Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finesterre (Photo Edition!)

Who needs birthday cake when you have flan?

Hiking it up to the lighthouse/"edge of the world" with fellow pilgrims to watch the sunset. 


Kilometer 0.00! At last!

Peregrinos soaking it all in

(Don't worry, I was being very careful!)

Watching the sun die...

I almost forgot that I was supposed to throw a rock into the ocean--one for me and one for each of my Sevillan Camino friends. least that is what I think I was supposed to do. They had to enlighten me on all of these traditions. 

My certificate of completion for the walk to Finisterre (signed by the mayor!)

Local fishermen

(ha, if you look closely my poor feet are actually bleeding in this picture after I had a run in with a broken shell)

The perfect end. 

Hello Interwebs! Hello Photos!

Hello! I'm in Sarajevo, Bosnia i Herzegovina. I'm absolutely loving BiH, but more on that later. For now, Croatia! Some pictures of the lovely, lovely Dubrovnik. (Look who finally figured out how to make my picture files smaller!)   

Friday, May 20, 2011

Update from Santiago: The End and the Epilogue

It's all old news by now, but I found my update from Santiago that Blogger never posted.  Connection is too slow for the pictures though... (one day there will be pictures on my blog again!). 

Coffee shops have a special place in my heart. After downing untold numbers of cafe con leches in Spanish bars and cafes over the last month and a half I somehow have found myself in a trendy coffee shop in Santiago to pass the rest of the morning. I'm sitting at a table by the window watching pilgrims hurry by on their way to the cathedral (and saw 4 of my pilgrim old friends!) and catching up on a little wifi. The real miracle of it is that they are playing all my favorite songs: Old school Jack Johnson, The Swell Season, Damien Rice, some indie bands and Coldplay--remixed with Latin beats. It's a good place to sit by myself a bit and plan my next few steps. Because honestly, it's been a while since I really had to plan anything. 

One of the many beautiful things of the Camino de Santiago is that for however long it takes you to get to Santiago you really don't have to make many daily decisions. You wake up and you walk. When you get tired you look for an albergue and stop. For a person like me, who is horrible with decisions, it's bliss. Somehow it clears you mind to make decisions about big things in your life when you aren't weighed down with the little ones. 

Anyway, I am in Santiago now (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). So it is time to start up with the decisions and travel plans again. I had been thinking about walking to Finisterre (Latin for The End of the World) for most of my Camino, or at least after it started to look like I would arrive in Santiago well before my flight date. The last week or so of walking though, I started to change my mind. Although its only (!) 89 kilometers more, I could feel myself winding down. My last big walking day ended with pain in both ankles and two new blisters. I decided Santiago was the completion of the Camino de Santiago for me. 

I stayed in Monte do Gozo the night before my arrival where you can see the cathedral of Santiago in the distance. Spotting the destination of my 700km+ journey for the first time was thrilling. I spent the night reflecting and celebrating with fellow pilgrims (and eating the fantastic Galician beef) and then we woke up early to make our triumphal entry to the city. I walked in the final 5 kilometers with two of my absolutely favorite people of my Camino and we took the plaza by storm--banging our walking sticks, blowing whistles and hugging in celebration. It was a feeling like no other--a feeling of huge accomplishment, joy, relief, peace...and even a bit of the sadness that comes at the end of a journey mixed in. 

We did all the pilgrim rituals and requirements--we "hugged" the statue of St. James (Santiago) in the alter of the cathedral, attended pilgrim mass, received our Compostela (ancient latin document stating our indulgence, or forgiveness of sins) complete with our names written in latin and then last night took part of another ancient tradition--eating in the Dos Reyes Parador (the fanciest of Spain's hotels which are all in converted historical buildings) for free! Originally a pilgrims hospital, they have been providing food to pilgrims for something like 600 years. Now that the Parador has taken over the building they still keep the tradition alive by giving a free meal to 10 pilgrims every day. 

I spent the rest of my time poking around in churches and monasteries and just taking in the accomplishment with good friends. I ended the day yesterday like I have so many others over the last month--siting in the plaza, taking in the last rays of sunshine and thinking over my Camino. It's been a long, varied, sometimes painful but incredibly beautiful journey. I'm not sure I'll ever really be able to describe the experience, but I know that it has changed me. 

