Friday, January 20, 2012

Starting The Year Right

Well, I had tucked my passport away--I zipped it up inside my backpack and put them both in my closet. It was calling out to me. I couldn't bear to hear it knowing I wouldn't be leaving the country anytime soon so I stashed it away and prepared myself to go travel free for a good little while.

It seems like 2012 refuses to live in the shadow of 2011 though. I am on my way home now to dig out both my passport and my travel pack--tomorrow I am headed to Spain!

My parents had vacation to use, found cheap last minute flights and offered to take me along as a tour guide. Deal!

So in a wonderful surprise I am headed off to Spain--one of my ultimate happy places. We will be going to the south--starting in Cordoba to see the Mezquita, then to Granada and the Alhambra. From there we'll head down to the coast and a day trip to Morocco (!), and finally come back through the hill towns on our way to Seville. I'll say goodbye to the parents and spend a little extra time in Madrid before flying home via Denver.

What a happy surprise! Well done, 2012.

Now off to pack!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Camino De Santiago: Day 32--Monte do Gozo to SANTIAGO!

Here it is! For those of you who have been keeping track all the way since Pamplona, here is my final day on the Camino de Santiago!

I woke up on Day 32 like a kid on Christmas. I couldn't sleep. Normally I was one of the last ones out of the hostels in the morning--I liked to wait until it was light enough that I didn't have to get ready in the dark and so that I didn't have to be quiet as I got ready. But no luck on my last day. I was only 5km away from Santiago!

My friends from Seville ended up leaving later than usual so we all met up outside and decided to talk in together. Look how excited we all were: 

We walked in the 5km, stopping for a coffee along the way. There is something about being so close to Santiago that, while part of you wants to run into the city, also makes you want to slow down and take it all as slowly as possible. 

We finally made it into the center of Santiago and Juanma, our fearless navigator, looked at the map while Maica and I chatted away. 

We came around the back of the cathedral, by the seminary...

We walked under the arch and started banging our sticks on the ground and blowing whistles...


Hello cathedral!

I've got a huge grin on my face right now just telling you about all this, but just imagine walking toward this very destination for 800 km and finally getting there. There is a huge sense of accomplishment, and happiness, and a feeling of celebration. 

My sandals and my walking stick--Just like millions before me

After a stroll around the plaza we went back around the cathedral to find the pilgrims office so that we could get our Compostelas. We got there right as they opened. I was so excited about all of it that I made the guy filling out my certificate laugh. 

After examining our pilgrim credentials and stamps to make sure that we didn't skip any portions of the Camino (specifically the last 100 km) they translated our names to latin, filled out our compostelas, and gave it the official stamp of the cathedral. The certificate is still issued in its original latin showing that I completed the Camino de Santiago. 

As we were finishing up a huge group of Italian tourists showed up in line. Some pilgrims get annoyed with the "tourist pilgrims" who come in by the bus load and snap pictures as pilgrims have a personal moment crying in the plaza. I loved these guys though. While I was waiting for my friends to finish the guide started talking to me. In a mix of Italian/Spanish/English he asked me how I had done my pilgrimage. By foot, I said, and he turned to his group and said, this brave girl has completed her pilgrimage by FOOT! They all gasped and cheered. Then he asked me where I had started and how many kilometers I had walked. This brave girl has walked almost 800 kilometers! and they all gasped again and clapped for me. Some of them patted me on the shoulder and one grandpa spoke English and came to tell me that I could come visit him in Turino sometime. 

It was hilarious. 

Once Juanma and Maica finished they kept asking to take all three of our pictures. The guide asked to see Maica's pilgrim credentials and then walked off with it to show the group. Because you guard this book of stamps moreso than your actual passport along the Camino Maica was upset and ran after the man trying to grab it back. She got there right as he opened it and showed it to the group--They all turned to her and bust out into a huge round of applause. 

Feeling properly congratulated we settled in for a celebratory breakfast of chocolate con churros: 

[I started my Camino in Pamplona with churros, so it was the perfect finish!]

We headed back to the Cathedral for a look around and to get seats for the daily pilgrim mass. 

The cathedral was standing room only. While Juanma saved our seats I had a walk around the cathedral and a look through the crowd. I spotted a few of the friends I had made along the way. 

