Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jungle Fever

We were invited to the jungle again, and went. Our friend Cynthia has a property she has been working on for five years, she has toyed with the idea of it being a hotel, and we went for a "dress rehearsal" if the "hotel" was open and had guests. This post will be about the property and landscape.

This is the entrance, some plants have been moved and more added. The vestibule is getting tweaked, and there may be an awning so if it's raining, one doesn't get too wet unloading the car.

Behind you, (if you were looking at the entrance) there is an expanse of green, look close and you see this is a huge tree stump, over grown with orchids and other plants. One instance where pictures just don't do justice.

Work in progress, caretakers housing on the bottom, and what will be Cynthia's house on top.

Walk up the road, and see the property from a distance.

Farther up the road, and you see this land is part of a nature preserve...

Way back when, I took Horticulture in college, and am totally loving all the landscape and scenery! I wish I could just shovel up a bunch of plants and bring them home, but I know they would NOT enjoy the change of climate.

Flowers everywhere!

Wild begonias and lantana...

Huge ferns, and snails! Plants growing on any surface.

On the other side of the hotel, the river babbles onward...

And more flowers, planted in old tree trunks, love this!!

The ruins of the old caretaker cottage, and what is soon to be the yoga studio, or event area. (More photos of that next time)

The humming birds would come and drink from these flowers, where rain collected in them. They are called "microphones", can you see why?

Walk out to the road, the other direction, and we got to see some horses.

The one thing we get tired of is the lack of sun. It's not always rainy, sometimes it's just slightly misting, but after several days we felt very damp.

Of course the rain/moisture is why the landscape is so lush. We are blessed to have a friend such as Cynthia to invite us up for a change of scenery. But, as always, we are happy to return home to the beach.

And Pancho, the caretakers dog is always happy to see us, even if he does think the Chihuahuas are weird for wearing clothes. He wants to play with Shadrach, but Shad isn't sure either, so they just whine at each other, maybe someday. I'll gather the newest photos off the phone and post inside pictures and opening weekend pictures another time. So...stay tuned, the adventure continues!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Baby showers, and Birthdays

Way back in April, the day of the earthquake, to be exact, I was invited to Jenny, the tienda owners, daughter in laws bridal shower. Gisela and Xavier have been together for over six years, this was the natural progression of things...

I arrived "fashionably late" about twenty minutes after the invitation start time, and the tables hadn't been delivered yet, awkward. Many ladies were still bustling around, trying to get things ready, tables came, and we (the guests who had arrived already) helped put the table clothes on. The banquet hall was really decked out!

There were some games, the normal Ecuadorean snack foods, little corn dog things, popcorn, tiny sandwiches, cookies, and sweets. They served a cold green mint drink, couldn't tell if it was alcoholic or not, the mint may have just been strong.

Because I had been there since 2ish, as it approached 6pm, I'd had my fill. Some ladies had started drinking beer, and it was getting a little rowdy. I didn't understand most of what was going on, so I snuck out. (Why I'm not in any pictures)

This was the table I was sitting at, Darcy who works at Jenny's store, Cecilia who used to work at Jenny's and was the reigning Queen of San Jacinto for 2015, another young lady who is related, and our friend who works at the pharmacy. Cute little picture "frame" they made.

I got home from the shower about 30 minutes before the earthquake. Glad I was home. Anyway, a good time was had by all.

Last Saturday we were invited to Nexars grandsons birthday, Nexar said he would pick us up, and take us to the party after he was done with work at the Panderia. He picked us up a little before 4pm, and the party was already started (the invitation probably said 2pm, hahah!). In true Ecuadorean fashion, the chairs were all around the outside of the room, and nobody was talking to each other, maybe because the music was so loud. 

Some kids decided to dance, but really nothing was happening except snacks, guests on phones and breast feeding. (Nothing out of the ordinary here!) The normal snacks, corn dog things, little sandwiches, popcorn, jello (sometimes they put condensed milk over the top of the jello) one of the uncles finally got the cerveza out, and the adults could enjoy a little more. 

A couple uninvited party guests who came to check out the festivities. They were just running around the neighborhood, they were about the size of the chihuahuas, pretty cute. Porkita one of the moms said.

The "piñata" was fun for a minute. Here the piñata's are different, a little trap door is pulled and the candy falls out, no violence, nobody hitting anything, no blind folds, but that means the whole process is over in seconds, big scramble, then just confetti on the floor.

After we were all full of snacks (and beer) they brought out food, yikes! Most of the moms got the food to go, and it ended pretty quickly. The decorations came down, and balloons were sent home with the guests, along with cupcakes, and goodie bags. We ate, shared another beer with some family, and as it was all winding down, Nexar got us a taxi home. 