In fact, it has changed me so much that after two days of rest I woke up in the albergue this morning and decided that I wanted to walk to Finisterre. It's only 89 km after all. 

So after walking west for so long, tomorrow I'll strap on my backpack again, continue to reflect for a few more days and then conclude my pilgrimage in perhaps the best way possible--by watching the sun set at the end of the world. 

Espana, Mi Amor

Spain, my love, it's time to say goodbye. Sadly tomorrow I board my plane for Croatia.

It's been almost 2 months, and they've been great. I know we have had a love/hate relationship at times in the past but this go round everything has been nothing but rosy (although that might be partially because of the pink tinted glasses I accidentally bought when I lost my sunglasses). The cafe con leche each morning (and midmorning...and afternoon...) was just what I needed to get through the day. Your ever present tortilla espanol was delicious. A celebratory round of chocolate con churros was the perfect way to start and end my Camino.

The views--of the mountains, plains and everything in between--have been fantastic. The cities--from the ghost towns to Barcelona--were (almost) all lovely. The cathedrals were inspiring. Your old people? Charming. Your language...well it of course made a fool of me several times, but I enjoyed speaking it nonetheless. Your weather treated me well...except for those two days. When it hailed on me.

But don't worry. I'm over it.

In general, thanks for being my happy place. I knew you'd sort me out.

Here's to hoping it won't be too long till we meet again.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Camino De Santiago

OK, so today was my first officially Camino free day. Of course, like all of my days off from the Camino...I spent a large chunk of the day walking around. I also spent a couple of hours on the beach, took a nap and an extra long shower in my hotel room. That´s right, I said hotel room. Last night I stayed in the municipal pilgrim´s hostel, well because it was the last night I could. But tonight I have a room all to myself--que lujo!

Anyway, I´ve been getting lots of questions about my Camino, so I thought I´d just do a little FAQ. Sounds fun, no?

Where did you start? I started in Pamplona. There´s no official start for any of the Caminos (since traditionally the start was your  house, where ever that was) but many people start in St. Jean just over the French boarder or in Roncesvalles which is on the Spanish side of the boarder. In order to get a Compostela you have to walk at least the last 100 km, so lots of people start in Saria which is the town closest to the 100 km mark.

How much did you walk? About 800 km, or more or less 500 miles.

How long did it take you? I started April 5th and ended in Finisterre yesterday May 16th. That included a day to see Burgos and Leon, 2 days to see friends in Cantabria, and 2 days in Santiago.

What did an average day on the Camino look like? About 6 am people start rustling things around in plastic bags and shining their flashlights around. I generally just turned over, pulled the covers over my head and slept till about 7. Especially in April, the sun didn´t come up till about 8, so I never really saw the point to getting up too early. I was usually on the trail sometime between 7.30 and 8 and would walk till around 2.30 or so taking some breaks along the way.  Most of the albergues/pilgrim hostels opened at 2, so again there was no sense getting their too early. Long days meant sometimes not getting to town until later--I think 6pm was one of my latest days. Generally I´d eat a late Spanish lunch, have a shower, wash clothes, find a grocery store/pharmacy/see what there is to see in the town., chat a bit, have dinner and then go to bed at about 9 or 10. They days filled up quickly. Even when there was absolutely nothing you had to do, finding the energy to
do anything but sit around was sometimes tough.
How fast did you walk? They say most people average 4 km an hour, and I´d generally do about that. In the mornings I generally walked faster. I´d also walk faster or slower depending on if I was walking with someone else or how steep and rocky the incline/decline was.

How far did you walk? I tried to keep things under 25 km a day. Most days that was really comfortable. I did several days over 30 km, and those, especially back to back, start to take their toll. I went pretty fast through the Meseta in order to make it to Leon by Easter, and afterward swore off the 30 km days if I could help it. 33 km was the longest day for me and 5 (the walk from Monto do Gozo to Santiago) was the shortest.

Eat any good food? Oh man. So much good food. Part of it is that after a long day of walking everything just tastes better because you are so hungry.  But I will admit that hardly a day went by without cafe con leche and homemade flan. Lunch was generally a 3 course affair (you can generally get a menu of the day which includes 3 courses, bread, wine, tax and service for 10 euro or less). Dinner mostly a salad or some soup. Breakfast was almost always coffe and a banana or toast with butter and peach jam (which I have come to really love). Also, ever since we got to Galicia we have eaten extraordinarily well. The cows here smell really bad...but they taste really good.

