Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye 2009

Goodbye 2009 and Hello 2010!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!!!!

Well, this is going to be a short entry just to wish you all a very happy new year! I hope 2010 is the best year yet! 2009 certainly left a lot to be desired...

Once again I am celebrating the arrival of the new year in Ubrique, Spain. I am having dinner with a coworker and her family. Dinner will include an assortment of shrimp (normal and tiger shrimp!), crab, fish, pork chops, Spanish ham, cheese, bread...etc. :) And in the seconds leading up to midnight, we will each eat 12 grapes (as is tradition in Spain) and make a new year's toast with champagne. It should be a good evening...

Also...I put a few pictures up in my last post of the "after-flood clean up" in Ubrique when it flooded on Dec. 24...but check out these videos (see below). They do a much better job showing the gravity of the situation. And yes, if you were wondering, it is still raining - for the 12th day straight.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Eve Not to Forget

Well, once again I’m spending Christmas in Spain. This is my second year celebrating Christmas without my family, and I just have to say it’s not quite the same. But I make do. This evening I will be going to dinner with Reme, a teacher at my school, and her family. They invited me last year as well, and we had a really nice evening. Not to mention, ate quite well: lots of Spanish ham, cheese, shrimp, prawns, mussels, chocolate turron, etc. I have to admit I am quite excited for dinner…I’m already hungry and it is only about 4:30 pm in the afternoon…unfortunately, dinner is served around 10:00 pm. After dinner, most people go out to the bars on Christmas Eve (and celebrate till about 6 am or later Christmas Day). You can pay to enter a bar with a cotillion (an open bar and some minimal snacks) for about 30 Euros/40 USD, or rent a salon and just meet up with friends and family (and pay about 10 Euros/15 USD for beverages). I opted out of dropping 30 Euros on a cotillion, but was invited to meet up with some friends in a saloon they rented. However, I don’t quite feel like going out and celebrating tonight, so I think after dinner I will like just come home and watch a movie. Not to mention…it’s been an interesting day and many Christmas plans have been altered due to good ole Mother Nature. Let me explain:

I woke up about 5:00 am to a torrential downpour and extremely gusty winds. Since I have been in Ubrique (since October 1), it has only rained about 8 days…6 of which have been in the past week. As I woke up to the noise of the thunder, rain, and windows clanking around, I got to thinking that it was really really raining hard…and I wouldn’t be surprised if the river that runs through Ubrique overflowed in a few areas. About 30 minutes later, I feel back asleep.

At 7:00 am I was once again woken up by the wind and rain. I looked out my window, but to my surprise nothing was flooded. Lots of puddles, but for the amount of rain fall, very little water seemed to be on the ground. Then again, it was dark…and I couldn’t see much.

I left my flat to go for a walk and pick up a few things around noon. I walked by a pub near my flat, and was surprised to see it filled with about 6 inches of water and lots of people working hard to clean it out. There was a river of mud flowing down the street. Nothing else seemed to be flooded, so I kept on walking and figured it was just a bit of bad luck that water had entered that pub. I was quite wrong. I got to the Avenida Espana, the main street in Ubrique, and there were police cars, fire-fighters, and lots of heavy machinery running around the streets trying to clear the water and the mud. I saw the aftermath, but apparently missed the two feet of water that went running down the Avenida and parallel streets from about 7 am until 10:30 am when the rain finally let up. Restaurants, bars, and shops were flooded, thousands of euros in damage. When I was walking down the street, I was walking in about 2 to 3 inches of mud, and shop-owners and bars were working quickly to clean out their properties as best they could, and cementing a barrier in the doors and windows to prevent further flooding. After all, the rain continues to fall…

The north of Spain has been inundated with rain and snow for the last few weeks; however, in Andalucia (the southernmost region of Spain) we were still enjoying relatively good weather. Now the torrential and relentless rains are making news around Europe. The south of Andalucia has been (and will continue to be ) hit the hardest…and for those of you that don’t know your geography, Ubrique is situated in the southernmost province of Andalucia…so it sounds like we are in for an interesting and very wet Christmas season. However, we aren’t the only ones, much of Granada is flooded and without electricity, Malaga is getting swamped with rain, and Ubrique, well, for now we are hanging in there with just a bit of flooding. Merry Christmas…right?!

I hope the weather is a bit better for all of you! Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!! I miss you all and hope the New Year brings each of you good fortune, health, and happiness! Take care! Feliz Navidad from Spain!!!! Love to all – especially Mom and Dad (miss you tremendously).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Belen Viviente

Although I no longer live in the casco antiguo (historic district), I was invited to participate once again in the town's production of the Belen Viviente (or "living bethlehem"). I had the same task as last year, and worked in the Census, selling hand-made pottery cups and asking people to sign the guest book. The event started at 6:00 pm and we started cleaning up around 1:30 am...but there were still plenty of people at the bars. It was a great atmosphere - people buying handmade gifts, enjoying local tapas, and passing the night at the bars. The best part is that all the money we make, goes to a charity! Now that's the true point of Christmas, right?! In all, this year everything went flawlessly - it was not too cold, the lights didn't go out, and the turn out was good. In fact,there were lots of people from outside Ubrique - Jerez, Cadiz, Sevilla, Tarifa, Huelva - who came to see Ubrique's well known and beautiful Belen.

While there are Christmas lights and decorations adorning the streets, without snow and Christmas carols playing endlessly on the radio, it just doesn't quite feel like Christmas here. At least after the Belen Viviente, I'm a bit more in the Christmas spirit. :) I hope this post finds you all well and enjoying the holiday season. Be merry, spread joy, and pass along some holiday cheer!! Love to all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Excursion to the Castle of Aznalmara

On Monday, November 23, I went on my first excursion of the school year with my fifth grade students. We walked from Ubrique to the ruins of the Castle of Aznalmara, a castle that sits on the top of a mountain (okay, hilltop) overlooking the small nearby town of Tavizna. In order to get to the castle, we had to walk in a single file line for about 2 kilometers along the highway and a service road, and spent the other 4 kilometers gallivanting across the countryside and through various "private" farms. Let's just say I was shocked to be taking my fifth graders on an excursion in which about an hour was spent walking along the shoulder of a highway/main road. That doesn't happen much in the US. In fact, I would be willing to bet it flat out doesn't happen, ever! However, I seemed to be the only one even remotely concerned about it. The other two teachers treated our hike along the highway as completely normal. For me, it was quite the experience :) Once we finished our highway hike, we meandered through the countryside and through several farms full of pigs, goats, and cows! I much preferred this part of the journey. And I swear Spanish pigs are unlike any other pigs in the world...they are MASSIVE! And quite funny! :) I have a new found adoration for pigs and baby goats!

Despite the fact the castle was only 6 kilometers away, which should take the average person somewhere between an hour and an hour and thirty minutes to walk, we took over 2 hours to arrive, and almost three hours on our way back to Ubrique. Fifth graders like to take lots of breaks (as in every 10 minutes) and tend to walk very slowly and lag behind.

After a frustrating two hour walk, we finally arrived to the base of the Castle of Aznalmara. From the base of the mountain/hill, it was about another 20 minutes (steep!) climb up to the castle. However, the views from the top were incredible, and the castle, despite its condition, was very impressive. Here's a bit of background for you: The Castle of Aznalmara was a military construction that dates back to the nazarí time (around the 13th and 14th centuries). Like most things in Spain (and probably the world), it was conquered and destroyed by the Christians in 1410 and 1485. Unfortunately it is pretty much in ruins today, but the foundation and tower of the castle still stand tall and are reminiscent of the original grandeur.

While it made for a very long Monday, it was well worth the headache of corralling my students and protecting them from highway traffic and massive Spanish pigs. I would definitely do it again! It was enchanting to stand inside a structure basically untouched by humans for centuries...and to imagine what was once there only seven centuries ago...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Random Anecdotes

Random, slightly incoherent anecdotes that I just felt like sharing with the world.

(1) **The New Socialite** I’ve officially been converted into a Spaniard. Thursday night out on the town until 8:30 am. Friday night, rest. Saturday night out on the town until 7:30 am. What in the world is going on?! I’m amazed at my new found stamina, and thankful I’m still young enough to bounce back the next day. :) In bed by 8 am, and awake by noon. It’s incredible. Don’t misunderstand me – I am by no means a party animal. Let’s just say that I know when and where to have fun – and I am making up for the times I made the choice to study in college instead of party. There is a time and a place for everything, and in Spain, well, it’s my time to truly live (responsibly, of course).

(2) **Lecture on Adaptability** I guess I am fortunate that I have liked everywhere I have lived in my life for an extensive amount of time (Denver CO, Portland OR, Washington DC, Granada SPAIN, Ubrique SPAIN). Don’t get me wrong, all are beautiful cities/towns (and not hard to like), but to truly adapt and like a place, one really has to have an open mind, be WILLING to adapt, and just jump into things. I’m lucky that I have an open mind, find the positive in most every situation, and don’t mind a little mishap here and there and a little spontaneity every now and again. My self-proclaimed “easy adaptability” could explain why I am so in love with Ubrique. In love, and also quite defensive. Some people don´t like Ubrique, and I respect that. But I don’t really understand it. Haha There are millions of people who would give anything and everything to have the opportunity to live, study, or travel abroad. And I am fortunate to have this opportunity. Yes, Ubrique is a small town. Population 18,000. No movie theater. No mall. No bowling alley. One park. Two plazas. A handful of restaurants. A bit cut off from the rest of the world. …get my drift? But it is full of wonderful people, surrounded by two incredibly beautiful national parks, and has plenty of things to do. The problem is that some people don’t take the time to truly get to know the people or the pueblo. Some people get annoyed when someone comes up and says “I saw you yesterday, I know what you did last night.” Well, yes. Everyone’s business is everyone’s business here. But embrace it. Don’t fight it. If you are a foreigner, of course you stick out. People pay more attention to what we do, than what the typical ubriqueno/a does. Just go with it. And despite appearances, there really are plenty of things to do...(1) Go to the bars. Spaniards live in the street. And yes, even in a small town, you can stay out ALL night until 7 am or later mingling with the local townsfolk and make friends you may potentially have for life. (2) Go for a hike. You can pass hours and hours wandering around the mountains at your doorstep. Or, pass the day at the reservoir. (3) Hop on a bus and hit up another neighboring pueblo. I’ll be the first to admit that catching the 6:00 am bus is not too appealing, but hey, it adds to the adventure. (4…) Study Spanish at a local hang-out. Walk around town. Join a dance class. Join a gym. Join the choir or the band. There are plenty of things to do here – but you have to make the effort to find them. Life lesson: ADAPTABILITY and acceptance will take you far in life…or at least make your journey a lot more enjoyable.

(3) **Mind Blowing** The other day I was waiting outside the grocery store for my friend to pick me up. As I was sitting there, a sweet little ole lady wandered in front of where I was sitting. She looked right at me, so I said “hello, good afternoon.” She continued walking. She stopped. Reversed. And said, “You aren’t from here are you?” I said, “No” (haha, what was your first clue?! The blonde hair? Blue eyes? Accent? Apparel?) Anyway, she said “Well, where are you from?” I responded, “Colorado/USA.” She asked/proclaimed “Is it normal that young people greet and speak with the elderly there? Because here, the youth just ignore us. They run around like they own the streets. I’m quite pleasantly surprised you spoke to me as I passed. It truly is a rarity.” I looked at her and didn’t really know what to say. It’s true, I talk to most everyone. And I see it as perfectly normal. What a quiet world it would be if we all just ignored each other and never greeted or smiled as we passed one another. But do the youth in America ignore the elderly as well? I guess I would tend to say yes. However, I was happy to know that my friendliness (what I tend to view as pure politeness) made a little ole Ubriquena smile. Not to mention, I may have chalked up a few points for Americans… :)

(4) **Challenges** Just wanted to add that applying to Law School is no easy task. Nor is it cheap. And applying to law school while living in another country half way around the world is an extra added challenge. Yes, my fault, I know. Hey, I I qualify as an "international student?" Haha.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

La Linea: Party on Thursday, Recover on Friday

Since I do not have to work on Fridays this year, I've started taking advantage of my three day weekends. I usually run errands, go to a Spanish language class (voluntarily), or rest up on Fridays so that I can enjoy the rest of the weekend. This weekend, however, I did something a little differnt.

Two of my friends currently work and live in La Linea de La Concepcion. One of them (Manuel) has a boat, so they invited me down to go fishing on Friday. On Wednesday, I received a text saying: "I'll pick you up tomorrow (Thursday) at 3, ok?" So I responded..."Ok. What do I need to bring?" And Sergio (my other friend and my ride to La Linea) responded "Clothes to go out in, and something comfortable for fishing." Hmmm...I thought to myself. I hadn't planned on "going out," but what the heck, it couldn't hurt to have a little fun, right? So I packed up some clothes, pjs, and was ready to go on Thursday.

After a lovely hours drive, we entered La Linea. We met up with Manuel, and headed another 30 minutes south-east to Tarifa. We bummed around a bit, had a coffee, and admired the crystal clear views of Marrocco, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. Around 9:00 pm, we headed back to La Linea. We made some pizza for dinner, bummed around a bit longer, had a few more people over, started drinking, and the night flew from there. At about 1:45 am, we left the apartment and headed out...ready for a night of fun. We entered our frist bar, which closed at 3:00 am. From there, we went to the discoteca, and when that closed at 6:00 am, we went to another bar...a more "chill" bar to wind down the evening (or in my opinion...the MORNING). Finally around 7:30 am, we started heading back to the apartment, and stopped for breakfast. Around 8:45 am, we finally made it home.

I attempted like crazy to sleep, but the fact that the sun was shining straight into my room didn't make it an easy task. I rested (emphasis on RESTED vs. slept) for a couple hours. At 12 noon, we were all up and about. Some in a better state than others. :) I was doing pretty good considering I didn't sleep a wink. At 2:00 pm, we left for Tarifa to head out fishing. I wondered how that would go, since a few of us were hungover and/or sleep-deprived. Two of the girls decided not to go out on the boat, and instead went up to the bar to have some appetizers and a drink or two. Manuel, Sergio, and I took the risk and headed out. Unfortunately, no fishing. The water was a bit too rough to sit their idly. So we sped around the peninsula a bit, enjoyed the sunshine, then met our friends at the bar.

We eventually made it back to La Linea...and another hour and a half later, back to Ubrique. It was probably the craziest Thursday night I have had in the past 22 years, but I wouldn't change a thing. I've never spent so much time laughing in my life. I've never been so tired. And I've never stayed out so late...or early? Haha. Once again, I'm convinced the Spaniards know best how to live, laugh, and have fun.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My First Competitive Race

I'm quite well known in Ubrique for my "active" schedule. I'm always running around town doing errands, hiking on Sundays, and running/speed walking every evening (rain or shine). Apparently, that's not too normal in this quiet Spanish it draws quite a bit of attention. As such, when preparations began for the 16th annual Ubrique Nutrias Panteneros 11,3 km Run, people immediately assumed I would be doing it. For about a week prior to the race, I was repeatedly asked if I was participating. I said, "no way, are you crazy?! I've never run competitively nor have I ever run 11,3 km in my life." I usually max out at 5 miles (or about 8 km). However, everyone eventually convinced me that I should participate in the race, so I finally signed up.

The Race: I woke up nervous as heck, ate breakfast at 8:00 am, and reported to check in at 9:00 am. The idea of the entire town watching me run was slightly intimidating. By 10:00 am, the horn sounded, and about 450 people took off running, ready for the 11,3 km route throughout Ubrique (which, I need to add is in the middle of the mountains, and thus is quite hilly!). I started at the very end of the pack, as I didn't see the need to be trampled to death. Several hills later, and 01:01:42 after the horn, I crossed the finish line!!! I had maintained a pretty constant rhythm, but towards the very end, found myself pretty tired. 11,3 km is no easy run. All in all, I came in 401st (but was ALMOST 398th)out of over 430 runners. Not bad for my first race (and being one of only about 40 women).

After the Race: After showering, I decided to stay and watch the awards ceremony. I wasn't paying much attention, but immediatly perked up when I heard a botched pronunciation of "Ashley Beck." I asked the people next to me what they were calling names for, and was told they were listing the winners of the race and the various categories. Thirty minutes later, I was standing on a podium, receiving a trophy from the mayor of Ubrique! I came in third place in my category (women ages 18 - 34). It was quite the experience. :)

The Next Day:(1) My students -- ASHLEY! We saw you! You ran in the race, didn't you?! (2) My coworkers -- ASHLEY! Great Job! Congratulations! We heard you won a trophy! (3) Friends -- ASHLEY! We saw you running! Nice job! (4) Strangers -- You're not too bad a runner, you know?! Congratulations on your race! In other words, the whole town saw me running; students, parents of students, coworkers, friends, and everyone else. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but coming in 401st doesn't exactly give me bragging rights. But hey, now I'm even more famous for being the "odd foreigner that always runs." And, apparently I'm "not too bad." :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Natural DaNgErS

As you all already know, I love to be outdoors. I love to walk, and I love to run - especially in a place as beautiful as Ubrique. So, I've been running my usual route, along the "highway" that leads out of Ubrique and winds through the mountains. When Mom visited last year, she made it quite apparent she didn't approve of my route along the road. She noted that it was quite dangerous as there was no sidewalk, no shoulder, and quite a bit of traffic. I disagreed, but have recently come to believe it is fairly dangerous...but not for the aforementioned reasons. Within the last week, I've come across (a) two huge mice (admittedly, they were quite adorable), (b) a massive preying mantis that landed on my shoulder (but quickly departed as I spazzed out and shrieked), (c) a caterpillar about 6 inches long and as thick as your thumb, and (d) been chased by bees the size of your big toe!! So yes, I've decided it is slightly more dangerous than I previously thought. However, I'm learning to cope with all the strange creatures that continue to cross my path. ;)

I continued my dangerous outdoor escapades today on my first hike of the year (well, of the new scholastic year). It was a beautiful morning (it is still averaging about 75/80 degrees here), so I put on some shorts, a shirt, and a lightweight jacket, and took off at 7:50 am to meet my usual hiking group at the bar at 8:00 am. However, I apparently forgot about the Spanishh foliage. I have never seen so many spiky, spiny, prickly plants in my life as I have in the hills and mountains surrounding Ubrique. Needless to say, my legs by the end of the day were quite scratched up and bloody. Lesson learned: never go hiking (in Spain) in shorts.