Birthday boy, still not sure of his name, need Nexar to write it down. Another great afternoon and Eve with some of our Ecuadorean family. We love being invited, it really means a lot to us, to be included even tho we don't know the language or customs, but we are learning. The more we've been to, the more we realize there is a progression of events. The little corn dogs come first, then the little sandwiches, maybe more corn dogs, then popcorn, and jello. We are getting the hang of it, so stay tuned...the adventure continues!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Guest post

For over a year I've been wanting to do a post on our friends Carrie and Dave's trip to Santiago to walk the Pilgrimage. Carrie wrote much down, and then sent out emails when she could, some of those words she wrote were hard to read, I wept often and maybe that is why I haven't done it before. I also had to go to their Facebooks and get pictures to try and go with the emails, so now a year almost to the day that they returned, my first guest post. Hope you enjoy this amazing journey.

Wikipedia had sooooo much to say, I'll post the link so you can read it all if interested, here are some highlights.

The Camino de Santiago (LatinPeregrinatio CompostellanaGalicianCamiño de Santiago), also known by the English names Way of St. JamesSt. James's WaySt. James's PathSt. James's TrailRoute of Santiago de Compostela,[1] and Road to Santiago,[2] is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes, known as pilgrim ways, (most commonly the Camino Francés or French route) to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many take up this route as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth.

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned;[3] other major pilgrimage routes include the Via Francigena to Rome and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James's remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried on what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela

The Way can take one of dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However, a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Dave and Carrie trained for this adventure for I don't know how long, I know that when we visited Boise before we moved to Ecuador, they were getting ready, walking and hiking as often as they could, anxiously awaiting June of 2015. 

From the Wiki page, the route is in bold red. The blue and yellow symbol is the World Heritage Site marker, and dots the route. Also from the Wiki page I read the route depending on which way one goes is anywhere from 800km, 600km or the least acceptable to be a "pilgrim" 200 km. Here's Carrie and David...

We've made it to Pamplona-- 4 days completed, averaging 20 km per day. So far, so good (David's toes are healing, yay!). We are bone tired, sore beyond reason-- and yet, the people, sights and insights have made it all more than worthwhile. (that's 12+ miles per day!)

People: We have a new international community of friends! Here are a few stand outs:
  • Dr. Yoh: While travelling from Paris to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port via Biarritz, we stopped into a Farmacia to get medication for David's "black toe nail" situation. The pharmacist took one look at it and said, "it is infected, you must see a doctor." She kindly made an immediate appointmet for us with Dr. Yoh, just around the corner on Rue Victor Hugo. Dr. Yoh was so kind, cheering us for being pilgrims, tending to David's feet, and asking us all about Idaho. After writing the perscription, he began drawing us a map and picture, telling us where to find the very best gateaux Basque in the region (Basque cake). He charged us a nominal fee, and with the antibiotic perscription, the total was less than a doctor visit in the US. Such a kind man!
  • Joxelu (Sounds like Josheloo): Joxelu was our first hospitalero ( the host at an albergue/hostel on the Camino). He gave us such a warm welcome at Albergue Beilari in St. Jean (beilari is Basque for pilgrim). He and his fellow hospitaleros fixed the 20 pilgrims staying there a beautiful Camino communal dinner, preceeded by a game where we threw around an imaginary ball (called a pilotain Basque). As each person "caught" the ball, they introduced themselves. On the next round of the game, we told where we were from. Lastly, we each shared our reasons for pilgrimage. David said that he wanted to become more present in each moment. I expressed that I was seeking a deeper connection with the Divine, a more open heart, a greater understanding of my life's purpose, and physical healing (trying to beat type II diabetes). After dinner, a Dutch woman came to me with a pin of the Virgin Mary she'd received in Lourdes, telling me it was given to her with the instruction that if she came across someone who needed healing, she was to give it to him/her. She felt prompted to give it to me. She told me I was to now keep it until I came across someone who needed healing more than me. What a lovely gesture! This is the spirit of the Camino we have encountered all along the way. People are so kind, generous and friendly. It's contagious! Everyone wants to help everyone. :-) 

Sights: The Basque country is amazing! -- charming homes and buildings, all with cornerstones, shutters, and flower boxes; unbelievable mountains with spectaclur vistas (words cannot describe the awesomeness); fabulous breads and pastries. I now see why there is so much pride in Boise with regard to Basque heritage.  
  • As we climed into and over the Pyreneees (crazy steep and uphill for miles!), we were literally walking in the clouds. At times the mist was so dense, you could barely see a few yards ahead. Then the wind would blow, clearing the clouds away, and you'd find yourself face to face with a sheep! Real Basque herdsman with berets and sheep dogs were out-- picturesque slopes with sheep, cows and horses, all with bells around their necks making musical tinkling everywhere they went-- and the wildflowers!!! Roses, daisies, buttercups, poppies and waves of magenta foxgloves-- ridiculously beautiful!
  • On the downhill side of the Pyrenees, we walked through dark, primeval groves of beechwoods. With the mist, they looked positively mystical. David commented, "this is where they do the magic." Oddly enough, on a historical sign in Burguete, we learned that the area was once known for witchcraft, and sadly, many "witches" (practitioners of the ancient folkways) were burned at the stake during The Inquisition.
  • Pamplona is great! We just walked down the street where the running of the bulls takes place, and past the Plaza del Torros, where the poor bulls meet their end with the matador. As we walked around the medieval city center, we played "spot the pilgrim." You can tell by the zippered pants, the footwear and the overall look of weariness combined with joy.

