It Gets Easier Peregrino

Today was a good day. I am born again. We walked 13 miles and were in town by 12:30. My feet didn't hurt. My knees didn't hurt. My legs didn't hurt. It was like a stroll in the park. When we got to our albergue, I felt like a new man. Its amazing to think that it could be that easy. I remember just a few weeks ago when 13 miles was almost unthinkable. I know that tomorrow will be brutal once again (17 miles to come tomorrow), but I can still revel in the fact that 13 miles is like a rest day for us now. I just wish I could talk to those peregrinos about 10 days in and tell them what I know now: like most things in life, it gets so much easier. All you have to do is walk 275 miles.

We had a pilgrim party at a crazy artists bar tonight in Reliegos. I'm not being facetious either. The man is crazy. His bar is covered inside and out with his own and other peoples paintings and writing that he stays up all night painting. He kept bringing us food and beer and never asked for money. He sat with us for hours speaking like a possessed man. Of course, I understood none of his Spanish, but I have on good authority (Spanish speakers) that it was crazy talk. I'm not sure how much we had over about 5 hours, but we gave him the 20€ he asked of us at the end. Apparently, this guy is in the movie The Way as well. I believe he plays himself as the crazy bar owner.

It was pretty wonderful though. We just sat in the sun (a small miracle in itself, we haven't seen the sun in about a week), and drank beer and ate tapas with about 15 other pilgrims that straggled in through the day. Mirko, the German civil engineer, photographer, painter and harley rider was there with his wife. They were at the bar 2 years ago and wrote on the wall, "Der Camino macht uns alle reich." The Camino makes all of us rich. We also met Kaitlin again, whom we thought we had lost a few days ago. For the first time, we met St. Martin, as they call him, the German guy who has taken a vow of silence on the Camino. He will supposedly talk when we reach Leon tomorrow. Although he nearly talked when an American guy accused Germans of not knowing how to party. Maybe he's not a saint after all. I suppose we will find out tomorrow. Some other new faces and old faces as well. Its a pretty eclectic bunch, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.


Whoa! We're Halfway There...

Yeah! Living on a prayer! This has been my music in my head for the last two days. (Without other means of music, walking lends itself to having songs play on repeat in your head for days.) It is appropriate though considering we passed the halfway mark a couple days ago. Spirits are high in the Aber camp. Today was our longest day yet at nearly 17 miles, but it didn't seem much harder than an average day for us now. Our feet seem to be mutating into rawhide punishment machines and aren't hurting as much anymore. (I also do math in my head when I walk...go figure. Anyway, I figured up that we're going to take about 900,000 steps on the Camino)

We've lost some of our original walking mates now, but we're on to a new chapter. We've been walking with Jim and his grandson, Nick from Minnesota for a few days now, and the Utah 4: Dean, Tracy, Jane (actually Canadian), and Kaitlin (actually from Colorado). We've also got the Flying Dutchmen, Mike, Erik, and Op, all of whom walk neatly twice as fast as us. It seems we've lost track of Marius, Tom, Martina, and South African Hank and his groupies. So goes the Camino, many new beginnings and endings.

Tonight, we ate the communal dinner at our albergue. We took part in preparing the salad, and also had some awesome lentil stew with potatoes and chorizo. Also, wine. Always wine. It was so perfect because I was starving. Its amazing his much food you can eat when you spend all day walking. This is how I imagine the Camino in the middle ages, walking all day then coming in to eat hearty stew with 20 fellow travelers in the basement of your albergue. And also being serenaded by an elderly peregrino in Spanish just because.

We've been getting some pretty rad dinners in general lately. Last night was artichokes and ham for the first course, rabbit and meatballs for the second. The night before we managed to get ourselves whole trouts, heads and all, on our plates. (Although, sad to admit that we're seriously craving some Chinese food and McDonalds milkshakes with fries for dessert. We actually haven't seen a single McDonalds, Burger King, or KFC along the Camino. I find this pretty amazing.)

The best part about dinner is the company. We haven't eaten dinner alone for days or weeks now. Lots of people say that they're on the Camino to learn how to live with less. I've learned that you can live with less of everything except other people.


