would hit Neda, I would be heading North. The trail is marked with yellow conch shells on a blue background. That tile would be a familiar sight to me over the days. When the tiles were unavailable, arrows would be used (or sometimes in conjunction with the tiles). At every position where you had to make a decision, there would be a concha, or at least at most decisions.

On the way to Neda I walked along the Paseo Maritimo which hugged the coastline. A beautiful tiled walkway connecting the towns (eventually Ferrol and La Coruna will also be connected). The route to Neda was very beautiful. Green hills, and spectacular coastlines.

This part of Spain is just different. No bull fights, no sun drenched plazas, no Flamenco, and no Spanish language. Galicia, with its proximity to Portugal speaks it's own language. Gallego. It is closer to Portuguese than it is to Spanish and while in written form they are similar the pronunciation by the people make it completely incomprehensible to outsiders. (Or at least outsiders with less than native Castellano fluency).

I knew there was an albergue (a hostel for pilgrims) in Neda but given my late start, settling for 13km on the first day was just not going to cut it. So I pressed on for the next town. As I got about 3-4 km outside of town a met an old Spanish guy named Daniel. He asks me if I was heading to Santiago, I told him I was and I asked him when the next Albergue was. He told me that it would not be for about 20km and that I can't reach it tonight. He suggested that I go back to Neda.

That was weird. From what I had read, there were places to rest along the way... frequently. I hate turning around and retracing my steps especially since I just climbed a large hill to get where I was. Daniel perhaps saw that and said, "You can also sleep at my house. I live alone."

I have stayed with others a few times like this. It was a very kind gesture and I took him up on the offer.

Putting the "Gay" in Albergue

So Daniel hobbles down the road. The guy was about 80 years old but is still able to climb the hill I just did (albeit more slowly). I just have to think that older Spaniards are in better shape than our senior citizens are.

We walked in and I set my bags down in an area that was like an enclosed porch. It had a comfortable looking couch. Score. He asked me if I wanted anything, water, food, beer, Fanta. Just water would be good. He then said, "You probably want to take a shower?" I did. A lot! So I rinsed off and walked out feeling refreshed. He is a fan of a Gallego variety show that comes on Friday nights. I sat down in a chair and he sat down next to me on the couch. He would explain who each person was, that this one singer just broke up with her boyfriend, that if this woman answers the question right she wins 6000 euros, etc.

He showed me his senior citizen card that gives him discounts drugs, restaurants and the rest. I feigned about as much interested as I could for being a bit tired. He sat down on my chair arm put his hand on my back and said "If you want some beer or Fanta just let me know and I will get it for you". Awe... thanks Grandpa. I felt a little bad for him. He is up here all alone.

He was lonely, I could tell. Financially he was doing okay. He had a brand new LCD TV, he takes vacations to the Canary Island to avoid the winter time rains that make the region so green and enjoyable for summer tourists. A little while later he suggests hitting the sack. I was thrilled. I didn't want to be rude but I knew I had a long day of walking the next day and I was tired. So I meander over to my couch and starting unpacking Trisha's pillow.

"What are you doing?", he asked
"Oh just making a place to sleep"
"I have a bed, come with me"

So I walked over to a shut door. Inside was an immaculately kept room. Naturally, a guest room without guests will stay pretty neat. He said, you can put your clothes over this chair. So I took off my jeans and did just that and crawled into bed with boxers and a tshirt.

He stretched, yawned, took off his shirt and pants and crawled into the same bed in his tighty whities.

Errr... um...wh-what?

"Oh I'm sorry, is this YOUR bed?"
"Yes it is but don't worry there is space for three people"

I felt kind of uncomfortable having this strange man laying next to me in his underwear which made me kind of slap myself.

"Joey, you are being ridiculous. Here is this nice guy who is offering his house, his food and his bed. It is a NICE gesture."

I tried to fall asleep. I figured he would stay on the left side of the bed and I could cling to the right side. Nope he slept straight in the middle.

