The sound of Spain

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This morning the church bells rang from the nearly never used building that sits with just one house between us. I had a flash into my memory, one that you know is coming and you just reach out to try to connect with the feeling you had with the stimulus that first brought the memory on. The church bells for me don’t signify a religious childhood up bringing and they don’t bring memories of Sundays parked on hard wooden pews. The bells today pulled me back, for just the slightest second, to the feeling I had in Spain this summer. The rush of possibility and openness of my trip to walk the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago made my breath catch for the few seconds that the bells tolled.

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I have been meaning to write this blog for weeks now. Back in the states I have plenty of access to the internet to be able to post and so that is not the reason there has been no finality to the experience I shared here of my Camino. I think it has been more that I can’t quite find the words to sum it up. The nine weeks I spent in Spain were some of the happiest of my life, I showed myself that I have it in me to travel alone in a country whose language I am not fluent in, that if I give up my fear of speaking that language I can learn it, and that one of the most beautiful things in all the world is time spent with another human being.

 

It was a hard decision for me to make but at a point just over half way through my journey on the Camino I quit posting blogs. That was not a conscious decision like stopping recording all the daily events had been, this departure from blogging happened because instead of leaving the people I had been traveling with and stepping outside the reality of the day to try to write about it I didn’t want to leave it. I had found a place I felt at peace in, not stationary but ever evolving and learning excitement at the world and the possibility of life that lay ahead. To now go back and fill in the gap with all of the wondrous conversations and events just seemed too daunting of a task. But those church bells I heard all across Spain made me long to remember everything, even if for a moment, to be back in the light and the heat, the wind, the wine, the laughter of my Spanish speaking attempts and the heart-to-heart talks that used very few words but whose meanings were clearer than any I have had in my mother tongue. Maybe I will find a way to write about these gifts of experience that were bestowed upon me, I hope I can find a way to untangle the days and weeks I spent in Spain and relive the astounding love I found there, but if I can’t I at least hope that for the rest of my life I get that catch in my chest whenever I hear church bells.  

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Spain looks like…well, Spain.

First day after a day of rest. The way from Najera to Santo Domingo was a wonderful 21km long. I left the alburgue as it was just beginning to really be full light of morning. The streets were still covered in the aftermath of the last two days epic San Juan celebration and I had to dodge broken bottles and piles of empty plastic cups. The party must have been a really great one because the streets were completely coated with old alcohol, not only did it smell like stale beer but my shoes made smacking noises each time I picked my foot up and disengaged it from the sticky mess on the ground. Needless to say it was time to get out of there. Since I had just been resting the day before I was in really good spirits and felt like I could move along at a good pace. My arch on my right foot was still in pain but the shoe inserts felt like they were making it bearable.

I spent the early morning walking with a group of three people from Seattle. They only scheduled themselves about a month to do the camino, a trip that is split into 33 days in my guide book. To be able to make it to Santiago they have to walk around 30km or even a little bit more a day to be safe. I am really glad I have more time than that if not I wouldn’t have felt as good about taking a day to try to let my foot rest. It would really be terrible to get hurt and not be able to go all the way to Santiago because of an injury that set you back only one or two days. (Or to have to take a bus when you had walked the entire rest of the route.) Anyway the Seattle group were going strong and I left them after awhile, I could have kept their pace but I really wanted some time to myself. The last few days I had way too few times alone.

After a few hours of walking by myself I knew I was getting closer to the town of Santo Domingo. Even though I had stopped many times to take pictures and to eat lunch and take water breaks I never saw my friends Travis and Erin. I really wasn’t sure which alburgue I was going to stay in and I had kind of wanted to catch up with them a little since it had been a few days since I had seen them. But after yet another long rest waiting I realized that I just needed to get on with the rest of my trip on my own, even if I never saw them again.

I had a choice between the large alburgue with 160 beds and the smaller alburgue run by a convent with 33 beds. I just imagined the one with over a hundred beds as being a huge hall of echoing snores and I couldn’t see much sleep happening for me. So the convent was the choice I made. But when I got there and my credential was stamped and my 5 euro donation made I found out how old, broken down, and slightly dirty things were. To explain it would take awhile but let’s just say the blanket on the top of the bed had pieces of wood or leaves all over it and when I pulled the top layer back to just put my sleeping bag on the bare sheet there was rice in the bed. Rice? I have no idea but I wasn’t loving it. But I have stayed in worse places in Indonesia so I just threw an extra blanket over the sheet and prayed I did not get bed bugs.

After heading out to hit up a bar for some Wifi I came across the film crew at a cafe. They told me they were also staying at the convent and that Travis and Erin were too. I was happy I could reconnect with my friends but a little wary that the film crew was going to be there. Since the crew had mentioned they were doing a documentary and had asked about interviews and I really wasn’t sure I wanted to bare my soul for the strangers who would see the film (even if it ended up only being a few) I had shied away from the interview. But later at dinner the crew started up the cameras as the lot of us were discussing the American influence on the global world because of the large number of Americans on the camino this year. I have no idea if they will use that footage or not, hopefully if they do I didn’t say anything that will embarrass myself.

