Sunday, May 27, 2007

On the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is an old Pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela, which starts from all over Europe. The 800km that are in Spain, are well developed in terms of signs and reasonable accommodation. I spent almost a month of my trip walking the Camino, and below is a short account. I highly recommend the walk, and am happy to help anyone interested in doing it.

May 22 2007
I started my journey with a long overnight train ride Brussels that landed me in Bayonne, France. I had a couple of hours to look around, and took the picture of the courtyard inside a church(below). The town was very nice, and despite having plenty of time, things started to get a bit tight as I stepped in a fresh dog poo, and then got lost on my way back to the train station. I made the train, which connected to St. Jean Pied de Port, where the Camino starts.

I started the Camino with a wiley old Italian guy, who is impossible to keep up with. I followed him off the train, which had many walkers on it, most of which were going to spend the night and start in the morning. He had a tiny backpack, so I knew he knew what he was up to. His name was Lino, and I followed him for the next 4 days, averaging 40km per day. He was truly inspirational, and full of energy. You meet a lot of people like that, though none as fast. The picture below is outside the place you get your credentials as a pilgrim, which allows you to eat and sleep cheap, all along the way.

We hit it off quickly, and when he asked me which route I preferred to take to Roncesvalles, where we would sleep, I said the higher route vs. the flat one. He wanted the flat one since he had done it all before and it was getting late, but complied. We were very lucky as it was rainy and foggy, but we ended up above it all, with a view down on the clouds where it was raining and stormy. It was a nice walk, with sheep and horses grazing lazily.

I ended up losing him when I stopped to take a picture while he headed on. There was a fork in the trail, one through a forest,the other a gravel road. The road was better, not muddy. I chose the forest, and when I realized I lost him, I started doing the Camino my way, which meant I stopped, pulled out a book, and fell asleep. Not the smartest as it was getting late, but some other hikers woke me. I arrived in Roncesvalles, met up with Lino and friends for a dinner, and then we had a group mass in several languages. We all slept in an old converted church housed with bunks.

The following morning we got up extremely early to the sound of bells and classical music being played in the old church. It was a rough night because the guy next to me kept rummaging through his bag all night, and did apologize in the morning. It was the beginning of a long journey, starting with 37km of the 790 total as illustrated.

The scenery the first full day was excellent. It was a nice day, there were cows and bulls in the fields, and I had my first sandwich (bocadillo). Later that day I walked by the building below. It has a beautiful view, isn't too far from Pamplona, and I think would make a great hostel.

The view of the mountains is just below the proposed hostel. Of course, I have many different ideas, so I have often heard I am a bit crazy. This is one of many of my ideas, and I don't know which one I will do. I encourage comments from those who read this, as to what I should do.

That second evening, we arrived at a 12th century hostel which is a church/monastery, with a lovely garden, right on the river. We once again had wine and a meal, and I met another bunch of great people. The following morning was meant to be a 50km day, the longest of the whole trip. Capper, my new friend who teaches at the University of Minnesota, and Lino had been walking together for a while, and we walked right through Pamplona without even slowing. Capper and I decided that the pace and discipline Lino had, was not the experience we wanted, so we went a bit slower, and had a nice conversation about Jack Kerouac and books. We did end up making it, and met up with Lino for a few glasses of beer and a dinner.

We ended up walking together a couple more days, though I had blistered feet.

After several days with Lino, which meant leaving at 6:30 and walking nonstop with time for a glass of milk and sandwich, until arrival at the pre-determined destination by 2 or 3pm, I headed to Brussels. I had made up a lot of time, had crazy blisters, and my girlfriend Jana had Monday off of work, so the nice long weekend sounded nice.

Returning, and my own Camino

After I returned, I was on my own and settled into my own rhythmn. It consists of leaving relatively early, walking, relaxing, reading, talking, and then walking until 9 or 10 at night. This way, I rest all day, and can walk late and avoid the noon sun. This is not how most do it. They get up very early and rush to get a bed, as they are in short supply and often gone by 2 or 3pm. For this reason, my strategy is much less stressful, since I sort of count on something working out and feel lucky if I find a place to sleep. So far,I have had to pay for one room at a hostel-cheap hotel, but the rest have all been at Albergue´s, which charge around 5Euro a night vs the 20 I paid for the hostel. One day I had to walk an extra 15km late at night arriving near 10pm when most doors shut, and was lucky that the guy running the place threw a mattress on the kitchen floor, which was also the quietest place in the building.

