The Meaning of Writing

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing.  I don’t mean to say that I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to write next on this blog.  Really the opposite, as I had somewhat acknowledged to myself that I was taking a break from blogging.  But I’ve been thinking about writing, and the meaning it has and has had in my life.

As a young child I always related more to the written word than to the spoken.  I was shy in school.  I hardly remember talking at all.  Rather, I have a distinct memory of my preschool teacher asking me to verify if I understood her, since I preferred more to use gestures than to use actual words.  I do remember though obsessively taking to writing.  I tried to write without knowing how.  I wanted to write so bad I’d teach myself.  I tried to write sentences by placing periods after each word.  just.like.this.  I wanted to write stories.  I already knew that the spoken word wasn’t my medium.

Growing up I spent hours and hours reading and rereading books.  My family went to the library weekly and checked out bags of books at a time.  After advancing past picture books my parents brought me to Powell’s, where I wondered nervously how many used Saddle Club books they’d let me buy.  I completed book reports with relish.  I lived to read.  And then I lived to write.

Stories poured out of me with ease.  I excelled at fiction, while my “expository essays” (that’s what we called them then, who knows if it’s the same now) left my teachers a little disappointed.  One year I won two airplane tickets and a three-night hotel stay for an essay I wrote on “What Christmas Means to Me.”  (I used the tickets to fly to Spokane, WA, of all places).  Another year I won first prize for fiction in the Lane County Fair (for which my aunt had to lie and say I was her daughter for me to enter).  Writing, by any measure, was my thing.

In college I took some creative writing classes, obsessively perfecting my short stories, and trying to spend as much time with my professor as I could without being called a stalker, just for a little more reassurance and advice.

Then my story takes a turn.  My professor moves to a different school, thus losing the best writing mentor I had had.  In my last year of school I focused only on completing courses for my major.  My mind was too full learning Chinese characters to spend hours in the dining hall working on a short story.

And after?  I wrote, sometimes.  At first in Armenia, for the Peace Corps, I started a few stories, hand written in a journal.  I hadn’t brought my laptop with me.  Later, in Korea I tried National Novel Writing Month with my then-boyfriend, and while the excitement of it was fun, nothing came of it, and I forgot my novel, convinced that everything I wrote was pure shit.  I started a blog, needing an outlet, but my blog has always been unfocused and erratic.

So that’s where I am.  Unfocused and erratic.  When I’m in a good state of mind I know I am writing for me, and for my friends and family to know what I am doing while taking these years to travel the world.  (Also I’d like my dad to see how travel for me is more fulfilling than starting a career is).  But it’s not good writing.  I know that.  I will never make money off my blog, nor will I try to.  I don’t post regularly enough to have devoted readers, nor do I think I deserve them.  When I go to a destination like Rome or Barcelona, I have a hard time seeing the point.  What fresh view can I offer?

I live every day with the nagging urge to write.  It has always been my thing, so therefore, shouldn’t I be writing?  Shouldn’t I be making something of it?  Didn’t I have talent once?  The expectation to write well drowns my ability to simply get words out.  Written.  On paper, or on screen.  Because, what, I ask myself, is the point?

Now I’m telling myself.  The point is: Writing helps you remember.  Writing helps you make sense of the world.  Writing on a blog throws those words out to the world, and maybe one person will connect with them.  Wriitng lets my aunt know I am safe and well.  Blogging lets my dad see all the mountains I have climbed.  Writing creates something permanent, when before there was nothing.  Sometimes writing is shitty, sometimes it is good.  Who cares?  Write.  Writing helps you become you.

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10 Great Things that Have Happened This Summer

Wow!  Blogging!  I seem to have become a stranger to it.  In an effort to inform my family and friends what I’m doing with myself these days that I’m not working, here are some great things that have happened these 2 months of summer.

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1.  Me and my friends spent a sunny weekend at Isa’s finca house in Valladolid.  Asturias hadn’t quite entered summer weather yet, so we all drove down to Isa’s little casita in a pueblo outside the city.  There was sun, there was BBQing, there was a pool, and boys who threw girls into the pool.  We played like children.  It was great.

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2.  I finished the Harry Potter series in Spanish with the last book, Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte.  New Spanish recommendations?

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3.  I slept in a prado with my bestest friends.  A prado is a field, and it made me happy to sleep in one because it was on a mountain in Quiros after an afternoon of climbing.  I miss camping in the forests of Oregon, and for now sleeping in fields to the sounds of a braying donkey is good enough.