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From Santo Domino the way takes you to Belorado 23km away. I left from the convent with Travis and Erin, I was hoping to stick with them until we got to Burgos, the next big city, so that Travis might be able to help me look for a cord for my camera. (Mike let me borrow his Lumix but he didn’t have the battery charger, so I was sent to Spain with one fully charged battery and one that had been used for a whole climbing trip Mike took to Yosemite.)

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The walk on this day was a really fun one with Travis and Erin. As we were cresting some small hills in the trail you could see the rolling farm fields, much of which was planted with wheat. It appeared that some of the fields were ready to harvest and others were still green. The contrasting colors of gold and green with the red poppys and splashes of purple and yellow wild flowers made the scene just so beautiful. Travis commented that if he was just dropped in that place he wouldn’t even know it was Spain. When I asked where he thought he had been dropped Travis ruminated a moment and said, “France…no, I think Spain.” Erin and I cracked up laughing. Just as we were riding down the other side of that giggle fest we saw a street sign that appeared to have a mouse on it, but no regular mouse, it looked like it had a radioactive sign on it, with that the laughing carried us down the way.

The largest stretch of this day had us walking along a busy highway with little shade, lucky for us it wasn’t too hot even though the sun was out. No sunburn on this day. As we grew closer and closer the heat increased and I was really looking forward to getting to the alburgue to take a shower and wash off the dust that had settled on us as we trekked along the dry, chalky path that weaved between the farm fields and the road. Even though we wanted to get to the alburgue we did not have to hurry since a group of three Spanish guys we had met had offered to call ahead and reserve us spots like they had, and we had accepted the gracious offer.

When we arrived and were given bed assignments I had no idea that it was my lucky day, I got a bottom bunk! I have been getting used to having the top bunk because when we check into some place the managers try to save the bottom beds for older people. It was the jackpot day to get the bottom bed too because it was actually large enough to sit up in and relax. I was able to even get the internet to be able to post a blog.

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Travis, Erin, and I decided to cook dinner and we whipped up a mixed green salad with tomato, cucumber, green olives, green pepper, tuna and olive oil. It was amazing after eating so much dense food to have something I would make at home. I was also thinking of comfort food from home when I scrambled some eggs. I had planned to scramble 6 eggs and save half for breakfast the next morning, but I guess I have been burning more calories than I thought because I ate all six eggs, even after I had demolished my large salad. Then I headed off to the room of never ending torture by snoring to face yet another terrible night of sleep.

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Spanish!

Dear Spanish,

I have always loved the lyrical sound of your words that are sung rather than spoken. I have tried more than once to get in your good graces to no avail. But in the past few days I feel that we are becoming friends, I not only understand more of your secrets, but I can even let your words pass my lips without embarrassment. Could it be that we are meant to be? I hope you feel the same way Spanish because I have no intention of leaving you now that I’ve gotten my foot in your door.

With love,
Ricki

Lists running through my head

Some people get songs stuck in their heads when they are hiking alone for extended periods of time, not me. I happen to be cursed with a near constant internal monologue which happens to erupt into spontaneous list making when there is nothing left to discuss. A strange afflication I know. Well here is a taste of one gem from today.

Things I like:
Mike
coffee
books
trees
hiking
chocolate

Things I don’t like:
Unwanted attention from strange Spanish men
Alburgues that don’t have kitchens
Hot (I mean you sweat the second you are out of the shower) weather
Snoring

Really useful way I spend my time huh…well when you actually have time to think about all the things you miss in the rush of everyday life at some point the brain sort of blanks, I guess this is what happens to me when that occasion arrises. : )

imageI have never looked up the weather to find such a bizarre but appropriate description of the crazy heat wave that hit Spain in the last few days. It was 100 degrees today, ugghh.

Birthday whoas and wonders

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The next day I decided to deviate from my guide book for the first time, the planned hike was 28km and the next day was to be 30km, I decided that since I had the time I wanted to just split the days up and walk three days instead of two. So I walked only 18.6km to Viana, it meant I got there a little earlier than if I had gone the extra 10km that was planned in the book but I am battling blisters and the arch on my right foot is getting really sore by the end of the day so I figured a little shorter walk would do me good. The place I (and Andrea and a girl we had stayed with in Los Arcos, Adina, from Hungary) went to was the parish alburgue, it was donativo, which means you donate what you can, my guide book suggests at least five euros and more if you can. It was very basic, one shower and toilet each for women and men. Also the sleeping area consisted of two rooms with no beds, just two inch thick mats on the floor. For me if wasn’t much different than the way I slept at the research site in Borneo but it really surprised the other two women. That afternoon I spent wandering the small city, I found the other alburgue which was the municipal one, and it looked much more modern with better facilities, but it was only one night and I had wanted to try out the parroquial alburgues at least once so it was fine for me.

