You never know….

it was planned to be a one year off, go back to work, work a good few more years to build up a nice pension.  Unbeknown to me, the provincial government and my employer conspired to radically throw this careful planning out the window.  As the year was nearing its natural end, my boss Denis Powers called me, at the cottage, to advise me that my position as Senior HR Consultant was axed along with that of all the Associate Deans and Associate Directors at the College.  An entire payroll line , just like that, cut from the map.

Oh well.  What is the saying?  if life throws you lemons, learn to make lemonade!

So fall 2011 gave me a chance to journey with my dear friend Bernadette, after her transplant.  I spent several weeks in Vancouver with her, going for long walks daily, cooking, cleaning, accompanying her to appointments, watching TV shows and movies.  Just being there with her.

This period gave me pause.  What was I going to do with the rest of my life?  for starter I played tennis with an unequal passion, until I developed severe tennis elbow!  I practiced yoga, changing my half-hearted commitment to teacher training to a full on commitment.  As the first year of not working after the year off, i.e. after two years of not really working, I couldn’t envisage going back to an office, dealing with union leaders (let’s just say that one of the last staff union leader had been a pretty miserable and awful woman to deal with), so I let go of my HR Certification.  That was it.  I cannot say I have regrets although my income is no where near where it was!

So what has happened during these past three years?  I have become a yoga studio owner:  I teach yoga 5 – 6 days each week,  I train constantly, which means going to classes with senior teachers who make me discover new spaces within.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I garden intensely, growing most of the veggies we eat all year round.  I invite WWOOFERS to stay and garden with me at Blue Cottage Gardens on Salt Spring, where I have a mini organic farm.  This is hard work:  weeds know how to invade any area and will take over in no time.  But the joy of eating your own grown food, smelling the sweet odour of carrots freshly harvested (do you know that carrots have a smell?), of eating my own sourcrout in winter, making yogourt with blueberries I grew and picked and froze….

I no  longer go to meetings where my only consolation for wasting my time listening to stupidities and putting up with posturing on both sides of the table was knowing I was being paid to witness this.  I get to eat these delicious food instead.

And then, there were the travels:  Guyana, Suriname, China several times, Tibet, France, Italy, Quebec.

The year off became the Rest of my Life.  So long.

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Paris, je t’aime!

 

November 4 Paris

I arrive in Paris with Jacques and Maud  mid-afternoon on the 3rd.  Their presence is helpful:  it mitigates the melancholy of what I left behind:  friends that I will likely not see again, rich experiences lived now belonging to the past.

view of the Obelisk and Eiffel tower

I walked all day on the 4th:  from 8:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night.  You can take me out of the Camino, but cannot take the Camino out of me:  I needed to walk today.  My hotel is in the 9th arrondissement, in Pigalle.  I had not realized this detail when I booked it online.  Next to the hotel door is a sex shop, one of many in the surrounding streets a long with what is called here X cinema,  and …well, what appears to be a pleasure place for some.  I feel a little unnerved by this environment, but the hotel receptionist assures me the area is very safe.  Never mind, I won’t be returning late at night!

a "péniche", house boat, on the Seine

I walked to Notre-Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité, of course, a place I always love to see:  although a definite tourist destination, it is also a place where Parisians go.  In my opinion, this is a beautiful cathedral and seeing it today confirms my feeling that it is the most beautiful cathedral:  Burgos, Leon, Astorga and Santiago all have impressive cathedrals but none surpasses to Notre-Dame’s elegance and beauty.  Having satisfied this quest, I can now fulfill my other necessary pilgrimage in Paris:  an ice cream from Berthillion, the best sorbet maker in the world.  This is only a little whole in the wall on Ile St-Louis, but the ice cream is to die for.  I choose a raspberry with rose essence and peach cone.  Absolutely delicious.  Eating a glace from Berthillion is must do in Paris.

chez Glaces Berthillion, avec Anais

I would like to climb up to the top of the Eiffel tower again, as it offers such breathtaking views of Paris, but when I get there at about 4:00PM, the queue to buy your ticket and the other queue to climb is so long, that I decide to give it a pass.

Orchidées shop at the Marché aux Fleurs

Talking with the server at the café where I stop to drink a refreshment before returning to my hotel, and telling him I am walking back, he cannot believe it.  “C’est très loin,” he tells me.  IT doesn’t feel far at all when you have just walked 800 km.

Typical Parisian cafe bar

You are always brought to history when you walk in Paris.  I find very moving the plaques comerating the death of individuals who lost their lives during the war.  They are everywhere in Paris.  You can sense that this city has suffered a great deal during WWII.

Plaque on Pont Alexandre III

The sun slowly set on the Seine as I walk back to my hotel.  What an extraordinary city Paris is.  

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High Mass…in Latin please

November 1st and 2nd in Santiago

Living in this little pension is a real respite from the constant busy activity of Albergue, some of which is truly enjoyable but all of which, combined, results in a unique form of tiredness for  me, used to a quiet living environment with one or two people, three at most, living under the same roof.  The pension provides space and silence I have not had although not really missed.  I am, however, feeling a kind of  people tiredness.  On the Camino, you constantly meet new people.  You get to tell which ones you will connect with quite rapidly.  With all of them, however, the initial conversation is a polite Camino small talk:  who we are, what we do and most importantly and most indiscreet, why are you walking this Camino.  Breaking beyond this initial conversation barrier does happen, but with relatively few individuals.  Towards the end of my Camino, I realize that I spontaneously seek out individuals with whom I have a deeper connection.  I am less interested in meeting new people.  This saddens me but it is how I feel.

Martin, me, Richard, Jean-Pierre and Jacqueline

My little room under the eaves provides me with the silent refuge I need to take stocks on my Camino.  I am truly grateful for some meetings with individuals I will remember:  Kashia from Poland, Little Mike, Nicolas and Johan from Sweden, Ursula and Christophe from Zurich,  Richard and Martin from Montpellier, Gerard from Geneva,  Brigitte and Bernard from Toulouse, Jacqueline and Jean-Pierre from Lyon, Anita also from Toulouse, Davide and Stefano from Firenze,  Pedro from Lisbon and others.

It was sad to say goodbye to Kashia at the cathedral.

They have enriched my Camino and my life by their presence.  Their smiles, their words, their songs have helped me put one foot in front of the other along under the scorching sun, the snow, the rain, and mostly the beautiful weather I was blessed with during this journey.  It is a hard trek to undertake on my own and without them, it would have been much harder.  Friends distract you from the boredom of the straight road, memories of your past that you would rather forget, and relieve you from anxiety of the unknown ahead of you on the Camino and in life.

Musician playing the bagpipes by the cathedral: Galicia is Celtic!

It is pure fluke that I am in Santiago on November 1st, a statutory holiday in Spain, and a religious festivity:  This is all saints day:  it is celebrated in the Cathedral with a high mass in Latin, with 3 bishops and 5 others priests.  The celebration starts with the procession of a silver statue of Santiago carried on the shoulders of four men walking slowly throughout the cathedral aisles with incense and music.  The Celtic sounds of Galicean music reverberate hauntingly against the church stone walls.  I am completely overwhelmed and almost shocked by the Templarian display of male power:  not a single woman in this procession.  I am thrown back to the Middle Ages:  the opulence of the clergy clothes, embroidered in gold is breath taking.  But this is only the beginning.  The real spectacle is the swinging of the giant incense burner, the botafumeiro, used in only a handful of occasions during the calendar year, because its usage requires 6 men to perform it, the tiraboleiros. 6 tiraboleiros pulling the incense burner: see the smoke it makes?