Insights: We are having epiphanies and life lessons daily. I'll share just one . . . as we packed our mochillas (backpacks) in St. Jean (we'd also brought some things on the plane in secondary carryons), we could barely stuff everything we "needed" into our packs. Over the last few days, we have left granola bars, swimming trunks, shampoo, spare socks, etc. at the various albergues--lightening the load just a bit. This has made us think: What things in our lives have become burdensome? What can we let go of to make life's journey lighter and more enjoyable?

We've made it to León! We're taking the second of our 2 rest days, then it's off into the mountains of Galicia for 2 weeks of hiking, then on to Santiago. Thank you to everyone who's been supporting us along the way. There has been little time to write more than these few emails.

From the time I last wrote in Burgos, we have covered most of the Meseta, the middle third of the Camino. The terrain is generally flat with large, rolling hills, covered mostly in wheat fields, a variety of other crops and sunflowers, with wildflowers sprinkled along the way. It's not the lush grandeur of the Pyrenees or Navarra, but the Meseta has a vast, sweeping, stark beauty all it's own. The villages we pass through are an assortment of crumbling antiquated structures and lovely, well kept villas, with flower boxes, ornate ironwork and glorious roses.  

Aside from a few breaks, the weather has been mostly hot, hot and more hot! A few times, I joked to David that our daily hikes are like being on a stair-master in a hot-yoga class. On a few days, we've come perilously close to running out of water. We typically begin dousing ourselves in water by about 10 a.m. That, and the ocasional breeze help to keep us from completely overheating. The unrelenting sun for 8-9 hours, and hiking for 20-27 km, have us completely wiped out by day's end. I have never felt exhaustion so thoroughly. Now, for a few highlights . . .

Several days ago . . . honestly, I can´t remember the day or time anymore. Lots of pilgrims we talk to joke about being on "Camino Time." In other words, there is no time. It's all now. It's all one very long day. Time both stops and is one endless river. It's kind of a wonderful, funny feeling. Anyhow, about a week ago . . . 

We were staying at a lovely albergue in Hornillos. That evening, we were doing our typical next day's planning (how hot will it be, when do we need to leave, are there stops for provisions, etc.), and noticed that our albergue reservation for the next town required that we call the day before to confirm (as many do, since pilgrim's often have a change in plans). We tried to call, but for some reason, we were having trouble with the phone. Unable to make the confirmation call, we had no choice but to just get on the road in the morning and hope for the best.  

As it happened, we converged in Hornillos with a group of 20 plus college students from Christopher Newport University in Virginia and their long-haired professor, Kip ("hippy Kippy" :-) ), a very interesting fellow and professor of religion and philosophy. Because of this unusually large group of pilgrims, when we arrived in the next town, Castrojeriz, there was a run on the albergues. To make matters worse, the municipal albergue was closed for repairs, so, fewer beds to go around.  

We went directly to the albergue where we thought we had a reservation. When we got there, the door was locked with a sign saying "completo" (full). Apparently, because we failed to make the confirmation phone call the night before, our beds were given to other needy pilgrims. We then became part of the rush with the college students to try and find a bed for the night. For some reason, this state of affairs pushed David over the edge, and for some odd reason, I found it hilarious (a reversal of our typical reactions).  

In the oppressive heat, we hoofed it over to the other side of town and found an old donativo church refugio, Refugio San Juan. As we were checking in, we noticed a wedding was taking place in town, and the bride and groom rode by in a horse drawn carriage (this will factor in later). The refugio was older than the hills and quite rustic, but we were able to get two of the last beds available. Just my luck to be placed next to the male college student who considered showering optional, and who liked to eat lots of sausage. The smell of body odor and meat was rather strong, but whatcha gonna do? You are grateful to have a bed. 

Once we showered, got the laundry washed and hung, and headed off to town for refreshment, David's mood brightened. In town, we found a central plaza and park with a bar. Smooth jazz was playing from the speakers. We kicked back in the shade and breeze with some cerveza, olives and Risquetos (like Cheetos, only Spanish ones). Bliss!  

That night, at midnight, we awoke to explosions. Apparently a display of fireworks were an extension of the wedding festivities. David and Martin continued to snooze, but all the other pilgrims were gathered around the open windows which let in the cool night air into the hot, stuffy refugio. We all gazed silently, up and out, at this surprising impromtu celebration of lights. Wonderful Camino moment! 

