Friday, July 11, 2014

Pilgrim's Progress # 7: For (preferably non-Spanish speaking) Women Only!

Hello ladies.  Can I talk to about something that happened to me while traveling in a foreign country recently?

Ok.  Thanks.

With all the hype regarding tampon commercials on Facebook these days, (If you haven’t seen them, watch this oneYou will laugh out loud), I thought I could safely put this out there (and be pretty sure that the guys would have stopped reading by now).

Imagine that you are hiking in Spain and your ‘monthly visitor’ arrives a bit early.  This is not an emergency as you do have a few days' supply of feminine products in your pack.  But as those items run out, you find yourself needing to do a little shopping at the dollar-store-like tienda across the street from your pension.  And because you don’t know the language, you go to the section with items that are obviously for this purpose and quickly pick out a cushy pink package that seems to have some type of absorbency scale on the side.  And after you carry this package (luckily, it was in a bag—which I had to buy—I think—or maybe they just provided it because they were embarrassed for me—I couldn’t really understand the question asked.  I just answered “si” and they stuck it in a sack) back to the room you are sharing with the REST OF YOUR FAMILY, you nonchalantly pull out one cutely wrapped tri-folded item and find it to be especially large; in fact, not only are these things literally MAXI pads, they are shaped like little boats—think ‘small canoe’. Nothing was getting through those babies. 

Got that image in your head? Let me tell you, girlfriend, the whole experience was like wearing diapers all over again…with the crinkle, crinkle sound thrown in just to make it fun.

Only later, as one of my Spanish speaking daughters (who may or may not have needed to steal some of my mucho maxis) commented that I had not actually purchased feminine pads. My self-stick wearable schooners were, in reality, bladder control pads (you must understand, pad in Spanish is compresa and I assumed all compresas were for the big M—my bad—or my pad—whichever you like better). I was, however, grateful that I was successful in identifying and purchasing my other necessary items, as tampon in Spanish means inkpad (according to one disputable internet site. Hey, it's probably totally wrong, but let's go with it because it's funny). Talk about making it obvious that it’s your time of the month.

So there you go. More than you wanted to know about the flow of events that cycled through our time on the Spanish Camino—did you see what I did there?

Moral of the story:  When Aunt Flo visits you in Spain and you have to buy items to appease her, steer clear of the compresas and go straight for the inkpads.

And that’s the end.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Pilgrim's Progress #6: Our Camino in a (very large) Nutshell!

Hey Y’all!  We’re back and it was AWESOME.  Super awesome…which I guess is a word only Americans use since people identified us as such when we spoke it.  Anyway, how does one capture such an incredible trip in one blog post?  Umm, I’m not really sure, but I’ll give it the old college try.

I had hoped to update you more frequently when we were actually on the Camino but found proper Internet connections lacking.  The one time I did find a reliable and available computer, I deposited my Euros in the coin slot in exchange for 20 minutes of it's time and spent 18 ½ of those minutes trying to translate blogger into English (not an easy task) since I can’t actually speak Spanish.  I also found it rather tedious to type on my phone’s tiny little keyboard and felt rather conspicuous speaking into Google voice to record a blog.  The one time I did record my blog via voice, I was on the steps of our Albergue while an elderly French couple simultaneously smoked cigarettes and hung out their freshly washed underwear on the outdoor clothesline (and probably discussed my strange behavior in a foreign tongue).  So here’s a little really long snapshot of our recent European Adventure:

After our first five days in Rome, where Brent and I celebrated our 25th anniversary and where I learned to drink cappuccino (I have never before drunk coffee and now I feel like a real grown-up!) and eat pistachio pastries, we headed to Madrid, Spain.

This could transform my life!

From Madrid, we took a train and then a taxi (think “worst carnival ride of my life” to envision the latter) to St. Jean Pied de Port, France (I know, confusing) so we could begin our Camino pilgrimage at the traditional starting point. After stopping at the Pilgrim’s Office and getting our very first sello, or stamp, on our Pilgrim’s Credencial , we each picked a scallop shell from the box (the traditional sign of the Camino Pilgrim) at the sign-in table and followed the directions given us to find our very first Albergue.  After finding our lodging and eating our first “Pilgrim’s Meal”(which always included  wine, naturally), we went shopping at the little village shops for the next day’s breakfast which we would eat early in the morning in the Albergue’s communal kitchen.  

My completed Credencial del Peregrino showing stamps from all the albergues

The path on the first day started immediately climbing through the Pyrenees Mountains, and we passed hundreds of wooly mountain goats, bleating sheep, and big horses roaming in the adjoining countryside.  Most of this livestock wore large cowbells that dangled under their chins and made a lazy lolling sound as they walked.  It was like being in a really long hot race with animals cheering you on.