Aside from the painful spikes, spines, and prickly leaves torturing my legs, it was a beautiful hike. We saw four deer running about and a couple wild horses. We also went to Benaluz, an incredible finca (country home/farm) run by a sweet little 80 year old man. We ate breakfast in his home - basically a country cabin/shack with nothing more than a table, a small sink, a fireplace (no electricity), a bedroom (with a mattress on the floor), and a small room dedicated solely to making cheese. I must say, after seeing the flies, spider webs, and massive spiders hanging around the cheese room...I'm not sure when I will eat cheese next. I think I will take a break from it for a while. Haha. In all honesty though, it was quite a beautiful site, and I felt as if I had stepped back into the early 19th century.

I've decided that despite the various dangers occassionally associated with running around the Sierra de Ubrique, it is without a doubt, well worth the risk.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Next Time Don't Ask...

Friday, after spending the day in Cadiz at the police station (getting my Spanish identity card) and kicking around the beach with a friend I met along the Camino de Santiago, I headed back to Ubrique and got ready for a fun night out. I have to admit after waking up at 5:00 am to catch the 6:00 am bus to Cadiz, I was tired by 10:00 pm, but managed to liven up and stay out till about 2:00 am. As we were leaving one of the bars, the owner recognized me and came over to tell me to bring all the new auxiliares de conversacion to the bar tomorrow (Saturday) as the bar was hosting a lunch. I said, “ok, we’ll all head down.”

So…on Saturday my roommate and I headed down to Morgan’s Irish Pub, grabbed the only table left, got two drinks, and asked for a plate of whatever they were serving. It appeared to be carne con salsa (meat in broth) but as I started eating it I decided it tasted a little funny and had an unusual consistency. I asked my roommate if she thought it was meat, and she said “yes.” A few moments later, though, she mentioned she didn’t quite like the consistency. So, I decided to ask the server if it was in fact carne con salsa or if it was something different. With a smile stretching across his face, he said it’s a traditional recipe and was “higado.” I think my face probably turned white, and he asked me “what? It’s good isn’t it?” I have to admit I lied through my teeth…and said “yup, it’s delicious.” My roommate saw my face and asked me, “what’s higado?” “Liver,” I said, “we just ate liver.”

I had my suspicions from the first bite I took, but three or four pieces later, once it was confirmed that it was liver, I was mortified. I’m not a huge fan of the idea of eating an animal’s liver. Even with an open mind, it doesn’t taste good. I spent the rest of the day disgusted that I had just been tricked into eating liver, drinking a lot of Aquarius (an amazing sports drink that tastes like lemonade) to get rid of the taste, and wishing I had followed the age-old advice of “sometimes it’s just better not to ask.” This would definitely qualify as one of those times it would have been better not to ask. Next time I won’t.

At the rate I’m going, it looks like there will still be plenty of new things to write about this year.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I've Arrived Safe and Sound!

Greetings from Ubrique! You will all be glad to know that I successfully arrived to my little flat in Ubrique after a long 28 hours of travel. This year I took a slightly different route, flying from Denver – Toronto – Madrid, catching the train from Madrid to Sevilla, and then by car from Sevilla to Ubrique. I left Thursday morning and got in a little after 7:00 pm Friday evening…just in time to drop off my luggage and run to get some bed sheets before the stores closed (since I didn’t find a bare mattress that appealing). It was quite a challenge to get to the store, since it was Friday evening and the whole town was out on the Avenida wanting to talk to me! I eventually made it, however, and enjoyed a lovely 10 hours of sleep!

My new flat is much larger than the one I had the previous year, but the location is not quite as ideal. Needless to say, I still have a view of the mountains from my bedroom, so I am happy. It has three bedrooms, two complete bathrooms (which are important since three of us girls are living here), a huge kitchen, a lovely sitting room/salon, and lots of storage space (which I was severely lacking last year). My roommates this year are very nice, and it looks like we will get along well. All three of us are working at Fernando Gavilan; one is a teacher (from Sevilla) and the other is an auxiliar de conversacion (like me) and is from New Jersey. Both are very neat and organized, which is an automatic bonus!

To be honest, I haven’t done too much since I’ve been here, so I don’t have much more to repot. Over the weekend, I just unpacked, ran errands, and relaxed. I also went for a walk/run along my favorite route! I’m already getting a routine down…kind of. I'm also already frequenting the bars...multiple times a day! But not for the reason you're thinking... We don't have internet yet, so I've been heading down to my favorite hangout and using the free WiFi. So if you e-mail me and you don't get a timely response, the lack of internet in my flat is my excuse. And, as soon as I know my address, I will let you all know…just in case anyone wants to send me snail mail.

I’ll close for now but will keep you updated on my second year adventures in Ubrique.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Round 2

Well, tomorrow I'm heading back to Ubrique, Spain for another 10 months teaching English in the best little primary school in town. :) I'm not overly thrilled with the fact that I have to catch two planes, enjoy a layover or two, hop on a train for a couple hours...and then catch a bus which after 24 hours of travelling will finally drop me off in Ubrique. However, I've moved to a new apartment, have two new roommates, and am looking forward to another great year! After a month of walking the Camino de Santiago and such a demanding summer spent studying for the LSAT and planning for my next step (Law School!), heading back to Spain will be a nice, welcomed change.

Please continue to check my blog; in between Law School apps and teaching I will do my best to keep the blog up-to-date and to include you in round 2 of my amazing adventure.

Take care and check back soon!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Camino de Santiago - In Video!!

I know that this is long overdue...but here it finally is! Many of you have been asking for pictures for quite some time, and Mom and I finally put together a video that chronicalizes our journey along the Camino de Santiago. It is quite difficult to cram a 30-odd day journey into a short video of 10 minutes. To make the time pass a little quicker, it does have beautiful Spanish music and amazing pictures (of course), and we hope you will enjoy it!!! Now, sit back and relax as we welcome you to join us on our camino...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Camino a Finisterre (Final Part)

Day 36 (Olveiroa to Fisterra/Finisterre -34 km): The true last day of our Camino de Santiago. What a strange feeling resided in our stomachs as we set off for our last 34 km hike. We walked about two hours through various small villages and shrub-covered rolling hills before we finally encountered a bar with food. We took the opportunity to stop for breakfast and get energy for the rest of the day. About 20 km outside of Fisterra, we passed through Cee, a charming fishing town. We had planned on stopping for lunch in Cee, but somehow managed to miss all the restaurants. However, it was clearly meant to be, because 5 km later we came across a darling restaurant right on the beach on the bay of Fisterra. We enjoyed an amazing lunch of Merluza a la Gallega (a typical Galician dish of white fish and potatos) and wine, and passed a good hour or so relaxing, reflecting on our journey. We finally decided to finish it up, and an hour or so later found ourselves entering Fisterra (the town). What an incredible feeling. But technically, we weren't finished yet; we still had to make it to Finisterre to see the Faro (the lighthouse at the end of the world). At 7:00 pm, after having showered and relaxed a bit, we continued three more kilometers to the Faro, where we sat with three dear friends, ate a picnic dinner, and watched the sun set at the end of the world into the vast, blue, mysterious Atlantic Ocean. As is the tradition on completing the walk, the pilgrims typically burn their boots, walking sticks, clothes or any other items that reminded them of difficulties encountered during their Camino. We each tossed in a few things and enjoyed the fire. It couldn't have been a more beautiful or perfect ending to a Mother and Daughter's journey across Spain.

Day 35 (Vilaserio to Olveiroa - 33 km): We set off this morning and found ourselves surrounded by a dense fog. It made for a very eerie but truly crisp and beautiful morning. It finally burned off around noon, however, once again the rain began making the paths a bit slick. We stopped for a quick bite to eat, and then continued on to Olveiroa. Being the first to arrive, we arrived three hours before the albergue opened...we passed the time sitting in the doorway while it rained, and enjoying the local bar. At one point we decided to stretch our legs and explore the town, but aside from cow barns there was little else to explore. However, we did see some pretty cute cows.