The next morning at breakfast, because it was a donativo refugio, pilgrims were expected to do their own dishes. David and I, the South African family with the special needs son (Martin), and a tall transgendered woman from Hungary, Adle, were the last to dine. I only mention that Adle is a trans woman, because there was a time in my life where I may have been stand-offish to such a person. I'm thankful for my time at BUUF, where I've learned people are people. I digress . . . Anyhow, knowing it would take longer for Martin to be ready to leave, I offered to Sharon to wash their dishes-- wasn't a big deal, just seemed like the Camino thing to do. And, what comes around, goes around . . . ???

Not 10 minutes later, as David and I were to take our first steps for the day, I asked "where's my hat?", which prompted David to check for his hat. With a sinking realization, we knew where our hats were: on the table in the restaurant where we had dinner the night before. I ran down the road to the restaurant and it was dark and locked. No hats! It was devastating to know that we had a scorching day ahead with no protection from the sun. Our scalp, ears and necks would fry. We debated what to do. Everyone but us and Adle had left at this point. Her English was quite good, and Adle jumped in with a Hungarian accent: "Someone gave me a hat a few days ago, but it was too small for my head. I bought one that fit. I've been carrying this extra one around for a few days now, thinking someone might need it, and here you are!" She then grabed a hat out of her pack and handed it to me. And further, she said to David, "there is a hat sitting on a chair upstairs by the bunk beds. No one has claimed it and everyone has left." David ran upstairs and voila, he had a hat too! I said to Adle, "you are an angel!" "A fallen angel," she said. "No, you´re my angel. This feels like a miracle!" I replied. "When there is great need," she said, "God is always close by." And with that, and tears in my eyes, we walked out of Castrojeriz.

Not long after, we came upon a big hill. Because of our late start, it was already hot, and the climb was a steep grade-- grateful beyond words to have those hats! When we reached the top of the hill, Martin was there. He swung his arms over his head, and shouted "you made it!"-- cheering me and David to the summit. Adle was there too. We celebrated and took pictures. My heart was so full that morning, thought it would burst. We have crossed paths with Adle, and with Sharon, Aubrey and Martin several times since, and Martin is always so happy to see us. His is a bright, welcoming face on the Camino.

This is just one day, and there are many wonderful days. There is just too much to tell . . . but one last thing . . . in Bercianos, we walked into a bar for dinner and met the most amazing guy, a legitimate explorer-author-documentarian from Poland named Marek Kaminski. He began his Camino in Russia, at the grave of Immanuel Kant, and will end in Santiago, at the grave of St. James. He´s walked well over 1,000 miles so far. He's already documented his journies to the North and South poles, and now he is documenting, as he puts it, the journey between the poles of reason and faith. We had a great discussion about meditation and prayer, faith and reason, coincidence and miracles. We just happened to be the only 3 people in this old bar, in this small, obscure Spanish town. Cool!

Tonight we are in the small town of Biduedo at a rustic and lovely Casa Rural, Casa Quiroga, a small family run hostel in the mountains bordering Castille y León and Galicia. After my last email from León, we left the Meseta, and entered the mountains. We passed through the Bierzo wine region (reminded me a bit of the Sonoma, California area, where I spent much time as a child at my grandparents home). Two days ago, we walked upstream along the Rio Valcarce, a deep river valley with stunning green scenery, through charming villages which appear out of the mist. The homes have steeply pitched rooves, covered in black slate tiles, their turrets and towers form a sillouette in the morning light. Crumbling rock walls are covered in roses. Cows roam through the streets, the bells around their necks sending musical sounds tinkling through the hills and vales. It's like a fairytle-- except for the crazy steep uphill climbing and long
distances. Just today, we climbed over three peaks and are bone tired.

Good news! Our health, knees and feet seem to be holding up. Most nights, when we go to bed, we don´t know how we'll do it again the next day-- and somehow, we do. We feel the strength of your good wishes, thoughts and prayers with every step. Here are a few highlights . . .

The Spanish people have been so kind, hospitable and wonderful, from the bar hostess who cheered for me when I completed an intelligible order in Spanish, to a sweet elderly man I´ll tell you about. It was a hot afternoon. We had just soaked our heads, hats and as much of our upper bodies in the town fountain as we could to cool off. We still had a big hill and at least 5 km to go to get to our destination for the day, Santibañez. As we walked down the street, an old man gestured for us to come over. He invited us into the shade of his courtyard entry. In Spanish, he asked where we were from. "Estados Unidos¨," I replied. Oh, "Oohsah!" he said back (in Spanish, USA sounds like Ooh Ehs Ah, or Oohsah, if you say it like one word). He then pulled out a folio with notes from people all over the world who had walked past his home on the Camino. He pointed to the ones from Oregon, New York, etc., and kept saying, "Oohsah!" He then
pulled out the Spanish equivalent of a hostess snack cake, opened it, broke it in two, gave one half each to me and David, gave us a pat on the back and wished us Buen Camino. I was deeply touched by this simple, sweet gesture. Filled with those good vibes, what would've been an uphill slog in the heat, became a joyful hike. Shortly thereafter, I passed one of the many cairns along the trail, rocks piled as prayers and intentions. I picked up a rock from the ground to add to the stack, and in so doing, knocked some down. As I bent to collect the rocks and restack them, a small, white, heart-shaped rock caught my eye. As I picked it up, I noticed another group of rocks on the ground, which spelled the word PEACE. Yes, peace in my heart.  