That same day I had the fortune of getting to walk into town with a shepherd and his dogs and donkey, from the hills. He had a 21 year old dog, who was blind and deaf, but still followed the other dogs out to the field every day. It was fun, drinking wine and talking about how his life is, and the fondness with which he spoke of his old friend (the dog) and how all the young ones weren't as disciplined workers as the old one. Incidentally, he said he never started drinking before 11a.m. (see above and below)

I also had luck the following day, where I happened upon an Italian run old church Albergue, where they blessed our feet, cooked pasta, had wine, a salad, and desert, and then had a breakfast and hot chocolate ready for us in the morning.

The following day, I arrived near 10, and had to get a hostel. Today I also stopped early at a hostel with free internet, and because I didn´t want to get into Leon too late, meaning I would miss all the sites.

In this church I met an Austrian Guidebook writer. Seemed like a pretty good deal. Walk the trail, take notes, and pictures.

The place below is inside a church, where someone volunteers and cooks meals. there is a small attic space where a bunch of mattresses are, and if there isn't room, they also put them in the actual church. I only came to look, but it was very cozy.

This is a picture of me and an Austrian guy who was in the military. Him and his friend do all sorts of adventures together, and we also kept crossing paths. I saw them several times, and on they often sang Austrian marching songs. It was a lot of fun. Ir0nically, I think I drank from this fountain, which obviously says don't drink, and that is the reason why a couple of days later I had to puke.

Here we have 3 Brazilians who managed to get a large amount of girls initiated into Brazilian culture by teaching them the girl from Ipanema in Portuguese. They had a pretty big party here, and all were friendly and Merry.

On 5/31 I met Jose Luis. He had an even smaller backpack than Lino, which always intrigues me. There were even a couple of people who had nothing, though I suspect they were just going for walks. Anyway, this intrigued me, and he also had quite a pace, so I caught up with him and we chatted. That is one of the nice things of the Camino. You can casually talk to people, and then casually move on. Anyway, we spoke, and he immediately started to tell me I was scatter brained, and that I needed to focus more on the present. That I was full of nervous energy, and that he felt like he was looking into a mirror of a younger version of himself. We had a great conversation for a few hours, and he later explained that this was the first of his trips he had to organize because he had a bad back. He had his things sent from hotel to hotel, and only carried a jacket and some water with him. He said he would have loved to carry on as I did, but because he started so early, he had to get to the place his stuff was early enough to make sure he had room, and organize the next day. A completely different way to do it. We ran into each other several times over the course of the next several days. He retired at 47, so hopefully we are quite similar after all.

This procession occured at the same place that the Brazilians are in the photo above. There was a once a year celebration due to some saint. I had kept on, but ended up coming back to the spot for the celebrations. It was good to get some local food, and music, and as I walked backwards, I ran into many friends I had passed on the way.

The picture below illustrates the morning I woke up sweating, had almost taken off everything I was wearing, and then had to vomit. I later met a German gentleman who was stuck in bed for several days because he drank some water he wasn't supposed to. That is when it became clear I probably did the same. Luckily, I only had one rough night, and it did allow me to walk completely alone at dawn.

It also turns out that my little delay, helped time a perfect entrance into Burgos, where I was able to see a procession for some other holiday. I had a great little table at a cafe with a Swiss guy, and we talked about him recently quitting his job to go to Africa and build wind turbines, despite having little to no knowledge. All very interesting.

The town below I think was Castrojeriz. It has been a while since I did the camino, and I really should have kept up on this blogging along the way. I do remember there was a great little restaurant at the beginning, with old wood screws used for pressing grapes. THere were huge fields of flowers.

After walking, and not having anywhere to be, it has been quite hard to come back to normal life. I look at the field below, and remember how several days felt so much longer, and now that I am back I am blinking though weeks without a single memory. It is really a shame. What is the happy medium?

The picture below is from when I took a fork in the road that according to some Irish ladies, was not the original trail which snakes next to the highway, but an alternate route which goes through the country. It was more scenic, and didn´t offer many towns to drink or get food at. It did offer this nice oasis near the train tracks. I went for a swim with the frogs, and continued on. That afternoon I couldn´t hike as late as I liked, because the small town I passed around 7pm had a small grocery store, where I got the usual cheese, real ham cut form the leg of a cured pig, yogurt, beer, chocolate milk, pastries, and bread. I was going to head on when the owner mentioned the next place wasn´t for another 24km. THat is quite a stretch at that time of night. I ended up chatting with some masons, running bricks up the scaffolding as they were old, and really quite lazy. I had a few drinks, and went to sleep.

In this little swimming hole there were frogs everywhere. Every time I moved, I could here them all jumping in the water.

I had my lunch in this large pipe, and fell asleep for a while. Somebody woke me, or I would have likely slept there for the night.

