Thursday, July 19, 2007

Video Postcard and Some Photos

Well, we are about 1 week and over 100 km into our Camino. The distance sounds much more impressive in kilometers so I´ll leave it that way. We have had some ups and downs and some long hard days and some beautiful easier days out there walking and a few injuries, but all in all we are having a great time. I haven´t been keeping up with the blog much since we haven´t had much opportunity to be on the internet for long periods of time.

We´ve got more stories to post when I have a little more time online, but for now here are some pictures of the terrain we´ve been walking through and a little video postcard we made when we wandered through a field full of sheep yesterday.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Puente La Reina

Day 2 - Uterga - Obanos - Puente La Reina

I went outside to write this afternoon and with the warm sun on my face and the perfect breeze I fell asleep. I was outside the on the back lawn of our albergue after a much more moderate day of walking than yesterday. I awoke to the wonderful cacaphony of chatter from pilgrims from all over the world. Here, at any given time I can hear a combination of Spanish, English, German, Italian, French and many other languages that I cannot yet recognize. I feel like the beginning of our journey is brimming, hoping that some of these voices will soon become friends.

The municipal albergue in Puente La Reina has about 100 beds, many more than the one we were very nearly turned away from the night before. The albergues seem to have one or several rooms filled with bunk beds for us to sleep on. This comes with the added bonus of a symphony of snoring during the night. Here there is a large bathroom and a few showers and a gorgeous lawn out back with trees to shade the pilgrims gathered in various groupings on the lawn and a place to hang our hand washed clothes.

This whole hand washing the clothes thing is new to me. Now, I have washed delicates in the sink before with Woolite, hoisery and bras and such, but this is something else entirely. The albergue has this curious looking sink, with slanted ridges for scrubbing. The hospitalera (that´s what the hosts at the albergues are called) lent me a piece of this strange brown soap to wash our clothes with. I wasn´t really sure how to begin, but Paul showed me how. I rolled up my sleeves and washed our clothes Little House on the Prairie style soap, soap, soap, scrub, scrub, scrub, rinse, repeat. This is more of a workout than the walking! I was very proud of myself, but halfway expecting Ma and Pa and sister Mary to show up after they had killed and skinned the chicken for supper.

This was the first albergue where we have been able to cook so Paul and I made some pasta and some chicken. We didn´t have any oil, but saw some margarine in the fridge so we figured it was ok. When peeled back the top, there was a strange white substance at the bottom of the tub that was quite suspect. When you have walked all day and are totally famished, your standards of acceptability are dramatically altered. We used it anyway. From the kitchen while we were cooking and chatting with an English guy named Rob who writes tie in books for video games and movies, I heard someone who sounded just like one of my Korean students talking excitedly. I was really surprised to see that there were not one, but 3 Koreans in the albergue with us. We all started talking over dinner and met Che Jin, Ku and O Kwang along with Matthew from India. I talked to all of them for quite a while and Paul joined us for a while and then went to do a drawing of the church.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Camino de Santiago - Day 1

Day 1 - Pamplona- Cizur Menor - Uterga 17km

As soon as you summit Monte Alto Perdon (Mountain of High Forgiveness), you will fully comprehend why the catholic church pardoned many heinous crimes and various other sins in for walking the Camino. If you are like me, only reasonably fit and carrying a backpack weighing more than a small child, you will come to this understanding much, much earlier in the ascent.

The first day of the Camino began easily enough. After walking around in the Casco Antiguo in Pamplona I quickly discovered that my hiking shoes, although they felt like a warm hug standing around my house, were a disaster to walk more than 100 meters in. I know , I know I should have tested them out before I left, but the problem was solved easily enough with a Corte Ingles, Spain´s mega department store, in close proximity. I abandoned my old pair of hiking shoes on a bench in Pamplona hoping they might find a home with one of the guys who lost their shoes in the bull run. I replaced them with new Merril´s that are working out perfectly.