More Tests

I think this Camino is testing me. These last 2 days have been definitely harder than usual. We entered the Meseta to 30 mph sustained headwinds, cloudy drizzly weather and 40-50° F temperatures. Add to this that I started to get sick yesterday and have been spending significant time sitting on the toilet. 

That's not all that bad since immodium puts a quick stop to all that. The worst part is being sore all over. Walking 12 miles doesn't seem like much to us anymore, but after yesterdays hike, my legs ached so bad from my hips down to the tips of my toes that I nearly laid down on the side of the trail and cried. Its just a good thing that Lauren was there to keep me moving forward. Needless to say, I've been loading up on ibuprofen since then and am doing much better. This sickness also seems to be going around and I've heard reports that it usually only lasts a couple of days. 

All this got us to thinking about the movie The Way and all of the things it egregiously omits from the Camino experience. Most of these things weren't our experiences, but all were at least first hand accounts:

Blisters that cover your entire heel,
Constant foot/knee/leg pain,
Everyone getting and staying sick,
Shitting yourself on the trail from diarrhea,
Knees swelling to twice their size from tendonitis,
Cold showers that you have to walk across the street to,
And probably more that I'm forgetting.

Oh well, its still awesome after all this when you get to a great albergue like we're in right now with super hot showers and soft beds. That and all your Camino friends are in the same albergue with you to share the pain/shame/elation of the Camino.

Home on the Camino

Ahhh...how wonderful it is to sleep inside a UNESCO world heritage site, for the second night in a row even. I'm writing this laying in bed inside the San Juan de Ortega monastery, which was built in the 16th century. Last night we slept in a 16th century theater, which was built as part of a church of the same vintage in Belorado. The medieval town center of Belorado is a world heritage site.

We went to the pilgrims mass tonight in the monastery church, of which I understood nothing, but its OK, the Spanish do mass with German efficiency: full mass with communion in under 30 minutes. Also, we've met a Bulgarian opera singer on the trail now (who awesomely speaks with an Irish accent) who sang Ave Maria for the mass for everyone. She also sang for us last night outside the albergue as we all sat around like we were in some kind of feel good Hollywood film (except for the wine and rum and drunk Czech guy). We all sang songs from our countries; Lauren and I sang Home on the Range, of course. It was all rather surreal in its Camino-ishness.

I haven't mentioned much about walking here because its just kind of become our life. We wake up, we walk, we get to town, shower, laundry, nap, then dinner and drinks with fellow peregrinos. I literally don't know what the day of the week is, how many days we've been walking, or the mileage unless I really take some time to look it all up. (Although I did just add up our mileage to be 164 miles if you were wondering, 30 miles in the last 2 days!)

It doesn't much matter anymore though because nothing really changes day to day anymore. Our feet hurt, or legs and knees hurt, our backs hurt, but that's just life now. (Speaking of feet though, I believe the entire bottom of my feet are becoming one giant callus. The skin under my heels and under my first two little toes  is numb to the touch.) We've pretty well settled into our backpacks and clothes and have a solid system for water and food going. So its really just more of the same with a little bit different scenery and people every day.

We have been walking with A pretty solid cast of characters also lately, an explanation of which I think will have to wait for another post. The most memorable may be Nico from Italy, who has "Nico" tattooed in big block letters on his forearm.


All the People

We've been walking and eating with a lot more people lately. We always have the typical icebreaker conversations about the trail of the day, whether their feet & knees hurt, what country their from, and how much of the Camino they're walking (and usually in that order). But past that its always interesting to find out why they're on the Camino and how they are able to do it at all.

Lots of people only seem to do the Camino in stages, like Tom from England who is also a civil engineer and who could only get 3 weeks off work this year to do half this year and half next year. Then there's the disaffected European college student who all seem to just travel around after they graduate until they run out of money. We met a girl named Martina from the Netherlands and a German guy Marius both doing this. Theres lots of retirees as well, like the retired 76 year old surgeon who performed some minor blister surgery on Lauren and Martina last night in the albergue with me as his scrub nurse. He's the oldest we've met, but we've heard some rumors of an 82 year old on the trail also.