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4.  We drank craft beer at Tolivia Fest 2014.  Two of my favorite things: craft beer and Asturian villages.  Coming from Oregon, Asturias– and Spain– has some catching up to do with regards to craft beer.  But at least some beer aficionados are working on it, with several microbreweries like Asturias’ Caleya, slowly developing a Spanish beer culture.  What was so great about this festival was how it was so small that after an afternoon wandering around the village you basically knew everyone.  One of the villagers even let us sleep in a (not-so-level) spare field.

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5.  I hitchhiked across France.  From San Sebastian to the Alps, I thumbed it (or signed it) nearly 1,000 kilometers.  Along the way I saw the incredible castle of Carcassonne, and breathed the sun- and lavender-soaked air of Aix-en-Provence.  I rode four hours with a photographer and his dog.  I kept a security guard awake after his night shift.  I spoke Spanish with an Italian truck driver who blasted Elton John on the radio as we drove into the mountains.  France, you were a good place to hitch through.

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6.  I spent July in the Alps.  Coming to the Alps was like fulfilling a dream I never knew I had.  While looking for work exchanges before the summer, I generally stuck to the mountainous areas of the map, without conscientiously choosing the Alps.  But I’m glad I did.  I have been living in the small village of Cervieres, where the sun rises and sets over mountains.  After I have finished my work babysitting, or doing the dishes, or rocking a baby to sleep, I step out the front door into pine forests, meadows of wildflowers, and rocky peaks.

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7.  I saw my freshman-year roommate Andrea for the first time in 6 years.  And we met on the top of a mountain pass, at the Col du Lautaret, where she had been doing PhD research in a botanical garden at an altitude of 2,100 meters.  (Andrea is pretty cool).

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8.  I paraglided for the first time.  Flying in the Alps can’t be beat.

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9.  I did my first multi-pitch climb.  The climbing was easy, and the company different (my host-sister’s slightly ‘off’ middle-aged French teacher), but seeing the small cabins in the meadow grow smaller and smaller was extremely satisfying.

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10.  I saw the Tour de France from our village.  Unbeknownst to me, the Tour de France is much more than cyclists.  More than a week before the Tour passed, mobile homes began to line the road from our village to the Col d’Izoard.  The day before one team from Belgium set up a big tent with couches next to our house.  The day of our village was full of visitors, lining the road, waiting for hours for the caravan to show up, to toss candy, frisbees, cured meats at our feet.  Afterwards we waited another hour for the cyclists to show up, which went so quickly up the mountain that I snapped two photos and they were gone.

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Asturias in Photos: Montañas

 

 

 

It doesn’t always rain in Asturias, thankfully, thus enabling us to have adventures.  In the mountains is where I first fell in love with Asturias, and it is where I have made the best friends, eased my longing for home, and communed with shaggy, tick-ridden mountain animals.  The mountains are what make me stay here.

 

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Can you spot the climber?

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Rain approaches…

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Horses, cows, and goats greet hikers.

The mountains are almost a secret, so seldom do we hear of tourists visiting the dramatic heights of the Picos de Europa instead of the sandy beaches of the Costa del Sol.  And I know we are a little stranded out here, without cheap RyanAir connections and 6 hours from Madrid by bus.  But I still want my friends to come here, so I can drag them up a steep mountain and say “Look at THIS!”  It’s better than jamón.  Flamenco.  Real Madrid.  It’s Asturias!
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Asturias in Photos: El Mar

I realize I haven’t written much lately about Spain, my life, or anything really.  Perhaps my blogging mind shut off after summer, or maybe since being injured I feel I have been leading a much less adventuresome life (which isn’t true, really, when I think about it).  Either way, inspiration comes in waves.

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In October I moved from La Coruña, Galicia to Gijón, Asturias.  Asturias, I will admit, has stolen my heart.  It stole my heart the first weekend I visited last February.  I fell more deeply in love last June when Rachel and I hitchhiked (and hiked) through the Picos de Europa.  I declared my undying devotion as the city of Gijón, although grittier than her sister Oviedo, won me over with her affectionate people.  And although I must grit my teeth as I bike to work in a sudden, wind-driven downpour of rain (or hail), soon the sun shines on the sea, illuminating everything wonderful and good.