The mass itself was something special. By this point I had attended countless Spanish masses--but this one was a pilgrim mass in the Cathedral of Santiago. It started with a tiny nun who attempted to teach us the hymns we were going to sing later in the mass. Later, the verses they read were where Jesus said, I am the bread of life. After eating so much bread along the way, and noting it's energy giving power, it was a fitting passage. 

Also, the officiants called out all the places pilgrims had started and where they were from. I was excited to catch one pilgrim from the USA who started in Pamplona, as a couple of friends further up in the cathedral turned around to give me thumbs up. 

After the mass we made our way through the crypt to see the box that supposedly holds the bones of St. James the Apostle (or Santiago in Spanish).

I spent the rest of the day, and the next, seeing the city, catching up with pilgrims in the city whom I hadn't seen in a while, celebrating and trying to fit in all the pilgrim rituals that I could.

The next morning we woke, had breakfast, and then looked around at all the other churches in Santiago.

(And stopped in the old fish market!)

These guys startled me! They were all sitting in the side chapel of the church (and as I recall, were the only ones in the church). I got closer and I realized that they weren't real...and only had upper bodies. It seemed extraordinarily strange to me, but Maica explained that they most likely were part of the Easter floats--that these would be the disciples and Jesus at the last supper. 
And then, because one mass is never enough (!), we went back to the pilgrim mass the next day as well. We thought we might see some more people we met along the way, but the real reason we went was to see the Botafumeiro--the famous incense burner. 

We got there early and again, Juanma snagged us great seats on the front row to watch the botafumeiro. Apparently, during non-holy years they no longer use the botafumeiro everyday because of the expense, which is why we had to go back a second day to see it. (According to Wikipedia) The incense burner weighs 176 pounds, is over five feet tall and has to be filled with about 88 pounds of charcoal and incense. 

There are 8 guys who help pull and swing the thing. This seemed a bit excessive at first, but the thing starts to fly. It went right over our heads (so close that I ducked every time) and almost touches the ceiling. By the time it really gets going it is a ball of fire--spreading a cloud of incense all over the cathedral. (Again, according to Wikipedia, the botafumeiro reaches speeds of 42 miles per hour--and I believe it.)

According to legend, the botafumeiro was necessary because the pilgrims smelled so bad by the end of their journey. 

Pilgrim friends from Barcelona outside of the cathedral. 

At this point we sent Juanma on an errand back to the hostel (and eventually lost him...oops!) and Maica and I went exploring. We went into the old seminary next to the cathedral and snooped around...

We ducked down hallways, peered into classrooms, walked through the cloister and even explored dark staircases. 

Outside of the building we hung out with Gandhi for a while. 

For some change he would give you a tiny scroll with a saying on it. Mine was something along the lines of everyone you meet is like family if you are open to it, which seemed like a fitting thing for the Camino. 

Finally, we tried our hand at another pilgrim tradition--eating for free at the Parador! Every day at each meal the first 10 pilgrims who show up with their Compostela get to eat for free. This sounds incredible considering the Parador is the Hostal Reis Catolicos--the nicest Parador in the whole country. It started in 1499 as a royal hospital for pilgrims, and supposedly when the building was turned into a Parador hotel there was a stipulation that they continue to aid pilgrims--by giving out free meals each day. 

The thing is though...they make you line up and wait in the garage. And then you eat in the workers cafeteria. Who cares though, right? You are eating with other pilgrims for free in a 500 year old building!

Guard checking our pilgrim details 

The inside

Where we ate : )

Fancy ensalada, bread, paella, yogurt, a plum and wine. (All on Parador china!)

But the thing is...While they didn't let you linger in the cafeteria, no one made sure you left the building straight away. I ended up poking around the whole building for a while. 

Fancy-smancy, let me tell ya. 

Just outside the Parador in the plaza. 

The Cathedral as the sun set. 

I spent the last part of my day in Santiago like I did almost every other day of the Camino--sitting in the plaza soaking up the last rays of sunlight and reflecting back on my Camino. 

I'll spare you most of the sentimental thoughts, but it suffices to say that it was an epic journey--and one I will be reflecting on for a long time. 

The sunset view, facing west, from my very last night in a pilgrim hostel...or so I thought. 

