Friday, November 12, 2010

Camino de Santiago

DSC_5185.jpg, originally uploaded by Matthew San Diego.

In early July this year, Matt and I enjoyed 5 days on the Camino de Santiago. A different sort of hike than we've made before, we enjoyed walking this ancient pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago, where St. James is buried.

Many people begin this Camino much further out than we did--we took the easy, quick journey. But, discovered a beautiful and meaningful journey that was well worth our time. Walking with two friends of ours, we enjoyed the time together, the beautiful landscape, the experience with the community of pilgrims on the Camino, and the spiritual gifts of this religious journey undertaken for centuries.

I regret not posting these entries sooner, but I guess this means you get my memories filtered through the intervening months. Distilled, perhaps...

If we had it to do over again--or if we went again--there are a few things I'd do differently. First, I needed even less stuff than I took. Sleeping bags and pads were totally unnecessary for this part of the Camino--a simple sheet would have been plenty, as the refugios supply a disposable bottom sheet, pillows and blankets. Few clothes are necessary, as washing facilities are easy to find. A shirt, fleece or jacket, rain layer, pants and shorts would be enough (plus at least 2 pairs of underwear and socks, of course), as well as a sun hat for while walking and flip-flops for the evening. Traveling light definitely makes the journey more fun...

On the Camino Santiago, Day 5: Monte de Gozo to Santiago

Our final morning's walk felt like a breeze, as we wound our way down into the city. It felt a little funny to be in the midst of a city again--with traffic and traffic lights and lots more concrete.

As we got into the city center, the spires of the cathedral became visible. And, though our journey had be shorter than many and our perspective is already skewed by our contemporary world, I admit to an awe-inspiring sense of wonder as we drew near the majesty of the cathedral.

Our finals meters were accompanied by a bagpiper, reminding us of the long and deep connection between the Celts and Galicia. Odd as it may seem, the bagpipes were right at home in that stone walkway. (You'll notice, though, that there was no kilt involved here...)
As we got the plaza in front of the cathedral, it felt wonderful to look up at the intricate facade, and to imagine ourselves in the same place as so many generations of pilgrims before us.

We made it in time for the Pilgrim's Mass, but, to our dismay, discovered that the Botafumeiro--the gigantic incensor in Santiago's cathedral--would not be used that day, as it was being repaired. Still...the mystery and wonder of mass together with pilgrims from all over was inspiring. Unlike hikes in USAmerica, where we finish and drive home (maybe stopping for a burger...), it was a delight to stop to worship together in community at the end of the journey.

After mass, we went to the Pilgrim's Office to show our credentials and receive our Compostela certificates. And, we enjoyed most of the day exploring the old parts of Santiago on a wet, rainy day. (Also, before the day was over, we were successful both at finding a geocache AND one of those commemorative Estrella Galicia beer mugs...)

On the Camino Santiago, Day 4: Arzua to Monte de Gozo

Walking a thousand-year-old trail, we found a delightful mix of ancient and modern along the way. The primary landscape was shaped by rolling hills, dotted with small farms and their simple, old, stone buildings. Several times, we saw workers building or repairing the stone structures, meticulously laying stones they way they've been laid for centuries. Now and then, the romance of time travel is punctuated by a jarring reminder that these farms are not a museum piece--they're home to real people, some of whom realize they can bring in a little extra income by hosting vending machines along the Camino.

Our morning breakfast stops--always after we'd gotten a few km down the road--varied in terms of the classiness of architecture and design, but were unwavering in the menu available: always an omelet sandwich (un bocadillo de tortilla). Fortunately, this is a fine thing to eat every day.
The beauty of things planted along the way continued to delight me. Here, spectacular and beautiful hydrangeas lined the path.
And, signs of all sorts--painted on the ground, on sides of buildings, in ancient monuments--kept us on the right path.
At lunch, we explored the menu options available. Here, Colin dared to try an empanada with octopus. I tasted better, I think, before we looked inside...

But, really, it's hard to complain at all about a hike that lets you drink your lunchtime coke out of a wine glass, enjoying the beauty of the day.
On this day--our longest of the journey by far--we began to long longingly for these concrete markers, many of which are marked with mileage. I do not know how many of these little monuments line the path, but they because a reliable companion on our walk. Well, reliable, that is, until we got close to Santiago and they suddenly disappeared. Because, I've come to believe, the Camino's path was re-routed around the airport property, adding a few extra km toward the end...but who's counting?!?
Alas, we were counting on this long day. I suppose it wouldn't have taken much to figure out that a town called "Monte de Gozo" is likely to be atop a hill. With tired feet and legs, we pressed on up the "monte," waiting for the "gozo" to set in.

