About Me

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Author of Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town http://tinyurl.com/owdwvrp I write about travel and adventure from my home in California and from Africa. I've sailed a catamaran from California to Hawaii, trekked in the Himalayas, worked as a construction manager on a bridge project in Zambia, hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, (http://bootsbedouinsandabridge.blogspot.com/) and traveled in over 100 countries and all seven continents. Indie Book Award Winner for Best Memoir of 2012, New York Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, Travelers Tales Solas Award for Best Travel Writing Honorable Mention for My Gambian Husband. Indie Book Award Finalist - Best Travel Book 2013. BOTYA Honorable Mention 2013 - Travel Essay. Member of The Explorers Club since 2013 You can follow my current 2013-2014 expedition across Africa, this time in a 1973 Land Rover Series III 109 on http://teresaokane.blogspot.com/ and on facebook https://www.facebook.com/safarijema

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It’s a Chafing Thing - On the Camino de Santiago

I had to add men’s Lycra boxer shorts to my hiking ensemble. It’s a chafing thing.

Every day, we take anywhere between 29,000 and 36,000 steps, and that creates a whole lot of friction on the inner thighs. I walked like Tex Ritter around town, looking for something longer than bikini bottoms, but shorter than pantaloons, to wear under my hiking pants. But in Spain, where if a woman can’t wear a thong, she wears nothing.  I had to resort to buying men’s underwear.
The saleswoman in the men’s department at the sporting goods store wrapped my purchase in a brown paper bag, wrote down the name of some "anti-friction crème", and pointed to a pharmacy nearby.
After determining exactly where the chafing was occurring  (“Aqui?” the pharmacist asked, indicating halfway between the knee and the…not the knee. “Or Aqui?” she whispered indicating not the knee), I pointed to a spot nearer the knee, only higher, and explained through pantomime and Spanglish, that hiking the Camino all day, every day was causing the damage. “Ah!” she exclaimed with sudden empathy. Then she started doing the Salsa with incredible vigor in the middle of the pharmacy. Apparently, she had the exact same problem, but not from hiking. “Bailando!” she shouted. “Dancing!”

The men’s boots (read previous post), and the men’s underwear worked a charm. After walking 720 kilometers since leaving Pamplona on Easter Sunday, we arrived yesterday at the goal line, Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral crypt that supposedly holds the relics of the Apostle St. James. My one desire, besides making two piles for the Laundromat in Santiago - one for the wash, one for the incinerator - was that the sun would be shining when we arrived at the Cathedral. I got my wish - on the weather at least. After a week of hiking in dreary rain, and one day in heavy fog and snow, the sun shone brightly.

Unlike in other cities along the Camino, once a pilgrim enters the city limits of Santiago there is no stopping for café con leche, a beer, or to empty boots of pebbles that have settled uncomfortably between toes. There was a strong drive to just get there. Few stop for a break on the way to the the goal.
I loaded my backpack from a top bunk one last time, and crossed one last roman bridge. We were on our way. I felt melancholy that it would soon be over.
The final kilometer to the Cathedral is perfect. It winds up and down and around, keeping the Cathedral spires hidden from view until you are practically standing below them.

Serendipity was with us. After 19 kilometers, we took a wrong turn and ended up at a little used entrance to the Cathedral. No backpacks are allowed so I said to Scott, “Why don’t you go in first while I watch the bags.” After a few moments he hurried back out saying, “Tris, you have to see this!”
I walked in to see the Botafumeiro, the huge incense burner passing (flying!) just over the heads of the congregation through the entire transept. Whoosh!
The Botafumeiro hangs from ropes and an elaborate pulley system near the ceiling, 150 feet above. The sound it made, as the burner passed just feet from me, was incredible. Historically the Botafumeiro was used in the olden days, to exterminate the funk produced by all the heavily clothed pilgrims--some of whom had taken a year or more to walk from all over Europe to see the remains of St James. But seeing the incense burner in action, and feeling it as it flew overhead, moved me to tears.

I left the Cathedral and sat on Scott’s lap, crying. Maybe it was dehydration. Maybe it was exhaustion from hiking every day for the last 38 days. But I was moved by the spectacle of it all. Scott was so sweet. He said, “Since you were raised Catholic, I knew you had to see that.” I hadn’t been to Mass in years, but he was right. There was just something about it that made me feel "home".

“Shall we go get our Compostelas? You’ve earned an indulgence, you know,” Scott said.
If you hike the Camino in a Holy Year the Church rewards pilgrims an indulgence meaning, in the eyes of the Church, all sins are forgiven. I would be leaving Santiago with a “clean slate” so to speak.

“Are you kidding? I’m not going to turn that down! Let's go!” I said and we made our way to The Pilgrim Office nearby.