But more on that later...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Year in Review

If you have been around the blog for very long you have probably noticed how I like to look back and review things. We've had the Week In Review for several different trips, a Month in Review once my life became less exciting and I reviewed my frighteningly marketable skills. While I am still doing a detailed review of the Camino, there was a review of it after I finished. I even briefly reviewed my 24th year.

Something about periodically looking back and reminiscing, remembering and reliving the experiences I have had helps to solidify them in my memory as well as leave me ever thankful for the good things in my life.

As the year ends I always like to look back and review the highlights. Since so much of my life has been documented on my blog this last year I thought I might share a bit of it here as well. So here we go, 2011 in review!

I started the year a fresh MDiv graduate. I had effectively tied up all the loose ends that had been dangling for weeks/months/years. I was ready to dive into a year of sabbatical. Planning my trip a couple of weeks before I was planning on leaving was a bit stressful at times, but, after a few revisions, I came up with a working itinerary, bought tickets, gave up fear as a new year's resolution and hit the road.

First was nursing myself back to life on a hidden Costa Rican beach and then engaging my inner zoologist sloth-spotting in the cloud forest and my inner daredevil climbing volcanoes and free falling in a near death zip-lining experience.

I found some movida in Panama City, watched the boats flow through the Canal and spent some time getting lost in small Panamanian towns. I learned some Nicaraguan Spanish (no hay falla!), ate rice and beans for weeks on end, explored some Spanish colonial towns and got fresh perspectives on all kinds of things from ecological farming to the not so distant conflicts there.

I swung back through the states to be a bride's maid and then made my way with a group from Logsdon to traipse around Greece. From there I headed over to Cyprus to rest up before my pilgrimage. I took in the amazing (and almost deserted) beaches, the crumbling colonial sides of cities and walked through both the Greek and Turkish sides of the world's last divided capital.

From there I left the luxury behind and strapped on my hiking boots. After a Sunday sendoff in Pamplona I walked my way westward all the way across the Iberian Peninsula meeting a plethora of interesting and kind characters, finding inspiration around every corner and absolutely destroying my feet. I turned a quarter of a century old at the Atlantic Ocean and was gifted a beautiful sunset and moonrise over the coast marking the old "End of the World."

I then made my way to the Balkans--one of my favorite corners of the world. In Croatia I lounged along the Dalmatian coast, walked through the Plitvice Lakes National Park with new friends, and got my first ever tan on the islands. I was inspired by the rebuilt spirit and old bridge in Bosnia's Mostar and ate some ridiculously good food and had great conversations in Sarajevo. I got dizzy from the mountains in Montenegro and found a chapel filled with treasures fresh out of the Little Mermaid's collection. I made my way through a dozen monasteries and orthodox churches in Serbia and fell in love with Belgrade with an ice cream cone in hand.

I made my way south into Kosovo and then got stuck for a while at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia swimming, relaxing and chatting with villagers and a fun group of new friends (stuck that is until I found out the hard way the lake was full of snakes!). I took an elaborate mix of transportation and ended up in Albania where I met handfuls of colorful and lovely locals and travelers. I took the scariest bus ride of my life and saw some of the very best sunsets. I took a ferry to Corfu and made friends with old Greek taxi drivers, ate some of the best meals of the trip and explored sea caves by tiny inflatable square.

I swung back through Western Europe to see friendly faces in Milan and Seville, and then, taking a deep breath, flew back home to the United States.

I got the chance to have endless coffees and share life with friends and then moved into a new house. I got to reunite with friends from Santander at the world's largest hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque and see the Aspens on fire (metaphorically speaking!) in Colorado.

I read a couple dozen books and even wrote, among other things, my very first novel (...which makes me smile just thinking of it!). The book I helped edit was finally published. I even ended the "Year of No Fear!" with an appropriate helicopter ride.

What a year, eh? I could go on forever (or, you know, already have), but it was definitely the best year to date.

2012 and the upcoming years have big shoes to fill.

Thanks to all of you--friends, family and random folks--who shared 2011 with me and made it great. Here's to 2012 and the adventures it holds!

A few pictures from 2011 as a sendoff:

Samara, Costa Rica

Panama Canal

Agia Napa, Cypress 

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Berat, Albania

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mostar, Bosnia

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Thessaloniki, Greece 

Milan, Italy

Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque