Monday, September 21, 2009

Duras, France

I'm really rubbish at recording everything!
We'll start over yet again.
Recently we spent four days in France with Gill and his parents. It was terrific fun and Gill’s parents are lovely.
First we went to Gouffre de Proumeyssac, an enormous cave where I touched water that was meant to give me good luck. It seems I am collecting cave luck.

Then we went canoeing on the Dordogne river. I was dreadful. I never knew how hard it was for two people to move a boat. Gill seemed ok, but I was rubbish. I have no idea about oars and water currents. But that meant I got to sit back and look around while Gill did the hard work. Occasionally he was kind enough to let me ‘help’, but each time I took us somewhere we didn’t want to be and I was forced to relinquish my oars.

Then Gill and I were capsized by some teenage French ruffians. I didn’t mind until I realised that my beloved Vic Market sunglasses had been washed away. The dreadful youths stalked us for a while, splashing us a few times (like it mattered by then) before gesturing that we should follow them to the bank. I certainly didn’t want to be stranded with them amongst the bushes so I spoke sternly in English about how unimpressed I was before Gill and I (I helped damn it!) paddled away.

The next day we went to a market. I loved it. I bought two scarves, and Gill gallantly bought me new sunglasses. We also had some of the tastiest cheese ever. I wanted to buy a big straw bag, but the whole ‘one carry-on bag per person’ on flights would have stuffed me around.

On the final day we went to Ch√Ęteau de Duras. I love castles almost as much as I love caves. We made the dizzying climb up the tower and were rewarded by some of the best views we’ve ever seen. Now I have castle envy.
We sat down to a crazy ghost show, only it was all in French so while I’m sure it was very good, it was a little hard to be scared.

To sum up, the people here are much nicer than at St Jean Pied de Port. The countryside is very beautiful and the food can certainly be amazing. I think that I will make one more trip to France, in order to see Paris, but then I’ll focus on other parts around Europe. I just don’t love France the way I love Ireland. It’s a bold statement, but the Irish just seem much more friendly.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

24 July 2009 - My very first rejection letter

Whoo me! About three weeks ago I finally finished my novel! Hurrah!

I had my first three chapters exactly how I wanted them, and I had a synopsis and introductory letter. And I sent it to my first UK agent.

I settled back, prepping myself for the worst. And in under week it came (a week! I thought agents took months???)

I got a form letter telling me that the agency is taking on ‘extremely few new clients’ and ‘please do persevere’. Then the letter tried to flog me a book by one of their directors on presenting work to publishers and agents. It’s bad to get rejected. It’s worse when an agency tries to sell you something in the same breath.

Still, I’m in the game now and I suppose that’s what matters. I’ll learn as I play and hopefully get good enough to finally land something. I realise now that I have a few hurdles to overcome if I’m going to make my novel any good.

Number one is that I have to let people read it. But not just any people. I’ll start off with Gill and see how that goes. I have no idea why I’m so precious about this. It was the same with my thesis. I guarded it like it was made of gold.

Number two. I have to buy an absurd amount of envelopes, stamps, printer ink and paper. This is going to be a long and costly process. It’s not fun and games. It’s a job and as such, I need office supplies.

Number three sees me becoming battle hardened and grizzly from all the rejections. I quite like that idea actually.

Number four is that when I get home, I am going to take a writing class. I can obviously put in the hard yards, and I think I can carry a plot, but it would be good to get some real help from someone who doesn’t know me.

In an attempt to rally my fragile self-esteem, I looked up some authors that had also been rejected. Two of my favourites were in there.

Ray Bradbury. I loved Fahrenheit 451. Apparently he had over 1000 rejections. And then there was George Orwell. The man himself. Animal Farm was rejected. I couldn’t believe it.
That made me feel good. So good that while I will continue to send out my first novel, tomorrow evening I shall start on my next one.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The best city in the world is... Dublin.

I’ve been lazy with this blog. Very very lazy.
I’d better start from my first post-Spain trip.
It came about in an odd way. £2 flights from either Ryan Air or EasyJet (they’re both the same to me), so Gill and I decided we would book a flight somewhere and actually do some travelling. We weren't keen on anything in particular so we chose Dublin. Actually, Gill chose and I reluctantly agreed.
Dublin was amazing. Everyone was kind and cheerful – even the airport staff! We had a tremendous time wandering around the beautiful streets. Most things are walking distance, so we hoofed about from attraction to attraction.
I am pleased to say that I had my first Guinness in the Guinness factory – and I loved it. In fact, the whole Guinness factory tour was great fun, even though at the time I was NOT a beer drinker. Then we went on a tour of Dublin Castle. The tour guide was terrific fun and told us some excellent and cheeky stories.
At my insistence we also went to the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street to visit what may be the remains of St Valentine. These remains were given to the church from Pope Gregory XVI. Rome also claims to have him, so who knows. Apparently this church is a place of pilgrimage for those celebrating love. I was certainly celebrating how I had managed to fall in love with Dublin. If I ever get the chance it would be wonderful to stay there for longer and really explore properly.
All in all, Dublin is now my favourite city. I was only there for two days, but it won me over in about two minutes. And this is despite the fact that the rain bucketed down, held off a minute, then poured again. It’s almost a treat to see all the Dubliners walking about without umbrellas, getting soaked because (as a very funny busker announced to the world) they are so stubborn they are determined not to let the rain dictate their movements.
On another quick note, the National Gallery of Ireland was wonderful. The Taking of Christ was so beautiful I found it hard to leave. I know it is the nature of art to move and evolve, but I don’t think I’ve seen any modern art that has taken my breath away quite like that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

6/3/2009 - Fisterra

Apparently we were still in the mood to explore. We went to see Fisterra - ‘the end of the world’. It was windy, rainy and foggy. We went right to the edge where the foghorn sounded. It was so loud that I could feel my whole body vibrate. It was well worth the rotten weather. Actually, the bad weather might have made it better. If you go to the end of the world it’s kind of nice to have dramatic conditions. And the four km walk is nothing. The town itself is quite nice. Not much to do there. There are some ok food places, but the real thrill is seeing the end of the world.

Monte do Gozo/ Santiago de Compostela

We walked straight past Monte do Gozo. What else was there to do? Santiago de Compostela was so close and it was still early in the day… Suddenly we were passing a sign that announced that we had arrived. It was heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time. We trudged further following the arrows. On and on and on into the city. Once you arrive at the city outskirts, it’s a rude shock to discover how much further you have to go. Arriving at the Cathedral we were exhausted and desperately wanting a rest. After asking for directions we made our way into the city. We finally made it to the albergue, only to find it was closed until April. I was horrified. But the kind man informed us that there were two others that we could stay at and he gave us a map with both of them marked out. So off we went to the second albergue. It didn’t exist. We walked around for ages trying to find it, but despite asking for a million directions, we were still left standing at the right address, with no albergue in sight. We began walking to the next one. Suddenly, a French couple that we’d seen previously appeared from nowhere and informed us that none of the albergues were open, and we had to go back to Monte do Gozo. We made it back to Monte do Gozo, struggled up and up and up the hill to the rooms and I almost passed out from bliss. Turns out we shared a dorm with the French couple, and there were only three other women there, which meant that the bathroom was blissfully empty most of the time. Hot water, doors on the showers, a kitchen, and most importantly, the people there were relaxed and lovely.

Once when Gill and I were having a cup of tea in the kitchen, an Italian man walked in, placed a pink scarf on the table and said ‘For you!’ before walking out again. I managed to blurt out a ‘thank you’ to his retreating figure despite my confusion. I’d never spoken to this guy before. Still, despite the fact that after that I was too shy to talk to him, the scarf is beautiful and it made me feel good.

Also, once there was a donkey outside my window. I've learnt to appreciate the little things.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

1st March – Arzua

In Arzua we ran into El Trampo again. We called him this because one of the Spaniards we had met used the words ‘tramp’ and ‘vagabond’ to describe some of the pilgrims. Vagabond is a great word. This was a man who scared the crap out of me by laughing to himself and pretending to only speak Spanish. He would then quiz me about my life, in English, whenever Gill left the room.
The Albergue was closed so we went to a private one that charged 8 Euros. For dinner, we went out to a restaurant because there was no kitchen. There I was introduced to the Cheese Meal of Death. I got a lasagna. It was a few mushrooms and a bit of spinach with a layer of pasta, drowned in cheese. And I mean it was pretty much a bowl of cheese. Gill got a pizza. That was also just covered in cheese. It was painful walking back, we were full of dairy and it was freezing cold. Not to mention the fact that I was only wearing my skins and a jumper. Everything else had been given to the woman who ran the hostel for washing.
Still, this albergue was great. The bathrooms were beautiful. Hot water without the stupid press buttons, DOORS, and I was the only girl there. Privacy is wonderful.

28th Feb – Melide

At Melide, I did something I never thought I would do. I ate pulpo. Some man was out front of his restaurant cooking it and he started yelling at me to try it. I hate it when people yell at me. So despite hating the very idea of eating purple octopus parts, I popped it in my mouth and found that it was actually very tasty.
When we got to the albergue I met the lovely woman who ran the place – Maria. She was so nice. She made a huge effort to chat to us and through her English and Gill’s Spanish we had a fun conversation. We also met a polish guy who talked non-stop! He was very sweet though, and told us some great stories. He said that he enjoyed traveling with his wife, but she didn’t like hardcore hiking so he went out every so often without her. She preferred 10km strolls. I feel much the same way.

26th Feb – Ligonde

Ligonde was a tiny place with a lovely albergue. We had stopped at a place about 4km earlier and were told to keep walking because there was nowhere to stay. So we continued. Until we saw a lovely new looking building that, of course, was closed. I was so tired. But we pressed on because there was nothing else to do. And about half a km more there was another albergue! This always seems to happen. You see one that is closed, then right around the corner is an open one. It’s as if Spain is laughing at us. But unfortunately this is where we met some obnoxious Spaniards again. They were nice enough, but they were in our faces and simply HAD to keep their radios on all night.
Dinner at the tiny restaurant across the road was wonderful. It was basic food, and none of it was particularly tasty, but the sheer amount was very welcome. It was quite fun, as we watched Spanish film clips for ages during dinner. Some 50 year old woman was fronting a band and kept gyrating around the screen (and on a pole) in the tiniest of dresses. Her make-up was an inch thick and very scary. It was funny, but sad at the same time.

25th Feb – Portomarin

The walk from Sarria to Portomarin was hard. We had seen some Spaniards on the way at various times. Eventually they overtook us for the final time. About 15 minutes later we saw them sitting on the ground treating their blisters. Not pretty. At that point I was very glad we’d taken care of ourselves and had rests.

The first view of Portomarin was wonderful. The dam was so still that the reflection of the town in the water was a perfect mirror image. Walking across the bridge was great fun - I don't know what it is about walking across a stretch of water. For some reason I just find it fun. Easily pleased I suppose.

Of course, once you see the city, you still have to walk through it up to the albergue. The woman we needed to see wasn’t around so we sat out the front and waited. A freaky looking white dog wandered up to Gill and slobbered all over his pants. I found this hysterical. He didn’t, so after some yelling the dog trotted away.

The albergue itself was quite new and nice. But it held one dreadful shock that I hadn’t been prepared for. As always, I dumped my stuff and went to have a shower. I found the women’s bathroom, walked in and… there were no doors on the shower!!! I know, I shouldn’t have been so horrified, seeing as it was a female only bathroom, but I am not really happy with the idea of showering in front of people. It’s not exactly a good way to relax.

It’s a nice looking town though. In the morning there was a wonderful amount of fog and when I turned around to look back, the church rose up out of the fog. It was so beautiful. The old city of Portomarin lies beneath the dam. The church was moved stone by stone to the new location. The stones still have the numbers on them. It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen on the Camino.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Sarria was an accident that happened on the way to Samos. We didn’t mean to go there, because I was stuffed. I couldn’t stand the thought of adding extra kms to the walk even for a giant monastery. But we got confused due to either fatigue or poor signage (a bit of both maybe) and ended up on the road to Sarria. So we wandered around the monastery for a while. I was so hungry I didn’t want to wait any longer for food. We stopped at a little bar next to the monastery (if you take a right when you first see the monastery on the Camino, it has tables and chairs out the front and is quite close to the river). There I ate the most horrible omelette in the world, served by the most uninterested man in existence. It was a little bit surprising. For every cafe that has staff that actually want customers, there are three more that view pilgrims as an inconvenience. I felt so disgusting after that meal, that I made a conscious effort to always have bread on me so I wouldn’t ever be forced to chew on lumps of gristle and fat again.
It was a pretty town, but I was totally put off by the bar. Foul foul foul.


There were three albergues that we could see in Tricastella. We settled on the one that seemed the least popular as I was desperate for some privacy. And some steady hot water. Which we found. I was so grateful for the nice beds, the hot water and above all, the massive and clean bathroom. All such simple things, but they are hugely important to me. Yes, I am that lame. This was the place where I ate the saltiest meal in history. My body hated me more than ever. Then, when we packed up and left in the morning, a large dog decided to become my friend. I don’t trust strangers, and I trust strange dogs even less. Especially when they get nippy with me. After waving my sticks around (and thank heavens for them) the dog left me alone. Gill found it all quite amusing.

23rd Feb - O´Cebreiro

We took a bus in the morning but ended up walking anyway because there will soon be a festival and there were no ‘rural’ buses. That turned out to be a blessing because on the walk we saw the most beautiful scene. The fog was so thick it was covering a town and the valley below.
We then ended up in O´Cebreiro. I’m glad I went through here. It was strange to be in such an old place. It’s such a beautiful and bizarre little village. There were lots of round stone houses with roofs made of straw.
Apparently in the twelfth century a faithless priest in O´Cebreiro was celebrating mass. The weather was so dreadful that he assumed nobody would come. But one farmer did make the trip. God wanted to reward the farmer so he turned the host into flesh and the wine into blood. Then a statue of the Virgin Mary bowed down to the miracle.
The small stories on the Camino are what makes travelling so wonderful.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Things I'd take on the Camino

I made some epic mistakes when I was packing. I took too much, and there were a few items I would have loved to have with me.

Basic gear: jocks, socks and bras x2, lightweight walking pants (quick dry), one thermal top, a jumper, a wind/rain-proof jacket, scarf, gloves and beanie/hat. This is for winter. It gets bloody cold.
A watch with an alarm - Once I woke up and everyone else had left. A loud ringing noise in my ear would have been quite handy.
Earplugs - People snore and rustle and for some reason some Spanish men like to play their radio all night long, tormenting the other pilgrims
Sleeping bag
First aid kit
Walking poles!!! WHY DIDN’T I BUY THESE?
Hand sanitizer - I love this stuff, and unlike others on the Camino, I didn't get sick.
A poncho – I was especially pleased with mine because I’d put some extra buttons on to stop it flying off me in windy weather. Hi5 to me. It's also nice to have something to sit on when it's lunch time on the road.
Tea - Because I like to be soothed.
Honey - for the bread I seem to attract
Nuts - Nuts in Spain are so expensive it’s absurd, but they are so damn tasty
Small Camino map - I like to see where I am and where I’ve been. Makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere.
My grooming pack - I don’t care if it took up room. Sometimes after a rough day it’s nice to be washed. Things aren't so nice when you look like a dirty bridge troll for weeks on end.

Extra t-shirts and similar stuff - I didn’t need them, there’s ample opportunity to wash clothes in sinks
My massive 3L camelback - A smaller one would have done fine – there are a million places to get water along the way, and while people might say ‘you don’t have to fill it up’ it still takes up room.
My mobile phone – I’ve been out of credit for ages, and it just took up space and added weight. So did my charger.

22nd Feb – Villafranca

The albergue at Villafranca is pretty great. The people who staff it provide the warmest welcome, and the place itself is more like a community than a sterile pilgrim centre. It’s gorgeous to look at, as is the town itself. We took a bus from Astorga to Villafranca in the hope of getting to Sierra to walk the last 100km (slow and steady), but the bus only went so far. I’m so glad of that now. Tomorrow we’ll see about transport and worry about my foot. It was a tad better this morning – I’ve been walking very carefully and slowly. Unfortunately, the very beautiful town of Villafranca is also mighty hilly. Up and down and up and then down. Not gentle rolling hills either, but violent, plunging ones. I took a few quite well then felt a searing pain on one and swore like a true Ballarat girl. I was glad nobody was around to hear me. Not my best moment.
Overall, I adore Spain. It’s everything I could have wanted. And it seems the closer we get to Santiago de Compostela, the friendlier the people get. They encourage my few badly pronounced Spanish words and always make an effort in English. Actually, today I used my first successful Spanish sentence. I asked a woman for jam and she understood the first time around. It was a pretty great moment for me.

21st Feb - Astorga

We just arrived in Astorga. My foot is totally ruined. It took us about 4.5 hours to do 10km. For those of you who have no idea how long that should take, I usually do about 4-4.5km per hour. That’s a fairly steady and gentle pace. But at the moment I’m limping along in the most pathetic manner possible. The walk was ok. It was largely uphill - which interestingly was easier on my foot – and quite boring.
A few km in, Gill told me to keep walking and disappeared into the bushes. I thought he was taking a toilet stop so I kept going. A little while later I turned around to see him moving towards me with a stick and a very wide grin. He’d managed to find a branch to make a walking stick out of. So now I look like a real pilgrim, strolling along with my staff. It’s quite fun really. My pace improved a lot after that. I’m so grateful. Before that we’d discussed the idea of me quitting the Camino. But now that I can manage a slightly quicker pace, we’ve decided to take one more bus a little bit closer and do 10km bite size pieces per day. I can definitely suffer through 10km. I don’t care how much it hurts or how long it takes. It may seem silly not to stop, but I just can’t. I don’t want to give up. This has meant more to me than anything else I’ve done.
I wish I’d brought walking poles with me. I suspect that the damage was done in the snow, and I can’t help but feel that the extra assistance would have helped a lot. Still, the stick is great and I am happy.
Our albergue today has a kitchen and a washing machine. That was bliss. I’ve washed all my smelly gross clothes properly and we’ve been to the supermarket to get some dinner stuff. Life here is so different. It’s easier in that I don’t need to worry about work or housemates or ‘real world problems’, but it’s harder because I’m now worried about the basics - food, shelter and the easing of physical pain.
Astorga is really quite a pretty town. They have the remains of an ancient Roman villa cordoned off in an area right near the albergue. A part of the mosaic is still intact, and I got rather excited about it. Gill called me a nerd. It’s a fairly accurate assessment really.

20th Feb – Hospital de Orbigo

I'm now posting things I wrote while I was on the Camino, so forgive me because they are all jumbled and out of date. I'm in London now, and missing the Camino a lot.

I’m injured, cold, homesick and snuffly. But I’m still happy. It says a lot for Spain and the Camino if I can be in a rotten state and still be happy. A tiny walk today and it took us forever. I couldn’t walk far despite my foot being strapped. Thankfully, the next town was very close.
I’m sitting in the kitchen of our albergue in Hospital de Orbigo. We just got kidnapped by our fellow pilgrims who had cooked too much food and so we sat and ate first dinner with them. We’d already bought food, so Gill is now making second dinner so that our food doesn’t go to waste. As I am the hurt member of our little party, I am sitting down and providing helpful encouragement. I will also make sure I eat second dinner while mumbling my appreciation.
There is a lovely American woman here called Anna. I call her ‘master-painter Anna’ – silently of course. She showed us one of her water colours today. I was amazed, then I was impressed, then I was consumed with envy mixed with respect. Of course, she doesn’t think she’s as good as she actually is.
This albergue is lovely. Freezing cold, and the water in the showers is warm rather than the steaming hot you actually need in this weather, but it’s nice. Plus, as Anna worked out, there is a little heater you can set up in the bedroom. I’m a fool – I took one look at it, thought ‘air-con’ and walked past. The bathrooms are quite nice, and most importantly, there is a kitchen. It’s not much at first glance, but it is wonderfully functional. Nothing quite like being able to eat after a day of walking.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I'm not dead, I'm in Madrid!

I know I haven't posted in a while. I have quite a few days to post but I'm in Madrid and I'm exhausted, poor, hungry and slightly fearful of the fact that I'll be looking for a job and somewhere to live in London in a few days. I'm in a tizz and a panic and I shall update the camino details soon.

Just quickly - the freaking albergues in Santiago were closed! WTF??? I was furious. We had to hike backwards on the camino in order to get a bed at the previous place. Not happy Jan.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Feb 27th - The Wizard of the Camino

My foot has been getting worse. And it seems that every time we aim for an albergue, it's closed and we have to limp to the next one. Yesterday we were slowly making our way to what we hoped was an open one, when the Camino Wizard came up behind us. I could tell he was a wizard because he had a pointy black wizard hat with crecent moons on it. He pointed at me and said 'injured?' I said 'Si!' and pointed at my foot. He said 'I am a doctor. Would you like me to look?' With nothing to lose, and with Gill looking very hesitant, I said 'SI!' and whipped off my boot. He hummed a bit while squeezing my heel and saying 'hurt?' but I was unconcerned by the pain because I was certain that some serious magic was going on. He put my foot down and said 'Tendonitis!' I nodded in awe. He said 'Achilles. I think this word is universal no?' Clever wizard. I believe it is.

He then told me to do short walks and to take asprin. He then picked up his walking staffs and strolled off into the hills, no doubt to bring medical assistance to other pilgrims.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Clarification on the last hysterical post – starting again at Pamplona

We’ll start at the start. We caught a bus at Pamplona. It went to Vitoria, then we were to catch a train to Leon. Only we didn’t get off at Vitoria. Noooooooooooooo. We stayed on, gawking at the town wondering ‘do we get off?’ only to find that YES WE BLOODY WELL DO GET OFF. Ahem. Anyway, we went to Bilbao, where there were no trains or buses to Leon. So after dealing with the worst and rudest customer service woman in the world, we caught the bus to Burgos then managed to get another bus to Leon. I have to say, Bilbao is an ugly city. It was a shock to view it after seeing so much beauty. Of course, it was made worse by the nasty piece of work at the bus transit place. Anyway, after that, we arrived at Leon. Leon was perfection. It was amazing and wonderful and I loved it. I especially loved the albergue. The women who ushered us in and explained things were so kind I felt soothed. There is a book swap shelf, but there was no point in me swapping ‘The Pilgrimage’ because none of the books were in English. So I just left it there in the hope that someone else will enjoy it and that instead of reading I’d do some writing for once. The room was heated which great and slightly unusual. I got to wash some clothes safe in the knowledge they would dry. And breakfast was provided! All this for… A donation. We weren’t sure of the etiquette surrounding donations. Other places that were way worse had been 3 to 8 euros. We threw in 20 because we figured that was roughly correct. We were vindicated when we stayed for a second night (it’s not usually allowed, but it wasn’t exactly peak season) and were charged 6 euros. On our day off we got to see Leon a bit. The cathedral was amazing. I was a bit overcome by how huge and beautiful it was. We then went to what I now consider the highlight of my trip. Yes, it even tops the elephants, tigers and snakes. At San Isidoro I saw the tombs of the Kings of Leon. I can’t say I like the band much so please don’t let your thought process go there. It is a 4 euro charge but this place is worthy of the kind of awe that I rarely get to feel. It floored me. It was the most beautiful and heart-stopping place I have ever seen. It was small but amazing. I don’t think pictures could do it justice. I won’t say more because words are not helping me.
After that we were taken upstairs to the museum and library. The museum was ok, but the library shocked me. And not in the good way. I don’t know much about the preservation of books, but I suspect that this collection would be better off in a state run museum. Again, I won’t say more because I’m actually still really upset over this.
Anyway, overall Leon is the kind of place that makes me wish I could speak fluent Spanish (as if there is a time when I wouldn’t want this) so that I could move there.
We slept again – this time I noticed that the beds are actually really noisy, but who cares. I still appreciated the warm room.
We then set out to Villadangos. There was an unpleasant throbbing in my foot, but nothing major. Or so I thought.
*cue dramatic music*
My foot got worse and worse. But suddenly, there we were! Villadangos. And there were bright shiny yellow arrows which were screaming ‘it’s ok! The albergue is right here!’ It was closed. We rang the number listed and were told to press on to San Martin. So we did. We once again saw a glistening new albergue. 3 euros a night and the signs all looked promising. Again it was closed. I sat down in the dust and ate a honey sandwich. It seemed like the only thing to do. Gill ran around like a mad chook, quite certain that I’d flip out.
But eventually I got up and we continued. I was almost in tears by this stage wondering what I would do. And amazingly, there was an open albergue, not more than 400m after the closed one. I was saved!

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I hurt myself and I don't know how. My achilles is all painful and I'm limping around like a muppet. We only managed 7km today, and it took FOREVER. This is not good. However, I did just have an excellent meal, and a hot cup of tea. I'm easily satisfied these days.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Feb 16th - A major change

Yesterday Gill and I came to a decision because we are (I am) running out of money. We had planned for roughly 5 weeks of sleeping in albergues and eating the heavily discounted pilgrims meals. Instead we find ourselves mostly sleeping in hotels/private lodging and eating out every night. All the helpful pilgrim places don’t open until April. No way can we afford to stay in hotels for 5 weeks. The race to the next town isn’t about securing a bed ahead of other pilgrims, it’s about finding a bed full stop. And an affordable one! Today we are paying about 45 euros because the accommodation guide we were given was old, and after trooping around Pamplona for ages, we gave up and said yes to the first place we found.
So we are catching a bus to Leon. I’m pretty happy about this. I’m sad that money (and therefore time) is such an issue, but in a way I’m happy that now I can also spend more time looking at things along the way, and making detours, rather than racing to complete 28km because to stop at 20 would mean paying for private accommodation. But I’m also sad, because part of me feels that I won’t have completed the Camino. Still, I suppose it shouldn’t be about the distance, but about what I get out of it. I think I’ve changed a lot. I’m less fussy about what I eat and where I sleep. If a slab of hard, cold concrete is flat and broad, after walking 15km, it suddenly looks like heaven. And I eat almost everything now. I finally understand how fussy I have been. Actually, I’m discovering a lot of my faults. I wish I’d done this years ago – I would have done a lot of things differently. Said what should have been said, and done what should have been done. But it’s never too late to change. There is still a long way to go. To complete the Camino you have to do the last 100km, and I think we’re doing about 400 and something all up. Not the 800 I’d set out to do, but enough. Who knows, I might get to return one day – cashed up and with time to spend.

Feb 15th Zubiri to Villava (16km)

Today we were meant to only walk a tiny distance. We agreed that we’d go the 6km to the next hostel so I could rest. Instead we ended up walking about 16km to Villava. It was fairly tough, but thankfully a great deal of it was flat. And after our last few shortcuts, we stuck to the road.
I had a lovely moment when we got confused about where we were and thought we had longer to go to get to Villava, only to discover that we were already there! Excellent! We stayed at a hostel where this old Spanish man called Raoul explained the rules in Spanish. The main one was that we had to be back by 9:30pm. Of course, we then discovered that in Spain dinner isn’t eaten until roughly 9 or 10pm. The place that usually served pilgrim meals was closed as it was a Sunday, as was the supermarket. So after trying to get fed, we returned early to the freezing cold albergue where we explained to Raoul we were cold. He kindly turned on the heater for us. An Irish man arrived, totally exhausted from his trip. It was fairly dark by this time, and it turned out that he’d walked about 40km all up because the previous town was closed. Poor bugger was wrecked. We confirmed the rules with him and explained about dinner arrangements before Gill and I dashed out to eat, thinking only of our stomachs. We ate at a brilliant pub where a lovely man explained Spanish meal times to us, then showed us the paintings made out of sugar on the walls. It was a good meal and he was a very kind fellow. Then back to our bunks for a much needed sleep.

Feb 14th Roncesvalles to Zubiri (22.6km)

No breakfast, because apparently if something says it will open at 8am, it’s a lie. A cruel and horrible LIE! And we couldn’t afford to wait around. So off we went in the hope that the next town could offer something. We scored a croissant in Burguete. Yummo. With our new Swiss acquaintance trailing us, we stormed the first few km until we stopped for lunch. I will never understand this obsession everyone here has with baguettes. You cannot get any other form of bread. Or if something else is available, then you are so confused by the range of bread sticks that you simply cannot look beyond them. Still, I quite enjoyed my omelet which was smushed into a baguette. Tasty and massive. Then, once we moved on, we decided that in the spirit of adventure, we would leave the road in favour of the little Camino path. All I can say is that despite the agony, I regret nothing. It was beautiful. Amazingly beautiful. Snow was everywhere. Thankfully, people had been before us and had made imprints for us to step in which stopped us sinking too far into the snow. Still, it was quite a long and hard slog. I will admit to feeling a little bit nervous about the weather, as I was painfully aware that if it snowed heavily we would be fairly screwed. But everything was fine. At some stages I was bounding along through the snow, unable to stop myself as my pack was pushing me forward and I was literally tripping into the next footprint. Gill, being heavier, was struggling a little bit in the snow, so we reverted back to the road as soon as we could. Which is where I conked out. Although I did perk up at the graffiti we saw which said ‘ Miki Vampire Warriors’. Who doesn’t love vampire warriors. But by the end I was practically crawling along. The path kept going and I had a rather severe blister on my heel which was slapping me around. On finally limping into Zubiri I was horrified to discover that nothing was open. The Albergue was closed, and there seemed to be no other accommodation. The thought of walking another 3 or 4 km into the next town was not something I could entertain. Thankfully, a kind bartender called her friend who came and let us into some rather expensive but lovely accommodation. I don’t think I’ve ever slept as soundly. I also had an strangely flat but excellent steak for my dinner.

Feb 13th St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles (27.5km)

The trip started off in St Jean with me snuffling from a cold. Whooo.

That morning, we were told off by the French woman whose hostel we were staying at. Our crime was getting up at 7 instead of 7:30. My year 10 French hadn’t been cutting it the night before when the instructions had been given out, and some Portuguese tourists tried to translate for us. From average French, to Portuguese, to rather poor English. So you can see how the instructions got fumbled. Our host just couldn’t seem to comprehend that we didn’t speak French, and kept making long speeches to us before looking at me in disappointment. I picked out the words Friday and breakfast, and felt secure that not ALL of my school French lessons had gone to waste. We were so desperate to leave her behind that we ate a less than adequate breakfast before venturing out into the freezing cold. And I really mean freezing. Snow was everywhere. The main Camino path was closed due to snow, so we had been instructed to take another route. Marking the entire way are small blue and yellow Camino signs, yellow arrows, and red and white markers. It’s very easy to find the correct way to go. We walked through a few small towns, stopping every so often to get a cup of tea and warm up. Then we followed the Camino map we had been given and plunged into a short cut. It was very rocky and slippery due to the weather, but nothing too dreadful. By this stage we had done maybe 14km, and my feet were getting very very sore. We emerged out onto the road again and trudged along a bit further until we got to the second short cut. It was impossible to say no to it. The road winded on forever, while the short cut just zapped from A to B. What a colossal mistake that was. After a little while, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by thorns. Too tired to turn back, we pressed on. The thorns got thicker and totally obscured the path. We continued. The thorns grew to at least a quarter of my height, so it was almost impossible to stand on them. Then we realized we hadn’t seen a Camino sign for a while. We saw another fellow, Nino, behind us, struggling on as well which made me feel better. Eventually we made it past the evil thorn grove to see the blue and yellow sign glowing at us. And BANG. We walked straight into the snow. Nino pressed on ahead of us, which made life easier because we could then stand straight in his footprints. Still, it was a slippery and arduous uphill climb. When we got to the road, I ripped my boots off to find two newly formed blisters and some semi-frozen stumps where my feet had been. Plus, it was at this stage that I realized I had drunk my 3L of water. But it was all so pretty! And the sun was finally out, so I couldn’t be too glum. We shuffled on, ignoring a sign for a third shortcut. I was moving at a pathetic pace, so we stuck our thumbs out. After a 4WD sailed past us, a Spanish guy pulled over and gave us a lift. Turns out we were less than 3km away from the hostel – we had done 27km uphill out of 30. Roncesvalles was beautiful. It was a lovely mountain town covered in snow. We ate a wonderful and massive dinner with Nino before retiring to our bunk beds with about 12 others. We made a new Swiss friend who seemed to find my sore legs very amusing. I however, did not. Still, it was a difficult and most excellent first day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Trouble at home

When I left Melbourne, I was a little bit scared that at some point on my trip I would come to harm. Now, Victoria is burning and I'm safe as houses half a world away. I know my family is safe at the moment - although fires came kind of close a few years ago, my parents live on the border of an urban area. But it would be fair to say that almost everyone in Victoria knows someone who lives in or near the areas that have been ravaged. I have people I really love who live in the middle of dry and isolated country areas. It's terrifying not knowing where the fires are or what's going on. I'm in a house with three Australians at the moment and new numbers have been continually popping up. 40 dead. 75 dead. Over 100. More bodies found. I've been checking The Age as often as possible, but we're still so far away it just doesn't seem real.

It's dreadful to hear of people who stayed just a fraction too long at their houses. Or people that stayed because they didn't have insurance and thought they could defend their homes. Or people who just couldn't outrun the flames. I remember watching the glow from the fires in Linton once. It was just that to us - a glow - but it was frightening enough. I never had any doubt that if fires came close we'd just leave. We'd never be able to defend our house, we're next to a park and there is just too much vegetation around. We have no water pumps, just a small tank and a hose. But which way would we go? Where would we head? We'd have to check that our Aunt was ok. The thought of all the choices and decisions that would need to be made in such a pressurised situation is awful.

So, with no real idea of what's going on at home, I hope that the news doesn't get worse and I hope the people I love are safe.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cold cold cold

London is FREEZING. I quite seriously go outside wrapped up like a mad thing. Since I don't exactly have a massive range of clothes to choose from, I'm just wearing everything I own. I look stupid. But aside from the rubbish weather, I love it here. It's wonderful. I keep seeing lovely things that just make me so happy. For starters, when I arrived, there was snow on top of all the buildings! And all the houses are smushed up together like biscuits. There are also these creepy little side streets that make me feel like I'm in the 18th century. It's all just so damn English and absolutely fantastic.

I have to say that I love the public transport here. This Oyster card thing is brilliant. I'm in love with it. I hope the new ticketing system is in place and working when I get home because it blows my mind. Stupid Connex and stupid transport department.

I miss home a lot though (aside from the weather). 2 years in England may have been a tad ambitious. It's not very colourful here. And not many people smile. I hate not having my own place to live in. I think that in this place, having a safe and happy sanctuary is even more important to me. I want to do home-type things. I miss Richmond. I've been day-dreaming about Bridge road. Who would have thought. I badly want a steak from Boheme. They are massive and tasty and are always cooked the way you request. Not like asking for medium and ending up with a slab of charcoal. And I want to go to my market. I want to walk around with a massive shopping list and come home with three punnets of blueberries. I really miss my old life. I think I now understand that it wasn't dull and constricted, it was just gentle. Which is quite nice really.

It's my birthday tomorrow. I'll be 25 years old. Quarter of a century or, as a friend that I hate reminded me (you know who you are xoxo), half-way to 50. What I want most of all is to sit in my old apartment, get some DVDs and order a ridiculous amount of food. Instead I'm going to brave the cold and go to the British Museum. Which is exactly what I'd wish I was doing if I was at home in Richmond. Funny that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tigers, snakes and caves

My flight to London has been delayed and now I am trapped in Bangkok until early tomorrow morning. Bleh.

In the time that has passed since the last post, I have seen and patted some tigers, seen a snake show and had one wrapped around my neck and I have gone into a massive (to me) cave system that has some pretty special legends attached to them.

I miss home terribly. It's strange, but adventuring is quite a lonely sport. I don't regret leaving, but right now a tube of vegemite is one of my favourite possessions.

Back to the tigers. They were wonderful. Soft, but hard underneath all that fur. I got to lay my head down on the belly of one and my heart stepped up it's pace until I could feel the blood thumping through my head. I was terrified. But that was nothing compared to having a huge python wrapped around my neck. It's massive head was a little too close to my face for comfort - although I did manage to get a good photo of it. From that, nobody would know that I was actually shaking like a leaf. At one stage the snake handlers reached into the snake 'box' and flung one straight at me (I was an obvious choice as I was clearly the most frightened). Naturally, I screamed and went mental only to find them all laughing at me, and a piece of rope on the ground. I am such an easy target sometimes.

The caves at Chiang Dao were very impressive. My imagination went wild down there. There were random passages, bats, and little alters all over the place. Water dripped down everywhere, and the smell of the guide's lamp made it all the more suffocating. It was fantastic and a very good way to confront a lot of my fears. The dark, small places and being underground.

Lastly, I finally managed to see a fortune teller. She told me some things that I was happy with, and other things that I am VERY unhappy about. I don't think that people should live their lives by things like that, but it can be a good reminder of what to avoid. Hopefully I'll manage to see one fortune teller and see one cave system in every country.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Elephant camp

I've had a fantastic day. We went on an all day tour where we met some lovely Canadian people, John and Angeline. First stop was an orchid farm which was absolutely beautiful. The colours were amazing, and it was very interesting to see the roots of the orchids just hang in mid air. There was also a cat which was wearing a vest. I have no idea what's going on with the whole animals in clothes thing, but it's keeping me well entertained. After cooing over the flowers we were bundled into the van again, and soon arrived at... the elephant camp.

It blew me away. They were roaming all over the place and were all so amazingly huge and graceful. I was quite scared when it was time to climb onto the seat perched on top of our elephant. But we were soon settled and trudging along. Then our mahout randomly jumped off and went off for a stroll. Meanwhile, our elephant was still slowly plodding away and I was wondering what the heck was going on. John and Angeline were well ahead of us by this stage, as our elephant didn't really seem to be into the whole walking thing and theirs was powering ahead. The mahout then called to the elephant and got it to abandon the trail and go into the river. So there we were, in the middle of the river with the mahout on the bank laughing at us. He then gestured for us to get off the seat and sit on the elephant itself. I told Gill he had to go first because I was finding it hard enough to stay upright as it was. He slid quite easily onto the elephant, and with the mahout calling out instructions to our four legged friend, we slowly waded back to the bank. Gill promptly moved back onto the seat, as by this time the mahout had climbed a tree and was ready to jump on the elephant's head. I opened my big mouth and asked if I could have a go riding on his head. The mahout seemed quite happy with this, and swung himself into the seat so I was wedged in between him and Gill. I slowly and quite ungracefully slid onto the elephant's neck and sat there, one hand resting on his head, the other clutching Gill's shoe. I'm not sure why I did that. I think some part of me thought that if I was to fall in the water I'd take him (or at the very least his shoe) with me. I'm such a nice person sometimes. The mahout decided it was time for me to harden up and grabbed my shoe filled hand, thumping it straight on the elephant's head. I'm fairly sure I was emitting some strangled sounds of fright, as I was busy remembering all the times I've fallen off things and experienced various worlds of pain. So then we rode the elephant, through the river, all the way back to camp. Once I got the hang of it, it was amazing. Just moving along, rocking on top of this giant beast. For a while there I was pretending I was leading my elephant into battle (I can't help it, I have warrior blood in me). The rest of the people in our group were still perched on their seats, and looked kind of surprised to see me clinging on to the elephant's head. The trip was over very quickly (in Af time), and we were soon dismounted and standing around high off our elephant vibes. I then spent a whole dollar in order to feed our elephant some bananas. I thought it was well earned.

After that, we ran around after a baby elephant, which seemed to enjoy rubbing it's trunk on my tshirt. In turn, I patted his trunk. We then took an ox-cart ride which was very bumpy (John cleverly just decided to walk the 200m instead) to a hill tribe, the inhabitants of which tried to flog us stuff. They brought out the children and now I have some odd wrist band thing tied to me. I'm such a sucker. One of the women seemed to find Gill's blonde arm hair intriguing, and made her small child come and pat him. The boy seemed to suddenly fall in love, because he went in for a massive cuddle. It was very very cute. We then got taken down to the river for our bamboo rafting trip. It was beautiful and quite peaceful. One of our raft 'drivers' was a lovely boy with a very sweet smile. Life was soured when I got bitten by an ant, but the boy kept splashing me with his oar, so I couldn't be down for long.

Then there was a short temple tour (I can't write about it, because even the pictures we took don't explain how colourful and huge they are) and back home to veg out. Tomorrow I think we're going to try to see the tigers - I believe our new Canadian friends are heading that way as well. Failing that I'm going to get myself to some caves I've read about so I can roam about in the depths of Thailand.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Animal planet

I've been in Thailand for two days now. Met up with Gill, then promptly met a lovely Canadian fellow called Chris who helped me understand that yes, it is easy to meet randoms when traveling.

Bangkok was dreadful. Not my kind of place at all. I can't even express why, it just didn't work for me. Too busy, and I hate busy fussy places. One nice thing was that I met a dog that looked just like Hairy Maclary. I drew a fairly good picture of Hairy Maclary for Chris, and he looked like he was trying to look impressed. It was a fairly ace moment. Then we saw a gecko and I regaled Gill with a story about a monster gecko that liked to eat people.

Escaped Bangkok for Chiang Mai where life is brilliant. It's relaxed and pretty and there are the most random things around. Today I saw a dog which was dressed up like a monk and was following them around. It ran into a temple, so I couldn't get a picture but I'll try again. We then decided to get a coffee and randomly found some Thai children's books. Quite obviously, in Thai. Gill picked one up, flipped through, then proceeded to tell me the story about two rabbits who were bear hunting. It was almost believable, until one of the rabbits said 'get your fat bear ass out here'.

Tomorrow is the elephant trail. I'm really looking forward to it. I never realised what a nervous and jumpy person I am - everything here startles me, but I'm slowly learning to relax and just take things as they come.

Now I am going to go for a swim in the hostel's rudely shaped pool.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

There are 7 sleeps to go before I leave this not so dreadful place! But I'm having a bit of trouble packing. I know what I'm meant to take. Hiking boots, awesome go everywhere kind of pants, a top that is supposed to wick sweat, dry quickly and keep me warm, a first aid kit, my shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste; blah blah blah.

But what about the things that I like? My hair straightener for example. I don't use it often, but when I'm having a bad day it swaggers into my bathroom, plugs in and suddenly all is as it should be. Sleek. It takes up way too much space in my pack and it's kind of heavy, but I'm really not sure if I want to be without it. If I'm going to go on a Spanish death walk then I'd like to look good.

My books are also on the chopping block. I told Chris about them and he laughed and said that the minute I actually walk around with my pack I'll ditch them by the side of the road. But really, who knows when I'll need a complete history of pirates, or everyone's favourite - 'Brave New World'. Or for that matter, the book on Buddhism that keeps telling me that I can stop feeling pain and emotional agony if I was to just follow the advice within. I'm sure that would come in handy when an Iberian wolf decides my legs look tasty (yes, there are wolves in Spain. In fact, check out the legend of the Spanish wolf woman. Much like her, I adore meat, but I wont be devouring any handsome young men on the way.

Alongside my straightener and my books are my many clothes, items of makeup and various other things that I DO NOT NEED. But that I can't stand to be parted from. Who would have thought that the removal from everyday life would start well before Spain.

* After a great deal of thought, I've decided not to take any of these things except for maybe Brave New World and some mascara. My restraint amazes me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fantastic things to see and do

I have been thinking about what happens after Spain. A bit premature, but it’s taking my mind off the craziness of what I’m about to do.

So I’ve been thinking that one of the things I most want to do is go to Cappadocia in Turkey and go on a balloon tour. The moment I read about them, I became obsessed. I love the idea of a balloon ride, but to do it in what I consider to be one of the most amazing places on the planet would just blow my mind. I think that’s what I’ll give myself for my 26th birthday.

That got me thinking about the other things I want to do. Cuevas del Drach is on the eastern coast of Majorca, and it is there that I will get to view one of the largest subterranean lakes in the world. Interestingly, classical music concerts are performed daily. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I’ll reserve my judgement until I’ve been there.

Being a hopeless romantic, I also want to see the tomb of the Lovers of Teruel at the Mausoleum of the Iglesia de San Pedro. The story is painful and pretty and to be honest, who cares if it’s real or not. Certainly not I.

I’m absolutely itching to leave Australia.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I hate exercise

I hurt. I hurt everywhere. And now I'm going to walk home from work. If this doesn't get easier soon I'm going to rent myself a donkey to carry me the entire way. That's how they did it in the old days right? Or maybe the donkey just carries the pack. Oh my gosh. I forgot about carrying my pack.
I quit. Stupid Camino is ruining my 2009 calm.

*No it's not, it's going to help me with my calm because I'll be fitter, smarter and better looking. It's all part of the Camino magic. Plus, I will hopefully learn some choice Spanish swear words to yell when I inevitably have to scrape the UK job barrel.