It swings dangerously, or so it seems, from one end of the church nef to the other, reaching almost to the ceiling, spreading incense smoke over us all.  In the middle Ages, incense was used to fumigate sweaty and smelly pilgrims in ancient times when they arrived in Santiago, but today it provides a compelling spectacle to tourigrims (tourist-pilgrims).

attending to the incense burner

I have not attended a mass in Latin since my childhood:  this sends me back to that time in my life as well.  The Cathedral is full beyond seating capacity (1,000 pilgrims).  Many pilgrims, Kashia, Gerard, Jean-Pierre and Jacqueline, Jules and others have planned their Camino in order to be in Santiago on this day.  I just lucked out because of my garden harvesting.

After mass, on the plaza in front of the Cathedral, I meet several of my Camino friends.  We embrace, take pictures, organize to meet for dinner, breakfast.  I meet Jacques, a Montrealer, who had heard about me for a while through my reputation as the TGV Bombardier (TGV means train grande vitesse:  it is the very fast train that goes up to 400 km/hour between some French cities, and of course, the Bombardier was to acknowledge my Canadian origins).  That’s my claim to fame!

In Santiago at the meat market: fabulous chorizos!

I spend the rest of my time in Santiago ambling about the old town, meeting friends, going for coffee, sharing memories, eating with Camino friends.  AS enjoyable as this is, I cannot fail to notice that new, unknown pilgrims continue to pour into Santiago, displacing those of us who have been here for a few days…the Camino must come to an end.  I am leaving tomorrow morning at 6:30….but there are 6 other pilgrims on the same flight to Barcelone…the Camino ends in drips.

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Santiago: here I am!

October 31 2011 to Santiago de Compostella

I wake up with some excitement:  this is it.  Today, I will reach my destination.  This is what I have had in mind, albeit in a foggy way, for the last 4 years, and what I have walked for the last 30 days.  I can almost smell the incense burner from the cathedral and hear the bells ringing in my state of joy!

Santiago signage

The walk  is very easy and rain free until entering Santiago.  Not only is the rain awaiting me, but also a French man dressed as a woman pilgrim with make-up, ostrich feathers and all.  He kindly directs me towards the town center, not that it was necessary:  Santiago’s main industry is pilgrim tourism.  Yet, here you can sense a pilgrim tourism fatigue in town folks.  I don’t get the warm fuzzy feeling I had in Logroño, Burgos and even Leon where, when you are pilgrim clearly looking for assistance (mostly directions to your destination), people spontaneously come to your rescue.  Here, it is:  “fend for yourself pilgrim!”

If I have walked over 800 km (I have added some km because of the times I got lost and went the wrong way), others have walked much longer trek:  Gerard left from his home near Geneva.  So have Christophe and Ursula.  Dominic left his home in Brussels in early August, Richard and Martin left their respective homes near Arles over 2 months and 1500 km away, Marco left Amsterdam 5 months ago, Jules left Luxembourg nearly 3 months ago.   Most pilgrims have lost significant weight on the Camino:  Jules reckons he has lost 12 kilos:  in fact looks so thin in comparison with the first time I saw him, I worry that he is sick.

Approaching Santiago, I climb up Monte Gozo, which meand Mount Joy in ancient Galicean.  Joy because this is the first place from which pilgrims can see, weather permitting, the cathedral towers in the distance.  Today, a monument commemorating Pope John Paul II’s visit, stands as a must-stop-for-pictures place.  Joy floats in the air, as pilgrims exchange cameras and take each other’s photo.

monument commemorating John Paul II's visit at Monte Gozo

I see here some of the pilgrims I have seen all along, particularly Marie France whom I saw on the first day I walk.  She talks again about bedbugs.  On the Camino, she is nicknamed lady bedbugs….meanness is also found on the Camino.

Arriving in the old town, walking to wards the Cathedral, I am approach by Consuelo who rents the flat above her apartment.  This is the first of a few locals who approach me as I walk around:  clearly people need this additional money to make ends meet here.  In the end, I will return to Consuelo’s, and this will prove to be a very good decision:  it feels like being “at home” rather than in an albergue.  I have my best sleeps here, alone, after a hot bath….bliss!

my room in Consuelo's apartment, under the roof....