I had a half an arm's distance to him. During the night, I think I got about 2 hours of sleep. Between him snoring and what felt like him inching closer it was just very weird and uncomfortable. He got up to go to the bathroom so I laid my arm out to in effect, reserve space. When he crawled back into bed, he hit it. I turned to lay on my side and he scooched in. I felt like I could feel his warmth which made me think I was about a foot and a half way from being the little spoon. If I turned over on my back I feel convinced I would hit him. It was actually kind of funny even at the time. More snoring, more interrupted sleep and one more trip to the bathroom. At that point, I decided I needed to scoot toward the center of the bed, then layout my arm forcing him to take the left side. Once he was asleep, I would lean over to the right. It worked.

I did exactly that and what does this old codger do, scoots over from 3 feet away. For about 10 minutes my exhaustion caused me to fall asleep until he woke me up with a sudden arm grab and a loud "DID YOU SLEEP WELL".

"AHH!! I SLEPT FINE. Thanks. I need to go to the bathroom"

Just to get away from him. While I stood there groggily taking a leak I noticed out the window it was walkable light. Adios abuelito. He offered me breakfast, other food etc.

"Nope, I need to be on my way! But thanks for everything!"

Well... almost everything.

I extended my hand to shake his and he grabbed it and kissed it and wished me well to Santiago. The guy was either gay or lonely. I hoped it was the former at least then it was sort of a compliment to me. Loneliness is horrible.

Day Two: Neda to Mino (July 11th)

After that crazy night I made my way to Pontedeume with the goal to reach Mino that night and sleep in a bed that had only me in it. The town of Pontedeume was very nice. Narrow streets, old churches, festive atmosphere in the town rastro (flea market). What's not to love? I wandered into the Church of Santiago seeking a stamp but to no avail. Hmm... according to my guide there was a beautiful 11th century church with amazing views just a short climb away. Small detour.

I headed up some steep roads. Steep, steep roads. After an hour of walking I had to take a break. What the heck was my guide saying? I even passed a guy who said... "You know this is not the Camino de Santiago"

I finally made it up there and it was cool. Lots of families doing their cookout thing. No sign of any shells or arrows to get me back into the route. The same guy who stopped me on the way up suggested that I take shorter path down hill. It was steep and off the trail. In short, I probably shouldn't have done it. If you have problems along the Camino, within 24 hours another pilgrim will find you even on the most rural stretches. Get off the path and it could be 48 or 72 hours. From that point on I decided to stay on the trails to minimize any problems.

I wandered into town and wrote Mom and Dad. I told them that I should arrive Monday or Tuesday at the latest. That was my original "schedule" but I should have realized something. I was not a fourth of the way to Santiago. I would have to make up some ground. The papers I received showed a linear topographical chart witht he elevations between areas. From Mino to the next Albuergue in Bruma climbed twice as high as any point along the trail. I probably should have said right then that I would be getting in Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.

I started on this blog actually but given how it ended I just scrapped the old entry. Around 4pm I headed back to find the route and get to Mino. I trudged on up some steep hills. I found some really good tasting water running off a nearby mountain. A local guy told me that people will go out of their way to get a jug of this water -it tastes so good. He has been drinking it his whole life and his grandmother who also lived there drank it until she died. Then he smiled at me missing about 5 teeth. Hmm...hopefully that wasn't the water.

I finally made it to Mino and saw a sign for the Albuergue. Yes! I arrived to a nearly empty place. Only one 60 year old French guy named Patrick was there. He offered me food and a beer. He showed me how the albuergue thing worked. You see, there isn't a person working there persay. This would become relevant later. You show up and call the Guardia Civil. They come and collect your 3 euros and give you disposable bed sheets and stamp your passport. While there I met Sara and Joacim a couple from Valencia doing the trek with two little ones in strollers. Very impressive.