Day 34 (Santiago de Compostella to Vilaserio - 34 km): Once again, we're on the Camino. After a full day of rest in Santiago, and a relaxing morning, we set off on our "short" (90 km) three-day trek to Finisterre, rumored to be the true end of the Camino de Santiago and the end of the world. It rained most of the morning and early afternoon, and we only passed a handful of other pilgrims the entire day, but it was a welcome reprieve from the heat; perfect walking weather and absolutely beautiful. Wihout doubt, this is definitely the lesser traveled path. Once we arrived in Negreira (our intended final destination), we were told the albergue was full (only 20 beds) and they would not let us sleep on the floor. We had the option of walking 2 km back to find a hotel or hostel, or continuing another 13 km forward. Following our philosophy of "always move ahead and never go back" we decided to walk another 13 grueling km to Vilaserio. It made for an incredibly long day, and when we arrived at 7:00 pm (our latest arrival by far!) to the albergue (an old abandoned school building with mats on the floor), we were quite surprised, but quite content to settle in for the night. Afterall, in 34 days we had only been turned away from one albergue, so no room for complaining. :) A little more adventure...that's all. However, with limited albergues along the path to Finisterre, we decided we best leave earlier the next two days (to assure we could get beds).

Check back in a few days/weeks for some more reflections, pictures, and Camino info! :)

Camino de Santiago (Part 8)

Day 33 (Santiago de Compostella...0 km!): For the first time in 33 days, we woke up without an alarm set, had a continental breakfast (compliments of our amazing hotel), and further explored the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostella...without our backpacks weighing us down! And yes, we enjoyed every minute of it.

Day 32 (Arca do Pino to Santiago de Compostella - 20 km): After a mere three hours of sleep, we once again set off before daylight. For our last day, we decided to walk with our group of friends (about 15 in all). After taking numerous pictures together upon reaching the city limits of Santiago, Mom and I took off at a slightly quicker pace in order to make the noon mass at the Catedral de Santaigo (St. James' Cathedral). With only 20 minutes to spare, we made it to the cathedral and found seats in a pew next to a lovely Danish couple that we had met a couple weeks before. It truly was an incredible site to enter the cathedral and see hundreds of pilgrims - many of whom we had encountered along our pilgrimage, and many of whom we had not seen since the very first week of walking. Mom was blessed at the alter by a Spanish priest, we witnessed the swinging of the Botafumeiro (the largest censer in the world, weighing about 80 kg!), visted the catacomb of St. James and in the tradition of the Camino we hugged the bust of Saint James. After mass we went to the Pilgrims office and were issued our oficial Compostelas in Latin, proving that we had in fact walked the nearly 800 km to reach Santiago de Compostela. In celebration of our arrival, we checked into our hotel, took two very long showers...and then caught a taxi - our first car ride in nearly a month - with our dear friend Nacho to get full body massages!!! Mom and I both felt as if we had died and gone to heaven... :)

Day 31 (Ribadiso to Arca do Pino - 22 km): One day outside of Santiago de Compostella. As usual, Mom and I took off bright and early, but with nerves and excitement running high, took off a little earlier and a little quicker than normal. We passed through the small beautiful towns of Arzua and Santa Irene, but there were few towns in between. The countryside continues to be awe-inspiring and beautiful at every turn, and while we are excited to arrive in Santiago, it is also bitter-sweet knowing that our month-long trek is nearing its end. In a moment of craziness, a friend and I decided to sneak out of the albergue (after hours) at midnight to lie under the stars. It was a chilly evening, but we sat in the center of a quiet country road staring up into the sky for over an hour. Every moment was worth it; I saw two shooting stars. The perfect ending to a marvelous journey.

Day 30 (Palas del Rei to Ribadiso - 28 km): For the first time, we left well before sunrise this morning. It truly was a unique and incredible, although slightly nerve-wracking, experience. With flashlights in hand, we wandered carefully along the narrow trail through the forests in an attempt to beat the rush of pilgrims heading to Ribadiso, a small river-side town about 40 km outside of Santiago. The albergue in Ribadiso was rumored to be one of the best and most beautiful albergues in Galicia, and thus we were certain there would be a lot of pilgrims heading that way. While it only has one restaurant nearby, the albergue itself is set right next to the river, and there is truly no reason to leave the serene riverside. It was well worth the hurried and long walk through the winding hills of Galicia. And, as it turned out, we were the first to arrive at the albergue. Once in Ribadiso, Mom and I went immediately to the riverside to soak our feet in the FREEZING cold water trickling by. As our friends began to arrive, we stayed by the river, and cheered several of them on as they braved the frigid water...and went for a dip. The water was so cold, in fact, that one of our friends wedged a bottle of orujo (a typical Spanish liquor) between some rocks in the middle of the river in order to allow it to chill. Of course, we enjoyed the chilled Orujo later on that evening.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Camino de Santiago (Part 7)

Day 29 (Portomarin to Palas del Rei - 25 km): In Palas del Rei...and only 65 km to go (to Santiago!)

Day 28 (Sarria to Portomarin - 22 km): Walked up an down numerous mountains, and ended up in a beautiful pueblo high on a mountain overlooking the river.

Day 27 (Fonfria to Sarria -28 km): Even on the Camino we have a few parties...we celebrated Ivan´s (a fellow pilgrim from Tarragona, Spain) birthday. Stayed out until 1:00 (well, Mom called it quits a little earlier) and woke up at 5:30. Who needs sleep when you are only walking 22 km the next day?! haha

Day 26 (Vega de Valcarce to Fonfria - 25 km): We entered Galicia today...we are on the homerun stretch!!!! First town in Galicia is O Cebreiro which rests at the very top of one of the tallest mountains and is surrounded by stunning views. Absolutely gorgeous. And even better yet, less than 150 km to go to Santiago!

Day 25 (Cacabelos to Vega de Valcarce - 24 km): Lovely easy walk today. Unfortunately mostly along the highway, but very little traffic. The day was topped off with a "quemada" a typical Galician tradition that involves a spell and a intoxicatingly sweet alcoholic drink (brewed just like a real witch´s brew).

Day 24 (Molinaseca to Cacabelos - 23 km): Spend the night in a bungalow type albergue...two to a room. Enjoyed the privacy, but had quite a bit of a walk to the restrooms and showers. Rained a bit (luckily only once we arrived). However we made some good out of it and just sat in a covered area listening to a friend play the flute.

Day 23 (Rabanal to Molinaseca - 25.5 km): Had a huge climb today! Almost as challenging as the first day (in the Pyranese) but not quite as bad. Ended up in Molinaseca, had a wonderful evening with a huge group of friends...bathed our feet in the river, went out for a "light" dinner and came back to the Albergue at 11:00 pm. Probably the best night of the whole trip...wish I had the time to give details.

Day 22 (Astorga to Rabanal - 20 km): ... Started climbing again today - you can definitely tell we are approching Galicia, one of the most mountaneous regions of Spain. Quite a beautiful a day, sunny, but humid. Rabanal is a darling little town nestled up in the hills, surrounded by tall pines.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Camino de Santiago (Part 6)

Day 21 (San Martino del Camino to Astorga - 22 km): Decided to take a shorter day today as well sine in the next few days we will be climbing some massive mountains. Astorga is a beautiful city, and home to yet another famous building by Gaudi (Episcopal Palance of Astorga) (,_Spain) and an ancient Cathedral. The city has its roots in the Roman era, and there are many Roman ruins throughout the city. They have taken care to preserve and mark all ruins and historic sites. We have truly seen some beautiful sites and have loved exploring the small towns and larger cities along the Camino.

Day 20 (Leon to San Martino del Camino - 24 km): Long stretch leaving the city...mostly through the suburbs and industrial area of León. However, it is always neat to see the architecture and various neighborhoods. Once out of León, we were in a land of fields and aquaducts (sp??) again. We have never seen such an intricate and advanced agricultural water system in our lives. It is truly impressive. Ended up in San Martino del Camino...nothing too exciting. Not even a public telephone. Or a restaurant. Just two bars. Enough said.

Day 19 (Mansilla de las Mulas to León - 20 km): Short walk to Leon (a beautiful, historic city and capital of León). We climbed our first hills today after a lengthy 6 day stretch of flatness. However, from the top of the last "hill" we were able to see León in the distance. We reached León at approximately 10:30 am, and were able to check into a hotel and have a leisurly look around in León. We explored the Cathedral, Basilica of San Isidoro, and Casa Botines (a palace constructed by the Catalan architect Antonin Gaudi). The Cathedral is one of the most impressive structures I have ever seen in my life and is truly a sight. The ratio of stone to stained glass is almost 50-50 ( After a "touristy" day, Mom and I went back to the hotel, went to the hotel spa (free!) and soaked our tired little feet. Quite a pleasant day.

