Monday, June 30, 2008

Old Age and Other Afflictions

I've just had a humbling reminder that I'm not 19 anymore.

Carrie, Annie and I rolled out of bed at 5:23am this morning. It was a long, long night. To start, Irun is celebrating their saint days this week and Saturday through Tuesday were guaranteed to be a non-stop party. As we arrived into Irun last night, we kept hearing cannon fire (or ETA blowing up a pipe bomb - we weren't exactly sure) coming from downtown. As we got closer, we saw hundreds of Basque men dressed in traditional Basque clothing: white shirts and pants, and a red tie and beret. And then we saw the cannon. Because we're tourists and have to document EVERYTHING, we had to take pictures. And then the cannon went off again. I screamed, Carrie jumped, and Annie just cracked up laughing, as did all of the Spaniards standing around us. I had to get out of there before they shot off the cannon again, so we continued down the street. We found the pilgrims' albergue, met the adorable hospitalera who runs the albergue, and after dropping off our stuff, went in search of dinner. We planned on an early dinner that would leave us enough time to get back to the albergue, shower, and be in bed asleep at a reasonable enough hour that wouldn't make 5:30 hurt TOO badly.


We got the dinner part taken care of, and even had time for some gelato. We even got the showers out of the way by a reasonable hour, despite a second helping of dessert (cake... yum) forced upon us by the absolutely precious hospitalera who wouldn't hear of us walking out of the dining room without a good sized chunk, and conversation with the Parisian staying with us for the night who had already walked 500km from Paris to Irun, and has 530km ahead of her to Santiago. She's our new hero.

We forgot to factor in the soccer game.

Annie lives in Germany and had an interest in the outcome of the Eurocup, as did Carrie and I, but we knew there was no way we'd be able to hang out in a bar and catch the entire game and still be able to function at 5:30 this morning. We were responsible and decided to skip it.

Our Spanish friends would have none of it.

We could handle the shouts of "GOOOOOOAL!" eminating from the bars along the block. It was sort of cute. We could almost deal with the people running up and down the streets occasionally shouting "Arriba España!" immediately after the game. We were happy for them. At 2am, all hell broke loose. We were suddenly displeased. Carrie and Annie heard the people screaming in the streets, the bottles breaking, and the general chaos that came with drunk Spaniards in Irun who had just beat Germany in the Eurocup and didn't have to go to work Monday morning because of the holiday. All I heard were the motorcycles. Every last motorcycle in Irun sped up and down the street in front of our albergue revving their engines, peeling out, and honking their horns. I've had some boyfriends who snore loud enough to wake the dead, but NEVER in my life have I ever wanted a pair of earplugs as badly as I did last night.

But we survived. After a total of about 3 hours of sleep, we woke up when we said we would, dragged ourselves together enough to enjoy the breakfast spread provided by our sleepy eyed hospitalera, who got out of bed at an ungodly hour just to feed us before we started on our hike. We were walking by 6:15am, and immediately noticed that a large part of this trip is going to revolve around our ability to find yellow arrows. We were pretty successful today. We walked out of Irun, over a river, through the woods, and then up the mountain. And higher up the mountain. And then the mountain just wouldn't stop. And boy, was that mountain steep. And then we had to come back down the mountain. That sounds easy, doesn't it? Not when it's STRAIGHT down. And then my last Camino experience came flooding back to me. The sore feet, the bruise/friction burns on my hips from the waistbelt of my backpack, the sunburns, the screaming knees. Holy cow. I forgot about the screaming knees.

But my God. If you could have seen what the Atlantic Ocean looks like from the top of that mountain that we were on today, you'd quit your job and walk until your feet fell off just to get to us. I've never seen anything more incredible in my life. Carrie and Annie hurt just about as badly as I do (though SuperAnnie a little less... I feel like her marathoning is coming in handy here), but tomorrow is going to be just as gorgeous, and we can't wait. I may not be 19 anymore, but if my 80 year old knees can get this 26 year old body to Santiago, I'm going to have some bad ass pictures when I get home.

So don't worry about us. We're alive and in San Sebastian at an albergue enjoying the sun and the sound of the beach down the street. A little sore, but nothing that a good dinner and shower (and let me assure you, we're in desperate, desperate need of the latter) can't fix. Miss you guys!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm Gonna Walk 500 Miles...

Well, today we're off! Carrie, Annie and I have our backpacks packed, our hiking boots broken in and our trail mix mixed and ready to rock. It's 8:30 am our time, and we're leaving on a train for the Spanish/French border in an hour and a half. It's sort of amazing that, after all of this planning, we're finally starting our trip. Tonight we'll be sleeping at the pilgrim's refuge in Irun, and in the morning we'll start the 23 km walk to San Sebastian. Stay tuned...

Friday, June 27, 2008

My day got exponentially better yesterday after my brief encounter with the thief. Once I calmed down a little, I left my things at the hostel where I stayed and explored the city a little. I'm staying near Opera, which as the name suggests, houses the National Opera house. It's also quite close to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and Sol, an area of Madrid known for its nightlife. I had gazpacho for lunch. I briefly considered taking a picture of my lunch for my friends at Endless Simmer, but after the day I'd already had, I decided I didn't need to do anything else that screamed tourist, at least not until Carrie and Annie get here. Sorry, ES.

