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.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Day two down. Had just a few moments of wondering if I'd make it (due mostly to blisters) but today's stretch was absolutely gorgeous. Passed through cattle and sheep farms, corn fields, and small gardens, too. I walked alone for most of the day again, but I'm meeting people when I'm not walking. Since I'm going fairly slow to save my feet, there aren't many people at my pace. Fell asleep at 9 pm last night and had a small moment of panic when everyone else came in to go to bed at 10:30 and I thought it was morning. Everyone else woke up so early today that I was on the road by 6.

Astorga is beautiful. Mailed some things back to the US and got stamps for when I find postcards. Debated trying the typical regional cuisine, but it sounded heavy and not that good (black pudding was heavily featured), so I found a grocery store instead. Since it seems like not all of the places I stop will have one, I got some extra snacks, too. Bread, tuna, melon, gazpacho. I had half a melon and a carton of gazpacho for dinner and it was glorious.

The hostel is really nice (San Javier). There's a fountain to soak your feet, which is especially great since I've been tempted by the irrigation ditches that I keep passing. The room is nice and just eight people, including one who was at the same hostel last night. I washed my clothes with my bar of body soap and I think it did the trick (we'll see next time I have to wear them).

I had planned to just sit with my feet in the fountain all evening, but after I got back from the store, there was an older man in tie-dyed shorts and a fringe vest who insisted on giving us a tour. The manager of the hostel highly recommended it, so I gave in and it was definitely interesting (although maybe not super historically accurate). I slipped out early once I realized that we were getting further from the hostel, but some of his fun facts were around the Palacio de Gaudi (first below), the cathedral (second below) a street where a famous poet was born, one possible birthplace of Pontius Pilate.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

San Martin

(switching to direct transcriptions from journals here)

First day of walking complete! About 24 km (15 miles), depending on which part of Leon they measure from in my guide book. My feet were already sore from yesterday's hostel search, but that was the only rough part. Planning to give them a break and look for a place to buy blister prevention and maybe some boxed gazpacho. I was walking by 6:30 this morning and I hope to keep that up. It was nice to walk about halfway and then stop for food.

The weather is perfect, and I actually could have used long sleeves this morning. There are several things that I need, but I'm realizing that this is not the place. The only store is part of a hostel, so it's likely to be more expensive and/or limited in scope. Hoping for a post office tomorrow to mail back my dress from the wedding.

I was right that the store didn't have much, but I did get some really thick lotion that is supposed to be good for my feet. The blister is on the bottom of my foot, so there's no avoiding it. There is something kind of cool about a bunch of strangers (representing a variety of languages and accents) sitting around in the courtyard doctoring their feet. I'm also impressed (so far) at how people try to keep things clean and quiet.

There was an option to pay extra and have dinner provided by the hostel, but I can't help but doubt their culinary abilities and I'd rather get something that I know I'm excited about. Got some bread, tuna, and nectarines and it was perfect.

Let the record show that by day 1 of the hike, I have already been stubborn lost looking for a hostel, started developing 1 large and several small blisters, and spent a full day with a sports bra safety-pinned to my backpack to encourage it to dry. Also, I just found a clump of shampoo strip stuck in my air, and there's at least a 75% chance that it's from yesterday's shower and not the one I took a few hours ago.

Does pretending that my laundry detergent strips are sort of working provide some sort of placebo cleanliness? Or am I just getting my clothes dirtier from splashing them around the bathroom sink with some mostly unhelpful strips of soap? At least having them dry in the sun makes them feel sort of fresher.

Some of the towns we pass are tiny and sad. The book mentions that renewed interest in the Camino is getting some of them back on their feet, but if that's the case I'm glad I'm not seeing them before. I do see lots of gardens though! Even if it's just a side effect of poverty and/or limited grocery store access, it is nice that gardening is an option for so many people.

Friday, August 15, 2014


I started a 200 mile hike with blisters. Nothing major, but I definitely could have planned better.

We didn't get to sleep until 6 am after the wedding, and we were supposed to check out of our apartment at 11 am, so we had a brief rest and then got a late breakfast before my bus to the city of Leon. The bus was about 4.5 hours heading northwest of Madrid and the view was beautiful (above). Leon was one of three fairly major cities that I would be visiting, so I wanted to arrive before dark to give me time to explore.

As it turned out, I arrived in plenty of time and did a lot of exploring because it took me over an hour to find my hostel. This was the only night when I had booked something in advance, and I had written down directions and even drawn myself a small map, but since I now have a smart phone in the US, I hadn't had to plan a trip without a mobile GPS device in over a year, and my skills had slipped. I later identified two key mistakes: I was wearing my sandals during the 1+ hour long search and I was reading my handwritten directions vertically instead of horizontally (or maybe my mistake was probably writing them horizontally in the first place?).

I passed this very impressive cathedral (many times) and eventually found my hostel, where the manager was excited to talk to me about Austin because he hosts a group from an Austin school each summer. I tried to minimize walking since my feet were already tender from the quest to find the hostel, so I grabbed some dinner (a highlight being a skewer of calamari and bacon with aioli that came with my beer) and had my first shower attempting to use some shampoo strips that I had purchased to save weight and space in my ziploc bag of liquids. Fun fact: shampoo strips are worthless.

That night, I went to bed early, and discovered that if you choose the bottom bunk, you will hear every moment above you, but if you take the top bunk, you will feel guilty for every movement. I had the top bunk and it was the last time I made that mistake.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Wedding

I have unofficially decided that even if I don't have a Spanish husband, and probably even if I don't have a husband at all, I will be throwing myself a Spanish wedding at some point. Spain knows how to party.

On the day of the wedding, I met my next group of friends who were coming in from Valencia. I met them at the apartment that they had for the night. Fun fact: I slept in a different bed (or train, or plane) each day for 18 consecutive days. We went to Madrid's central park and explored until lunch at an Italian restaurant that served me a ham and arugula pizza that should have been shared among at least three people.

The bride was an absolute rock star. She's from the U.S. and her now-husband is Spanish. In addition to getting married and looking gorgeous, she had organized a full weekend of activities for out of town guests, arranged for a bus to pick up guests from central Madrid, and MADE HER OWN CAKE. The bus saved all of us from renting cars to drive out to the wedding, and is apparently fairly common in Spanish weddings, even when there aren't tons of out of town guests. I was a huge fan.

We had been warned by the bride that, although Spain traditionally runs at least 15 minutes late, the punctuality of this wedding would be very much American, so we caught the bus at 7 pm sharp for an 8 pm ceremony. The venue was out towards the mountains and absolutely gorgeous. The ceremony was outdoors and went back and forth between Spanish and English. Everyone got the main ideas, but it wasn't a direct translation since there were some things thrown in more for the English-speaking guests, and some more for Spanish friends and family.

After the ceremony, there was a cocktail hour featuring a variety of traditional Spanish appetizers, including plenty of ham. Apparently wedding ham is known for being especially good, and it was!

Dinner was served around 10 pm and included a seafood stew (served in a shell), a fish course, a beef course, and dessert (served pre-cake!).

With the bouquet toss and cake cutting (WITH A SWORD!) the dancing didn't even start until close to midnight, and in spite of the chilly mountain breezes, we moved outside to dance. It was definitely worth it because it was gorgeous. Halfway through the dancing, they brought out even more snacks, like mini sandwiches. The bus back to the city didn't leave until almost 5 am, so even if we had wanted to quit early, we couldn't, but uncharacteristically I had no trouble staying awake and had an absolute blast the entire time. I gave myself a million common sense points for option for sandals at the last minute. I had comfortable dress shoes set out to pack but I swapped them for sandals at the last minute. At that point I was thinking more about the risk of blisters from walking to the bus stop, but 5 hours of dancing would have definitely destroyed me, and starting a 200 mile hike with blisters seemed unwise.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Arrival in Madrid

I'm going to schedule the August entries around my recent trip to Spain, unless I stumble upon any books, music, or food that absolutely need to be shared immediately. I'll go into many more details as we go but, in short, it was a wonderful trip filled with many reunions with old friends, a beautiful wedding, and a magnificent hike.

July 17: Austin Airport
My flight was delayed due to storms in Dallas, so I missed my connecting flight to Madrid. Instead of going Austin-Dallas, Dallas-Madrid, I had to go Austin-Dallas, Dallas-London, London-Madrid and it took an extra eight hours. Fortunately, there is no one in the seat next to me on the international flight, so I slept fairly well. Unfortunately, an international connection meant going through customs in London and having to throw out the barbecue sauce that I bought in the Austin airport.

July 18: Madrid
I arrived around 6:30 pm and was meeting the lead teacher from my year in Benidorm for dinner at 9:00. I had arranged to share an apartment with another friend arriving from the US, and my obsessive planning (for once) came in very handy since we had set up multiple meeting options in case either of us were delayed. She and her husband arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early, giving me a chance to run up to the apartment and put on clothes that had not just been through three countries and across an ocean on my body. My teacher friend (who was in Madrid because she was leaving the next day to come to Indiana for a year!) and her family arrived shortly after I got back to the restaurant and we enjoyed an incredible meal involving cod with cuttlefish, chocolate truffles, and Lambrusco (among many other things). Restaurant: Bazaar.

I reunited with my American friend and we walked over to a bar that my brother frequented when he was teaching in Madrid. He became good friends with the owner, who was thrilled to see us.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Practice Hike Reviews, Part 2

July 5: San Gabriel Trail in Georgetown (free)

The information about this hike was confusing, and we later realized that it was because there's a trail leading TO the lake, and a trail AROUND the lake. We ended up on the trail to the lake and we did about 4.5 miles (so 9 round trip) starting near the Blue Hole (pictured). We could have gone further, but we got to the dam of the lake and we could tell that it would be a lot further to get to actually see the lake, so we'll have to go back for that another time. The trail to the dam was nice because of ever-changing scenery. Sometimes we were walking through a park, for a brief time we walked through a neighborhood, and sometimes we were on actual trails through trees. 

July 13: McKinney Roughs in Bastrop (free on Sundays)

We ended up at McKinney Roughs on a Sunday, so the main entrance was closed, but there was an alternate entrance, so we used that (and also didn't have to pay to get in). Of the hikes I've done in Texas, it had the most hills, but still not many, and there was a good amount of shade, which helped a lot. There was hardly anyone else there, and we did a six-mile loop that was about all we could handle with the heat.