Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Exploring South Africa

Hi guys!

I've got another great travel blog to check out.  Chelsea's just arrived in Cape Town and has already managed to block traffic in a political rally and visit Nelson Mandela's jail cell.  Check it out!

I've added her to the blogroll at the side, but here's the URL if that link is just . . . too . . . far . . . away . . .


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Camino Entry 51

There it is!  1200+ km and 50 days later!  http://goo.gl/maps/DW2PB

Entry 51, January 14th, 2012

A street guitarist outside the cathedral was playing an old obscure standard – “You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To.”  Alright, universe, I can read the signs.

The sprint this morning was beautiful and surreal. It is not often that one finds oneself legging it through the forests of Spain in the dark, path lit by the full moon shining above through the mist. Even less often does this occur while in the company of three Korean men on the way to visit the tomb of a prophet's apostle.  Tolkein was right – you must be careful stepping out your front door, because who knows where you will end up.

We made five kilometers in the first hour, which is insane. Excitement was building as we passed through the old city. Finally we went down some steps past a bagpiper and – we were there!

There is a huge square in front of the cathedral, with a series of stones coming to a point. Kwang-sik turned and hugged me, weeping – I threw down my sticks and bag – and we all collapsed on the ground.

That moment – where I threw down my sticks – I will always remember as one of the best moments of my life. A moment with no cares, worries, thoughts. A moment of triumph, of connection with the center of my being. A moment of pure joy.

The Cathedral

We lay on the cold stones, looking up at the clouds and the spires of the cathedral. I started to laugh – the others joined in – and soon we were all laughing like madmen. “We're fucking crazy. We're all fucking crazy! We walked all the way here! We did it!”

Others looked on, with curiosity. Some took pictures. We didn't care. It isn't often that you get to take part in a thousand-year-old tradition.

See how the stones trace the starburst/shell symbol of the camino on the ground?

The cathedral is neither the largest nor the most beautiful I have seen, but it is the quirkiest. Like the Sagrada Familia, it is unlike any other. Ornate hardy begins to describe it. Of particular note are the giant carved angels holding the huge golden baroque pavilion over St. James's tomb.

The tomb itself is buried beneath the altar. A viewing chamber is accessible by a small set of steps. The sepulchre is of pure silver – some real “Raiders of the Lost Ark” shit – although St. James seems to have been very short.

The cathedral has aged gracefully over the past 800 years. I wonder how many pilgrims have climbed the steps to the image of St. James. They're are worn with the passage of tens of thousands of feet . . . there are deep grooves in the stone. It reminds me of Montserrat.

Louise visited Santiago from Vigo one time. She said that she saw some pilgrims and “they were so happy!” This is a perfect description of us. During the “meet and greet” in mass, all the pilgrims were in the aisles hugging each other. Such a happy, good way to live. If there is an afterlife, I hope it is like this. The locals think we are strange but wish that they could join in.

Marten leaves for Finisterra tomorrow. I will likely never see him again. Our exchange:

See you later, Alligator.”

After a while, Crocodile.”

Okey-dokey, Artichokey.” I'd never heard this before.

How strange it is to be anything at all.


Having paid my respects to Santiago, a great weariness has settled over me. The goal which has animated my bones and muscles for so long is fulfilled, and that power has left my body. 46 days of travel have hit me all at once like a sack of bricks. Tomorrow will be a good day for rest.

We went to a good restaurant in the old town for dinner, a place called Cafe Casino. It's been around since 1873, a high ceilinged, wood-paneled room with strange carvings all around. There are lots of naked people (none of them particularly beautiful) and a bunch of grumpy cherubs fighting dragons . Leaning back in our old leather armchairs, we were “satisfied” as Chan Hee would say.

I opened up my facebook for the first time since Barcelona. Lots of love to be found.

Expenses, Day 51
Donations: 5.00
Internet: 5.00
Albergue (2 nights): 20.00
Total: 30.00
Trip Total: 1183.15

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Camino Entry 50

Our last albergue before Compostela: http://goo.gl/maps/B9rma

Entry 50, January 13th, 2012

Expenses, Day 50
Coffee + Beer: 3.00
Chocolate: .90
Bakery: .90
Celebratory Dinner (my treat): 49.90
Albergue Perdouzo: 5.00
Total: 59.70
Trip Total: 1153.14

Wow, I just made a joke in Spanish. What. Is. My. Life?

The Master had his hands full tonight . . . my bunk-neighbor, a Spaniard named Daniel, has only been walking four days and has a blister covering half his foot (and they're big feet – US 14). Master did what he could, but he told him to walk to Santiago and then go to the hospital!!

This operation involved much translation: Master → Kwang-sik → Cleber → Daniel.

We ran into Cleber again at the end of the day – he was so happy to see us and we were so happy to see him. He brought word of Marten and the Italian – they are in Compostela on day 50. 131 days for Marten! I am glad to hear that he made it. More than four months! I hope to see him again – after meeting by chance in Burgos, I think he ran ahead to escape the crowd.

Today was again beautiful. I learned that this is very, very unusual for Galicia, but I will take the good weather if we can get it. It was like spring in Michigan – soft breezes, mud, windows open and curtains waving, fresh sweet grass. I miss home so much!

Tomorrow everything changes again. I find it hard to believe. Tomorrow I emerge from my self-imposed communications blackout back into a world where I have a personal history. That's one of the things that the camino is – a real world answer to Coelho's thought experiment: “What if one day your personal history was totally erased?” Tomorrow I am again looking for work, and I begin asking myself at the end of the day, “What have I accomplished?” This is never a question on the camino.