Day 3 Mino to Leiro (July 12th)

After a good night's sleep, I left for Bruma. I figured that would be a decent sized hit as it held the next albuergue. From there I could find an internet cafe and likely write my querida to wish her a happy quarter century. The route showed it and Pabillon's along the trail, but only one Albuergue between Mino and Santiago. Unfortunately I would need a 38km (24 mile) day. At 2 miles per hour, that would be a very long day. I decided to skip showering. I left the hostel under less than ideal conditions. Sara and Joacim were debating what to do since it was raining somewhat hard which makes it tough with the two kids. I wondering what happened to my guide. It had disappeared. Sigh...

The morning rains gave way in Betanzos. The town was, like La Guardia, medieval and walled and having a Renaissance festival. I just had to stop (plus it was a good location to grab some lunch). A long leisurely lunch later, I was on my way. I lost the trail within the city and finally picked it up on the outskirts near a 19th century laundromat. That is, a place on the river where the locals did and still do wash their clothes.

I walked out of town following the arrows and shells until I got to a highway. At times the route would follow a highway but usually for small stretches. After about one klick down the road, without seeing a sign, I decided to head back to a village off the road. There was a bar and a young guy who had no idea about the camino. He went to get an older guy who started speaking to me. The young guy said "Do you think that this guy speaks Gallego? Speak Spanish please". He corrected himself...slightly and it sounded like he told me to go up to the road and continue on. A little while later I hit a restaurant and asked a woman there she directed me back into town.

The shell signal was leading me slightly astray. It was under a Fedex like business. It pointed the the left but I took that as a sign I should follow the road, instead I needed to follow the road behind it to the left. 100 m later I got my next sign. I clenched my fist and pulled it down with a satisfying "yes!"

There is very little after Betanzos. I don't know where I thought I was going to sleep. Bruma would have been an epic journey. As time went on I realized the odds of me getting there before night fall were remote. I ended in Leiro. A small town of about 5 houses and a church. Next to the church was a pabillon, or what I thought was a pabillon. It was like a shelter at a park. It had a single light and a sign out front explaining the camino. My chaffed legs needed the break even though I had 2 hours of day light or so.

That night in Leiro, I was cold. In fact, I think that was the first time I was ever cold. I have been chilly and I have shivered here and there. But I have never been to the point that I shivered for almost an hour. I used Trisha's blanket, my jacket and my jeans which at this point were still damp from my walk in the rain. My other clothes were worse.

I tried to sleep the best I could but it was pointless. At one point I had about 6 cars pass me. I was hoping one would stop and offer me a warm place to sleep or throw me a blanket. At one point, a car pulled into the parking area after passing it and backing up. The headlights pointed at me. I happily sat up realizing this would likely be my ticket to somewhere warm. At that point the driver backed up again and sped off.

It made me think about people who are permanently homeless. When you work in a city and you see panhandlers it is easy to get jaded and tell them to get a job etc. They may have drug problems, mental problems or under more bizarre circumstances just be unlucky and are legit. They are trying to get a job but life has just dealt them a bad hand. It doesn't really matter though. Whatever the root cause they still get cold. I think that was a sign I need to help homeless people (especially during the winter).

So I shivered for a while until it occurred to me that maybe if I walked around it would be okay. It worked a bit but I was still cold. I took Trisha's blanket and made myself head scarf and that warmed me quickly. Yes! I ended up reading and finishing the book Trisha recommended, Blue Like Jazz. It was a great read and it helped distract me around 3a while I waited for dawn.

Around 5:30 I started to get antsy and thought there was a enough moonlight for me to continue along the path for a little bit. Turned out as soon as I got to a T in the road, it was not light enough to see the signal so I hung out for about another hour.

Day 4 Leiro - Bruma (June 13th)

This was the most difficult leg of the trip. I climbed one hill after another. Each time hoping the next signal would point me straight but no luck. Each one that followed pointed me up. At this point I was tired of walking. I was done with the experience. I was tired, my feet wore sore, my thigh chaffed, my calves burned. I penguined the last 5 km to Bruma to avoid my thighs from touching. With the early start and the relatively short distance, I arrived early. Around 1pm or so. Usually I would have another 8 hours of walking but knowing that the only accomodation until Santiago came in the form of pabillons like what I experienced the night before I decided to stop and rest.