At the Office, one of ten officials checked our credentials, our pilgrim passports with the many stamps we received along the way proving we had walked The Way of St. James, and issued us Compostela certificates. Our certificates are different, because Scott went for the "Cultural Compostela".
“How was your journey?” asked the Church official as she filled in my name, in Latin. “It was really great." I replied wiping my tears. I could not stop crying! "And we arrived at the Cathedral in time to see the Botafumeiro fly.”

“You were very lucky!” she said. “The Botafumeiro only makes an appearance during special Feast Days, or if a group has made a large donation.”

I walked out feeling like one lucky pilgrim. Then to top it all, as we walked away from the Cathedral, a jazz musician sitting in the square began to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the song played at my mom’s funeral. Mom has been gone more tha two years, but she was with me almost every day on the Camino. It was a perfect end to a perfect journey.

Scott and Tris
Celebrating with champagne, Ruffles and chocolate, (as usual).
Santiago, Spain

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blessings on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino, with it's many trails that crisscross Europe and feed into the "Camino Frances" to Santiago, is designated a World Heritage site. If that isn't enough to make you want to go, 2010 is considered a "Holy Year" for Santiago. Spain is expecting over 140,000 pilgrims this year from all over the world. All who hike seem to have a  unique story of why they are walking.

A woman I met from Argentina, wants a more intimate relationship with God. Another, from America, sees it as a challenge of endurance. Linda from Canada is doing it, “For my sins and for the sins of the world.” Another woman, from Italy, said she is trying very hard to feel the spiritual aspect of the Camino but was disappointed to have felt nothing yet. In the meantime, she is enjoying meeting other twenty-something Europeans. Cyclist Jo from London, said she is doing it to be “bikini fit!” A Finnish woman is doing it because of job burn-out back home. A South African woman is hiking the Camino as a way of mourning her ex-husband who had recently passed away unexpectedly. "We've been divorced for more than ten years, but I didn't feel finished," she said. "Since beginning the Camino, I've had dreams about my ex every night and I'm finally getting closure." Edward from Germany returned to the Camino for a second time because, “The day I arrived in Santiago 4 years ago was the happiest day of my life.” A Slovenian woman gave the ever-reliable explanation, “To find myself!”

Scott and I are walking the Camino because, like the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, or the John Muir Trail in California, it is one of the great long distance hikes in the world. Truth be told, I am also doing it for the chance to worship the outdoors, and to pet the puppies, donkeys, baby cows, and kittens we meet along the way. The Camino de Santiago is another journey long enough in distance and time, to completely immerse ourselves in a different culture. That alone makes it a worthy enough pursuit for us. But, as corny as it sounds, two weeks into the hike I realized that, for me, it is also a walk of gratitude. It seems I wake up everyday feeling grateful - for Scott, for my family, and for good friends. Also, I think about my parents almost everyday. Someone once said that the greatest gift one can give another person is a happy childhood and I'm really grateful for mine. Mom and Dad are with me everyday.

While it may not be for entirely “spiritual” reasons that we are hiking the Way of  St. James (though, if feeling grateful is not somehow spiritual, I don’t know what is), we do receive many blessings, inspirations, and surprises every day from the stories of the people we meet.

People such as Ju Yun from Korea who said at dinner one night, “I want to be a pediatrician. I have twelve years of schooling ahead of me to achieve this. But the most important thing to me is that I  have a good marriage and family.” Then he got this huge smile on his face. “When I think of what a good relationship my parents have, it gives me goose skin!” A Frenchman at the table asked, “Do you have a girl in mind?” Ju Yun threw out his arms and said, “Of course! I am a twenty year old boy. I always have girls on my mind!”

One day, while we walked a long rather monotonous section of the trail, which paralleled the main road, we came upon a man trimming his cherry trees. He called out, “Buen Camino!” and indicated we could help ourselves to candy out of a wicker basket that sat on the hood of his vehicle. His name was Pepe. He put his personal stamp in our Camino Passport and began proclaiming with enthusiasm and glee what the Camino meant to him.
I tried to talk to him in Spanish, but it came out, “Our Spanish is not well. Please speak not fast." Through charades and Spanish For Idiots, he explained that he had walked the Camino thirty years prior. “'By the time I arrived in that village” he pointed to a nearby village that could be seen through the trees, “I was so ill, I had to stay there a few days before continuing." Then, he got a great big smile on his face. "I never left the village. The young woman who had nursed me back to health became my wife.”

In a refugio, a pilgrim hostal, in Villamayor we met Miriam whose Camino walk to Santiago ten years earlier meant so much to her, she volunteers at refugios several times a year, for a week or two at a time.
In Villamayor, there is no grocery store. Only one place in town serves meals, the bar. But the bar was closed temporarily, because the owner had died. It was Miriam who cooked dinner for ten of us, then cooked another entire meal when 4 cyclists came in after 9pm. Then she made breakfast for us all the next morning.
It was only our fifth night on the trail. I pestered Miriam with practical questions about the walk; "How many kilometers per day is average", "Where is the best refugio in Burgos" and, “Does it rain as much as they say it does in Galicia?”
“Oh yes!” she answered to the last question. “But it is perfect! The rain mixes with the tears on your checks at the moment you see the cathedral in Santiago for the first time.”