We left Pamplona about 2pm which is VERY late to start a day on the Camino. Most peregrinos, the Spanish word for pilgrim, don´t mess around. They are up well before the sun, clean, dressed and rummaging around their backpacks, loudly crunching their clothing and bags of sausage, cheese, and bread for the day in the dark. It was only 4 km to the first town Cizur Menor, which we completed easily. It was about 4pm when we arrived in the sleepy little town, invigorated from having talked to 2 perfectly normal pilgrims, a music teacher from Liverpool and a girl from Frace, on the way there. I was hesitant to begin the 12.8 km hike to the next town of Uterga so late, but Paul was excited about making some more progress so we decided to press on. After all, the first part had been easy. We walked through the lush green grounds of the Universidad de Navarra, mostly downhill. The weather was beautiful, cool and breezy, which was a nice change from the 116 degree weather we left behind in Vegas. No problemo, we thought. If we had only known what lay ahead of us...

We knew we were in for a little mountainous terrain, but thought we had seen the worst of it during the ascent in the first hour. If this was what the mountains were like, give me ten more mountains we laughed. We were tough. We were peregrinos, finally on our way! We were mastering the outdoors, we didn´t need any autobus to help us along the way. We didn´t need any doctors or police to help us. Silly Spiderbat, what did he know? The green landscape swirled around us. We delighted in all of the strange and beautiful wildflowers and the green countryside with wheat fields as far as we could see.

And then it began. The small hill we had taken for the great Monte Perdon was behind us and gave way to another ominous trail that rose endlessly from our feet stretching to the horizon above. This daunting scene was dressed up innocently in the vast robes of countryside. It looked like a scene from Don Quixote, complete with giant white turbines at the summit, which I preferred to think of as windmills. We started up the hill and Paul walked confidently forward, full of energy. I started in a similar manner, feeling like I was rising up to meet the challenge, but slowly and surely my back began to squeal in pain. I tried to ignore it for a while, but after about 30 minutes of the steep climb it felt like each item in my backpack, every article of clothing, my poncho, my camera, all of my battery charges, my journal and even my toothbrush were conspiring to crush and melt me under their weight as punishment for packing too much. They crushed my spine until I felt like discs would slip out avoid the pressure. I began to cry. I looked at Paul climbing ahead of me. I struggled to keep up and finally my back could take no more. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn´t do it any more. I had to rest. I had to shed the pack. I didn´t know I could carry on up the mountain.

Only one day and the Camino had already broken me. I wondered if it was like the military, if everyone who passed through had to be broken down first in order to be built back up stronger and better than before. Maybe this was meant to humble me before the long walk I was about to undertake. Paul came to my rescue. He asked what he could carry to help me lighten the load. I sobbed and shook my head not sure what to say. I leaned down to reach into my pack. Paul stopped me and took the whole pack from me and strapped it on the front of his body. This brought more tears, this time of gratitude. I couldn´t imagine how he could bear the weight of both packs, but he did. I rested for a few minutes and noted that this walk would actually be rather pleasant without the weight of the bulging backpack. When I had recovered I started to ask for my backpack back. I asked every few meters until we got to a stopping point where we sat for a moment. We shifted around and repacked until the pack was much more comfortable. The sun was burning brightly almost directly overhead. If I didn´t have my cell phone telling me it was 5pm, I would have thought it was noon.

We continued to struggle for another hour up the hill, Alto Perdon challenging us with every step. Only one pilgrim passed us the entire day. He was a Spaniard on a bike and told us to be careful, the rocks on the wasy down were very dangerous. Great. As if we needed anything worse. All the way up we heard a loud whooshing sound that sounded like a plane taking off. We we finally clawed our way up the final few steps we found out that the sound we had heard was the ¨windmill¨turbines. As we rested on top of the hill, I sort of understood the pride that Super Spider Bat had exuded. I felt faintly like Wonderwoman myself and I could detect a little bit of superpower in Paul too.