Fortunately for us, we got to enjoy a rare celebration that night. Besides having made it to the HUGE alberge on the hill that overlooks Santiago, we made it to an ideal location for watching Spain win its first World Cup. We ate dinner and watched the match; Matt enjoyed a pint of his favorite local beer in a special, commemorative pilgrimage mug. (If you look close, you can see the Camino arrow...)

On the Camino Santiago, Day 3: Palais de Rei to Arzua

One of the delights of the Camino is how beautiful this part of the journey is: so often, we were walking through tunnels in the trees, shaded and enchanted by them. In the morning, we walked through trails made mysterious by misty fog; later we were especially grateful for the shade lent by the trees.
And, though the trail felt a bit crowded in the early morning when we'd all just set out for the day, it surprised me how quickly we spread out and the journey felt much more private.

This old stone bridge in Ribadiso was lovely--one of the many landmarks in the trail that serve as a reminder of just how many pilgrims have taken this path over so many years.

Just on the other side of the bridge, we paused for a little break by this horreo--a little stone granary like we saw so often along the hike.

As our days continued, we discovered that we grew a bit tired of ham sandwiches. And, that trail-side fruit stand were a truly beautiful thing. Here, we shared a basket of fresh berries. And they were delightful.

On the Camino Santiago, Day 2: Portomarin to Palais de Rei

We began our second day with an ascent out of Portomarin. And, it seemed, a long walk to the first place where we could take our breakfast break. (Probably, we should have eaten more before leaving for the day...) A breakfast of tortilla (which, in Galicia, is something like a omelet sandwich) and juice, we were much happier... The cafes along the Camino are filled up with pilgrims. While we're walking, we spread out, but collect together at these rest stops. It's fun to get an idea of the many, diverse people who are walking with us.
We stopped for a little rest break by this marker, which told us we had just over 78 km to go...
Then, later, we stopped here, at one of the many stone crosses that mark the Camino.
All along the way, we admired the beautiful kitchen gardens that belonged to those who live alongside the Camino. Also, they had chickens.
Toward the end of the day, we stopped to fill our water bottles here, an another ancient fuente, this one staffed with volunteers from the Spanish equivalent of Campus Crusade for Christ. Their hospitality was lovely, and the water refreshing...

We stopped for the nice in Palais de Rei, where we found a brand-new albergue that looked to be more than adequate. (We were tired.) Having put our bags down and showered, we headed further into town to find some fruit and ice cream. In the church there, we got a stamp for our credentials--the kind man in the church who offered the stamps was from Alcala, home of the San Diego who is namesake for our hometown. We delighted in our strange kinship...

On the Camino Santiago, Day 1: Sarria to Portomarin

We started our Camino in Sarria, a town just far enough away from Santiago that we could qualify for the minimum 100 km to be Peregrinos; Matt and I flew to Santiago and then took 2buses to Sarria, arriving in time to catch the semifinal match of the World Cup from our table across the street from the bar. I enjoyed watching both the game and the enthusiastic crowd. There was much celebrating--including a man who spent the night with his vuvuzela just outside the doorway of the refugio where we stayed that first night, in the charming and beautiful old town. Periodically through the night, he'd wake up, remember that he was supposed to celebrating, and make noise until he fell asleep again.

We also got our first taste of refugio life, staying in a recently remodeled room in a very old building, with perhaps 20 bunk beds and bathrooms down the hall.

I have to admit my excitement, as we left the bus station in Sarria to seek out lodging, at seeing my first yellow arrows and shells. They would continue to mark our path the rest of the way to Santiago!

In the morning, our room emptied out quickly as folks got on their camino. We waited around, planning to meet our friends as they arrived on the morning bus. Watching those early morning pilgrims from our second-story window, as they moved through the dim light and morning fog on that ancient street, gave our journey a mysterious and beautiful beginning.

Our first real day on the trail, we started to get the hang of things: of stopping to enjoy snacks and lunch at little cafes and bars along the way, of drawing water from fuentes along the way (enjoying both their status as watering hole for centuries of pilgrims AND the reality of their somewhat bizarre modern renovations), and of shady rest spots. Late in our day, we found a little rock shelter near a farm where we rested for a while, encountering other pilgrims headed to Santiago and one enthusiastic Portuguese man who was hiking backwards from Santiago on the Camino. We spied an absolutely beautiful albergue and restaurant, about 7 km short of our daily goal--it had a gorgeous, grassy garden and looked beautiful. But, in order to make our goal, we decided to press on...