So friends, enjoy some photos.  Part I: El Mar.


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Traveling Home

I have been living abroad for a few years now, and before that I attended college about as far across the country from my home as I could get.  In reality, I have spent very little of the past 10 years at what I call “home”.

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In all that time I’ve never created another, new home.  The closest I got was in Busan, simply because after three years I knew the city inside out; but I would always be an outsider there.  I love my current residence in, Gijón, and I love living in Spain, but home takes years to build.  Home is where I have people to pick me up from the airport. The air smells like pine trees and fog.  There is less anxiety there, because there are people who knew me when I wore pink stretchy pants and mismatched socks.  I don’t have to introduce myself to them every few months, they already know the slow, boring history of my life.  The people at home give long, beautiful hugs that speak Love without saying anything. 

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Sadly, my home has to compete with my other love: travel.  I trust it will wait for me, because it’s always there when I return.  For now, home is my vacation, vacation away from being a homeless, but happy, traveler.

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Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

I’ve been awaayyyyy all summer, doing a lot of walking, with just me and my tent and a couple of t-shirts.  Those adventures are still processing in my mind, and the photos still processing on my computer.  I’ve moved to a new home, and while doing some Fall Cleaning on my hard drive, I spent a few hours looking back on one of my old homes, Busan, South Korea.

I lived in Busan for three years and explored every nook and cranny of it.  One think I miss is sitting down to a dinner of hwae, a beautiful platter of thinly cut raw fish, most likely at a school dinner that involved many bottles of beer and soju.

Busan is a place to try seafood, whether it be live octopus freshly cut into wriggling chunks of tentacles (remember to chew before swallowing), to something more daring, like pufferfish, or even something as exotic as the bright red and orange sea squirt (is it strange that I always looked forward to eating it?).  Busan is the place where I’ve tried all of that, as well as fish eyeballs, squid cooked in every form imaginable, and where one time I even sat at at able where thin, shiny strips of whale was served as an appetizer (this I did NOT try).  

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Mostly I’ve put my seafood eating days behind me, since I prefer to leave sea creatures alive and swimming.  However, it’s still amazes me to look back on photos of all the amazing things that live beneath the waters , the colors and textures, the alien-like appearance of an octopus deflated of its body, and the sympathy I felt for all those beautiful creatures pulled from the sea.

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On a Sad Note

As you may have seen on the news, yesterday there was a devastating train crash in Santiago de Compostela, in the corner of Galicia, Spain where I have been living for the past 8 months, and towards which I am walking. I cannot stop thinking about it.  The only way I can really summarize my feelings is that I am very, very sad.  

I can’t help think and replay all those times that I’ve been on a train through Santiago, and all I can see in my mind are the faces of those people who were on the train with me.  They are students and couples.  They are kids, and religious pilgrims, heading to Santiago on the eve of celebrations for St. James.  The train is full.  Some people are standing.  I can see myself there, with them, taking for granted that this is just another ordinary train journey.  The green Galician fields zip past.  It  have easily been me.  Or Gloria.  Or Marcos.  Or Eva, or Alex.  Or Natalia.  Or the children I teach.  

I am so sad for Galicia today.  I’m not Gallega, but I do love some Gallegos.  My friends, I love you, and I’m so, so sorry for this tragedy.  Bicos.  

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The Offa’s Dyke Path: A Camping Summary

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This walk is a part of a four-month charity walk I am writing about here.  

I recently finished the 177 mile Offa’s Dyke Path, starting in Prestatyn and finishing in Chepstow/ Sedbury Cliffs.  The walk far exceeded my expectations, and after getting into a rythym of walking all day through peaceful countryside it was an experience that I was sad to see end.  The following is a summary of my route, walking for 12 days and resting for one, and camping all nights but one.

I hope it inspires you to venture away from the crowds and into the tranquility of the Welsh-English border country!

Day 1:  Prestatyn.  Camped at:  Nantmill Touring Caravan and Camping Park (on Gronant Road)

IMG_2843I took a couple of buses to Prestatyn from Glasgow, so by the time I got to Prestatyn and wandered around looking for a campsite, all the shops had closed and there wasn’t much to do.  They do have a movie theater, and that seemed like a fine way to celebrate the beginning of a new walk.  In town they have many grocery stores and an outdoor shop where you can buy gas canisters.  There is the beach, with calm waters and windmills out at sea which make for some unique scenery.