San Fermin in Pamplona

Well, we weren´t injured running with the bulls in Pamplona. This is probably due to the fact that we didn´t actually run with them. Tuesday afternoon after we arrived in Pamplona, Paul told me that after thinking about it, he didn´t think he wanted to run. Especially since this was at the beginning of the trip where we´d be walking the entire time. Any injury, even a twisted ankle could make quick work of us out there on the road. He thought there was just too much to lose if something were to happen to either of us. He was right, really. He asked me how badly I wanted to run. I thought for a moment. I was both excited and terrified at the prospect of being closed into a tiny street with a mess of people wearing white and red and a dozen angry bulls. I didn´t really want to do it by myself, but if Paul came with me...

We had already bought balcolny seats at an English language school to watch el Encierro, the name for the running of the bulls, from above Calle Estafeta for the following morning. If we watched and decided it was safe enough and we really wanted to run, we could postpone the start of our camino and come back the next morning.

At about 5 minutes to 8 in the morning, the barricaded street in front of our balcolny was slowly flooded with runners getting a head start on the bulls. People stretched and jumped around preparing themselves for the chaos that was about to take place. The air was thick with anticipation. A few minutes later a cannon sounded and the people on the street began to move, some running, the more daring jogging or walking hoping to get a little closer to the charging animals. After about 2 minutes another cannon sounded and the bulls were released. A TV behind our balcolny showed the news coverage of the Encierro so we were able to see the entire path of the bulls as they ran the gauntlet taunted by runners to what would be their final resting place. The folks in the front of the pack probably made it to the bull ring to safety without seeing a bull at all. Others in the back ran along side of the bulls, making a game of touching the bulls massive sides or holding on to their horns. People ran into each other and fell every possible way in the street. One bull decided a runner was in his way and promptly flung him against a wall with his horn. Another guy trying to climb a wall was pulled back into the street and under a bull. Bull testicles in his face, the guy clung to the beast´s legs for dear life. The bull tried to stomp him, but was eventually prodded along by the bull chasers. All of this happened in a matter of minutes.

I really didn´t understand how much I wanted to be down there running until I was not. Some of you will probably think I am crazy after the scene I just described, but I envied those people who stood there in anticipation waiting for everything to get started while I watched from the sidelines. Not so much the guy who got stomped on, but the group in the front we could see from our balcolny, the 3 women who braved it down there in a sea of men, the group of buddies from London who wore matching green shirts and took off awfully quickly when the cannon sounded, the young couple about my age who ventured to the front of the pack. They all found a way to have this experience that they will probably remember for the rest of their lives. They took a risk, but found a way to make it a smarter risk and were rewarded with a story that they will probably tell for the rest of their lives to their children and their grandchildren.

I felt a profound sadness sitting in our room that afternoon in the aftermath of San Fermin. I´m not sure it even had anything to do with the bulls exactly. I just felt I had made a choice that was at odds with the way I want to live my life. Do I really want to watch life go by safely perched on a balcolny from afar? Or do I want to take life by the horns? If I choose the latter, I may get a little bruised and beat up along the way, but at least I will then have battle scars to show off and I think be better for the wear.

Then I began thinking about the Camino and why Paul and I are here in Spain in the first place. To have an adventure, to do something that will challenge us both physically and mentally. I suppose deciding to walk 400 miles on your summer ¨vacation¨carrying an 18 lb. backpack is not exactly sitting on the sidelines.

We didn´t go back the second day to run with the bulls. We did what we set out to do, started our camino. I was really OK with that. If I´ve got something to prove to myself about taking risks to gain great rewards, it doesn't need to be on a street in Spain with wild bulls. There will be other bulls in other towns. Maybe next time someone else will be watching from the balcolny and I will be the one running by.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

We´re in Spain

We´re here! After a couple of long days of traveling, we´re in Pamplona ready to start our journey. I have some other stories from the days leading up to today, but I will have to go back and post later.