Day 18 (El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas - 26.3 km): Undoubtedly one of the hottest walking days so far. We continued along lengthy stretches of fields without any shade, and miles and miles of flatness. To our surprise, the Camino has followed or actually been directly on the road/highway. The countryside is still beautiful, but the road traffic does slightly detract from the whole experience. We stayed in a not-so-nice albergue in Mansilla de las Mulas. It was beautiful from the outside, and fairly clean...however, all showers and toilets were downstairs and outside. Absolutely no privacy. But, then again, we are quite accustomed to that by now.

....on a different note...we are starting to wonder if we will ever eat bread, ham, chicken or eggs again. Most restaurants and bars have what is called a "Pilgrims Menu" which is supposed to be a cheaper option for pilgrims, but frankly we think it is a fabulous way to take advantage of pilgrims. It is getting quite pricey, and we eat the same things daily...even though we make an effort to find other things. But, such is the life of a pilgrim, right?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Camino de Santiago (Part 5)

Day 17 ( Terradillos de Los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero -31 km) Today was definitely one of the most challenging days so far. Although we had really been looking forward to the flat stretches, we realized today that flat means absolutely no shade and as such makes for a much more grueling and challenging walk. We walked some 30 kilometers today without shade, along a part of the Camino known as being the "loneliest" part of the Camino. Thank goodness we have each other...right? We had actually planned on stopping at a village at approximately 24 kilometers, however we arrived to find the Albergue closed until 1.30. Rather than wait two hours in the blistering hot sun, we decided we might as well walk 7 more km and make some progres (albeit in the blistering hot sun as well). Days like today really make you feel humble...and at the mercy of the elements. But we made it another day, and are another day closer to our final destination.

Day 16 (Carrion de los Condes to Terradillos de Los Templarios - 25 km) Walking from Carrion de los Condes we faced a 17 km stretch of nothingness. No towns to pass through, no bars, no water, no shade. Just kilometers of land, fields, and tired pilgrims. However, we managed to keep our spirits high, and eventually trailed into Terradillos de Los Templarios...only to realize the Albergue was basically the whole town. Sometimes it is a little frustrating after walking for 6 to 8 hours to find yourself in a town with absolutely nothing other than an Albergue. There is nowhere to eat, to pick up a sandwich (or bocadillo) or any snacks. So you usually end up paying the high prices at the Albergue. However, we are learning to accept the circumstances and are still smiling.

Day 15 (Boadilla to Carrion de los Condes - 26 km) Beautiful day for walking, but incresingly warmer. Pretty flat trail today, nothing too complicated. Flat days are nice welcome breaks from the up and down trails the past few days. Once we arrived in Carrion de los Condes we made our way to one of the Albergues (which actually happened to be a convent still run by nuns). Turned out to be very clean and a nice set up...but not ideal when you have a lot of laundry to do. We hand wash all our clothes and hang them to dry, and usually in a few hours they are dry. Not today. After being out ALL day and then brought in at night (and hung in the hallway) we still woke up to wet wool socks and undergarments. The Camino can be a little challenging at fact, walking long distances sometimes is the easy part. Haha. However, in Carrion de los Condes we bought a 9 euro box of cookies from the local monestery that were to die for. Abolutely incredible little bites of heaven. To be honest, it was probably the best part of the day!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Camino de Santaigo (Part 4)

Day 14 (Hontanas to Boadilla - 28 km): First day of real rain...but not complaining at all! We were thrilled! We have not had shade the past 7 every bit of cloud cover is appreciated!

Day 13 (Burgos to Hontanas - 30 km): Long walk but absolutely beautiful. Felt as if we were on top of the world as we were crossing kilometer after kilometer of high plains. Fields filled with crops and bright red poppies. Truly impressive!

Day 12 (Atapuerco to Burgos - 21 km): Burgos! Our first visit to an incredible city originally founded in the 800s. Talk about history! Mom and I were pretty tuckered out...and arrived before the albergue was open. So we decided to stay in a quaint old hotel. Don´t tell anyone, but we both took two showers! :) Then we took an hour or so to explore the cathedral (constructed in 1212). After that, we decided our feet had had enough, so we hopped on a little red "chu chu" tourist train and went throughout the city. Absolutely incredible.

Day 11 (Tosantos to Atapuerco - 24 km): Climbed up a fairly steep mountain this morning...and then went for 12 kilometers along a perfectly flat, dry, HOT, section at the top of the mountain. Eventually made it to a town (what seemed like 100 km later), and then decided to keep going for another 6 km. We must have been nuts. It was quite warm, and the 6 km stretch was along the road. Once we entered Atapuerco, however, we were greeted by a lovely new Albergue, and a fabulous lunch (with arroz con leche to die for!!!). It is a historic town...if interested, google Atapuerca Man.

Day 10 (St. Domingo de la Calzada to Tosantos - 27 km): Lovely walk today, but quite long. Small towns were far apart, but welcome sites when we arrived. Decided to push it a little further than normal and went to a small town called Tosantos to spend the night. The only albergue there happened to be a "Pilgrims hospital" and was quite small...and well...rustic. We slept on mats on the floor, cooked our own dinner (in tubs that peoples feet had previously been soaking in.... ... ...), but surprisingly we are still alive and Mom is still smiling. Quite an experience.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Camino de Santiago (Part 3)

Day 9 (Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada - 21 km): Nice walk today. Arrived pretty early into Santo Domingo de la Calzada. A beautiful large town with quite a history with pilgrims. Entered the albergue and thought we had entered a hotel. It has only been open for a couple months and is absolutely beautiful. Rooms only have 20 beds, which is nice considering the last one had over 80 beds in the main room. There are a lot of showers too!

Día 9
(Najera a Santo Domingo de la Calzada - 21 km): Un buen camino hoy. Llegamos temprano al Santo Domingo de la Calzada, un pueblo precioso con una historia large con los peregrinos del Camino de Santiago. Entramos en el albergue municipal pero pensábamos que entramos en un hotel o algo. Es un albergue nuevo, y es increíble. Solo ha estado abierto un par de meses. Las habitaciones solo tienen 20 camas (que es mucho mejor que 80 camas como los otros albergues). Hay muchas duchas también!

Day 8 (Logroño to Najera - 29 km): Took off on another extremely long trek to Najera today. Passed through Navarette, a beautiful little town, but decided to make up some ground and proceed on to Najera. Got in a little late, missed lunch (but grabbed a few tapas), and stayed in a hot, smelly, and not so great albergue. Still pushing forward though.

Día 8 (Logroño a Najera - 29 km): Empezamos otro camino muy largo a Najera hoy. Pasamos por Navarette, un pueblo muy bonito, pero decidimos seguir hasta Najera. Llegamos un poco tarde, no había ningun sitio abierto para almorzar (pero encontramos un bar y algunas tapitas). Quedamos en un albergue no tan bueno...pero no pasa nada, seguiremos.

Day 7 (Los Arcos to Logroño - 30 km): We left at 6:00 am this morning, the earliest we have left yet. As such, we arrived in the suggested destination at around 10 am. It seemed like a waste to stop so early, so we explored the town, had a nice relaxing coffee break, and continued our trek to Logroño (another 10 km away). We arrived around 2:00 and ran to the albergue to get beds, but didn´t have much luck checking in. So we ended up staying in the Cathedral. Just as good, cleaner, and had two "meals" provided. We had hoped to relax a little, but instead ended up running around town to find a post office to ship some "uneccessary" items home. Then we tried to find someone who could help with mom´s feet. Needless to say, we saw almost ALL of Logroño and got absolutely no rest. Such is life. On a positive note, there was a local we got to see some pretty neat costumes and festivities.

Día 7 (Los Arcos a Logroño - 30 km): Salimos a las 6:00 de la mañana, lo más temprano que hemos salido jamás. Por eso, llegamos muy temprano al pueblo dónde se sugieren quedar la noche. Parecía tonto parar de andar tan temprano, pero exploramos el pueblo, tomamos unos cafés, y seguimos hasta Logroño (otro 10 km más). Llegamos a las 2:00 y fuimos a coger algunas camas en el albergue. Pero no tenemos suerte. Fuimos al catedral, y quedamos la noche allí. Era limpió, bonito, y allí nos han dado dos comidas! Esperabamos encontrar tiempo para relajar, pero estuvimos corriendo a todos lados a buscar un correos para enviar algunas cositas de nuestras mochillas a los EEUU. Después, buscabamos un sitio dónde se podrían ayudar mi madre (y sus pies). Por casualidad, hemos visto todo Logroño...andando. Así es la vida. Pero había una fiesta (Día de la Rioja) y veamos algunas cosas guay!