On another day, we approached the Cruz de Ferro, the famous cross where thousands of stones and messages have been left, near the highest elevation point on the Camino. In preparing for the Camino, people often bring a rock from home, infused with their prayers and intentions. They carry those rocks to this particular cross, to then lay down their burdens. We had each brought a rock from one of our hikes in Idaho, from near the waterfall in Eagle Canyon. David's was shaped like the state of Idaho, and mine was a small pink quartz stone. We¡ve been carrying these in our packs the whole way.  

For some reason, I had it in my head, that this momentous cross was just before you get to Santiago. On the day we reached the Cruz de Ferro it was so hot! And because it was still a good 200 km from Santiago, I didn´t think it was THE place to leave our rocks. Even so, we looked around for a bit, and saw so many inspirational messages. One said "I quit smoking, " and another, "may there be peace in Ukraine," and so many more. We felt the spiritual weight of this sacred place.  

There's a spiral pathway up the mound of rocks to the base of the cross. We climbed up, had our picture taken, and then, because it was so hot, I climbed down to find some shade. David stayed there a while, and when he came down, he was visibly moved. As we resumed our hike, David was exceptionally quiet. I asked if he was okay. He was choked up and replied that as he was looking at the various stones and messages, and he saw one that said: Russell - Father, Fortitude, Humor, Loved, Missed, along with birth and death years. David's dad was named Russell, and lived during approximately the same time as this beloved father. Next to the stone marked "Russell," was another stone which read, "when you can bear the weight of your own silence, then you are truly free." David's dad was the strong, silent type-- and David is also a quiet person. Of all the rocks in a pile of thousands, these are the two rocks David happened to see. We both
felt as if it were a message from his father, saying "you are loved, it's okay to be quiet, it's okay to be you, and with this journey, you are showing fortitude and humor, you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."  

That evening, after reading the guidebook, and realizing that yes indeed, I had missed THE CROSS where we were supposed to leave our stones, I was in a bit of a funk. I hadn't done the Camino "right." David reminded me that there is no "right" way of doing it (a lesson in life I need to learn in general), and that there would be a place along the way where we would know it was our place to leave our stones. The next morning, after a steep down hill climb, we rounded a bend in a shady grove, sheltered by a large grandmother tree. Beneath it was a large rock which read: "Sit a while, feel the breeze, be one with Nature, this is the true essence of being." Also written on the rock were a peace sign, a yin-yang symbol, and a lotus, Hindu symbol of the crown chakra, where union with the Divine takes place. This was our place. We sat a while, offered our prayers, and added our stones to the cairn. On the ground next to the cairn laid a cross
someone had fashioned with two sticks and a belt (there are many such hand crafted crosses along the Camino). I lifted the cross and secured it to the cairn with another rock. It all felt "right."

One last story . . . last night, we stayed in a small mountain hamlet called La Faba. There are only two albergues, one run by a Catholic German confraternity, and the other, called El Refugio, a vegetarian restaurant and hostel. We stayed at the German place, a true sanctuary in the woods. We attended their evening pilgrim's mass. Unlike most masses, at one point, the priest had us all gather around the altar and hold hands as The Lord's Prayer was said in Spanish. Then, as the sign of peace was given and received, the priest went individually to each pilgrim to shake their hand. It was a lovely moment of spiritual community.  

After mass, we were tired and hungry, so we headed into the village center to look for food. We ended up at the vegetarian refugio, a good vibes place decorated with colorful scarves and pillows, and OMs all around, for a communal vegetarian dinner with seven other pilgrims, primarily from Spain, and one from Ireland and one from France. As we were eating our incredibly delicious salad and lentil soup, Ella Fitzgerald's "A Tisket, A Tasket" was playing over the sound system-- a surreal and lovely moment. For dessert, our hospitalera made a wonderful concoction of mascarpone cheese, merengue and wild strawberries picked on the mountain. As the dessert spoons were passed around the table, she asked us each to put our intentions of love into each spoon, so that intention would be handed with the spoon to the next pilgrim. As the spoons were passed, everyone was calling out "amore," "l'amour," and "love." We were all smiling and laughing and
gobbling up the creamy goodness. It later slipped that it was her birthday, so we sang "Feliz Cumpleaños - Happy Birthday" to her in Spanish. A wonderful evening!

