Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So I uploaded a bunch of pictures and commented on them and gave a general update. Then blogger ate them. So this is all you get...until next time.

Meseta at its best

Cathedral in Leon

Cathedral in Burgos

A little southern engineering to get things to work (note the folded up map under the toes to cushion a blister)

Feliz Pascua!

OK so I didnt exactly get this up by Sunday. And Im not actually in Leon anymore. I wrote it on Sunday in Leon though, so lets just pretend, eh?

Feliz Pascua desde Leon--Happy Easter from Leon!

It's been a long, wet and painful week. The meseta (the high flat plain between Leon and Burgos) is sometimes skipped when people dont have much time to walk the camino because it has a reputation for being boring. My experience this week was anything but boring--getting caught in the middle of a lightening storm...in the middle of nowhere...where i was the tallest thing for kilometers, getting hailed on, sloshing through mud and finding some surprisingly large hills.

It was also surprisingly beautiful. The flat horizon makes the West Texan in me breathe easier. The wheat fields were especially green against the grey skies. The views of mountains in the distance the last two days were a reward for making it through the rain and clouds. Even though I lost most of the people I knew when I took a break last week to go see friends in Cantabria I met new wonderful people. Also, in a happy surprise I found one of my favorite couples in my hostel last night.

But best of all I made it to Leon for Easter. This was my goal and a partial reason for the many 30 plus km days I did last week. My right ankle is swollen and busted up but it was worth it to get here and see the early morning Easter processions. No one does Easter like Spain. People marched through the city in elaborate robes and hoods carrying heavy sculptures of Easter scenes. Two separate processions met in front of the impressive Leon cathedral to culminate the celebration--Jesus and the empty tomb met the procession of Mary and the grieving women. The people carrying the sculptures, more or less alterpieces really, made them ¨dance¨ and all the people of the city started clapping. A small sermon and prayer were broadcast from the cathedral saying--The night is over. Death is over. Peace and love have won. At that moment they released hundreds of doves.

The whole thing was incredibly moving.

Some of you have asked if walking the Camino during Easter had any special impact. One impact was that things were more crowded--lots of people walk the Camino on their Easter holidays. The biggest thing though was that I was fortunate enough to be in the places and mindset to enjoy and to really take in all that these celebrations have to say. It´s definitely a Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Easter that I won´t soon forget.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Camino Update

Hola a todos! This update is coming from the inside of the Burgos bus station. I have a couple hours to kill and its in the thirties outside (and its also 8:00 in Spain meaning nothing is open), so here I sit in the station bar with a cafe con leche in hand. I realize updates from me have been scarse lately so I thought I would undertake the tedious task of typing up a blog on my kindle while I wait.

So what am I doing in a bus station anyway? Well I am taking a small break from my denouncement of all means of transportation outside of walking to go visit friends in Cantabria where I lived for a year. Burgos is almost directly under Santandr so it makes for a good time to pop up there.

I will tell you though that I had a hard time deciding to stop walking for the weekend. After almost 250km walking you would think taking a breather would be a nobrainer, but surprisingly it wasnt. One of the biggest hang ups was that I will basically lose all of the people I have been walking with or spending my evenings with. Each day I meet new people but I have been with some people since the beginning. I was surprised how hard it was to say goodbye last night to the retired Sevillian couple I have been with for the last week.

It is easy to get close to people on the Camino de Santiago. On the Camino we are all already somehow connected. It is not everywhere where you can begin a conversation with a stranger over the meaning of life. I also find it strange how what I thought was going to be largely an exercise in solitude has been instead one of the most beautiful expressions of community.

Anyway along the way I had already had a discussion with a Basque woman I met about how the camino is like life in that people come in and out of your path. I call it the catch and release principle. Its a valuable thing to learn, even if on Monday when I put the feet back on the trails I deeply miss some people.