Day 6 (Ayegui to Los Arcos (21 km): Bit of a "short" walk today, but long enough being as though our legs and feet have had enough. It is not stopping us by any means, but it does make the walk a little less pleasurable. I suppose that is what this is about, in a way. Mind over matter, learning to accept a bit of suffering to see a lot of beauty. I will say in 6 days I have already learned to appreciate my feet and legs more than I ever have. Oh, and chairs too. I have never appreciated chairs so much in my life (and local bars too...haha). Beautiful day walking, and Los Arcos was a darling little town with a beautiful old cathedral and a whopping 2 restaurants.

Día 6 (Ayegui a Los Arcos (21 km): Un "paseo corto" hoy...pero suficiente. Nuestros piernas y pies nos duelen mucho...y no quieren andar. Sin embargo, seguimos andando aunque el Camino podría ser mucho mejor sin el dolor. Pero supongo que eso es una parte de la lección, ¿no? La mente tiene que aprender no pensar del dolor, y que tienes que aceptar sufrimiento para ver tanta belleza. Os digo que en 6 días ya he aprendido apreciar mis pies y mis piernas más que nunca. Oy, y sillas/bancos también. Nunca en mi vida he apreciado las sillas tanto como ahora (y bares tampoco!). Un día bonito para andar, y Los Arcos era un pueblecito bonito con una catedral preciosa y 2 restaurantes. jaja

Day 5 (Puente la Reina to Ayegui - 24 km): Puente la Reina turned out to be a beautiful town in central Navarra. Here, two of the Camino de Santiago routes there were quite a few people starting off in the morning. However, my mom walks pretty quick (and her 22 year old daughter can barely keep up) and we were able to outrun most. We pushed on a few kilometers further than the recommended destination, and encountered a monastery and winery which give pilgrims free wine. Unfortunately I am not much of a wine fan, but mom certainly enjoyed it! We ended up finding ourself in a darling little log cabin (part of a camp ground facility). For the first night in 5 days we got some privacy, a looong hot shower, and washed our clothes! :)

Día 5 (Puente la Reina a Ayegui - 24 km): Puente la Reina es un pueblo muy bonito en Navarra. Aquí se unen dos rutas del camino de santiago, asi que había mucha más gente andando por la mañana. Aunque la destinación sugerida fue Estella, decidimos andar un poco más y encontramos un monasterio y bodega, las cuales dan vino gratis a los peregrinos. ¡Qué pena que a mi no me gusta el vino...pero mi madre, sí! Ella lo ha disfrutado mucho. Con suerte, encontramos un camping, y quedamos ahí por la noche en una casita! La primera noche en 5 días sin otra gente!

I have to say that I am starting to ask myself why I am doing this walk. I still dont quite have an answer. I think I am doing it just to know I can, and I did. But this seems like a silly reason to me. Without a doubt it is the most difficult think I have ever done in my life. And so far I am only 9 days and 215 km into it, and still have another 20 some days and 600 km until Santiago.

Tengo que decir que estoy empezando preguntarme porque estoy haciendo este camino. Todavía no tengo respuesta. Creo que lo estoy haciendo para saber que puedo. Pero me parece una respuesta y una razon tonta. Sin duda es la cosa más difícil que he hecho en mi vida. Y solo llevo 9 días y 215 kilometres...y faltan 20 algo días y 600 kilometres...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Camino de Santiago (Part 2)

Day 4 (Cezor Menor to Puente la Reina - 21 km): The landscape continues to be breathtaking. Took off bright and early this morning (6:30 am) to head to Puente la Reina. Morning was cool and extremely foggy which inhibited some of the views, but also added to the splendor of the landscape. Had our first experience with rain...a little challenging but not too bad...yet. Bodies are still moving, but the feet and legs are certainly suffering a bit. Housing (and sleeping with a minimum of 10 strangers) is getting to Mom. I guess I am used to it from the dorms, but must admit a little (or ANY) privacy for 5 minutes would be welcome. :) Will continue trekking forward tomorrow. We have covered about 85 some kilomters and still going strong.

Día 4 (Cezor Menor to Puente la Reina - 21 km): El paisaje es incredible todavía. Salimos a las 6:30 esta mañana andando hacía Puente la Reina. Hacía calor por la manaña y había muchas nubes, pero todavía bonito. tengo tiempo terminar este blog, así que mañana escribaré.

Day 3 (Zubiri to Cezor Menor - 24 km): Zubiri turned out to be a very nice (although extremely small) pueblo. Third day walking was not as challenging, so it seems our bodies are getting used to the stress. We had a beautiful and sunny day for walking...but it was almost too hot for comfort. Hence why we continue to leave around 6:30 in the morning. Before arriving in Cezor Menor, we passed through some beautiful little pueblos, and once again passed through Pamplona. We stopped to explore a few historic sites, and grabbed some cool drinks to tide us over. Somehow we managed to make it to Cezor Menor where we found a darling little hostel to spend the night.

Día 3 (Zubiri to Cezor Menor - 24 km): Zubiri fue un pueblo (aunque muy pequeño) muy bonito. Nuestro tercer día andando no fue tan difícil como los anteriores, así que parece que nuestros cuerpos son acustumbrando. Fue un día precioso y hacía mucho sol...pero hacía demasiado calor. Por eso, seguimos saliendo a las 6:30 de la manaña. Hemos cruzado un montón de pueblos bonitos, y otra vez pasabamos por Pamplona. Ahí exploramos un poco, y seguimos hasta Cezor Menor donde hemos quedado la noche.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Camino de Santiago (Part 1)

As most of you know, my Mom and I are walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James). We are walking 800 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) where the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried (according to legend), and will end in Finisterre (Spain), which some once claimed was the end of the earth. I will be updating my blog as often as possible, so check back for updates on our progress. I am writing in both Spanish and English, so scroll down (every other paragraph is in English). If you want to learn more about the Camino de Santiago, visit the following site:

Como sabeis, mi madre y yo estamos andando el Camino de Santiago. Vamos a andar 800 kilometres desde St. Jean Pied de Port (Francia) hasta Santiago de Compostela (España) y terminarémos en Finisterre (España)...el fin de la tierra. Voy a intender conectar a mi blog a menudo, así que debes visitar mi pagina cuando puedas. Estoy escribiendo en ingles y español. Disculpad mis errores por favor. :) Si quieres aprender más sobre el camino, visitad esta pagina web:

Day 0: From Madrid my mother and I (barely) caught a train to Pamplona. Once in Pamplona, we ate lunch, explored a little of the historic section (walking on the same streets the bulls run during the Fiesta de San Fermin), and then caught a bus to Roncesvalles. From Roncesvalles, we took a taxi to St. Jean Pied de Port where we spent the night in our first albergue (in a room with 12 strangers).

Día 0: Desde Madrid, mi madre y yo cogimos un tren a Pamplona. Una vez que estuvimos en Pamplona, exploramos la parte antigua (andando donde corren los toros durante la fiesta de San Fermin) y después cogimos un autobus hasta Roncesvalles. Desde ahí, cogimos un taxi a St. Jean Pied de Port, donde quedamos la noche en nuestro primer albergue (en una habitación con 12 desconocidos).

Day 1 (St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles - 26 km): We woke up at 6 in the morning, ate breakfast, and began the most challenging part of the Camino at 7:15 in the morning. The Camino is divided into 30 some days/stages, and the first is without a doubt the most difficult. With my Mom and I both carrying 20 pound backpacks, we began the walk and encountered our first hill. We climbed extreme vertical hills from the moment we walked out our door until 1:30 pm (ending in Roncesvalles at 2:30). The first downhill section we encountered was the descent down to Roncesvalles. And to my surprise, there is nothing easy about downhill either. It was an excruciatingly difficult day, but perhaps the most beautiful as well. It truly felt as though we were climbing to heaven. We climbed mountain after mountain, wandered past beautiful green fields with hundreds of grazing sheep, cows, and horses, and looked down on the clouds. Words truly cannot express the incredible views. The Pyranese Mountains are breathtaking.

Día 1 (St. Jean Pied de Port a Roncesvalles - 26 km): Despertamos a las 6 de la mañana, comimos el desayuno, y empezamos la parte más difícil del Camino a las 7:15 de la mañana. El Camino esta dividida en 30 días/etapas, y el primero es lo más difícil sin duda. Con mochilas que pesan 13 kilos (cada una) mi madre y y empezamos a andar. Desde el momento que salimos, estuvimos andando cuestas verticales...todo arriba hasta la 1:30. La primera cuesta abajo era cuando estuvimos llegando a Roncesvalles (a las 2:30). Pero a mi sorpresa, andar en cuesta abajo tampoco es fácil. Fue un día increiblemente difícil, pero precioso. En los pirineos, nos sentimos como estuvimos andando hacía el cielo. Habia montaña detras de montaña, y hierba verde, y muchas animales (caballos, vacas, y ovejas) comiendo por todas partes. Las palabras no pueden describir el bonito que era. Las Montañas Pirineos son increible.