Shay, the horse whisperer, entices the animals to come toward her

The trail was very easy to follow because of frequent yellow arrows painted on the roads and trees and markers that looked like this:

After leaving at 6:30 am that first day, we stopped to rest after about two hours and ordered Café con Leche (coffee with milk) and chocolate pastries at a little bar (coffee shop) along the way (this became our very anticipated pattern everyday thereafter). We then put our packs on again and trekked until lunchtime where we munched on bread, cheese, and fruit (this too became our habit).  After lunch, we hiked a couple more hours and finally reached Roncesvalles, Spain, our stopping point for the day.  In Roncesvalles (which we called Rocky Village because we couldn’t pronounce it correctly), we stayed in the public Albergue and got our first taste of the scantily clad French men which would characterize the clientele in many of our future abodes.

Days 2-20 are really just some version of Day 1, so I will just give you a general overview of our very simple and predictable days:

5:30 am—get up, pack up belongings, eat a meager breakfast of bread and fruit and maybe Nutella if you are lucky, brush your teeth if you are Mom and Dad (I’m pretty sure the kids skipped this).

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways
6:00 am—on the trail.  Most pilgrims were up and at 'em by this time so they could be done by early afternoon and beat the heat.

We got to see the Spanish moon on many mornings

8:30 am—walk through a tiny little sleepy village and find the only bar that is open at this early (for Spain) hour.  Order cinco Café con Leche, dos or tres chocolate croissants, and dos Spanish tortillas (a kind of quiche type item with eggs and potatoes—often served cold)

We often walked through livestock

and through vineyards

One of our many morning coffee stops

9:00 am—begin walking again, pass through rural Spanish villages every two hours or so.  All the villages had a church of some kind and a public fountain where we could fill our water bottles.  This meant a fresh water supply was readily available most of the time.

Crossing over a medieval bridge
See our scallop shells?
We passed through the large city of Pamplona where Shay became a fierce bullfighter

11:30 am—walk through Spanish village and find a supermercado in which we could buy simple provisions for lunch.  Often we would have to go to the fruta store to buy fruits and vegetables, the panderia to buy bread, and another shop to buy queso, yogur, and chorizo.  We found that fruits, vegetables, bread and cheese were cheap, while meat was expensive, so we ate many cheese and vegetable sandwiches on our lunch stops in parks or along rivers.  We also fell in love with Prince cookies and orange Aquarious, neither of which you can buy in America.

Notice Brent's handy bread carrying pocket
forest lunch (not Forest Gump) stop

1:00-2:00 pm—arrive at destination for the day.  We usually walked somewhere between 22-38 km (14-22 miles) each day.  This took us between 5-9 hours daily with frequent stops for resting, refueling, or for Shay and Cole, playing on anything that looked remotely like a teeter-totter.  For the first several days, my feet ached and I felt each footfall. But, by day 6 or 7, I seem to have gotten over the hump and was neither achy nor in pain, (#winning), although I did spend a decent amount of time in the afternoons sitting against the wall with my legs at a 90 degree angle to drain the swelling which had accumulated there.


3:00-5:00 pm—shower (I got a hot shower all but one time!), snack, NAP!

sisters sharing a pre-nap snack
5:00-7:00 pm—read, play cards, visit nearby bar and drink sidra or Estrella con Limon and plan the next day’s journey.

...or a little wine
Even Shay got into the action.  She's legal in Spain :)

7:00 pm—find local café serving the Menu Peregrino and eat, or cook supper of pasta, vegetables and cheese with doubtfully clean dishes found in the Albergue’s communal kitchen.

Our very first Pilgrim's Meal
Our first Albergue cooking experience

8:00 pm—play cards or read and try desperately to stay awake until at least 8:30.
...or lounge on your rubber sheets and play games on your phone

8:30 pm—lay on your assigned bunk and hope you don’t have three nearly-naked old French guys on the beds surrounding you.  Make sure to put your earplugs in to block out the massive amount of snoring that will occur—especially from that one pilgrim in your own group ( I won’t say whom, but he might look something like the character below).

Brent models Shay's Buff headband

Next Day: REPEAT

(Although we started at the beginning of the Camino and ended at the official stopping point, we didn’t have time to actually complete the entire pilgrimage, which is around 500 miles.  We did, however, complete approximately 260 miles of it.  Yea us!  We took a train for a portion of the middle section but hiked the last 62 miles so we could end up in Santiago, receive our compostela, and have our sins absolved.  And for all of you just getting in on the conversation, we are well aware that this absolution is not possible but have been long entertained by the absurdity of the idea.)

There you have it, a very long synopsis of our daily routine as we hiked the Camino.  We had exceptionally beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery, and perfect health.  And apparently Cole didn’t eat nearly enough to fuel his fiery furnace as he lost more than a dozen pounds on the journey and returned looking more emaciated than usual.  We also learned much about Spanish culture and each family member's personal idiosyncrasies in our extended time together.  But those posts are for another day after I recover from jet lag and actually do some real work. 

Bet you can’t wait! 

Buen Camino!