Another day, we walked alone for several hours over a steep pass, which leveled out to a high forest. Coming along the trail in the opposite direction was a man pushing one of those covered carriers that parents put their kids in to tow behind their bikes. Only he wasn't pushing a child. His carrier contained a sleeping bag, food, and clothes. On the front, there was a sign that read, California to Jerusalem. As we passed one another I said, “Jerusalem? That’s a long way from The Camino!”  We quickly learned that he was starved for conversation. If you walk the Camino in reverse direction as he was doing, it’s hard to make friends, because you never meet the same people twice. As we stood shifting our weight from one swollen foot to another (walking is hard, but standing still is worse), he told us his life story. He ended by telling us that three years ago he walked the Camino for the first time and met a German woman who became his wife. (New relationships happen more often than you would think on the Camino.) Since their marriage, they have walked across America together, and it was on his 60th birthday that they set out on their longest walk yet - from California to Jerusalem. His wife was taking a break from the pilgrimage to visit family in Germany.
“What will you do once you get to Jerusalem? What do you hope to find?” we asked. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out when I get there."

We continued to meet people with unique motivations for the Camino. A Dutch man broke his stride long enough to say, “I am walking 1000 kilometers to Santiago. I picked my starting point in France because from that town to Santiago is exactly 1000 kilometers!”
 There is an old custom on the Camino. If you are hiking in a group, the person who catches the first glimpse of the Cathedral in Santiago earns the title "The Pilgrim King." When we asked the Dutchman if he heard of the tradition he said, "Of course! That's why I walk alone!" and he shook our hands and carried on his way.

A man from Brazil stated as he breezed by us, “Five is my magic number. I have five University degrees, five post graduate degrees, this is the fifth time I have walked the Camino and I am turning fifty this year.” He looked profoundly sad and lonely as he walked on alone.

A German woman we had seen periodically on the trail, ended up in the same refugio as us one night. We sat outside on a bench in the sun while she told us her story. She had been an engineer in the automotive industry but had begun hearing voices after a fall off a horse. She would go into work and say to her colleagues, “I know that you've been talking about me. I know what you have been saying.” She lost her job and went to a psychic who told her, “You are not crazy. You are gifted,” and that her calling was not to be an engineer, but a healer. At this point Scott interrupted with, “I think the hospitaliar might need help preparing dinner,” and disappeared into the kitchen. The engineer, I mean healer, rolled and lit another cigarette and said with a chuckle, “You would think the first thing I would do to heal myself would be to quit smoking.”

“Well, maybe the second thing,” I suggested gently. “You might want to talk to someone else about those voices you are hearing. You know, get a second opinion.”

“No, I’m definitely a healer. I healed my ankles already!”

“Did I just hear the dinner bell?” I asked.

In a village where we encountered cows coming home from the fields, we ran with them ala running of the bulls.  A ninety-year-old man approached us carrying a branch from a small bush that looked like the female reproductive system. While we spoke (he in Spanish, and me in English), he periodically whacked me with the stick for no good reason. Then with a twinkle in his eye he announced he was heading for a meal at a house of a "good woman" nearby. Did I mention that Spring has sprung here in Spain?

We are definitely meeting unique people on the Camino. Scott says many seem to be looking for an audience, "There's so much interesting history to discuss, yet they seem to go on and on about themselves!"  True, there is more than a little narcissism here on the Camino. It reminds me of something a wise Irish priest once said in a heavy brogue, “A little self-reflection can be a good ting but taking yourself too seriously, now dat’s a sin.”

There are remarkable and beautiful - inside and out - people we meet while walking the Camino. Like Pia, the Finnish nurse who fixed up my horribly blistered toe once and for all. And Miriam the volunteer hospitaliar in Villamayor who helped us better understand the spirit of the Camino. Or Randi and Henning from Denmark who are newlyweds in their 50’s and living life to the fullest, he as a fisherman, and she as an artist. Or the three retired Canadian ladies who I lent my "Mrs. Murphy" umbrella to, and want to hug every time I see them. Or young Tia, whose face is like a ray of sunshine every second of every day. Or the volunteers at the refugios who double as housemothers and treat us like their own family. Or David who, with his cart full of cookies, and nuts, and coffee, and fruit, magically appeared at the top of a hill after we had walked 10 kilometers that morning without breakfast. Or Pepe, who gives back to the walk that gave him his wife, by handing out candy and encouragement to passing peregrinos every year.

Despite impressively tall church towers, or spires in almost every town we walk through, it’s the people we meet that stand out on the Camino.

Scott and Tris
On The Camino, (585 kilometers walked, only 130 kilometers to go!)
Sarria, Spain



We lost The Handkerchief,(http://bootsbedouinsandabridge.blogspot.com/2010/04/handkerchief.html)
 I wonder who has it now?