Day 2:  Prestatyn to Bodfari, 12 miles.  Camped at:  Station House Caravan Park

IMG_2850The first day of walking climbed immediately up out of Prestatyn and gave a decent preview of what was to come: stiles to climb over, fields of sheep, and nice views.  Nothing too exciting, besides the views out to see, and though it was too hazy to see clearly, the mountains of Snowdon in the distance.

After a day of muggy weather and sweat inducing climbs, I was happy to camp after a mere 12 miles.  My new hike-mate James and I celebrated day 1 with a couple of beers at the local pub, The Downing Arms.

Day 3:  Bodfari to Llangdegla, 17 miles.  Camped at:  Llyn Rhys Campsite

IMG_2859The book said this was a challenging day.  It did not lie.  Trail climbed over the Clwydian Range, and then back down.   And then back up.  And then back down.  And up and down and up and down every hill in the Range.  It made me stronger, I had to tell myself.  A beautiful day, but not to be underestimated, as James and I limped into tiny Llangdegla asking the local children where the campsite was.  Upon arrival I hunched over in miserable form, grasping my back and my knees and my feet at the same time, and the old lady running the campsite asked worriedly if I was alright.  “It was the mountains!” I cried.

Tired and aching, we ditched out stoves for a pub meal at The Crown Hotel.  In the morning I stocked up at the tiny store in town, where they also serve morning tea.  Beware: they stock little in the way of actual food, and I mostly filled my pack with candy bars.

Day 4:  Llangdegla to Llangollen, 9 miles.  Stayed at: Cambrian House

IMG_2867After the long day over the Clwydian Range and starting off to wind and rain and drizzle and rain, I got grumpy, and decided to take a half-day and only walk the 9 miles to Llangollen, which is supposed to be quite nice.  It was bustling with tourists and the sun even came out, and I found a grocery store and bought way too many fruits and vegetables.  One of the problems of the trail is that some long sections have no stores.  So when I found a good one, I tended to go overboard.

IMG_2872I called around looking for a cheapish B&B after seeing that the hostel was full.  I found a room at the Cambrian House and made myself at home in my small, homey room.  There I occupied myself by watching Welsh TV, and drying out my wet tent in the bathroom.  The Cambrian House is kind of a creaky, “well-loved” kind of place, but the host is delightfully cooky, and the breakfast nice and big.  Skip the vegetarian meat alternatives though.

Day 5:  Llangollen to Baker’s Hill, 13 miles.  Camped at: Carreg-y-Big Farm.

The day was a slow ramble over more hills, and my pack fully stocked with groceries, I ambled slowly through them.

I started by walking along the canal to Trevor, and then over the terrifying bridge.  This is a canal, on a bridge, passable by boats.  I was terrified and had to stop every few paces in order to steady myself and check that the railing was still intact.  IMG_2876

The exciting part of the day however, was finally seeing the Dyke for the first time.  Despite this being Offa’s Dyke Path, the dyke only follows the path for about 60 miles.

The Dyke!

The Dyke!

And there it was!  It certainly looked like a dyke.  For the days to follow the dyke would run in and out of view, changing appearance from a low mound to a high and defined wall.  IMG_2893

The afternoon ended with sun and puffy clouds, and we relaxed with host of Carreg-y-Big Farm B&B Ian Reese and his dogs outside on the picnic table.  James camped on the section of dyke in the backyard, while I opted to sleep on the floor of the small walkers hut (for lack of a better name)since soon the wind rolled in and threatened to rain.  Thanks again Ian!  (Carreg-y-Big is on the market, so check before you plan to camp.  Or if you’re looking to buy a beautiful farm and equestrian center…)  IMG_2895

Day 6:  Baker’s Hill to Buttington, 20.5 miles.  Camped at:  Green Dragon Inn.

The first part of the day climbed up to the old racetrack and through some lovely woods and a nature preserve, where I met more sheep “baaaing” into the wind, and some nature lovers hopelessly looking for butterflies.  IMG_2890

Since the latter part of the day would be flight walking along the canal and then later along the dyke and river, I decided to go all the way to Buttington in one go.  It certainly wasn’t too difficult, but walking along the dyke for all those miles got tedious, as the scenery wasn’t too inspiring, and I had to warily cross many fields of massive cows and even once a testy bull who seemed to be getting shaken up by the recent passing of a few groups of walkers.