The albergue was open so I crashed on a mat. Two hours later or so I walked outside and saw posted on a storage door a sign that there was a town 2km down the road called Meson do Vento. It apparently had some bars and a super market. I got myself down to a Bar called Porto and the owner made me fried eggs and sausage. It appeared to be the only establishment in the area. As I walked back, I passed a guy in a car who asked me if I was staying at the Albuergue. Apparently he ran it and was driving a German guy into town to get some things. I hopped in and within a few minutes I saw the town they were talking about. It was not exactly on the trail. Regardless, I returned with spaghetti, meatballs, tomato sauce and some Fanta.

Back at the ranch, more pilgrims were arriving. There is a huge commraderie among people on the trail. You speak whatever language you can, people offer you food, and I did as well (I was full so my groceries were left for the next person to arrive). That night we sang songs, Blowing in the Wind, Cielito Lindo some other German one it was a good time. We talked about life about the walk.

It occurred to me at that point what the camino was, at least what it was to me. It was life. A hike out in the woods is something that just about everyone loves. Have it go 5 days and things change. I felt happy along the way and felt sad (I passed by a guy who just lost his wife that asked me to pray for both of them in Santiago. I did.). I felt physically exhausted and at times energetic. My legs burned, thighs chaffed and my feet blistered. I was in awe of the beauty on the trail and at other times was bored by it. I was hot to the point that I soaked my shirt in sweat several times over, yet for at least one night I shivered to keep myself warm. You travel in cities, in towns and in nature. You go on roads, you go under roads, there dirt trails, tiled paseos. You see unspoiled nature and vandalized underpasses. You walk through streams and over bridges from the middle ages. You experience people. You experience solitude but you are never alone.

When you start your life it is amazing how a cardboard box or a bouncy ball can literally entertain you for hours. Then you get older and you feel you need much more complicate things to be happy. As your time on Earth winds down, for many people it is marked by more pain than enjoyment. But make no mistake that same beauty is there. The same possibilities for invigoration exist and there is such a focus on the destination, on the future, on whatever our Santiago of the moment is that you miss out on being present for your journey. The camino is fact I thought just as I was chatting there that heaven might be like Santiago. A grand reward to mix things up from a magnificent journey.

It was divine. Both that realization and the connection on the walk. Whenever I was starting to get thirsty, there was a fountain in the woods. When I got hungry there would be a cafe in the next town. When I needed some support I found usable tree branches (one that looked polished and sanded that ultimately I used to get into the city) to use as walking sticks. Even when I was not enjoying the camino, I loved doing it. When I felt like I was not able to make it, I would see a sign to give me hope like "Peregrino Albergue 1km". Like one pilgrim told me, "God always takes care of his children".

Day 5 Bruma - Sigueiro (July 14th)

The stretch to Sigueiro is long but nominally downhill. I decided to make a point of reattacking the trail with renewed vigor. I wanted to make good progress but also look at the walk through new eyes. For the first time I passed other pilgrims and subsequently was passed by them. When I got to Sigueiro I was relieved to be back in civilization. I figured this would be a good time to give Mom and Dad a call. It had been four days due to the sparse availability of pay phones and non exisitant cyber cafes.

Unfortunately, I had no change. I looked for my phone card from La Guardia. Gone must be with Trisha. Oh well, maybe I could make change at a local bar. At that moment, Agosto, a Spaniard from Zaragoza calls me over and I see him waiting outside. He says the Pabillon is sort of closed for the time being. I stayed there resting and again warding off soreness and chaffing from my wet jeans. He told me he got the idea that he should head over and see what the situation is. I stayed back to watch his stuff. At least one time I looked over at the Telefonica phone booth and just kind off sighed. Within 30 minutes he returned and said, "Come on"

"What's the situation?"
"There is no space for us"
"Yup just a floor"
"Hmm, well that may just work for me"
"It will be cold! I have a sleeping bag but you don't. Well... what do you say? Camino?"
"Oh man, I don't know I can do another 16 km"
"Okay we'll let's walk"

I resigned myself to following Agosto into Santiago that night. As he got up the hill my thighs were really burning. He said "Well, there it is" and pointed to a gymnasium.