OK but dont get the wrong impression. The Camino is not all meditation on the the deep meanings of life. I've laughed everyday. Ive seen some of the most impressive Cathedrals and monasteries. Ive eaten homeade Sevillian, French Canadian, and (two!) Italian dinners. Ive had coffee with people from five continents at the same time. We have proved that sin vino no hay camino (its good for the muscles!).

Im quite positive its been one of the most beautiful things Ive ever done.

Now to answer some questions (feel free to send me an email or leave a comment and ill try to answer them next time I update):

I try to walk between twenty and twenty five km a day. Some day a little less to rest, some days more because of where the towns fall.

The pilgrim hostels so far have been well above acceptable, some have been excellent. The most expensive one has been ten euros. Five is average and many are donations only. They sleep anywhere from twelve to over a hundred. Only one cold shower so far. No bed bugs yet. Ear plugs and a sleeping mask (thanks Fylenia!) have been invaluable.

I joined the blister club two days ago. I also might have performed impromptu roadside blister surgery Thursday with a saftey pin. Yep. The Camino is not glamerous.

The ankles are shredded. Ive been wearing my brace, got some psydo-icyhot and have started taking some anti-inflamatories. The pain was bad the last two days but I had enough tricks up my sleeve to get myself through...even if I did contemplate sitting in the road and crying at on point. (It also cemented my plan to take a mini break.)

Weather has been varied. The first week was HOT. In the 90s with no shade. Then it rained for two days. And its almost freezing here in Burgos.

My pack weighs about eight and a half kilos with water and food. I barely feel it anymore.

OK, so there is a semi and varied update to tide you all over till next time. Hasta pronto!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day One Of ... Many

I made it through my first day on the Camina de Santiago. For those keeping track I didn`t even make it out of Pamplona without getting lost. As much as it made me laugh I was afraid it was a bad sign. No worries though--there are little yellow arrows all over the place. All you have to do is "buscar flechas."

So how was it? Every other hour I went from elation to fatigued and back again. The views and towns are beautiful. But after 25 km where I went straight over a mountain and back down again? Well, the dogs are barking. Thankfuly Ive been told today was one of the worst stages and it should be smooth sailing from here. But for now--its time for some icyhot.

Buen camino!

Monday, April 4, 2011

I'm Off!

I got all my errands run today--which is a small miracle in itself. All that is left is to go back to the post office and mail away all of my non-essentials (including, yes, my laptop). Today I picked up a sleeping bag, a rain coat and a whistle (better safe than sorry I figured). I've got water and snacks for tomorrow. I got some maps at the tourist information office. I think I'm ready!

Part of me feels like I am still not prepared. I don't have the stages or days all mapped out with which cities I want to stay in. A little part of me feels like I am going to make it outside Pamplona's city limits and realize I have no idea what I am doing. 

But maybe that is part of the journey. The plan for the next month and a half or so is just to wake up and walk west. Nothing more, nothing less. 

I still don't exactly know what I plan to get out of the Camino, or have a good articulate reason why I decided to walk over 700 kilometers of it. Part of it is to celebrate my 25th birthday in a special way (the goal is to make it to Santiago by May 16th). I also know that it will be some good time by myself, some good time to think. The mountains will no doubt hold some beautiful views and the plains the space to figure a few things out. I know I will meet some amazing people along the way. And while I am sure it will include both some highs and some lows, if I know myself, it will hold some good adventures. Finally, in ways that I'm sure I can't now imagine, I am certain I am going to encounter the divine along the way. 

So this is it--I'm headed west starting tomorrow morning. I'm sure I'll have plenty of stories to tell when I get back. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ready, Set...

I made it to Pamplona. It was another one of those taxi/bus/plane/train/bus/bus/walk-for-2-hours kind of trips to make it here, but here I am. And as you can see from the picture, I've walked my first bit of the Camino! OK...so maybe it was just from the bus station to the hostel, but it was a good feeling.

The plan was to get to Pamplona, spend today running errands and then start walking tomorrow. But, yet again, I hadn't calculated what day of the week it was. Trying to run errands on Sunday in Spain is pointless. Everything is closed. So I'll just start a day later.

