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

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 thigh. 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 a country where the women wear nothing if they can’t wear a thong 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 wear the chafing was occurring, “Aqui?” the pharmacist said 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 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 right 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 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 houses 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 even one day in heavy fog and snow, the sun shone brightly.

Unlike 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. After loading my backpack from a top bunk one last time, crossing one last roman bridge, there was a strong drive to just get there. Few stop for a break on the way to the the goal. The route 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 find that the Botafumeiro, the huge incense burner was 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 as the burner passed just feet from me was incredible. Historically the Botafumeiro was used 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 by 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. “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!” I said and we made our way to The Pilgrim Office nearby.

At the Office, one of 10 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 over two years but 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

                     It seems almost everyone has a reason for hiking The Camino.

The entire Camino, with it's many trails that crisscross Europe and feed into the "Camino Francais" route 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 and all who hike seem to have a  unique story of why they are here.

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 from Italy said she is trying very hard to feel the spiritual aspect of the Camino but had 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 and life burn out back home. A South African woman is hiking the trail as a way of mourning her ex-husband who had recently passed away unexpectedly. "I don't feel finished", she said. Edward from Germany returned to the Camino for the 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 want to walk the Camino because, like the Annapurna in Nepal, or The Shokoku in Japan, 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 for us to 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 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 and 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 boring section of the trail that paralleled the main road, a man trimming his cherry trees 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 and 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. It came out, “Our Spanish is not well. Please speak slow." Through charades and Spanish For Idiots he explained that he had walked the Camino himself 30 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 very ill and 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 in Villamayor we met Miriam whose walk to Santiago ten years earlier meant so much to her she  gives back to the Camino by volunteering at refugios several times a year for a week or two at a time. In Villamayor, there is no grocery store and only one place in town that 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 and made breakfast for all of us the next morning. It was only our 5th night on the trail and 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 in the Galicia region?”
“Oh yes!” she answered. “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 hours over a steep pass that leveled out in 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 and tow behind their bikes. Only he wasn't pushing a child. His carrier contained a sleeping bag, food, and clothes. On the front was a sign that read, California to Jerusalem. As we met 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 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 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. Oh!” he added while walking away, “Be sure to check out my blog and web site!”

As we came out of a store in a small village one morning 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 proclaimed one day as he breezed by us, “Five is my magic number. I have five 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 over several days 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 albergue. 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 the village where we encountered the cows coming home from the fields and ran with them ala running of the bulls a ninety-year-old man approached us carrying a branch from a small bush that was shaped like the female reproductive system. While we spoke, he in Spanish and me in English, he periodically whacked me with it 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, "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, “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 Tiia, 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 new peregrinos every year.

Despite impressively tall church towers or spires in almost every town we walk through, it’s the people 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?