But my first order of actions is to get my Compostella:  the official proof that I have completed the pilgrimage.  I must find the pilgrim’s office,  something easily done.  There again, I see Johan, probably for the last time, as he is setting for Finisterra right after pilgrim mass at noon.  I have known Johan for weeks now, and know his story, his struggles.  I have grown to like this young courageous young man.  I wish him well in a final embrace as we set on our separate journey.  Mine ends in Santiago.  I had contemplated continuing on to Finisterra, but these blisters and the predicted nasty weather make it unappealing.  I am ready for some rest.

 

Luc from toulouse and Laura from Valencia...pilgrim friends

The scene on the cathedral plaza is moving:  while I feel a sense of relief for having completed this journey, I see some pilgrims overwhelmed.  I am feeling more at peace than anything else:  this was my goal.  I am relieved, thankful really, that I have been able to make it.  When asked along the way if I was going to Santiago, my careful response was always:  “that’s my plan.”  I never took it for granted that I would indeed make it.  It is too preposterous, if not arrogant, to discount with the brush of the hand what can go wrong on this journey.  Lots of pilgrims start the journey, less than 50% complete it.  Determination and will power contribute to one’s success, as does solid preparation, but other uncontrollable factors also play a determinant role.  As Jesus, one hospitalero told me:  the Camino gives you what you need, what you ask for.  Some are not ready for completion it seems.

here ends the Camino, in front of the Cathedral. Here I am.

So here I am.  Tomorrow, I will attend pilgrims’ mass.  More to tell.

 

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Blisters sympathy

October 30 2011:  Ribadiso de Baixo To Lavalcolla (33 km):

The municipal albergue in Ribadiso is located in a beautifully renovated old pilgrims hospital:  its old stones contrasting with the blue painting of window frames and doors.  Necessities are spread out in several buildings:  dormitories are separated from showers and toilets by a walk of about 30 meters on stone pavement.  The settings are truly beautiful…but on this late October 29, it also promises to be a cold walk, if not wet, through the night to go to the bathroom…I am not enamoured of that.

I have been walking with friends who carry only what they refer to as a “meat bag”.  It is essentially a silk sleeping bag that one uses as sheets under blankets.  A very clever thing to have on this Camino as it weights nothing in comparison with my 1 kilo duvet, and it takes no space at all in a back pack.  However, if the albergue doesn’t have blankets, you are in trouble.  Ana, the unsmiling hospitalera, is adamant that this albergue doesn’t have blankets because it is not hygienic to pass blankets from one pilgrim to the next.  She is deft to the argument that it is not any more hygienic to freeze through the night.  Well, maybe it is hygienic, but certainly not healthy or comfortable.  So, after a drink at the bar, and the inevitable conclusion that the coming was going to be a very cold one in an unheated albergue (predicted temperature is for 8 degree Celsius), we decide to go on exploring for a warmer alternative.  These little necessities of daily life consume your time on the Camino.  Friends help friends with it.  I continue to be a translator…to my great pleasure.

The hospitalera at the private albergue is only too happy to come to our help.  She will not rent us blankets, but she is offering us a deal, showing a sense of marketing rarely seen in Spain, by offering to stay at the reduced rate of 5 euros, instead of the regular 8 euros:  the albergue is brand new, heated, and the blankets warm and inviting.  Deal!  I ended up using blankets too, in spite of my sleeping bag and the heated room.  We were four happy pilgrims there.  I think the competitive spirit between albergues is expanding with the declining number of pilgrims.

morning fog

We had planned to have breakfast at the café next door where the opening hour is supposed to be 7:15 AM, but at 8:15 they are still closed so we move on.

eucalyptus forest

My feet are hurting from the inside from the cumulative effect of walking with a heavy pack.  To give them a rest, I decide to wear my running shoes, as they are softer, more expandable, and lighter to wear.  Fatal mistake.  While I have been free of blisters from the start, I develop two nasty ones on this day, because these shoes are rubbing where my boots were not.