Cow on dyke.

Cow on dyke.

As my like of sheep developed, my fear of cows grew.  Nothing like a wall of curious cow making a bee-line for you to put you on edge.

Wall o' Cows

Wall o’ Cows

I also got “attacked” by a dog with a muzzle, who got loose of its fence.  By the days end I was fed up with animals and the drudgery of walking along flat ground.

Day 7:  Buttington to Brompton Crossroads/ Mellington Hall, 13.5 miles.  Camped at: Mellington Hall

Somehow I can’t remember anything about this day besides wet feet… I think the solitude of the trail had started to take over, and I started to get lost in thought as I walked through more fields and forest– not to say that it was boring, but 8 hours of walking a day start to run into each other…

The campground behind Mellington hall is beautiful though, and akwardly had a drink at Mellington Hall, though I felt much too underdressed to sit in such a fancy bar.

Mellington Hall

Mellington Hall

Day 8:  Mellington Hall to Knighton, 13.5 miles.  Camped at:  Panpwnton Farm.

IMG_2924Everyone kept warning me about this day, over the Shropshire Hills and the “switchbacks.”  Maybe it was because I had anticipated a huge challenge, but I was surprised how easily I climbed up and over the hills, and with fine weather it was one of my favorite days.  The hills unfolded around the dyke in endless patchworks of fields.  There was hardly a soul around, and I passed a mere 10 or so walkers that day.  Here the dyke rose over the hills as a distinct spine, incorporated into fields and grazing commons.  The wind up in the hills was sweet and grassy and it was about as good as a walk in the countryside could get.  IMG_2947

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In Knighton I knocked on the door of Panpwnton Farm where the owner June led me to the camping field, right in the backyard, a spacious field of uncut grass.  With such a warm welcome and peaceful place to pitch my tent, I was tempted to stay longer.  I had to move on though, but enjoyed the sunset and the warm light moving through the trees.  IMG_2978

Day 9:  Knighton to Kington, 13.5 miles.  Camped at:  Fleece Meadow Campsite.

IMG_3025More dyke, more fields.  More sheep.  A beautiful day.  Also one of those days that sends you into meditative walking, so devoid of people that you (or I, specifically) start to have conversations with yourself.

In Kington I pitched at Fleece Meadow, but for the life of me could not find reception.  And no one came to find me in the morning, so, thanks Fleece Meadow for letting me camp for free!

Day 10:  Kington to Hay-on-Wye, 14.5 miles.  Camped at Radnor’s End (for free, thanks Joanna!)

This day climbs over Hergest Ridge, a lovely grazing common with sheep and wild ponies running around, and views to the Black Mountains.  Like in the Shropshire Hills it was easy to feel all alone on this day, and the views made any difficult walking much more manageable.

Day 11:  Rest day in Hay-on-Wye.

IMG_3028Famous for its second-hand bookshops, Hay-on-Wye is a fine place to spend a day off.  Sadly, I couldn’t buy any books, though I still spent a few hours walking through the stacks, relishing the complete randomness of the collections.  In the same bin I found Breeding Society Finches next to Miniature Shrubs and A Guide to African Political & Economic Development.

The rain crept in and drove me into a coffee shop, and later into my tent, to get back to reading my neglected War and Peace.

 Day 12:  Hay-on-Wye to Pandy, 17.5 miles.  Camped at the Rising Sun Pub (Mistake!)

IMG_3037Sadly my climb up the Black Mountains and across Hatterrall Ridge, the highest point on the path, was surrounded in clouds.  Some nice views were to be had, but I missed most of the views of neighboring mountain ridges.  It still was beautiful, and later in the afternoon the clouds cleared up some.

IMG_3043I made the mistake of pitching at the Rising Sun Pub, and maybe because it was a Friday, but every caravan pitch soon filled up, and and the massive circus tents came out and the place turned into what seemed like a family reunion, with kids running around kicking soccer balls at my tent, and their parents drinking loudly in their tents (why people caravan in the first place, just to do what they do at home, I don’t think I’ll ever quite get).  I felt very old, trying to get to sleep at 10pm, which was impossible, next to what was a bit of a zoo, and a disappointing contrast to the quiet sites elsewhere.  End rant.