Below is Leon, another big city I didn't stay in. I got in early enough, and left quite late in the day, after having a beer with a German from several days before. I was sitting there relaxing and he bought me a beer, surprised I had caught up with him. I was just watching the old people at the market, thinking how there were no young people, and he was rambling on about the competition he had turned the camino into. He was upset about a fit American couple who were putting together some serious kilometers, and he thought he would show them and keep up. Turns out he had just organized a German guidebook recommended massage and was done with his personal race and was going to stay in this town for a while. Turns out while trying to keep up, he got sore, and ended up taking a taxi to pass the American couple who were unknowingly in the race, due to their comment earlier in the trip of how surprised they were to see him again. He sure showed them, being at the next stop first, despite leaving later (and the use of a taxi) Goofy the little competitions we create. I just listened.

This cathedral, not far from the market, warranted another little sit down and an icecream. People watching is great.

The consequences and rewards of walking late.

I have taken many pictures of the sky, and the clouds. Things you really don't notice in the day to day. The evening I walked real late, I purchased a cigar, again trying to figure out what my dad likes so much about them. Apparently, when you walk, and smoke a cigar, you can get quite a buzz. I must have looked crazy whistling in the dark and smoking a cigar at a brisk pace. That night, I rolled into a small town that was having some other sort of band that night. THe hospitallero left the door open for me, so I could leave and come back late at night. It was fun, with crazy dancing and a live band with trumpets. The following morning, I had a late breakfast, and met Petra, a girl from Switzerland. We walked and talked together.

This view comes from a mountain pass, probably one of the highest points of the camino. I scrambled up to the peak, despite the trail being far below. I actually had an Austrian follow me because he thought I must know something. I just sat there and noticed the light green patches in the mountain looked like a man with a bird about to land on his arm. My imagination is creative when I am daydreaming in the car, so if I am doing it all day, it gets pretty out there(you probably have to click on the picture to zoom in and see what I am talking about)

I spent a few days walking with this group, on and off. Petra and Christi, the two ladies next to me were fun company. We hung out for a while, always crossing paths. Petra and I ended up walking for several days, speaking Swiss german. We had all sorts of adventures, even though we didn't walk together too much, we seemed to end up in the same places a lot. This was a crazy lot of people, with one having a baby push cart as his backpack, another with great Camino tatoos from prior trips, and another pushing a bicycle the whole way. A real fun group of mostly Spaniards. I love it when people don't take themselves too seriously.

Petra and I sat down and made snacks, much like a table at a marathon for those that walked by. It was fun handing out apple slices, and cheese, and whatever we had in our bag. That is actually how we ended up with the group at the end of the day. We ended up having our own personal rest stop, though later that day I would get lost off on my own, and my leg would start to hurt me for the first time. I believe it was shin splints.

This stop is the home of an eccentric guy who claims to be the last soldier or protector of the pilgrim trail. Story has it that those templars who used to fight for the church, and went to the crusades and such, also protected pilgrims back when the road was dangerous. Now, he has this little stop with no running water, and offers food and shelter. He has several swords and pets, and had some french gypsies camping out behind his place who played a lot of guitar. The whole town was abandoned long ago.

This picture was taken of "Camino", a Spanish girl who was actually named Camino, walking the camino. the town had an exposition on the camino de santiago, with pics from the whole trip.

Galicia is the last region of Spain, and the home of the city Santiago de Compostela.

Vineyards like this, with large trees which soon became the norm along the countryside were wonderful to walk through.

It was almost sad to be coming towards the end of the trip.

I liked this picture, an old citroen french car and an old John Deere tractor, parked next to each other

The trail could take you into some small towns, though the equivalent of alleys.

This tree was called, "el Milenario" for supposedly being a thousand years old. Castellano, which is a way to say the language of Spanish in Spanish, is also the type of tree, but don't quote me.

Getting tight on time, I was stretching my kilometers, really pushing myself to make my flight. Now I was feeling the consequences of walking backwards one day. I tried creams, and once warmed up would not stop walking all day because if it cooled down, I could hardly walk again. For instance, I would walk into a restaurant, order a sandwich or tortilla to go, and then walk in circles around the place until they were done, so i would not stop.

Though I was never rained on until the end of the trip, I had one instance where I could have avoided the rain by simply sitting in and having my food during a shower. I decided to keep walking because of my shin, so I walked in the pouring rain. At one point, I saw a guy who had just stopped, frozen, with this horrible scowl on his face as it poured down. I couldn't help myself, as I was in a great mood, moving along to stay warm. I had to just start laughing out loud. Likely another moment people thought I was crazy.

one hundred kilometers to go. Piece of cake. These markers were few and far between early in the trail, and now they were quite common, since so many people only walk the last bit, since they can still qualify for the certificate. I found them annoying, because I liked not knowing, and now the concept of time and distance was coming back. I would check my watch and watch my pace. All foreign concepts just a week ago.