Day 2 (Roncesvalles to Zubiri - 22 km): After spending the night in a one room albergue with 120 other pilgrims, we took off for Day 2 at 6:45 in the morning. It started out flat, which was a very welcome surprise. After an hour walking, we decided to stop and get breakfast. We continued along the Camino, passing through various small towns and enjoying the cool morning air. As we continued, we ran into some large cows along the path, but they were kind enough to move out of our way. :) While today was much much MUCH easier than the first day, it was still a slight challenge (our bodies are still getting used to this crazy idea).

Día 2 (Roncesvalles to Zubiri - 22 km): Después de quedarnos la noche en un albergue donde había 120 más pirigrinos (todo en una habitación), empezamos día 2 del camino a las 6:45 de la mañana. Empezaba plano (y eso nos ha gustado). Después de una hora, desayunamos. Durante el día, hemos pasado muchos pueblos pequeños y hemos disfrutado del aire fresco por la mañana. Habían algunas vacas grandes en el camino, pero todas nos han dejado pasar sin problema. :) Aunque la ruta hoy era mucho mucho MUCHO más fácil que lo de ayer, todavía fue un desfío (nuestros cuerpos todavía no son acustumbrados a esta idea loca).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My First Excursion

On Friday, May 8, 2009 I went on my first school excursion as a chaperone. We took the entire fifth grade class and a handful of 4th and 6th graders for a biking excursion to Olvera, a small, historic (dating back 2,000 years) pueblo in Andalucia that serves as the starting point of a famous route called the Via Verde. The Via Verde is a well known and extremely beautiful path that runs between Olvera and Puerto Serrano for some 38 kilometres. It follows an old rail line that was built by the military regime led by General Rivera between 1923 and 1929 and used a few years later during the Spanish Civil War. As railroads typically are, the Via Verde follows a fairly flat route, and is not a difficult ride. However, it does go through a total of twenty-four tunnels, some of which are without lights, which makes for a little adventure.

It is not uncommon to see hundred of students and their teachers spending a Friday excursion along the Via Verde. The day we went, there were at least 8 other schools (so likely over 400 students and 50 or so chaperones) biking along the narrow path. My gut feeling when we arrived told me that such a scene had the potential to be a catastrophe. I was right. Five minutes within the trek, one of our students fell going down the first hill and fractured her wrist. She was immediately taken to Villamartin (the nearest hospital). Then one girl got separated from our group, and when another chaperone and I finally found her, we were hundreds of students behind Fernando Gavilan. We also learned why she fell behind: This was only her 3rd day riding a bike...and was still a bit (very) wobbly. She almost took each of us out about 10 times before we finally passed 200 students and caught up with our group (which took about an hour). Then we had various other incidents with students falling, crashing in the dark tunnels, and just going crazy. Then there came the craziest incident of all: me!

We are riding along, enjoying the beautiful scenery and I all of a sudden do not feel well at all. I mention to Antionio, the head teacher I might sit down for a minute or ride in the truck (following all the schools in the event of an emergency or if someone needs a break). He looks over at me and says "Dios mío, siéntate ahora, eres blanquita!" (Oh my goodness, sit down now, you are as white as a ghost). So I stumble getting off my bike, and he decides it is better to take me to the truck immediately. The truck has students in it already, so they take me to the ambulance (just so i can ride and cool down for a minute). The staff ask me if I am okay, I say yes, and we drive off. Five minutes later I decide I really am not as okay as I thought, and I calmly mention I don’t feel well. The ambulance comes to a halt and two of the nurses rush back to me as if I was dying or something. I found it kind of funny because all I said was "I don’t feel very good, can we stop for a moment". They made me lie down on the little stretcher with my legs elevated, and began taking my blood pressure. Turns out it was super low, and they were debating whether to take me to a hospital or not. Finally my blood pressure went up a little, but they kept pricking my poor little fingers to make sure my blood sugar was maintaining an okay level. Even though I stabilized, they would not allow me to I spent the last 45 minutes of the beautiful bike ride in the back of an ambulance without a view. Moral of the story: drink lots of liquid, eat lots, and wear hats and cool clothes when in the south of Spain to avoid heat exhaustion. But really...who would of thought?! I run and walk everyday, and have never had a problem...then in front of all my students, the heat gets to me?! Oh well, it was still a blast, and definitely an interesting excursion. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009


On the evening of May 3, many pueblos and cities throughout Spain celebrate the "Fiesta de las Cruces"...which is popularly (and appropriately) known by the Ubriqueños as "Día de los gamones."

A gamón is a type of wild lily, similar to a gigantic asparagus plant, that grows in hills surrounding Ubrique. Days before the fiesta, Ubriqueños can be seen throughout the mountains collecting as many gamones as possible in preparation for the evening activities of May 3rd. Once dusk hits, the entire town of Ubrique is illuminated by over 60 "candelas" or bon fires scattered throughout the various neighborhoods. The largest and most famous candela is in the Plaza de Verdura (which is conveniently right across from my flat).

So what does a wild lily esparragus like plant have to do with a bon fire? Well, as tradition has it, you place your gamones at the base of the fire, allow it to heat up, and when you see smoke and start to hear it sizzle, you grab it and smack it as hard as possible against a nearby rock. If all goes well, the end result is an extremely loud explosion (accompanied by parts of gamones flying everywhere). And everytime you explode a gamón, you are supposed to make a wish for good health for someone in your family or one of your friends. The idea being that the gamón loses its vigor and passes it on to someone else. So if you collect 30 gamones, and have 30 explosions, 30 people will supposedly have good health (that is, if you remember to make the wish).

The origin of Día de los Gamones is not exactly known, but there are two existing theories. One theory says that the practice of exploding gamones originated and was done by local shepherds to scare the wolves away from their flocks. However, the other (more widely accepted) theory suggests that at the beginning of the 19th century a French detachment occupied the area and a large portion of the Ubriqueños fled to the surrounding mountainside where they exploded gamones in an attempt to trick the French into believing the pueblo was heavily armed. And that is the story of the gamones, and the Día de los Gamones that is only celebrated in Ubrique. And in case you were wondering, while I stood around the bonfire from 10 pm until 3 am in the morning, and attempted to explode a ton of gamones, I was unsuccessful in every attempt. I must say, however, that I got a half-explosion out of a couple. That´s something, right? I guess I will have to practice when I get back to the states, so that next year I can call myself a true gamonera!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Authentic Spanish Wedding!!!!!

An authentic Spanish wedding. Frankly, I couldn´t ask for a better cultural experience. And I would have never imagined in just 7 short months that I would become close enough with a group of friends (one of whom happened to be getting married soon) to be invited to the wedding. But, I got lucky, and my Spanish fairytale continues.

The wedding was set at 12:00 on Saturday, April 25, 2008. Roque Jesus, the groom, was already in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at 11:30 waiting anxiously for the guests and the bride. Little by little, the guests also started to gather in anticipation of the arrival of Marie Carmen (the bride). Suddenly, to the sound of churchbells ringing and the honking of the bride´s car, Marie Carmen arrived. Everyone rushed to the car´s side, and Marie Carmen stepped out in an intricate lace wedding gown, with a veil measuring at least 12 feet. Once the guests got a glance of the bride, some ran quickly into the church, while others filed in behind the bride and her groom. The ceremony began. And continued. And they were pronounced husband and wife. As quickly as we had all entered the church, we all ran out. While the bride and groom, and their families were taking pictures, everyone prepared to throw rice. Marie Carmen and Roque finally came out of the church, and were showered with a curtain of rice.

From the church, the bride and groom went to a photo shoot while all of the guests went to various bars around town to mingle and have a quick drink before the reception began at 2 o´clock. Once at the reception, we enjoyed a variety of 15 different tapa-like hors D´oerves. At 3:30, the bride and groom arrived, and this time, were met by a curtain of confetti and balloons. We all entered the hotel reception room, and prepared for the meal of a century. The meal started with appetizers (as if we hadn´t eaten enough already) of Iberian ham and sausague, and an assortment of cheeses. This was follwed by a mixed salad. The salad was then followed by a plate of 10 shrimp (yes, you had to behead and peel the poor lil guys yourself). After the shrimp, we enjoyed a nice lemon sorbet (which was allegedly to help the digestion process and cleanse the palate). Then came the "first" plate, a typical Spanish stew consisting of broth, ham, and egg. The second plate was a fillet of lamb filled with ham and peppers in a mushroom sauce and fried potatoes. For dessert we enjoyed a typical Spanish cake. And to top it all off, we sipped on a hot cup of coffee (or tea). To my surprise, the bride and groom did not have a specific "wedding cake" nor did they partake in any ceremonial cutting (like a typical American reception). I was also surprised when the reception finished and no one had made a single toast [aside from various people shouting "VIVAN LOS NOVIOS" ("long live the bride and groom)] and the bride and groom themselves did not speak either.