In what was probably a better idea anyway, I spent the day resting. I had forgotten about one of my very favorite things about Spain--what I call "black-out blinds."They clamp out every smidge of light so that you feel like you are sleeping in a cave. I finally got a good nights rest and still woke up in time to walk to church--I found the sister church of my church in Santander. I met all kinds of great people and just generally had a wonderful morning. It seemed like a proper send off for my pilgrimage.

Throw in some sightseeing (I never knew what a beautiful city Pamplona is!) and some chocolate y churros (oh yeah!) and that about wraps up my day. I'm planning and packing and just generally getting excited (I forgot just how much I love Spain).

I'm also whittling down what few possessions I have with me. On my two hour trek through town trying to find my hostel with my luggage I affirmed my desire to take as little as possible with me on the Camino. And actually, that is part of why I want to do the Camino--to prove to myself that I don't need all of these things. (Although...I am sure I will still take more than I need...) Anyway, tomorrow I am marching myself to the post office and sending my stuff to Santiago to wait for me. How exciting!

OK, wish me luck in getting things done tomorrow and then Tuesday--I'm off!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Week in Review Sabbatical Style: Week 11!

Guess what? 11 weeks down and I am in the airport waiting for my flight to Spain! Hard to believe. I've been borderline giddy about getting back to the Iberian peninsula and although it has taken me a long day of traveling to get here, I couldn't be more excited. Some other tidbits from the week:
  • The people at my hotel in Nicosia couldn't have been nicer. My flight to Spain didn't leave until the evening so they insisted I have a (free) extra late check out. So nice. They even got me to the airport easily even though today turned out to be a national holiday. 
  • Today I saw an "after Friday prayers" demonstration for Syria at a mosque. 
  • I'm about to board my first RyanAir flight in a while. My go-to discription of flying with RyanAir is that you always feel like you are going to die...but you don't. (Let's hope that doesn't happen tonight.)
  • I walked all the way back to Northern Nicosia today (the Turkish part of the city) for lunch. Yesterday I finally got up the nerve to eat at the food stand that was supposed to have the city's best pide. It was a little intimidating--a little hole in the wall place with a bunch of guys sitting around talking. The cook ended up being super friendly though. But no pide, it was too late in the afternoon. Today I walked all the way back in time to get one--and it was worth it. Not only was the guy (and the guys sitting around) friendly I got a hot off the traditional wood stove pide, which is kind of like a pizza made into a boat shape. Homemade dough, ground lamb cooked with diced onion and fresh parsley, halloumi cheese and a squirt of lemon. Perfect. 
  • I got a "no show" email from my hostel in Pamplona. What? Yep, apparently I messed up the dates on my reservation. They charged me for the night. Ouch. 
  • I've been listening to a bunch of RadioLab podcasts. My friend Cody told me several times that I would like them, but I resisted. Their podcast on Words is fascinating. Highly recommended! (And any Nicaragua friends reading--about 2/3 of the way through they talk about sign language in Nicaragua, which I thought was interesting after our Mariposa excursion.)
  • Also, I see that Rick Steves has done an episode that contains bits of the Camino de Santiago. You can watch it on Hulu. I, unfortunately, can't--hulu doesn't work in Europe apparently. 
  • Tesekurler (with the squigly under the s, and the dots on the u--as written by my baklava man) is Turkish for thank you. It sounds nothing like it looks though. 
  • Nasilsin is how are you, and iyi yim is another way to say thanks. When I said the last one to my waiter infront of baklava man-teacher, the waiter gave me a blank look and said, I no speak English. My teacher just laughed. So...not sure how well that one works. 
  • Cyprus was full of nice surprises. It was also ridiculously expensive. 
  • Did I mention I'm excited to be back in Spain??
  • I'll get this picture thing figured out sometime soon. Or...well, it might be after the Camino. We will see. 
OK, my flight is boarding! Hasta pronto!