This picture illustrates my lost socks. Petra threw them out the window because I farted on her in a hostel. What she didn't know was that "out the window" meant into a neighbors yard, where there was a vicous dog. I lost the socks, one of only 3 pairs. Oh well.

This lovely old lady talked to me for hours, about her town, kids, late husband, tradition, the city, etc.... It was really nice, we hugged, and I moved on. She showed me her garden, her trees, and her tiny town. Sometimes a simple, "is the trail this way?" turns into a few hours of doing nothing and talking.

In this bar, maybe 20km from Santiago, I stopped in for a sandwich in the morning, and stayed all day and a good part of the next day. they played music, drew all over my shirt. I gave the bearded guy my shirt, and he ripped it to his liking and drew all over it. It was fun helping out with the bartending and serving the passing pilgrims. We ended up going out in town, giving some pilgrims a ride to Santiago, and I slept in a tent outside in the rain. The guy with the beard was quite a character, walking every year, with his dog, making jewelry to sell, and having no agenda at all.

The end, the goal. the church. That night, I found this amazing cuban guy and his daughters playing music. It was the perfect ending. Sitting, listening to cuban music. What a trip. Highly recommended.

In Europe

When I arrived in Europe, my girlfriend Jana met me at the airport. We had a few days in London, where we got to do a bit of city exploring, found her dream car if she were to ever own one, and I met several of her friends. This is how my European adventures began.

After a few day there, we headed back to Brussels, where if I have time I can add some more pictures and stories, but at the moment I am on the Camino.

USA Roatrip

After my long time away, I had to get back to the states, to get my taxes and school in order. I stopped at my Great Uncle Walter's house, and we ended up having an easter egg hunt at my 2nd cousin Heidi's house.

Anthony, another 2nd cousin, took me to the A's game with him. It was a great game, where the A's won in the last inning, with a grand slam home run.

When I got back to Arizona, adventures began almost immediately, as I was persuaded to go on a fishing trip up to northern Arizona, Showlow area, and since it was getting late we got a motel and I showed Andy how to play a bit of pool.

We did a bit of fishing the following day, and it was quite windy. I ended up going for a bike ride, apparently during the only time the fish were biting.

Andy ended up showing me how to fish, it seems, as I caught none. We had a good time, fishing late at night, having a few drinks, cooking all our meals on the fire, etc...

The mountain biking was great. I ended up seeing what I think was a wolf, and I also got lost. I ended up making it back ok in the end, as always.

Once back in Arizona, Andy, Mike Adragna, Travis, and some others went to a comedy club. After midnight, it was my birthday, so we stayed out quite late and acted like young people do on a birthday night. In the end, Mike and I got off to a late start the next day.

Mike has actually been invited to do the text on this portion of our roadtrip, as a guest writer. Enjoy!

On the way up to Ft. Collins, I stopped with Alison, to do some horse riding.

After Chicago, I was able to see my mom at a party, and then headed out to Madison where I met my old friend Ethan at Mickeys for some lunch and good conversation.

Heidi joined me in Minneapolis, and she is going to do a bit more writing here as well. Enjoy!

Yangshuo, one last Chinese Adventure

In Yangshuo I had a wonderful time. I am even thinking of hosting a trip there for climbers (anyone interested?) I am serious, and think it could be a lot of fun to get some friends to come.

The first picture is Guilin, which is a nice city, but a city. The limestone is nice, but as you spend more time in the area, you realize it can get much better. I heard of a boat down the river, and tried to get to the river via motorcycle taxi because I figured I could get a ride on any old boat, rather than the expensive tourist boat, which has a monopoly due to "safety".

My driver spoke no english, but tried to help me when I was proven wrong, and could not get a ride on the river. I was determined to get to Yangshuo somehow. We tried the boat below, and I took several pictures of the ride, as can be seen from the next few fotos.

I eventually had to catch a bus we flagged down on the street. I ended up in Yangshuo, found a cheap place, and wandered about. In the morning, I rented a bike, though it was sort of raining and I got quite muddy.

It was very fun biking about, with many nice views.

For instance, everywhere was like below, with rice patties and such. Note, it isn't very easy riding between rice patties, and quite scary really.

I ended up going climbing with some locals. It was a lot of fun, though my hands were out of shape and gear was bad. I took them out for some szechuan food, and we played this fun feather sack kicking game.

This is the cliff we climbed.

In Yangshuo itself, there is a market, and if you pass behind it, by several houses, there is a trail to the tv tower. I took this trail just before leaving, and had splendid views and complete solitude, within the town itself.

This last image, was taken in a market in my last day there, beside it was a cage full of live dogs as well.