Tuesday, August 26, 2014


It has taken me three visits to Spain and a cumulative 1.35 years in the country to figure out that if I describe my name as being pronounced M-A-L-I, most Spanish people can pronounce it pretty well. It may not always be 100% accurate, but it definitely sounds better than mole-y.

Speaking of other visits to Spain, I've also started telling people that I taught "near Alicante" instead of giving them the name of the city where I worked. I introduce myself at least seven times a day, and I quickly realized that part of that introduction was going to involve how I learned Spanish. The actual city where I taught is so well-known for its party culture, that I got tired of explaining that I was placed there by my program, and the new system works much better. My actual story would be the US equivalent of telling someone that I learned English because I studied in New York and then went to live in Vegas for a year.

Got into town around 1:30 today. It's Sunday, so most things are closed, but I decided to brave the one open supermarket. I was expecting ridiculous prices to take advantage of hungry pilgrims with limited options, but I got 2 nectarines, a tomato, bread, and enough chorizo (technically sausage, but the Spanish version is more similar to pepperoni in style and flavor) for a sandwich for less than 3 euro.

There was a restaurant across from my hostel where I heard lots of Spanish speakers, so I decided to try it out for lunch. In traditional style, it was multiple courses served whenever the staff felt like it. The salad was onion, tomato, and iceberg lettuce. It was oily and salty and magnificent. Then there was a pork chop and boiled potatoes (also oily) and an ice cream cake at the end. It was perfect.

I've realized how quickly my standards for cleanliness have changed. At home, standing in a tiny shower trying to wash my hair by dissolving the still-disappointing shampoo strips in the lid of my soap dish would likely leave me feeling dirtier, but since I'm so hot and tired by the time I arrive, I feel incredibly clean after anything even remotely resembling a shower.

I have 5 days to go from here, and roughly 100 kilometers (about 60 miles). For the Catholic church to validate your pilgrimage, you must complete at least these last 100 kilometers on foot, on bicycle, or on horseback, so there are many people who are starting the walk here, and I've heard that it will get more crowded.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fonfria, in which I take a lot of photos

As I look back on these journal entries that I'm transcribing, I realize that I've called several days the most challenging in one way or another. The walk to Fonfria was apparently also a challenge, but I think I meant in terms of physical exertion because it was uphill. REALLY uphill.

Fortunately, for the worst of the climb (from Trabadelo to the town of O Cebreiro), I was walking with a 61 year-old former half-marathoner named Pascual (pictured). He is in better shape at 61 than I will ever be in my entire life, and he wasn't even out of breath after an hour of climbing.

We met because, as I was coming out of Trabadelo, I heard a dog barking and I stopped to get my phone/flashlight so I could make sure it was chained up or inside a fence. About that time, he came along and seemed totally unbothered, so I followed him. As it turns out, the dog was NOT locked up and DID try to come after us, but didn't actually bite. Still, it was not the best way to start a morning, and we bonded over that. We separated after a few hours (and the biggest hill) when he stopped for breakfast, but since I was slower and he made more stops, he passed me several more times that day.

Coming up into the town of O Cebreiro, I stopped to take a picture of this horse and met an Italian guy named either Alberto or Roberto. He spoke minimal English and minimal Spanish, but we connected over the pretty horse and the joy of arriving at O Cebreiro, which represented the end of the worst of the inclines (for that day at least).
There was very little to help mark the distance covered between O Cebreiro (see it's traditional Galician hut below) and my destination of Fonfria, and I was especially exhausted after the hills, so I did actually have a few doubts about whether or not I would get there. 
 It helped that the view was gorgeous.
 And there was this one pilgrim monument that let me know I was getting closer. 
 I also walked through part of a town where a farmer was taking his cows out to the field, and having spent a small part of my time trying to help move cattle about in the past, I can say that these seemed exceptionally well-behaved.
 But I did make it to Fonfria and it was magnificent. I was in a room with about 30 people, but someone had left some shampoo behind, so my hair was actually clean for the first time in a while. I met a group of five (including a priest) from Italy who loaned me a phone charger (I had lost my adapter somewhere after Madrid, but iPhones were fairly common). I had a beer on the patio with Tatiana from Denmark, and Felipe was there! I met the guy who he had been walking with (Andres, also Spanish, who had started in Madrid) and the four of us decided to check out the only dinner option together.
Dinner was multiple courses involving a typical Galician stew, rice with stewed beef and red peppers, and the traditional Santiago cake (an almond cake with the symbol of Santiago outlined in powdered sugar on top) and it was the most fun evening yet. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I think that when people say that knee injuries need rest, what they mean that it's okay to go ahead and walk 20 miles, as long as you rest for the next 16 hours and then repeat for 7 more days. Right?