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For dinner I went with Andrea and Adina to a place they had enjoyed for lunch. They wanted to order tapas, later I found out (and I had already guessed this but didn’t want to be confrontational since it seemed Adina hated being wrong) that they are not called tapas, they are called pinxtos (pinchos). The difference being that you pay for pinxtos and tapas are ‘gratis’ free with the order of a drink. Anyway, they were delicious and filling. I felt bad that we did not eat dinner with the other pilgrims at the parish and this is when I decided I really should go my own way again so I could make sure I wasn’t missing out on the things I wanted to do because of the influence of others. At this point I had also become tired of being the one the others had started to rely on for spanish translation when my spanish is really poor, it was stressful and I felt bad if I couldn’t figure out the spanish for them and they became frustrated. But the universe had other plans for me I guess.

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The next day was my birthday and the thing I wanted most I could not have (I wanted Mike to be able to spend my birthday with me), so the thing I wanted next was all I could realistically strive for: a good nights sleep. The next town was 21km away and the next town was just too far so again I ended up at the same place as Andrea and Adina (also Francie since she decided to take a bus). I thought though that I could get some real sleep (i.e. sleep with no interruption by the roar of snoring) if I got a private room. Now I might have expected too much from a room that was 25 euros but I was expecting a private bathroom and actual blankets on the bed. What I got was a room without a bathroom that shared two paper thin walls with the room next door so I could hear every word of conversation from the pilgrims in the regular part of the alburgue. They paid 8 euros and I paid 17 more than them to just have a door, so no one could see me change I guess, I could’ve changed in the shower and saved the euros.

Although the room was a disappointment the town of Navarette was really cute, it had an old part of town with traditional stone buildings with stone chiseled crests and a view of the mountains that can really make you want to move here. I have to admit that I was probably not the most fun person to be around this day, I was tired, cranky, disappointed and when I tried to get on my iPad to skype with Mike to at least try to pull myself out of the little pile of self pity I was wallowing in I got a nasty little surprise. Since it had been a few days since I had charged the iPad there was some message about iCloud backup that popped up. No matter how many times I pressed the “OK” button the damn message would not go away and I couldn’t get anything else on the screen to work. I tried leaving the alburgue so it would disconnect from the internet, I tried going to a bar so it would connect to different internet, I tried pressing all sorts of combinations of buttons to maybe “control/alt/delete” that f-ing message from my screen. Then when Mike did try to call me through skype and I couldn’t answer I almost started to cry. I was alone in Spain and all I wanted was to talk to Mike, I just wanted to share my birthday with my best friend, instead I was stuck watching him try to call and I couldn’t even tell him why I couldn’t answer.

So the only thing I could think of was trying to use the ancient desk top computer the alburgue hospitalero had in the corner of the living room area. I paid him 1 euro and he plugged it in and started it up. The dust on it wasn’t super confidence enhancing but I thought I might be able to at least tell Mike through an email why I couldn’t answer his call. When I inquired if the video camera worked he said that it wouldn’t work with skype because skype was too new. Then he gave me a pair of headphones with a microphone which also looked too old for the new skype, my suspicions were confirmed. But once the computer finally booted up and I got on the internet I realized I could chat through skype so I sent Mike a message about my locked up iPad. Francie came down from her and Andrea’s private room (30 euros split between the two and they got a private bathroom and beds with blankets) she let me use her phone to actually skype call Mike. Mike (being amazing at everything) diagnosed the iPad’s problem from half a world away and I was able to fix it. So I was finally able to actually skype with him and even though I couldn’t be with him for my birthday I was just so incredibly thankful I at least got to talk to him. After my chat with Mike I was in soaring spirits.

That night Francie and I went to the church, it was really quite large and open on the inside. The organ was situated behind the pews on a raised platform that reached almost halfway to the ceiling. Behind the towering organ were cases with preserved clothing, books, and religious figurines. There were some real strange human figures in full length robes and masks with only the eyes cut out and pointed hats. I was shocked by this as the only time I have ever seen this costume is when learning about the Ku Klux Klan. I have no idea the significance of this costume to the catholic religion but it was interesting that it was so surprising to me but Francie, from Germany, did not give it even a second glance.

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After a little stroll through history Francie and I went to the bar which was conveniently located across from the church. We went in at a busy time, people Imagewere coming in and ordering one drink and draining it and then leaving, headed to mass I guess. : ) haha. Anyway we ordered pinxtos and Francie got a glass of wine from Don Jacobea, a vineyard you pass on the way into town, since I had been getting stomach aches from red wine (a crime here in Spain, I know) I choose the ‘vino blanco’ but the white wine was sweeter than I like and it wasn’t as good as Francie’s ‘vino tinto’. Nevertheless the food was amazing and we had a good time.

Back to my “private room” and after journaling about the crazy range of emotions and events of my birthday I passed right out. I woke up a few times but not nearly as much as usual, so even though the room wasn’t as private as I would’ve liked it did help some with the snoring.

So yesterday I crossed the halfway point to Santiago. I cant believe I have been on the Camino for 20 days, time really does fly when you are changing cities everyday.

While my journey to Santiago may be half over, my journey to the end of the world, Finisterre, will take me at least 5 or more days past there. : ) As hard as some of the struggles of the Camino are it is made up for tenfold by so many moments that bring tears to my eyes and make me happy I am alive and able to experience them.

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