After the meal, the open bar (admittedly the best part) began and continued for about 3 hours. Three short hours of drinking, singing, laughing, dancing, crying, and celebrating. When the open bar finally closed around midnight, we all left the hotel. You might be thinking that the party ended there. You are quite wrong. From the hotel reception, we ALL (bride and groom included) went to Avenida Espana (the main/only bar hopping street in Ubrique). From there, the party continued until 7:00 in the morning. Unfortunately for me, the festivities ended around 2:30, since I had to get up the next morning for a hike and climbing/rapelling adventure. So around 2:30, I slowly managed to find my way back to my flat, and I crashed until 8:00 am. What an adventure and what an experience! I have said it before, and I will say it again...The Spaniards (specifically these Andalucíans) know how to PaRTy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Semana Santa II

On Thursday, April 9, 2009, I hopped on a bus and headed to Sevilla, the city with the most elaborate and numerous Semana Santa processions in all of Spain. Thursday night, or what is known as the "madrugá" is the most famous night in Sevilla, and hundreds of thousands of people come from all over Spain and Europe to witness the numerous processions that begin early Thursday afternoon and continue throughout the entire night and well into Friday afternoon.

I arrived in Sevilla around 8 pm on Thursday evening, went to an acquantaince´s piso to grab a quick bite to eat and went out to the streets at 10:00 pm. We did not return to the piso until 7:15 am Friday morning. We saw a total of 8 processions throughout the night, all extremely beautiful, but extremely long and slow moving. Some processions had as many as 2,000 "nazares"...which meant that if you stood in one location to watch the procession pass, you would have to stand for over 1 hour and 30 minutes to see it from start to finish. We saw a few processions in their entirety, but mainly just ran around the city of Sevilla trying to see the ornate saints/floats and listen to the accompanying music. Once we saw what we wanted to see, we navigated through the crowds to find the next procession.

While I think the solemn and reflective nature of Semana Santa has largely faded away and become more of a social ocassion, it is still an incredible way to celebrate Holy Week and Easter. The people who carry the statues of the saints, who come in penance, who come playing music for the ears of God, and who come to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have come before them, continue to keep the beauty and solemnity of Semana Santa alive, or at least, visible.

All in all, throughout Semana Santa I saw processions in Cádiz, Ubrique, Sevilla, and Chipiona. All were beautiful and very distinct, but Sevilla had without a doubt the most elaborate celebrations. However, it also had the most people, most tourists, and most chaos. Did I mention it took my friend and I over 2 hours just to return to the piso, which on any other day should have only taken about 20 minutes walking? The verdict: It was a wonderful experience to go to Sevilla and I wouldn´t have missed it for anything, but if I am ever back in Spain for Semana Santa, I think I will stick to the smaller pueblos and avoid the crowds.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Semana Santa I

As many of you may know, Spain is especially renowned for its "Semana Santa" (or Holy Week) traditions. Once again, Andalucía (the southern-most autonomous region of Spain where I currently reside) is home to the most glamorous celebrations (just like the Cádiz carnaval). Most pueblos and all capital cities in Andalucia participate in Semana Santa and have various processions that coincide with the historical biblical account of Christ the week before Easter. But within Andalucia, Sevilla is typically recognized as the most elaborate, and every year draws an enormous crowd of religious and simply curious onlookers. I will be one, as I am heading up to Sevilla later this afternoon to witness the processions of Maunday Thursday that go throughout the entire night until dawn.

However, I have already been fortunate enough to get a taste of Semana Santa, in my own Pueblo and in Cádiz. My experience in Cádiz, however, was the outcome of pure luck (or maybe pure bad luck?). Let me explain. After participating in a grueling 8 hour hike on Sunday (covering some 45 kilometers of mountainous terrain from Ronda to Ubrique), my roommate suggested I take a day to relax and head to the beach. So we hopped on the internet, and decided to venture to somewhere new: Puerto de Santa Maria. On Monday morning, we arrived at the Ubrique bus station at 8:20 am, 10 minutes early to catch the supposed 8:30 bus to Jerez. To our surprise (but it really shouldn´t have surprised us), the internet bus schedule was wrong, and our bus did not depart until 9 am. So, we took a half hour walk around town to kill the time, then hopped on what we thought would be a fairly quick journey to Jerez. Two hours and fourty-five minutes later (on a route that by car takes 45 minutes max) we arrived in Jerez where we ran across to the train station to catch the train to Puerto de Santa Maria. Once we arrived in Puerto de Santa Maria and stepped off the train, we anxiously looked around for the beach (or any sign of a beach). There was none. But we decided not to panic, and went to ask a passerby who informed us we needed to catch a city bus to the nearest beach...and if we wanted to catch it we should probably turn and start running since it was already at the bus stop. So we thanked her, took off running, and made the city bus with two seconds to spare. In another 30 minutes, we were finally at the beach. Total transportation time: 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Once at the beach, we realized neither of us had sunscreen. In order to avoid looking like lobsters, we decided to go buy some. How hard can it be, right? Well, that is a whole other story in and of itself. Long story short, we finallly bought some SPF, went back to the beach, and enjoyed the sunshine for 3 hours. At 4:00, we headed up to the bus stop to catch the 4:30 city bus back to the train station. We arrived at the stop at 4:15, and went into a store right next door to buy a drink. At the precise moment I was paying (4:18 pm), a lovely blue city bus drove by. Yup, there went our bus. Go figure, you take extra care to arrive 12 minutes early and you still miss your bus. So we did the only thing we could do, wait 30 minutes for the next bus. Once we hopped on the city bus, we anxiously rode around for another 30 minutes thinking that we were now cutting our connections very close...but still thinking we were okay. We arrived at the train station at exactly the same time the train (OUR train) was pulling up. So we sprinted across traffic, and ran to the ticket window and asked for the 5:30 train to Jerez. The grumpy ticket seller informed us we just missed it and the next one did not leave until 6:00 pm. However, we could not take that one because the last bus for the night departs Jerez for Ubrique at 6:00 pm. So we looked into our only other option: heading to Cádiz where there was a 6:30 bus. We bought our tickets to Cádiz, and in 45 minutes arrived with exactly 7 minutes to spare to run and catch the bus back to Ubrique. As we were sprinting (once again) out of the train station, I found myself unable to exit because the machine would not recognize my ticket. Since it was a valid ticket, I thought it would be okay to hop on over and continue sprinting. However, since I was not tall enough, I ended up just repeatedly inserting my ticket thinking it has to work at some point while my friend ran to get help and tell someone I was and unable to exit. Two minutes passed, but it seemed like a lifetime. I finally got out, and yet again, we did a full out sprint to try and make the 6:30 bus back to Ubrique. We arrived at the bus stop, and there was no bus. But we had not seen a bus while we were running either (and we ran along the route), so we decided it must just be running a little late. Finally we grew curious, went and asked a police officer, who apologized but told us he had not been paying attention to the buses. Finally a bus pulled up, and we asked about Ubrique. He told us the last bus left at 5:00 pm. Wait. Back-up. Excuse me? Fortunately for us, he was mistaking. However, so were we. There was no 6:30 bus to Ubrique on the weekdays (only the weekend), but there was one more bus back to Ubrique that left at 8:15 pm...which meant we had a little under two hours to fiddle around.

We decided to go back to the police officer and see what all the commotion was in the main Plaza. To our delight, it was one of the first Semana Santa processions of the week. Niether of us have ever been in Spain during Holy Week or seen a procession of the like, so we stuck around. It was quite elaborate, everyone dressed in white robes/tunics with pointed white hats, and some walking barefoot along the streets of Cádiz (in penance). The statues of Christ and the Virgin were incredibly ornate, and like all processions here, were carried through the streets at a snails pace, by a group of 30 or more men. This is no easy task, as these sculptures weigh hundreds of pounds. Following each statue is a band, that walks and plays behind the scultpures and penants. Lining the way for the scultpures, and scattered throughout the bands and the penants, are nazarenos (or people carrying processional candles and crosses). Little kids from the crowds often approach the nazarenos and ask them to pour wax from their candles onto a wax ball. Since the processions last hours (usually a minimum of 4 hours), the kids get bored, and making a wax ball that grows from year to year, is a way to pass the time and a tradition that has survived the years and getting even more popular. It was quite interesting to see.

Finally, at 8:15 our bus came, and we hopped back on...quite ready to return home. All in all, 6 hours and 30 minutes of transportation, for 3 hours at the beach, and 1 hour and 45 minutes in Cádiz viewing the procession. Needless to say, we were a little tired of riding on trains and buses by the time we got home. But were thrilled we got to see a Semana Santa pure luck? or bad luck? Still can´t decide.