We finished our Camino yesterday, arriving in Santiago at about 10 a.m. David and I keep looking at each other and say with more than a little disbelief, "we just walked 500 miles!?!" Although the knees, feet, legs, back and neck feel pretty beat up, we are in good health and soaring spirits. We are now in Coruña, Spain. We fly from here to Paris tomorrow at noon, for three days of relaxation and sight-seeing in the City of Lights. Relaxation and sight-seeing could be a contradiction in terms, but we shall endeavor to see as much of Paris in a relaxed manner as possible. :-)

This last week had us hiking through the mountains of Galicia, with plenty of strenuous climbing. Galicia has a coastal rainforest climate, making the mornings cool, misty and our favorite time of day to walk. By noon and sometimes sooner, the clouds and fog would burn away, making for hot, humid and rather unpleasant conditions. No matter the weather, the scenery was stunning! We walked through old forests, some deep and dark, others dappled with light, through woods of pine, oak, eucalyptus and a whole bunch of other trees I can't name. I was in tree tunnel heaven! I love it when trees form a canopy of leaves overhead, giving you a tree-hug. Sometimes you just have to hug them back. ;-) Roses, fuschias and especially hydrangeas were blooming in spectacular fashion. The spectrum of color on the hydrangeas went from light blue, to magenta, to a deep purple-blue. Beautiful! Galicia is full of cow towns, where farm folk heard their cattle right down main street and into the barn at the end of day. Chickens and roosters roam at will. The air is full of country music: birds singing, cows mooing and roosters crowing. Sometimes it was so loud it sounded like an animal vocal competition. Galicia was originally settled by the Celts from Ireland, so there's a friendly mix of pagan, catholic and witchcraft icons. It's common to see a statue of the Virgin Mary, a carving of The Greenman, a painting of Santiago (St. James) and witch figurines all in the same bar or café. Here are a few highlights from our final week of walking . . . or . . . when things go wrong, they may be going right.

Several days ago, we came through the town of Triacastela. During our mid-morning cafe con leche break, we ran into a few pilgrims we had met early on, formed friendships with, and then hadn't seen for a while. It was like a family reunion. It's amazing how quickly you bond with people when you share a common and difficult experience. With our impromptu reunion, a stop at the ATM for cash, a stop at the fuente for agua, a stop at the mercado for verduras (you have to go get your peppers, carrots and cucumbers at the market-- the bar menus are meat heavy-- lots of jamón) . . . we were stopping so much, we weren´t paying attention, and just weren't making it out of town. As we were finally exiting Triacastela, David realized he didn't have his trekking poles, and neither of us could remember at which stop he might have left them. He left his mochila with me and I put on sunscreen while he went back into town to look for his poles . . . found! At the water fountain. Finally, we were on our way again. David was a little upset. Time lost. Most likely more time would be spent in the heat. I reassured him, no big deal. These things happen. We'll get there when we get there. Usually, it's the other way around-- me with my knickers in a twist, and David reassuring me. 

A few kilometers up the road, we happened upon a lovely stone building, with fresh-cut hydrangeas tucked in little cubbies in the rocks, and various shells and blue geodes cemented among the stones. The door was painted a violet blue color, and there was a cross on top. We weren't sure what it was, a church or a house? There was an "open" sign, but when we tried the door handle, it was locked. We took a picture, and started to walk away. Just as we did, a man pulled up in a car, jumped out and said, "would you like to come in?" His name was Art, and this was Art's Gallery, and his workshop. Turns out Art is an artist from the UK who's walked the Camino, and was so inspired by the experience, that he rescued this abandoned stone house, refurbished it, and has turned it into a space of creativity and beauty. The walls inside are covered with wonderful watercolor paintings of various scenes from along the Camino. He showed us the piece he is currently working on, a magical scene of pilgrims ascending a heavenly staircase from the cathedral in Santiago. 

We really couldn't afford his work, and even if we could, a painting wasn't something we could add to our packs. We purchased a few of his postcard prints, and talked a bit about where we were from, and the appreciation of beauty in general. As we were leaving, Art said, "may I pray with you?" He gave thanks for sending us into this lonely place, for brightening his day with our appreciation of what he had created. He asked that we be blessed and protected on our way, and that we would carry our pilgrimage on into life, after we reached Santiago. It was so sweet and moving. We exchanged hugs and good wishes, and we were off-- so glad that David had left his poles behind. If he hadn't had to take the time to look for them, the timing would've been off, we never would have met Art, seen his paintings, and had such a wonderful exchange. 

A few days later, I woke early in Mercadoiro. We kind of have a deal, that if one of us is up and can't get back to sleep, we might as well be walking while it's cool. So, we packed up and headed out the door while it was still dark. As we walked with our headlamps, we ate bananas and Mr. Corn (a Camino snack staple-- corn nuts, nuts, dried fruit, and other assorted crunchy things). Concerned we might miss a way marker in the dark, we were being extra vigilant. We came to a fork in the road with the arrow pointing in an ambiguous direction. Two Asian pilgrims came up behind us and gestured us forward on the main road. They seemed very confident about the direction-- and when we checked out guidebook, the turn off the main road showed a pathway to the right at a four way intersection, not left, as the uncertain pathway had veered. Onward. 