I'll take it.

We meandered over and I found the prospect of both stopping and having a ceilling and four walls to be a compelling reason to stop. Inside there were about 90 Spanish students from about middle school age to high school. They snagged all the mattresses. They had reservations. Weird, I could have sworn the Albergue's didn't take reservations. Oh wait this is a pabillon. It mattered very little, I, and everything from quads to toes were so grateful.

I heard from some of the other Pilgrims that the others ended up in a hotel. Fair enough.

After I received my stamp, I headed into storage and pulled out a spare mattress.

I journaled a little bit and then hit the sack.

Day 6: Sigueiro to Santiago de Compostela

It was a surreal experience. Kilometer zero was so long ago. Today, I would arrive in Santiago. My 6 day (5 days of walking) would come to an end where so many pilgrimages have ended for 800 years. The Cathedral in Santiago.

I briefly debated calling home but at 6am it was midnight in eastern time. I would just wait until I got to Santiago. I figured after planning on being there the day before, the family could be slightly worried about me. I saw the oblisks with the kilometer count down dip under into single digits. 6 miles left. Whew!

About 3 miles out there was a truck stop. I stopped off for chocolate con churros and a coke. It was what I was craving. A hiking man is like a pregnant woman you don't really understand why they eat what they do but just get out of the way and put the food down quickly so you don't lose a finger.

2km. Yes! The city was coming alive. At that point I lost the trail and I didn't care. I fixed my eyes on the cathedral and followed the streets in until I got there. When I turned the corner and saw the facade, I baroque down and cried. I hobbled up. My foot pain disappeared. As I made it into the cathedral it was unimaginably beautiful. From the basilica lighting and shadows down to the gold plated coruscant altar for James. I stayed for mass. It was interesting to me. Since I have been attending a non denominational Christian church that is pretty modern, I found the contrast to be interesting. The mass held it's own beauty in its traditions.

Inside there were tears of joy and I am sure some sadness. Many prayers were said within those walls. I carved out about 30 minutes to pray for my family, my friends, people I met a long the way and people that needed divine support. When I walked out, I felt like Trisha was there. Very weird. I went around the entire cathedral and every courtyard. It was all I could do to stop myself from calling her name.

Somehow I passed the Peregrino Office to register the Camino. Two euros and 10 minutes later, I was searching for a cyber cafe. I wandered upstairs and logged in to Gmail.

Wow, lots of bold black subjects indicating unread mail. I see Mom is on and I send her a message saying I arrived a bit late. Then I see the word "worried" catch my eye.

It turns out that everyone back home is in a state of panic. My Monday or at the lastest Tuesday forecast got everyone in a tizzy. I know it sounds like just a day but without having contact they assumed the worst. I got Trisha's lodging information and headed over.

My stomach was knotted. It was like a bad dream. As I got near the university I see Joacim and Sarah. They helped me navigate the Gallego mushmouths giving me directions to her residence. As we asked people and got closer and closer I hear Trisha scream my name and come running over to me. I through aside my walking stick and got the biggest hug of my life.

The two of us and the four of them walked over to the cafeteria to have lunch. I retold the story and it seemed to last 10 minutes.

I couldn't eat. My stomach was just now beginning return to normal.

Afterwards we said good by to the Valencianos we headed up to her room to collapse. I smelled horrific. We rested briefly called home and realized we had to resend the missing piligrim form to the police. That took 3 hours in typical Spanish efficiency. We took a cab to the airport and picked up Dad who was relieved to see me.

That night we found Dad a hotel and engaged in two favorite Spanish gastronomic traditions, tapas and al fresco dining. Trisha and I got back to her place and I took the greatest shower of my life. We were both exhausted but as I laid there trying to fall asleep I relived the past 24 hours.