Day 13:  Pandy to Monmouth, 17 miles.  Camped at:  Monnow Bridge Caravan and Campsite

IMG_3048The day passed through small villages and ancient churches, as well as White Castle.  More fields, and now I have the same affection for them as I do for sheep.  Every fields glitters in its own way.  I know that sounds corny, but watching the breeze ripple through a field of wheat is one of the pleasure of the path.  Sounds incredibly dull of me, but it’s true. IMG_3051

At Monnow Bridge Camping the nice owner squeezed me into the small site in between caravans and camper vans, but it was a peaceful place.  I toyed with the idea of wandering into the town for a Saturday night, but opted for my sleeping bag instead.  (Sleep always seeming the best option).

Day 14:  Monmouth to Sedbury Cliffs, with stop at Tintern Abbey, 22.5 miles.  Camped at: Upper Sedbury House.

Oh dear, what a long day.  Hot and hilly, I lazily took my time, and arrived late into Sedbury, to camp behind lovely Upper Sedbury House tucked up away from Chepstow between farms.

View over Monmouth

View over Monmouth

The day combined some steep walks up through forest, a nice view of Monmouth, a walk along the River Wye, a detour to Tintern Abbey, another steep climb, and a never-ending final stretch down to Sedbury with one last walk along the dyke.  I finished a little dehydrated, very hungry, but happy.  I popped a bottle of cider, sitting on the dyke one last time, looking over the cliffs to the Severn.

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My First Camino: Photos from the Camino Portugués

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Friday

The rain comes and goes, but I don’t mind.  The few parts of me that get wet dry quickly, and the drops bounce off my pack’s rain cover like marbles.

IMG_2314I pass through a small stand of woods on one of the few dirt roads of the day.  The rain has stopped and pools in mud puddles.  Some mighty Eucalyptus, invasive and now rampant in Galicia, scent the air like incense, frangrance floating through the lush ferns and into the calming smell of wet earth.  It reminds me of Laos, one day when we picked our way through fresh mud puddles, the charged air of a thunderstorm still lingering around us.  Rays of sun mixed with green smelling moisture then, as it did now, but then I was in sandals, walking towards a waterfall, clouds of butterflies landing in a confetti-colored carpet on the path ahead.  They would lay in wait until we approached, and then alight around us, as a fog.  Then they would land again on the soggy path, tracing the edges of sun patches, lying still like sunbathing ladies, and beating a wing slowly, like a yawn. 

Now I’m not in sandals, but in boots, but the air feels the same, floral, humid, and warm with sun.

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Saturday

IMG_2320Yesterday I felt the pain but I could tough it out.  Today my feet hurt, and I want to cry.  Let’s hope day two is the hardest.  I stop at fountains and pull off my boots, eating my snacks, gazing over the green farms and forming clouds. 

IMG_2338I lie on a bench in a plaza in Pontevedra.  This plaza has the best of what Spanish plazas have to offer.  Old stone buildings with arched terrazas, plenty of spots to tomar un café.  Children running around with families, shooting soccer balls.  Pigeons cooing and bobbing to their own time.  A border of trees, heavy with fat pink and white blossoms, which fall into the ground with big, wet thumps.  A pretty fountain, providing background noise.  Two flags, one Spanish, one Galician, waving lazily in front of the stately Delegacion de Hacienda. IMG_2336

 

Sunday

The sun comes up over the vineyards, budding fresh and green, the beginnings of grapes bunched in miniature. 

Outside of Caldas de Reis the camino enters rural gallego, and it reminds me of Oregon. 

IMG_2347Luxurious oaks replace those pesky Eucalyptus, draping themselves grandly over the path, scalloped leaves rustling in their multi-layered canopies.  Moss claims the bottoms of the trunks, bark cracked and grooved like old skin, and lichens pronounce themselves like paintball hits. 

IMG_2361I stop and sit on a patch of road, and strip off my shoes and socks, as I’m inclined to do.  I relax with my arms over my knees, happily breathing in grass-fed air, listening to the stream which feeds the fields below.

Several pilgrims pass me, but the opposite way passes an old man, fully gray and hunched, with wool sweater and vest, and one of those berets that only old men of the country can seem to pull off.

He asks me what nationality I am, testing my Spanish.

Estadounidense,” I say, between mouthfuls of cheese and tortilla. 

IMG_2363He stops and says, “I have something to give you.”  He fishes into his pants pocket and delicately pulls a four-leaf clover from plastic baggie.  He stretches it out to me and I pinch it delicately between thumb and forefinger.