I could see the lights of what I thought was Porto Marín, the next main town we'd come to. When we finally came to a four way stop, the only arrow to be seen was a hot pink one spray-painted on the asphalt pointing left. What was this? A mark for Race for the Cure? Most all of the arrows on the Camino are bright yellow--occasionally white, but never had we seen a pink one! Onward. The road continued veering to the right, away from the city lights, and soon, there were no way marks to be seen. We were lost. In order to retrace our steps, we would have to climb back up the very steep hill we'd just descended. Urrrgh!!! We decided to make our way in the direction of the city lights, even though we had no idea where we were going. As we crossed a main road, we saw a bus pass with the sign "Porto Marín" illuminated above the drivers seat, and headed in the opposite direction of what we thought was Porto Marín. Now, we were lost AND confused.

Eventually, we ended up in a farm yard. Our arrival set all the dogs barking madly. The sun was just coming up, but I don't think our farmer friend was quite ready to rise and shine. He leaned out of his upper story window. Simultaneously, David began talking to him in English, and I in Spanish. The farmer gestured in an unclear direction, so I asked pointedly, "Es El Camino allí?" as I distinctly pointed in the direction of the lights we'd seen, and the farmer yelled back, "si, si!" What I didn't know, is that at the same time, David was gesturing in the opposite direction, where he'd seen the bus go. We walked out of the farm and back to the main road, David heading left and me right. I was baffled. We had just gone through the same experience and came to the exact opposite conclusion. After a heated debate, we calmed down and decided to head in the direction of the lights, and to flag down a car at the soonest opportunity, to confirm if indeed, we'd made the right choice. About 10 minutes later, a car came by, we waved and they stopped. "Porto Marín?" I said as a question. They pointed in the direction we were headed and said it was another 2 kilometers. Good news and bad news. Good news: we were headed in the right direction. Bad news: missing our mark would cost us an additional 5k that day. Urrrgh!!! After a bit of moaning, we decided to be extraordinarily cheerful, to get through the day in a positive way. As we crossed the bridge entering Porto Marín, we saw a mountain of stairs, and the conversation went something like this: "Oh, look, stairs!" "Boy, and I was worried we might not get a good workout today!" "Hey, race you to the top!"

To begin with, this particular day was going to be a long, hard one: 25k and lots of climbing. Now, it would be 30k with lots of climbing. We soldiered on with as much glee as we could muster. Toward the end of the day, I was feeling like I would just fall over. As we entered the town of Ligonde, a kind Brazillian man stepped from an old stone house and greeted us warmly. He explained that he and a group of volunteers from Brazil were hospitaleros at La Fuente, the donativo albergue from which he'd just emerged (there is no cost to stay and partake of the food, but an anonymous donation is requested). We explained that we had reservations for a place up the road and needed to move on. "Oh, you can always cancel your reservations. We still have empty beds and we would love to have you stay with us, feed you and care for you." We melted. "OK." So tired and weary, we pulled out the cell phone and canceled our reservation. The La Fuente albergue is housed in a 400 year old stone structure, refurbished with love and care, with little decorative touches: cute bedspreads, murals on the walls and flowers on the table. Our host told us, "the beds here are good. You will sleep like a baby." We felt the love and warmth of these good people and knew we'd made the right choice to stay.

We settled in with three pre-med students from France: Mati, Cami and Andrea. They were so bright, friendly and open. You could tell they were going to make great doctors someday. Not long after, two teachers from Barcelona, one Canadian, one Spanish, arrived by bicycle (yes, some people bike the Camino). All the beds were now taken. After showers and the most rustic laundry experience I´ve ever had, we sat down to a communal candle-light dinner of fabulous homemade food. Then three girls showed up, looking for lodging. Even though the place was full, the hospitaleros made room at the table, and put out air matresses for them in the main entry of the albergue. We became fast Camino friends with Tabi, Gabi and Nuri, a three girl reggae band from Barcelona. Dinner was a joyful, delicious event, with much sharing about why each person was on the journey and what they'd been learning on The Way. 

Our hospitaleros shared with us why they had come to volunteer in this albergue. One lady's story was particularly moving. Her husband died of cancer a year ago, and she was sturggling to care for her two young children on her own. Leaving the kids with their abuela (grandmother) back home, she came to serve, to get her mind on helping others and off her troubles, and to have time to care for herself and heal. Another man on the service team shared that he believed in Jesus Christ. That he wanted to live out his faith, not by trying to convice anyone to believe as he does, but by serving pilgrims on the way to Santiago. It was obvious how much joy these people received through their service, and so humbling to be on the receiving end of their generosity. Once again, we realized that if things had gone right, if we hadn't got lost that morning, we would've marched on to our albergue reservation in the next town. We would have missed out on this heart expanding experience. 
Many people from Spain and Europe only walk the last 100k from Sarría. And many of them use a shuttle service for their packs and luggage, only carrying a small day pack. There are many Camino shops that sell all kinds of trinkets to dangle from one's pack: mini drinking gourds, little crosses and more. We even saw one lady with a giant decorative scallop shell hanging from a fanny pack. I looked at David and said, "Is that allowed?" Many "pilgrims" do the Camino for sport, for leisure, for party time, some for a family vacation. We've since learned there are very few who make the entire journey from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago. As the journey wears on, and you become cummulatively exhausted, and more and more holiday pilgrims flood The Way, it can be a bit disheartening. Our depth of weariness along with the hordes of short term peregrinos, made our experience at La Fuente all the more special. We were nearing the end and needed a reminder of the meaning of spiritual pilgrimage.