There were so many things that could have happened to stop Dad from coming over to put everyone at ease. Having change, having a mobile phone. Not having that 5 euro lunch in Ferrol which got me off to a late start. Had I just taken the phone card, made a more realistic prediction once I realized I was behind on the route, gotten the credencial in La Coruna, or not worried about the hour of my calls the whole thing could have been avoided. Alas, there was no way for me to know the extent of the worry back home.

As the night air cooled off her dorm, and I began to doze off I had a quick revelation. Santiago was not the reward at the end of the camino. What I found at the end of the trip was an over abundance of love. I felt it from every source my family, my girlfriend, my friends.

It was as close to being able to see your own funeral as you can get and still be on earth. I had family in various stages of arriving and planning to come find me, I heard from friends that were praying for me, friend that were meditating and just sending out postive vibes. Across the globe over kitchen tables, aside beds, I was the target of various individual's time with their Creator.

The massive outpouring of concern was amazingly humbling and while I know it should not be entirely unexpected I felt like I passed by many people, like Daniel for example, who likely have few that care about them and yet I am blessed with so many. My loneliness on the trail ended in Santiago but for many it is just part of their life. These are people that need to be reached...somehow. Like many things, it simply isn't fair.

That night I closed my eyes, streaming tears down my cheek and said the most sincere thank you to God I think that I have ever prayed. The way my trip concluded meant more to me than you'll ever know.

Thank you everyone,


Thursday, July 16, 2009




Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bilbao Draggin

Our initial jeg lag was still sort of with us by the time we got to Spain. A crappy night sleep on the plane and loud accomodations on the first night at the hostel combined with a nice accomodations but a short night the second Trisha and I scrapped our plans to check out the Guggenheim in favor of just heading to our heim in La Guardia.

But first, a cafe con leche and tortilla español. I mean there are a few first things first.

En Harto de Haro

By the time we got to the Bus Station in Bilbao we learned we missed the only bus to La Guardia. Hehe oh man. So they recommended that we head to Haro and from there there would be another bus to Logroño that would make a stop in La Guardia.

We got to Haro in the heart of siesta time. There were a few nice blocks to wander in but the town was nearly silent and naturally the bus station was completely unattended. We tapa'ed off for lunch and did some journaling. Two hours or so there was more than enough. We spent about 5.

By the time the station opened up, we found a bus that would head out around 6pm. 

Basqueing in Rioja

Somehow modern day gated communities just don't have the same allure of a medieval walled city. Glad to be in the same spot for two days, Trisha and I headed out for a wander around the 4 streets in town and for dinner. We ended up at a Tapas place where we have Croquetas de Espinaca y Gambas and Queso Manchego with two glasses of vino Crianza all for 18 euros. The northern parts of Spain are exceptionally reasonably priced. 

Evidence? Our 3 star hotel with a 40 square balcony or so that overlooks the city mountains to the right, mountains to the left. 40 Euros. La Marxia was one of 3 hotels in town it appeared. We walked back happy and full eager to have a long night's sleep which we thankfully got.

The next day we signed up for a self directed tour that would visit a modern winery (Ysios), a typical Riojana lunch at the hotel,  a cathedral in town famous for is portico and a statue of Madonna and child, and a tour of a very traditional winery (El Fabulista).

I am a beer guy but when I do go for wine I love Rioja. The more we toured the various facilities the more I saw it had in common with my alcoholic beverage of choice and I definitely gained a new appreciation for it.

Ysios specializes in Reserva and Gran Reserva wine which means that it has to be 3 years old with something like 12-18 months in the barrel fermenting. It was delicious. The facility stands out in the country side. It was designed by Frank Gehry (of Guggenheim Museum fame) and it is almost too clinically clean. 

By lunch time we were pretty hungry. We were treated to a 4 course meal. Asparagus, Roasted Red Peppers, Stew of potatos and chorizo with some other type of pepper, some type of tender delicious meat (which I enjoyed two person's quantities of), and a creme puff type dessert. All of that was accompanied by a bottle of Rioja cosecha (which is 'young' wine: literally translates to of the crop) 

We went up stairs and napped thereby missing our tour of the church. Both of us have seen our share of cathedrals and statues we would survive. Fortunately we woke up in time of our tour of El Fabulista.