Our day ended as we descended to the river in Portomarin. We were all quite tired, and no one was enthusiastic about hiking much of the hill above the river, where the town stretched out. (The mandatory stairway up to the lowest part of town was enough for us all!) So, we were delighted to find both lodging and food in a refugio near the bottom. And, just as we got settled, a spectacular thunderstorm began. From the restaurant, we had a beautiful, panoramic view across the river, as lightening danced in the sky and the sun set.

The only photo evidence I came away with, though, was this shot of our dinner. Which was delicious.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

found in my mailbox this morning

It's like they think it's a really bad thing.

It was definitely the best thing in my mailbox this weekend.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

packaged delights

There was this guy who hung out on my floor in our dorm, Freshman year. He didn't live there, but afflicted us with his presence regularly. I remember him going on and on about the goodness of It's-Its, a strange frozen treat. (This may well have been in reactionary defense of the west coast, in the face of yet another person from New Jersey going on and on about their Fribbles from Friendly's...) I sometimes wonder why this is so much easier to remember than my French vocabulary.

I'm pretty sure I had my first It's-It this summer, when I found them in the cooler at the little store in Tuolomne Meadows, where we stopped for indulgences on our 20-day hike. It was pretty good. I mean, really: how can it not be, with ice cream, oatmeal cookies and dark chocolate? But I was really taken by it's packaging--charming and nostalgic, taking me back to an imagined era way before Freshman year.

Then, today, as my dear husband was hunting down strawberry Mochi from the freezer aisle, I spotted this gem: old-fashioned cardboard packaging of a 3 It's-It treat. Perhaps I was set up by the appallingly nostalgic Christmas music our country station plays this time of year. It won me over immediately.
Kind-of like the child who ends up playing with the box their Christmas present came it, I think I enjoyed this package more than it's treat.


I found this old Army wool blanket at a thrift store much earlier this year; it's been lying in my closet, waiting for a new life. This Christmas, it decided it would become stockings for some little ones I love.

I'm also excited that the bright orangey-red ric-rac I bought on a whim this summer has found it's place to shine.

Now I just get to imagine what Santa will add to these... That is, assuming my young friends are nice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

more later

This is enough for now: a Cretan feast, where I got to stand next to Polychronis Polychronidis, Mayor of Kolymbari. (With Enoch and Keelan, too.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

vacation logistics

Even when you’re on vacation (as it turns out), it’s important to check details. Like, for example, which airport you’re supposed to pick at. On Wednesday, I woke fairly early, wanting to say goodbye to folks leaving the meeting (like my dear roommate, Aimee). And wanting to enjoy a last dip in the bowl of honey.

And, perhaps most importantly, wanting to get my rental car and begin the next portion of Cretan fun with Krista. Since she lives in Germany, we see each (by means other than Skype) far too infrequently. Her flight, however, wasn’t to arrive until 2:20 in the afternoon, so I was grateful to find a friend to do a bit of touring (and coffee drinking) in Hania with, while I (impatiently) passed the time until her arrival.

Negotiating old Cretan cities alone, by rental car, is not my specialty, so it took me a bit longer to get to the airport than I’d hoped—I was already nearly 20 minutes late. And, rushing into the lobby, I didn’t see Krista. I looked around a bit, retrieved my computer to confirm her arrival time, and wondered. The little Hania airport has no “arrivals” board posted, so, eventually, I asked about the 2:20 flight; “there’s no such flight,” they told me. I considered the options, and decided that perhaps I had the flights departure time—and that she’d arrive at 3:15 on the next flight in from Athens.

Then I ran into some folks from my meeting—Zachary from Chicago and Enoch from Uganda, and we had a nice visit. (I had been feeling bad that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them.)

After 3:15 passed, I began to get more suspicious. So I logged on to Facebook, to see if there might be any update there. Sure enough, she’d made it to Athens (a relief). But a new discovery: she was waiting for me in the Heraklion airport, on the other side of Crete, not in the Hania airport!

The drive along the coast is lovely—the new national highway skirts the coastline for much of the journey. Greek driving is a bit of a trip—lanes seem more like suggestions than regulations, and people are bold in passing. But then, the cars are all like tiny, toy cars, so there’s space.

Then came the best gift ever: Krista, waiting watchfully outside the airport as dusk was falling on eastern Crete, ready to hop into my car. It’s possible that I’ve never been more thrilled to see her.

Time with Krista, exploring rural Crete, is well worth airport confusion.


Here are a few snapshots of adventures yesterday:

The beautiful south Crete countryside, a patchwork of olive groves.

A tiny church tucked in the bottom of a dramatic gorge. There was a well-built path down to the church, which is just above a set of waterfalls (on the Megalopotamus River, according to my guide. Second coolest name I’ve encountered on Crete). The icon inside showed the saint it’s named for, Saint Nicholas of Somewhere, standing near these falls.