This may have been the simplest fifty days of my life. I hope not. I hope to take this calm, this mindfulness, and this simplicity of purpose back to my normal life (not that I have much of a normal life after 11 months abroad). I think I will, although not completely I imagine.

And as much as I have loved the camino and the people on it, it is time to finish. The meaningful path is the path of action, and I have many many actions to get to. But these will be fleshed out during the trip to Finisterra.

Alright. Sleep now, for the sprint tomorrow morning! 20Km to go before noon mass!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Camino Entry 49

Where am I?  Beautiful Galicia . . . http://goo.gl/maps/ACcYV

Entry 49, January 12th, 2012

Sitting at the border of A Coruña and Lugo right now with Master waiting for the other two. Another magnificent, beautiful day, like Michigan in fall or early spring. A cool, soft breeze from the North, crunch leaves underfoot, and slanted silver light through the old forests.

Kwang-sik and I found a strange spot this morning. A stand of pine trees had been covered in ice in the night (I guess Galicia has freezing fog as well) and the sun had just struck it for the first time today. The melting ice resulted in a localized rain storm – it was pouring down for about ten feet, while totally clear on either side. “Holy ground?” we joked.

Kwang-sik walks with both great faith and great love. This is why he is the fastest and strongest of all of us, despite not having proper shoes. He undertook the camino both because of strong faith and because he is trying to decide if now is the time to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Great faith and great love. His actions come from a place beyond determination; like Lao Tzu said, “They flow from the core of his being.”

The Master also walks with these things. He came to the camino without speaking a single work of Spanish or of English (!), having only great faith that things would work out. And he has great love, both for us (he treats us as his own children) and for his family (he showed me a picture of his son, who is 27 and in the army). This is why he is so strong.

What do I walk with? Great love, certainly. My love for family and friends has only grown and deepened since I've been away. Or rather, I've only learned how to settle deeper and deeper into it – it already exists. And it gives me strength – when I am at my most tired, stressed, and fearful, I naturally turn to the faces of those I love most.

I don't know if I am walking with faith, although I suppose I am. As always, my faith is in humankind's incredible potential, for both good and evil. Perhaps this is why I am a bit weaker than Kwang-sik and Master. But I am learning to have faith in myself, bit by bit, and so I am getting stronger.


I talked a bit with Kwang-sik about his situation. It isn't that he's trying to marry her, so much as he knows that something has to change in their relationship one way or another . . . and he is trying to decide which way that is. He is free-spirited and she is very much about going to work and the regimented lifestyle. She is afraid of losing him, which is why he compromised and keeps in contact with her (at first he was going to do the camino with no phone). Personally I think she will have to grow beyond that fear if their relationship is going to work, but Kwang-sik sees it differently. “With the camino, I've thought all this time that she was being selfish; but today, I realized that maybe I am being selfish.”

He reminds me of myself – not caring much for what one is supposed to do, but dedicated and hardworking at what one decides to do. A free spirit, but not a wanderer. This is why we get along so well, and I think this is why I've been compelled to follow the Koreans. I just like the guys, even if can communicate very little on the superficial layer. I can tell subconsciously that they are beautiful souls. They need very little from anyone and are quite strong, gentle, and calm.

There is a poster of an old engraving here in the albergue. It shows a procession of pilgrims in antiquity – hundreds and hundreds of them.

Tomorrow is my last normal day. Wtf.

Expenses, Day 49
Dinner Menú: 11.00
Albergue (Melide): 5.00
Total: 16.00
Trip Total: 1093.44

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Camino Entry 48

Where am I?  Crossing the bridge into Portomarín http://goo.gl/maps/VylBd

Here's one of the pilgrim cafes that are getting more numerous as we approach Santiago de Compostela.  The infrastructure makes this such a different camino than the one in Cataluña . . .http://goo.gl/maps/zRxBh

Entry 48, January 11th, 2012

Expenses, Day 48
Breakfast: 2.40
Coffee: 1.20
Provisions: 5.00
Cookies (yum!): 2.00
Anchovies: 2.00
Albergue (Gonzar): 5.00
Total: 17.60
Trip Total: 1077.44

About 30 kilometers today. It felt long, and the last few kilometers my right shin hurt like the left did in Puenta la Reina. If it is the same injury then I will have to let the Koreans go. The plan is 32km, 35km, 20km, but if I am injured I will not be able to keep pace.

More rolling farmland today – a mosaic of meadows and low stone walls. Galicia is more “earthy” than the other parts of Spain so far – everywhere you look it is encroaching on the trees, walls, and buildings. It is as if there is a wild green forest underground waiting to burst through, restrained only by the weight of the concrete buildings.

Galicia is wet. Descending into the valley where Portomarín is located, I encountered mist that was if anything thicker than any before. Walking through the wild forest and the mist it felt as if I was in the jungle. Dagobah, maybe.

Here's something I've been meaning to write. It's important. I've believed for a long time there is a fundamental level of isolation between people, as we can never know what is in anyone else's mind. Lately I've realized that there is a countering force as well, balancing it out. Even though we never truly know each other's minds, we are all on the same path together. We all share in the same set of experiences – the universal human condition. It's one of the four rules: no pilgrim is alone. And that's not something to sneeze at.

Rule #5 is this: Sometimes there are mountains. Discussion to follow.