Today was the first that I varied from my plan and went one town past where I had planned to stay. My knee behaved pretty well, and I wanted to take advantage of how flat it was today in case I need to rest on other downhill days. My opposite hip is now sore from trying to accommodate the knee pain, but it's more of a dull muscle ache than a sharp pain, so I can deal with that.

The hotel from last night included breakfast, so I had a small chocolate croissant to go with my ibuprofen in the morning, and a large one for the road. I walked pretty much without stopping from 6:10 to 1:40, or at least that's my guess because by 1:55 I was showered and on the patio doing laundry in my sports bra.

So far, the route out of Astorga has been my favorite, and the only one where I don't remember any walking by the road. I've also noticed that from San Martin, I saw a lot of snails, then the butterflies started, and today we added slugs.

While I was out on the patio, I met a Spanish guy named Felipe who had just spent a month in Austin. He was there for a class, but had done a lot of exploring and it was absolutely bizarre to hear someone talking about Austin in a tiny town off the highway with two hostels, three restaurants, and ten homes.

Felipe started from his home in Sevilla, Spain and will have walked at least 600 miles by the time he gets to Santiago. That route has fewer hostels and discounts for pilgrims, but you would definitely see a lot of the country. It's an old silver trade route called the Via de la Plata.

I'm in a room with Jean from Missouri who is also lovely. She started last year, but broke her leg and is continuing from where she left off. I've been feeling especially grateful for everything that's helped me get to this point physically. For the many yoga teachers I've visited, for my friends who convinced me to volunteer at a 5K, which later motivated me to start running again. For other friends who I've run with since then, and several friends who came with me on practice hikes. Also, for snacks.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Don't be fooled by the salad...

In a break from the scheduled Spain entries, here's a quick meal update. It's important.

Do you remember when I put ranch dressing on bread and you might have thought it sounded pretty gross, but you let it slide because of things like the skillet cookie or skillet pizza?

I might have just used garlic mayonnaise as pasta sauce. And it was miraculous.It's creamy, delicious, and embarrassingly easy.

The meal started off with this semi-Spanish style mixed salad: lettuce, tuna, tomato, sweet onion, olives, olive oil, salt and vinegar.

I was totally ready to combine the extra tomatoes with the pasta (whole wheat!) and maybe some olive oil and garlic and call it a day, when I saw the jar of garlic mayonnaise on the door of my fridge. I bought it for my post-Spain reunion with friends where I made a variety of Spanish dishes, but it wasn't as close to aioli as I had hoped. I added between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of it to this bowl of pasta (plus tomatoes, cilantro, and salt) and it was the best thing I've eaten all week.

You can decide if that speaks to how good this is, or the quality of what else I've been eating this week, but I do know that I'll be making it again, and soon.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ponferrada, in which I learn the word for knee brace

Most challenging day yet. The blisters and steep hills to climb were nothing compared to the constant downhill of today. I started off the morning with a massage therapist from California. I ran into her shortly after passing the Iron Cross where many pilgrims leave a stone to symbolize something that they're leaving behind (or remembering, or taking on, or whatever meaning they assign). She was lovely, but definitely a talker, and I was mostly glad when we separated mid-morning.

My knee started hurting a little less than halfway into the day. There was a sharp pain through my right knee with every downhill step, but I managed it by walking at an odd angle that let me keep my leg mostly straight. I was mostly glad to be walking alone at that point because I think another person's opinion would have made it worse. I may have mentioned this before, but I definitely expected to be more anxious when alone because I thought that any worries or fears would just multiply inside my head, but it turned out to be the opposite. When there was no one to confirm that there was a problem, or to make me keep talking about it, it was easier to just deal with it and move on.

That's not to say that I didn't have some moments of worry. At one point, I wasn't sure if I was on a goat path or the camino. I'm actually still not sure, but I got where I needed to be. At another point, I thought I must be approaching my halfway point in the town of Acebo, but was greeted with sign for O Bierzo instead. I later learned that it was the name of the region, but it didn't feel great to think that I wasn't even halfway there and had already been limping for an hour.