Up in the mountains here, the village of Spili is a beautiful destination, with all the treats a tourist could ask for: cute shops with locally made things, fun restaurants (serving up tasty mountain snails), a fountain offering fresh spring water in abundance through 24 lion heads and striking church buildings (one, next to our lunch spot, with a funeral procession by foot to the local graveyard).

sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb

I’m now on the “vacation” portion of my trip, but thought I would share a few more thoughts about my meeting:

Every morning in our hotel, the breakfast set out for us included a giant bowl of honey. The picture here doesn’t immediately give a clear sense—the spoon is a large serving spoon. I’ve always enjoyed honey, but this plentiful sharing seemed to take it to a new level. I cannot imagine ever needing that much honey—an overabundance, like grace. Sweet.

Closing worship at the Faith and Order Plenary was particularly meaningful. I’ve been wondering about what it was that made it so—a number of things were special. Here are my guesses of things that helped: the chairs were rearranged from a classroom style (with desks) to a circular setting (no desks). The music was rehearsed before worship began. We’d lived together for a week, and there was a sense (even in our meetings) that we’d come together significantly over the time. And, for me, the worship style was most familiar, with a thoughtful, beautiful and challenging sermon at the center, preached by just such a woman. Earlier in the gathering, worship felt like a weak part of our time together—strained and stifled by our differences. And our tiredness (as we worshiped all together in the evening, after long days…). It was lovely to end in worship that was life-giving.

Oh, and just as we sang “Come Holy Spirit,” the sound of rain falling on the rooftop added assurance of God’s rain-like grace.

Monday, October 12, 2009

eating together

The meetings continue, but with some significant breaks; yesterday (Sunday) we passed time in worship, some tourism and (most significantly, perhaps) eating together.

In the morning we worshiped at on Orthodox cathedral. Because so many priests (including Bishops and Metropolitans) are here, it was Divine Liturgy with an abundance of clergy support. The experience of the worship was powerful: the cathedral itself offered rich visual surroundings, with modern frescoes and beautiful, ornate icons. The chanting of the liturgy created an amazing auditory experience of the holy, and incense only added more rich, sensory depth.

It is, of course, lamentable that we could not share at the communion table; I did, however, enjoy the moments where all people were particularly involved in worship. As we said the Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer, each in our own home languages, I felt a taste of the wonderful, global and diverse richness of the Body of Christ.

After worship, we enjoyed our Greek Feast One. At a beautiful restaurant on the sea, wrapped in floor to ceiling windows with a view of the blue water and striking mountains, we feasted on course after course of rich Greek food. Stuffed, we then headed to hotels for a break. Then, we visited a women’s monastery, enjoying their warm hospitality (including a delicious yogurt snack). And, after a stop at a patriotic site, Greek Feast Two. Featuring the same, three-plate, multi-course feast as lunchtime, the bountiful meal seemed almost absurd in its abundance. I suppose that’s why so many talk of Greek hospitality… Like lunch, this Feast included folk dancers, but in the evening, they invited us into the dancing action. A delightful time.

And, it seems to me, it has made us all friendlier with one another in our meetings—funny how good table fellowship changes us.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

that's what I'm talking about

It is now time for afternoon coffee, and I'm attempting to upload a YouTube prayer to share at Water's Edge tomorrow; the internet slows considerably when we're on break, as many folks here get out their laptops and go online to connect to the world. I wonder how many of us are on FaceBook...

Today has been a bit more fun for me; I'm hopeful that's not just because I get to talk. We've been spending much of the day in our "working groups" of 12 or so people. My group includes (besides me) folks from Orthodox, Reform, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, and African-institued church traditions. We are from the US, Canada, Nigeria, Germany, Denmark, Russia, Albania, India and Cyprus. It's a trip to know how varied and rich the Body of Christ is, especially given that our small group is barely a beginning point.

We talked for part of the day on the "moral discernment" question I mentioned yesterday--after nearly an hour, I think we began to settle into the assignment, looking at the dynamics at play in a case study imagining a discussion taking place among Anglicans about homosexuality. I found it pretty interesting to look at a conversation not entirely unlike ones I shared in at General Conference, but with an eye to the larger dynamics at play.

This afternoon, we've been talking about the early church fathers. I admit to having studied only the early church mothers in seminary...but am intrigued, admitting to my own interest in the life of the early church. When we're stuck in battles about "traditional" church, my experience has too often been that we mean, like, the 1950's traditional church. The vitality, depth and insight of the earliest church is helpful in giving a much longer view...

My roommate and I indulged this afternoon, during our rest time after lunch: we shared a Coke. Well, most of a Coke. Funny how strange and sugary it tastes when you've not had any for a while...