We had our first encounter with a fellow pilgrim today while waiting to buy bus tickets in San Sebastian. He was a short and stocky Spaniard talking to everyone else in line in Spanish and novice English like he owned the place. While I took off to find an Internet cafe and retrieve some information about where we were headed, Paul stayed to buy the tickets and the guy struck up a conversation with him. The interaction went something like this:

Spaniard: Hey, your wife, she left!
Paul: She went to the Internet cafe.
Spaniard: No, no. She left her bag and she left too. Ha ha
ha. Hey man, I just walked 1,000 km. I am so strong.
Paul: Oh yeah? My wife and I are walking a long way too.
We´re here to walk the Camino de Santiago.

Spaniard: Oh no. I just finished this Camino. You are not strong enough. And those are the
shoes you are wearing?

Paul: Yes, they´re pretty comfortable.

Spaniard: Oh, no. You cannot wear those. The rocks will punch you in your
feet.. You will take an autobus. Or you will die. You have to train for three
months at least before you start, like me. I am so strong. See my muscles? Let
me show you my feet (he proceeds to remove his shoes to show blisters and broken
toes). I am so strong. I am not Superman. I am not Spiderman. I am not Batman.
I am all of them put together.

Paul: (At this point Paul´s face is involuntarily contorting into a look
similar to Gary Coleman´s trademark ^Whatchoo talkin´ about Willis?^) Hmmm. I see. How did you do
that to your toes?

SSB: (The Spaniard will henceforth be known as Spider-Super-Batman - SSB for short). Oh, well I
start the trail at 10am. All of the white people start at 6am and I pass them
all because I am so strong. One day on the mountain, it goes down, down,
down and then up, up, up. I am walking so fast and in front of me there is
this girl, She is walking so slow. I yell at her, -Ày, Ay!- but she does not know
she needs to move and get out of my way and then crunch, poof! My toes run
into her, I fall on a rock and crack my head. Blood, blood
everywhere. But I am strong. I go on. Not you, you will
die. This mountain, Alto Perdon, there are no policia, no hospital, no autobus. You cannot make it.
There are so many white people on the Camino. I am the only black one (mind you,
this man has olive skin, but he is no more black than Tom Cruise with a

Paul: Black?! You are not black.

SSB: Ah, yes I am. (He pinches the skin on his arm and shakes his head as if this stupid American doesn´t have a firm
grasp on the English language) Dark skin. Black.

This goes on for a while before I return. It turns out that Spider-super-batman walked the start (which he made sure Paul knew was NOT in Pamplona where we are beginning) in 21 days. After the bragfest, Paul wanted to ask about SSB´s personal and spiritual growth on the pilgrimage since humility was something he clearly discarded along the way along with his extra socks and shirts. But he thought the `better of it lest he be subjected to yet another Ì´m the King of the World´ story from black Spidey.

As we toasted our homemade Kalimotxos this evening (red wine and coke, sounds gross, but is a Spanish staple and I learned to love it during my time in San Sebastiàn before), maybe we should have toasted: ¨Here´s hoping that we´re not the only 2 normal peregrinos on the road!¨

Friday, July 6, 2007

T-Minus 2 Days

Here it is, Paul's and my last day of work before our Spanish oddessey. Up until this morning the excitement was building and my head was spinning focusing on planning. Today, however, 2 days from our pending departure, my stomach feels a little queasy. Kind of like somebody hid a blender inside of it and keeps hitting pulse every few seconds.

The semester is ending. I have to say goodbye my first class full of International students at UNLV =(. This really shouldn't make me too sad because there is a good chance that I will be teaching most of them in the Fall or sometime again in the future, but what can I say, I'm sentimental. We've become a little International community this summer.