How was the weather? The first week was scorchingly hot. The second week had thunder and hail storms (not fun!). We had a lot of great weather mixed in also a lot of days where it rained only in the afternoons. The weather can certainly make a day worse or better, but in the end, you walk no matter what.

Albergues? Pilgrim hostels? What are those? Pilgrims get credentials which get stamped along their camino. These credentials allow you to stay in pilgrim hostels along the way. Especially in the beginning many of these are run either by the city, a religious organization in town, or by a volunteer organization. There are also private hostels along the Camino. Especially for the first 2/3 of the Camino the average price was 5 euros a night. Lots of places were donation only. Towards the end things started to get a bit more expensive with albergues averaging around 10 euros. The municipal hostels were so bad at this point in the camino though, that it was generally worth it to pay a bit more.

The albergues all varied. Most all had bunk beds with anywhere from 4 to 100 people sleeping in each room (earplugs are necessary!). Most had hot water.Showers seemed to always have just a push button for water which meant the water came out some variation of scalding or freezing, but it generally worked out ok. Sometimes there was a separate shower room for men and women, which generally didn´t matter. Except in Galicia. Where in the municipal albergues there were no curtains on the showers and they were mixed gender.

Lots had their own kitchens (although in Galicia it seemed most of them lacked ANYthing to actually cook with) and some kind of place to do laundry--by hand or machine. Many also came with fun extras like a garden, or a ruined monastery, or coup of live chickens.

I will say that the albergues had me worried when I started. I am sure they are much worse in the summer when they are crowded and hot, but I really only had 2 or 3 bad albergue experiences in all of my Camino. (That said I am glad to be sleeping in a hotel for the night!)

Did you get...bedbugs??? No. I don´t know if it was my ¨sleep sack¨which I sprayed with antibug stuff before I left, or that the albergues were bug free, or if it was my nightly prayers to ¨not let the bed bugs bite¨ but no bugs for me. (Although some people I travelled with got them. One girl had bites all over her face!!)

Are your leg muscles huge now? Yes. Many days you feel like a mountain goat going up and down hauling all your stuff. By the end though, you are used to the hills (which is good because Galicia is full of them!).

Did you carry your bag the whole way? How much did it weigh? Yes. With some food and enough water for the day it weighed about 8.5 kilos or...19 pounds or so? By the end of the camino I had lost or thrown out quite a few things and started carrying less water, so maybe it weighed less by the end.

Would you ever do it again? Maybe one day. But...not for a while.

OK, that about sums up the questions I have been getting. Let me know if you have more! Tomorrow I am taking the bus back to Santiago where I will catch a flight to Barcelona. Because Vueling changed my flight 3 days (who does that!?!)  I´ll have a couple days to hang out in Barcelona and then on the 21st I´m off to Croatia!

Can´t believe Im leaving Spain so soon!

Monday, May 16, 2011


I emailed in a blog from Santiago...who knows where it went. Maybe one day it will pop up on here and we can all ignore the things I say twice...but until then...

I´M IN FINISTERRE! I had in my mind all of these thoughful things I was going to say about how the Camino has been such a meaningful time for me and about all the lovely people I have met along the way. But really...

I just want to type in all caps and use lots of exclamation marks!!!! I have finished the Camino!!! And not just the Camino to Santiago, but the epilogue to Finisterre--think fin de la tierra, or end of the earth--as well. For those keeping track, that´s 800 km, or 500 miles (!!!!!!!).

(And yes, you should see my feet.)

And also...IT´S MY BIRTHDAY! I said 25 for the first time when they asked me my age at pilgrims albergue this afternoon. 

Walking into Finisterre and sticking my feet in the Atlantic Ocean was the perfect way to welcome a new year for me. I feel incredibly lucky.

Because it has been a good year. I started year 24 in China--in Shangri La, or part of old Tibet, traveled to 13 countries, graduated with my master´s degree, lived in Brussels for 3 months, finished editing a book, swung like Tarzan through the cloud forests, climbed volcanoes, walked across the Iberian Peninsula (!!!), learned a thousand new things, met hundreds of new friends and saw and experienced so many things that I will never forget.

So tonight, as I watch the sun set over the end of the world, I´ll be thinking about lots of things. But most off all, about how blessed I am.