Of course there's also a bunch of people in their own circumstances. We just met a Danish basket artist today who just sets her own hours. And there's the stay at home mom with her 16 year old home-schooled son who are meeting her husband in Leon. There are also a few other people that we've met that I couldn't tell you much about. We've been in the same albergue for the last 4 nights, Takaguchi, who speaks almost no English, but at least we figured out each others names. We still haven't met anyone else who quit their job to come though.


Have We Really Walked 100 Miles?

Today we topped 111 miles on our Camino, which is 1 mile more than my trek hiked at Philmont when I was 18 years old. Granted our backpacks were heavier then, but we did our trek in 10 days and Lauren and I are only on day 9 right now.

So I guess the point is that walking isn't all that difficult to do even when you're not in your physical prime. Hell, half the people here are retirees. I'm coming to find out that its really all mental. Out feet hurt so much I just want to sit down and quit just about every day. (Although on the good advice of Nurse Rosey that we met on the trail, I started taking Celebrex once a day, which is a prescription arthritis medicine in the US but only $40 for a 30 day supply over the counter in Spain. It works wonders on knees!) However, where when I was younger I probably would have sat down and quit, or at least started throwing things and yelling in frustration and anger (or maybe getting in a fight with my brother, Jeremy), I apparently have learned some more self control in the last 10 years.

People keep talking about how much you change on the Camino, but I'm not really feeling the magic yet. Although, as clichéd as it sounds, if I do see anything now, I see how much easier things are when you just buckle down and keep at the job. I almost imagine that the 60+ year old people may be having an easier go at it than we are, since I'm sure they've learned this lesson long ago.

In other news, we've been seeing some pretty amazing stuff and meeting some great people. I think the best part of the Camino is the loose fellowship along the trail. Its so easy to meet people, and we may walk with them for 2 or 3 days, or see them day after day in the albergues, and then not see them again for days or ever. But they've all been memorable if short friendships that I'm sure we won't soon forget.

We're on into La Rioja, the most famous wine producing region of Spain and its vineyards as far as you can see. We've been sampling their bounty in the form of grapes plucked nervously from the vines and in the wine that is included with the price of every meal. We actually bought a bottle of wine for 1€ and it was pretty decent considering. Tomorrow we will be in Najera for their San Juan Martir y Santa Maria la Real festival, which apparently includes a bull and paella competition. Mmmm...paella.

The walking has been a bit easier going since we're out of the mountains for the most part. We will have a couple big inclines to top yet before we head out on to the meseta in 5 days. All I'm hoping for is dirt trails and no more pavement. I don't think my bruised feet can handle another kilometer of asphalt.


Dreading Hikes and Dreadlocks

Well we survived another day and it wasn't all that bad after all. Don't get me wrong: it was hard, it hurt, and it took us 8.5 hours of hiking, but I think that being mentally prepared for it all by absolutely dreading the day's hike just made it that much easier.

As far as dreadlocks are concerned, we've been using this all natural lye soap called Dr. Bronners for everything (body, hair, clothes) and we think our hair is just going to turn into dreadlocks if we don't get some real shampoo soon. Other items of note: a dog literally eating human shit; walking by sunflower fields, vineyards and blackberry thickets, taking samples of all; walking across a real draw bridge and a 1000 year old stone bridge; playing word games on the trail to keep our minds off the pain. Also, walking the longest single distance in one day of our lives.


The Real Camino Begins

I imagine every pilgrim has approximately the same thought some time near the beginning of their Camino, whether its the first day, or in our case, the fourth day: what the hell have I gotten myself into. This thought sneaks itself in somewhere in between the incessant foot, knee, and back pain. The feeling is much amplified by the fact that everything hurts this bad and you've only been hiking a few days and still have 30+ days left.

I think this thought first crept through my mind yesterday after we had nearly reached the bottom of the seemingly endless decent into Zubiri. It was about 1300 ft in about 1.5 miles. My knee really was not having any of that and Laurens feet also not. My feet don't hurt that bad since my knee generally steals the show. Oh and it rained all day yesterday and today.

But after about 13 miles or so, and we're both ready to give up, we inevitably reach our refugio and all in the world is back in its right place. Hot showers, hot meals, and clean laundry seems a real miracle at the end of each day. We also take great comfort with the other pilgrims. It doesn't make us glad to see them limping around in pain, per se; it does give us some solace that we arent alone in our journey.