I made it down into the town of Ponferrada and immediately stopped at a pharmacy for a knee brace and ibuprofen, both of which deserve at least 15% of the credit for my arrival in Santiago. Ponferrada is a good-sized city so, although I knew that there was only one pilgrim hostel, I decided to go to the other end of town and look for a hostel to cut down on the walking for the next day. The hostels were full.

I was hot, tired, and aching, so I opted for a hotel with a pilgrim rate and I could not have made a better decision. I found a grocery store and bought chocolate covered cookies, cherries, potato chips, juice, bread, tuna, and a bag of frozen peas so I could stay in all night. I took my first decent shower of the hike and confirmed that the ever-present lines around my ankles are at least mostly tan lines (maybe 35% dirt). I washed all of my clothes, ate snacks in my bed, and kept my knee elevated under the frozen peas until I fell asleep. It was glorious.

Foncebadon, part 2

The celebration of the Word was a wonderful meditation on love for ourselves and for one another, and on finding God in the small things. They read the passage from the Bible where Jesus appears after his death, and they washed our feet. It was especially beautiful for me because I'm often disappointed by Christianity in the US. Some churches are doing really wonderful work, but others (and often most outspoken ones) use the Bible to justify actions and beliefs that ultimately do more harm than good. I realize that this can happen with any religion, but in the US, Christianity is the most obvious one. The celebration was a reminder of what can be good about it.

Afterwards, we ate the spaghetti and salad that I'd helped prepare earlier. Bread and wine magically (?) appeared to round out the meal, and people were pleased that the meal included seasonings and flavors other than olive oil and salt. I sat with a couple from Colorado who identified themselves as secular Franciscans. They're part of an order connected to St. Francis of Assisi, and they told me that this year is the 800th anniversary of when St. Francis walked the camino. Besides being a super fun fact, that means that on arrival in Santiago, you can request an additional certificate from the Franciscan church in town.

The night ended with a pseudo-sunset service on hill. The view was outstanding, there were more scriptures read in at least four different languages, and they left us with a quote about giving what you can so you deserve to receive what you lack.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Foncebadon, part 1

This is the first morning that I woke up with my alarm instead of other people, probably just because it was a smaller room. The walk was really great. Some was by a road, but there wasn't much traffic, and some felt like we were definitely out in the wilderness. Talking to people helped a lot today. I ran into a guy from Spain who had been on the crazy tour yesterday and walked with him until he stopped for coffee, and I walked for the last half of the day with some teenagers from a city near where I had taught. They were big fans of walking sticks and were very confused about why I didn't have any. Today was the first day with real hills and it was nice to have them to talk to as a distraction.

We got to the tiny town where we were staying together, but their dad was further back and had made a reservation, so they had to wait for him to see where they were staying. The town probably occupied an area the size of a city block with a restaurant, a small store, a few houses, and three or four hostels all together with the camino running through them.

Most pilgrim hostels (known as albergues) are either privately owned (privado), run by the city (municipal), or run by the church (parroquial). I was curious to check out my first parroquial albergue, and I liked that my guidebook said that it was small and that instead of a regular rate, you paid by donation.

I got nervous when I showed up and they had a schedule of activities for us including a musical meeting, a celebration of the Word, a blessing of the pilgrims, a shared dinner and a sunset service. Fortunately, there was a girl from Philadelphia checking in about the same time who had been hiking for several weeks and she assured me that none of them would be mandatory. Still, by the time I had showered, washed clothes, and had lunch, I realized that there weren't many other options.

I asked about the musical meeting and was told that it was a way to meet people and share stories, so I was hoping that the musicality would be in our stories and not actual music, but that was not the case. They passed out packets of song lyrics in English and Spanish and proceeded to play instrumental versions of the songs on small computer speakers. There was no internet, so we couldn't make requests, and the song selections in the packet were interesting, at best, though we did have a lot of fun with some Beatles songs.

They told us that anyone wanting to share dinner could provide an ingredient, help cook, or help clean. I kept asking about what ingredients were needed, but the time to cook rolled around and they brought out some pasta, tomato sauce, and lettuce that the hostel had, and others started pulling out cans of tuna and a few random vegetables. They asked for volunteers to cook, so I did that instead, and we made pasta and a large salad for 20. I was a little nervous because it had to sit for an hour while we did the celebration of the Word, but it turned out great.