Our penultimate day on the Camino was a doosey! We were so tired, so sore, and there was a crazy steep section just before we reached our casa rural for the night. We had been on the road for 12 hours that day. That night, I could barely move to get to the dinner table. Our guidebook showed that we still had a big uphill segment before we reached Monte de Gozo, the Mount of Joy, the high point just before reaching Santiago where medieval pilgrims got their first look at the cathedral. I felt so "done." Mountain of Joy? Yeah, right. As we have found, it is impossible to show completely all the ups and downs to scale in one inch of map. So, what I thought would be a horrible climb that next morning, wasn't that bad at all. And truly, upon reaching Monte de Gozo, we could feel the joy and excitement building. Downhill, baby!!! We reached the Santiago city limits on a quiet Sunday morning. It was a ghost town. Hardly a soul in sight. We made a liesurely breakfast stop, and then resumed our walk to the city center. We tucked our poles under our arms, held hands, and kept smiling at eachother. We were in Santiago! The joy continued to build. I wondered what my reaction would be when I reached the cathedral. Would I cry? Would I just fall down? Once the cathedral was in sight, I just felt this incredible bursting in my chest. David got choked up, but we were both just so gosh darn happy, and so grateful to be healthy and in one piece! 

The pilgrim's mass didn't begin for another hour and half, so we went to our hotel. They weren't checking anyone in yet, but were happy to hold our packs, leaving us light as a feather to walk back to the cathedral for mass. Although we arrived a good half an hour early, the place was packed, nearly standing room only. We eventually found two seats, a few rows apart. I sat next to a young man from Extremadurra, Aldolfo, who had traveled with a group of students. He was kind and curious, asking questions about where I was from, how long I'd been walking, etc. David sat with our good friend Dean, one of the first pilgrims we met in St. Jean.

Prior to the mass beginning, a wonderful singing nun taught the congregation the responsive portions of the chants to be used during the mass. This sister had the most beauitful voice, truly angelic, and she knew how to lead a congregation! I was quite impressed with her conducting skills. Mass commenced. The pomp and circumstance were of regal proportion, with a long procession of priests in colorful garb. A group of native peoples visiting from Mexico also processed into the sanctuary wearing feathered head dresses. At one point in the mass, our nun cantress sang the 23rd psalm, backed by the cathedral organ. Heavenly! The congregation responded after each verse with "Señor es mi pasor, nada le falta/the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." The beauty of the organ, the nun's ethereal voice and the resounding congregation brought me to the brink of tears, but I didn't cry. Just more joy. 

When communion was offered, I did not step forward. Adolfo asked me if I was Catholic. I said no. He asked me, "what are you?" I said "Unitarian," and he just gave me a quizzical look. I took out my phone and spelled it on my note pad. He still look confused. It's hard enough explaining what Unitarian are in English, let alone in Spanish. As Unitarians, we agree that each person is of worth, that she is free to have her own responsible search for truth and meaning, and that we gather as a "church" to support each other on that quest. There is no central creed or dogma. To explain what I'm about to say, I have to use a Star Wars comparison to define God. To me, God is like The Force-- He, She, It-- is in everything. Every particle of creation is holy, because it's all God. So, again, on my phone note pad, I texted to Adolfo, "Credo Dios es todo/I believe God is all." He smiled, nodded, shrugged and said, "the same."

The grand climax of the mass is the swinging of the botafumeiro, a huge thurible filled with incense, hoisted over the congregation by a team of priests, and then swung in a 180 degree arc over the congregation, scent and smoke pouring out, flames seen within. As the botafumeiro flew higher and higher, I felt my spirit soar with it. David later told me that watching the flame inside is what got him, seeing it as a symbol of the flame that burns within each heart, and the message to carry that flame onward, past Santiago.

After mass, we had a joyful reunion and a happy-sad farewell with a handfull of pilgrims with whom we've shared the journey. And, we´ve had a great last 24 hours, just enjoying Santiago and NOT carrying our mochilas everywhere!!! 

I hope you enjoyed this journey, as you all enjoy hearing about adventures, I thought you just might like it. I'll be back to normal next post, so much going on...learning how to make Viche, the yummy peanut based soup tomorrow, and going to a birthday party. Good times! So, stay tuned, the adventure continues!!