Tomorrow should be our hardest day for the next couple of weeks. We have to ascend 1200 ft and descend 1600 ft over 6 miles in the middle of our 15 mile day. I never believed I would say it, but I sincerely wish it was all up hill. Thankfully though, after tomorrow we're out of the Pyrenees and on to the Meseta.


The Great Pyrenees

So after a few initial trials (Lauren's flight being canceled, not finding each other for 2 hours in the Barcelona airport, finding that busses don't run on Sundays to St. Jean and taxis have higher rates, Lauren getting sick enough to have to try to get medicine at a Spanish farmacia...) we've started our camino! We stayed in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in some hippy lady's house with the phrase "Zen Relax" posted all over. Then we hiked to Valcarlos where we stayed in the basement of an elementary school. We had to ask at a bar down the street for a key to the place. It was surprisingly nice all things considered.
Today we tackled the Pyrenees Mountains and man we were not expecting the serious mountains that they are. We went over Ibañeta Pass where Charlemagne crossed to conquer the Iberian Peninsula for catholics everywhere. You would think he would have found a better way though considering it was a 3000 ft vertical climb in about 7 miles. At least this is better than the high road that takes you up a 4500 ft climb. Despite the grueling ascent, it was the most amazing hike we've ever made. The place is straight out of a fairy tale with all old growth forests with moss and fern covered floors.
Tonight we will stay in the monestary at Roncesvalles where Roland, acting as Charlemagne's rearguard, was defeated by the Basques in 778. Believe me, this seems to be a pretty big deal here. We've seen no less than 3 monuments to Roland, and in the 900 year old chapel there apparently sits Charlemagne's chess set.
Other than enchanted forests and Roland, we've mostly been passing by 500 year old farmhouses surrounded by sheep, sheep dogs, and Shepard's. Its not speculation about the houses either, most have their construction dates and original owners engraved in stone on the front. Pretty much the most damn quaint place in the world.

27 km down and only about 760 to go! 


Welcome to Miami

I am stuck in Miami until Friday while Jay awaits my arrival in Barcelona.  Just a slight snaffoo in the travel plans.  Looks like we won't be reunited until Saturday and starting our Camino walk until Monday.  Thanks to all my dear family for the support in getting the new travel arrangements and delays communicated to Jay in Spain and for preventing several possible melt downs in the Miami airport.  I've showered, got a couple of hours of sleep, and Friday will be here before you know it.  Vamanos! 


8 hour Layovers & English IPAs

So here I am sitting in Philly international for my 8 hour layover just thinking how nice an 8 hour layover can be. I spent most of my day today sitting in a rocking chair next to a life sized Lego reproduction of the Liberty Bell. Pretty random.

Also not expected was getting an awesome tasting and reasonably priced philly cheese steak sandwich at Chickie's & Pete's sports bar. Apparently its like the best sports bar in the country. Thanks ESPN. They did have Victory IPA on tap and Dogfish head 60 minute IPA in bottles though which I am very grateful for. And I have to say, the 60 IPA is most definitely not an American IPA. It IS the best English IPA I've ever had though. Beer nerds.... Anyway, the beers were only $5.50 which kind of blows my mind since thats the same price as Guinness at the shitty sports bar down the street from my place in KC.

So all in all, I got in some seriously depressing Tolstoy stories rraf, awesome beer drank, good food eaten, and free WiFi to accommodate my internet ramblings. Beyond the minor distractions of the TSA's security theater, flying is still awesome.

The Time is Now

Now is not the time for severe sinus/allergy congestion to keep me or my husband up these precious few minutes before our 3 am alarm goes off.  I would expect the excited anticipation to keep me tossing and turning all night (which it has), but this constant flow of guck from my nose is just plain annoying.  And so there shall be this final blog post before our departure while I  try to give Jay a few extra minutes of nose blowing sniffle free sleep upstairs.

Everything is packed and ready by the door.  Our last meal was of course Thai Place.  Though I'm sad to report that "Thai Tuesday" has been discontinued.  This is probably a good thing for our long term health and fitness goals.  The fridge is all cleaned out with only enough milk left for our morning bowl of cereal.  I hope the fact that I am awake now will mean a good hard sleep on my international flight.