“It’s good luck!” I declare.

He nods, and then begins telling me all the nationalities he has met on the camino—Belgians, Dutch, Portuguese, some guy from Mississippi.  I start to get the impression he walks this stretch of camino every day, handing out four-leaf clovers and striking up conversation.

“Would you like to take a photo of us, to remember?” He asks me.

“Oh, ok… uh, sure,” I hesitate, thinking maybe he has a camera and he wants a photo.  But he is waiting for me.  I put down my tortilla and grabbed my camera. 

“You can hold out the camera like this,” he stretches out his arm, taking an imaginary self-portrait.

I lean in, our faces in the sun, holding up the clover.  I smile, he does not.

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“So, maybe you can send it to me,” he asks.

“Oh, alright do you have an email…”

And before I’m done asking he has taken out a baggie inside which are four more clovers and a thin stack of ‘business cards’, cut squares of paper, with his name and address.  He points to his last name, Castro, and says “No relation to Fidel.”  He laughs.

IMG_2343He talks some more about more people on the camino, and amidst his mumbly Spanish I lose concentration and somehow he gets to talking about a U.S. naval base in Santiago and Russian submarines.  I chew my tortilla, and smile happily.

“Keep that clover!” he demands as he walks away.

Monday

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My muscles ache and pinch, reminding me cruelly that I haven’t been doing enough exercise since last September.  I’m reminded of the marathon I quit training for in January.

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In pain I start listing all the things I won’t be packing this summer.  Who needs a fleece?  If I get cold I’ll just put on all my clothes.  Won’t be filling up my two liter camelback either.  Off will come the handle of my toothbrush, and so on. 

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What food packs the densest amount of calories?  A diet of cheese, chocolate, and nuts, it’s decided.  My heels hurt, I curse my heavy boots as they scuff city pavement. 

I stumble my way to Santiago de Compostela, a place I’ve been to a handful of times before, in rain and in sun, alone and with friends.  But now, at the end of a long walk, it has become something more important, a marker of a great achievement.  It’s a place where the suffering of my feet will end. 

IMG_2392Before the great cathedral, not as a tourist or a resident, but as a pilgrim, you share in the current of excitement that each peregrino brings to the square.  It’s a quiet, deep satisfaction.  The cathedral becomes more beautiful than it ever could have been if you had just stepped off a bus.  Walkers embrace before the cathedral, and share some sort of private joy that only other pilgrims can understand.  

I have only been a pilgrim for four days, for 118 kilometers, but I’m already ready for my next Camino. 

To pilgrims past, present, and future: Buen Camino. 

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Picos de Europa: Garganta del Cares

The last week Rachel and I spent hitchhiking around the north of Spain, and we spent about four days of it around the Picos de Europa in the comunidad of Asturias.

Two days we spent walking from Covadonga to the Refugio Vegarredonda, and back down to the Lagos de Covadonga.  It was incredible scenery.  There were a lot of cows.  

The next day we did the most famous hike of the Picos de Europa, which is the Garganta del Cares, a 11km walk through the gorge of the Rio Cares, from Poncebos to Cain.  The walk winds around the side of the mountain, revealing new scenery with every turn.

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Around each bend making Rachel and I made guesses over whether we could survive the fall or not.

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“Ok, we could survive this fall.”

“Ok, not this one,” of the fall off a pinnacle of rock that I made Rachel stand on to take her picture.  Since I’m terrified of heights, it’s good that she will do the dangerous stuff.  Anything for a photo, right?

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Rebecos, or Spanish ibex, with their long outward curing horns roam the mountains, munching grass, picking gingerly over rocks.  We want to be mountain goats.  I wonder aloud how many baby mountain goats are lost to falls from not yet sturdy legs.

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Towards Cain the trail closes in on the river, previously so dangerously far below.  A few bridges cross the gorge, and the trail tunnels into the side of the mountain.  

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At the end of the trail is small Cain, only a smattering of tourist restaurants and not much else.  Well, except for the panaromic scenery.  Cain is surrounded in beauty, cupped in the palm of a mountain valley.  Hikers laze in the grass eating their lunches before returning the remaining 11 km to Poncebos. IMG_2641

For the next four months I will be walking 2,100 km across the U.K., France, and Spain, raising money for water filters in Cambodia.  Follow me at marisawalksacross.wordpress.com, or like me on Facebook.  

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