Today, aside from blisters appearing at the end of the day, it is a very easy walk:  We set out in the morning fog,  that feels so fresh on our skin.  We walk through eucalyptus groves with such a delicious aroma.  The terrain is mostly flat, under tree cover for long stretches, passing little villages along the way.  It is almost happening in a state of bliss…if it weren’t for blisters.  I just had to get them to feel some sympathy for other pilgrims that have endured them all along.

We decide to push to Lavacolla, some 10 km beyond our original destination because weather predictions for the 31 are rather nasty:  better to walk longer in the sun and have a shorter day in the rain.  Lavacolla is the last official stop before Santiago.  AS its name suggests, it is where pilgrims would get washed (probably rid of bed bugs and other unappealing guests) before moving to the cathedral.  Although we have no bed bugs to leave behind, we make sure to wash all our clothes the night before.

 

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Customer Service…what’s that?

Example of typical customer service Galicean style:  I arrive at Palaz de Rei, and surprisingly (and unexpectedly) there is a customer service booth at the city entrance…what a difference I think.  I ask about the albergue where I planned on staying:  the girl takes a city plan, draws the route and circles where I am going.  I am impressed.  I make my way there, after a day of some 28 km, get to the albergue…and it is closed until the next season.  Now, how difficult is this for her to know this in a city where there are 3 albergues?  One of the other ones is next to the booth and it is closed.  The last one, and it is open, is described as sloppy.  I am a tad frustrated.  I hit the Pension across the street from the albergue.  For 20 euros, I have a private room with a bath!  Mind you the bath is one metre long, and meant to be sit in, nevertheless, I take my first bath in a month.  A luxury…except for the absence of heating in the room…something which I specifically asked for.  I get heat from 8:00 PM until 10:00 PM.  It is chilly in the morning.

door of an abandoned house en route towards Ribadiso

Example:  the washing machine hate our 4.2 euros.  The hospiatalera tells me:  tough !  Put more money in.  The fact that there is no explanation on how to use it is none of her problem….You should have asked , she tells me.  Right.  Being served rudely, without a smile by someone who doesn’t speak anything but Spanish, if not Galicean, is standard.  This is Spain.  We speak Spanish here.  tough is you are a tourist and don’t speak fluently.  We won’t make the effort.  Incredible for me from my Canadian perspective.

portal of church in Leboreiro

Nevertheless, today was a good day of walking:  sunny, not too many ups and downs.  A real gift this afternoon:  the food here is so bland and heavy and starchy:  I hit upon a fruit stand on the trail:  I bought an apple, raspberries, mandarins…what a delight!  I can’t wait to eat my own food again.

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Cow Manure and other pleasant things in life

Hamlets succeed each other without much to tell them apart:  all buildings in dire need of repair, mud, the pervasive smell of cow manure speak of economic difficulties.  Where before pilgrims were looked at kindly, here, at times, it feels like animosity:  we are lucky enough (or wealthy enough?) to be able to take time to walk this Camino, while here folks struggle to survive.  Many hamlets don’t have a bar or a church:  I had not seen this before.  This is a difficult day for me.  The rain and mud are relentless, everything is wet.

Pilgrim Sculpture in Portomarin

When I get to Portomarin, the first albergue is again closed, so I end up in a private one, very clean but without hot water to shower.  Boy, after a day of walking int eh rain, the value of a hot shower is not to be underestimated.  But, of course, when I find out, it is too late to do anything about it.  I have now learned that I must always ask:  1st:  is it heated here?  then:  is there hot water?  finally:  can I dry my clothes?

Portomarin was entirely submerged in 1962 when the river was damed.  So aside from the church, all buildings are relatively new, and not very interesting.

view of Portomarin from my albergue

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