The winery gets its name from Felix something or other who wrote fables blah blah. So the wine itself. Theirs is a little different. Unlike Ysios they make the wine with the stalk. It gives it a distinct flavor which is actually pretty good. We bought three bottles. The tour of the bodega is takes you down into mold covered walls where the fermentation happens like it has for centuries. The tour guide, a student from Baja California, gave an amazingly thorough process description and gave good tips on what to taste for. I always thought people swirling their wine were just snobs but man does that change the flavor. Radically change the flavor! And smell!

He recommended only pairing wine with cheese if you have had the wine before as it makes it more difficult to taste. Wonderful. That night we bought sheep cheese special to the region, had some bread, some chocolate and a bottle of wine each while we enjoyed our patio and our amazing view. Now that's livin'

The Wrath of Grapes 

The whole red wine being good for you probably has some limits. We woke up fairly hungover. The bus we knew came around 10 so we decided to head down with 10 minutes to spare. As we checked out the woman thought we had 2 rooms. Of course we didn't and being that we were in a hurry we agreed we would pay the five euro comission that they have to pay just to get out of there. Good thing we did. I had to do a wind sprint to catch a bus that arrived early and was going to depart early. What the heck part of Spain is this!!?!?!

The day was bound to be long. A bus to Bilbao followed up by a 5 hour trip to Oviedo which was followed by a 5 hour trip to A Coruña. We'll pick it up here next time.

Pub Grub: London is for Beefeaters

The next day we woke up late and groggy from the mediocre night of sleep. The next night we had accomodation at the Hilton by Stansted airport so we figured if we were tired we could call it an early night and head out of the city.

While we were heading toward our place we heard a few girls talking about the Beatles cafe a few stops down on Jubilee. Trisha thought pairing a visit there and Abbey road would make for a good morning before we headed to see Stomp that night at Ambassador theatre.

We looked up the directions and with the tube being essentially out of comission for us it lead to a lot of walking before we arrived at a tiny tiny coffee shop at St James' Wood (which along with Cockfosters have to be the greatest metro stop names ever :P) with Beatles posters on the wall. 

Slightly disappointed we walked off in search of Fish and Chips and cask ale. We found the latter at a pub called Windsor Castle. I went with some lamb stew and Trisha essentially had to default to the sole vegetarian option on the menu. We both enjoyed our pint of Fullers. I wonder if we can get that stateside. Anyway, we watched a little bit of Roddick and Federer which was taking place tube ride away in Wimbeldon. 

Having spent a fair amount of time in transit (foot, tube and bus) we ended up heading to Liverpool station dropping our bags and heading to the show.

Best West End

It took a little time to find Ambassador theatre. If you head off Piccadilly Circus or Leister Square that time of day it is a festive atmosphere. The streets are buzzing with people going from one show to another.

While many looked good it is hard to believe any would have topped the show we saw. We took our seats in the small semicircular arena. It would have fit inside the Tampa Theatre with some room to spare. Stomp is 100 minutes of people making music from normal objects. Lighters, brooms, trashcans, water bottles, plastic bags, and newspapers to name but a few. It was incredible and by far the highlight of our time there. 

We continued our stroll through the area. Trisha was getting tired and wanted to spend some time enjoying our hotel but I convinced her to have Fish and Chips outside of the Tower of London at a place Em and I ate at last time we were there. The detour took us an hour or so but she got to see Tower Bridge (which no visit to London would seem complete without a quick look). 

By the time we got back to Liverpool and found out how to get back to the airport, it was about 10. We ended up taking the Stansted express to the airport and the airport shuttle to the hotel where we crashed for around midnight. 

Our 5:10am wakeup call came early. The price for wanting a cheap flight for Bilbao. Even arriving early we ended up in an hour long line. As a British woman in La Guardia said, flying out of Stansted is an experience to be endured rather than enjoyed. We'll pick it up here next time.