On Monday morning we will touch down in Spain and be immersed in the unknown armed with nothing but our backpacks. There is something half thrilling. but also the equal parts scary and daunting about a trip like this. I really have no idea what it will be like to walk 15 miles a day in the hot sun and or (gasp!) rain. I don't think I have ever walked 15 miles straight in my life and now we're about to do it everyday for 5 weeks. Wow. On the other hand, there's a first time for everything, right? Part of me is just itching to dive right in and see how it goes. Worst case scenario -we decide we've had enough walking for our whole lives after a few weeks and are "stuck" in Europe for 5 1/2 weeks. We can go to Italy and take a cooking class, get some bicycles in Amsterdam and ride all over Europe, take some wine tours in all of the wine regions, anything really. Not such a bad back up plan.

**The picture above contains all of the clothing I am taking for 5 1/2 weeks! I pack more than this
to go to my Mom & Jon's house for the weekend.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Julie and Julia

Nothing like a little last minute reading that I want to finish before my trip to Spain... less than a week to go by the way. I'm not in freak out mode yet, but the nerves are starting to creep in. To combat my fears that the world will end if I forget something, I am making lists. And lists of lists that I need to make, and cleaning everything like a maniac. When I get tired of that, I am reading like a maniac. I decided last week that if I was going to start Julie and Julia before my trip, I was also going to have to finish it. After all my copy is a hard back and besides my general dislike of hardcover books, it would add way too much weight in my backpack. On the bright side, I weighed my pile of clothes for trip last night and they only weigh 4 lbs! I might make it under 15 lbs. total after all.

So, about the book- despite my mixed feelings at different points during the book, when all was said and done, I was sad to see it end. The basic premise of my latest read, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen is this: Julie Powell is about to turn 30. She is working a string of temp jobs and feeling dismal about the prospects for her life. Then one day while visiting her mother, she picks up an old copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The seed is planted. Soon after that, the Julie/Julia project is born. Julie decides that she will cook every one of the recipes in a year's time and at the suggestion of her infinitely patient husband Eric, write a blog about it.

The result is an irreverent culinary and emotional roller coaster ride, an often funny, and at the end very poignant account of that year and how it gradually changed Julie's life. I have to confess, there was a point in the book about halfway through, right around the aspics (jelly made from boiling calves's hooves, I am pretty certain I could die a happy woman never having consumed and aspic.) that I was a little bored and wanted to fast forward to the meaty parts already. Enough marrow extracting and botching gellees and hissy fits in the kitchen for me. But I pushed through and I am very glad I did. Looking back I guess I was expecting a neat little plot line that would all tie up at the end, but this was an account of someone's real life and like real life, it had its ups and downs. Like life, there are some boring parts, some fights where you say unkind things to your spouse, some failures, some sludge that builds up in your kitchen drain and spits out of your bathtub. But there are also those delicious dinners and friends and family to stand by you through the whole process and of course those elusive shining moments when it all makes sense.

Seeing that Elizabeth Gilbert recommended this book and thought highly enough of Julie Powell's writing to help her find an agent I had high expectations. I realize this is a little unfair to Julie going in. Elizabeth Gilbert is a lot to live up to. I liken it to going to see a movie that everyone I have ever known has said "You have to see this! It is the best movie ever." There's Something About Mary, for instance. There was so much hype surrounding this movie that when I watched it, I was incredibly critical. I thought there were some funny parts, but mostly I just though, ehh and shrugged my shoulders, not too impressed. Luckily, after my initial skepticism in the early chapters, Julie lived up to the hype. All though the book I was looking for the heart, the meaning of it all. The last chapter sealed the deal. There was one sentence in particular that summed it up. **Warning - spoiler alert** please look away now if you don't want to be spoiled. ** Foul-mouthed, irreverent Julie saying while reflecting on Julia Child's death "I have no claim over this woman at all, unless it's the claim one who has nearly drowned has over the person who pulled her from the ocean." I finished the book last night with a tear in my eye.

Please excuse the crappy book picture. Apparently Amazon has stopped letting you copy their images for your own personal use. How rude.
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