My roommates at the hostel were delightful. I met two girls from Scotland who have been travelling around South America for the last 6 months, have just returned from Havana and are stopping in Spain briefly before heading home Sunday. Staying with us was a girl from London who also got a wild hair like me and quit her job to hang out in Spain for awhile. About half an hour later, a middle aged dad from Florida and his daughter who has been studying in France joined us. They were really pleasant people and reminded me why I like staying in hostels so much.

The best part of my day was getting to watch Spain play Russia in the Euro Cup on a "big screen" at a bar down the street. The screen was about 27". It was sort of funny. The game was amazing, though, and it was even better to get to watch it with Spaniards who clearly had a vested interest in the outcome.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I need a nap.

After the BEST going away happy hour I could have ever asked for (thanks again guys, that totally rocked:), a night of subpar sleep, a 12 hour layover in Newark, and the 7 hour red eye flight to Madrid, I think I may have finally kicked my insomnia problem that has been plaguing me for the last two weeks. I have been here for 3 hours. While there is clearly some exploring to be done, here are my initial impressions:

The mullet is alive and well in Europe.

So is the skinny pant. On everyone. Even small Spanish boys.

I forgot how incredibly gorgeous small Spanish side streets are. I went straight from the airport down into the metro, and didn't come out again until I got to the stop for the hostel where I'm staying. When I came up to the street level and rounded the corner from the plaza into the actual neighborhood, I was totally floored. The streets are so small, and the courtyards hidden behind wrought iron fences are so beautiful.

Street urchins still live here, and they still want to take my stuff. The second thing I did after clearing security was hit up an ATM for crispy new euros. Then I got on the metro. I'm sort of a walking target. I recognize that. My backpack does in fact scream "Please stick your hand in my bag and take my wallet." Which someone chose to do. Fortuantely, a girl tapped me on the arm right after it happened and pointed at the shameless heathen holding my brand new Fossil wristlet. I got a little mad and attempted to chase after him, which I soon realized was going to be difficult if I planned to take my backpack and duffel bag with me. I must have looked like quite the sight, especially since I was screaming every expletive I could think of in both English and Spanish. Fortunately, he dropped my wallet and kept running. He only had time to take my cash, so I still have my bank card and ID and everything else. Here's to me paying more attention to who is standing behind me.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Channelling the Hulk

I think my subconscious knows I've run out of time. It's trying to compensate by rousing me out of a dead sleep at 4:18am. And now I'm wide awake. This is the 4th morning in a row that this has happened. Normally I'd just turn on the TV to drown out the noise of my inner subcommittee and lie in bed hoping to get another 45 minutes of sleep, but I'm crashing with my friend KC, her summer roommate, and their visiting friend for one more night. Friend is clearly not suffering from my insomnia on the futon, so I don't think Saved By the Bell reruns are a viable option right now.

I spent the better part of yesterday running around town assembling the last bits and pieces of gear I need for my trip. I am proud to announce that I'm only short one pair of underwear and one shirt. I plan to rectify this situation on Wednesday during my 13 hour layover in New York, provided I can walk upright after Tuesday night's goodbye festivities with my friends. This could get entertaining.

Packing for this trip has been sort of an interesting exercise in rational thought. I'm an okay packer, and since I've done this before I assumed it would be just as easy to do it again. Last night, as I laid out my packing list and the items on it, I felt like something was missing. The small pile of camping and hiking accessories in front of me couldn't POSSIBLY be all I'd need for a month long trip. No way. I've taken more things over to a friend's house for a dinner and TV date. I checked and rechecked the list, went over my daily routine in my mind, and marked off each necessary item... all of which I had in front of me. A little confused and frustrated, I started organizing everything into my brand new hiking backpack in an attempt to decide on the best packing system for all of my odds and ends.

And then I picked up my packed bag.

Yeah, I have everything. I haven't weighed it on a scale yet (though I plan to Wednesday morning before I leave for the airport), but my guess is that bag weighs about 30 pounds, not including the 3 liters of water I'm going to be toting around in my Camelbak every day. I'm going to be carrying the equivalent of a kindergartner on my back across Spain. Time clearly fades memories, because I didn't remember how heavy my bag had been the first time around. I feel like I maybe should have lifted weights more this month.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wait... what are you doing?

That's the question I usually get from people when I tell them I'm walking across Spain for a month. They usually think I'm kidding, because who on earth walks across a country on their vacation? Well, I do.

The Camino de Santiago is one of the oldest Christian pilgrimages in the world, dating back over a thousand years. Prior to its existence as a Christian pilgrimage, the route is believed to have had significance as a fertility ritual for the pagans of the Iberian Peninsula. Since I'm not looking for any help in that department this week, I'll stick with the medieval idea that it is one of the three pilgrimages on which a plenary indulgence, or reprieve from half of your originally scheduled time in Purgatory, can be earned. The pilgrimage ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle James are said to have been buried after he was beheaded in Jerusalem.

There are several different ways to get to Santiago. The traditional Camino Frances, which I did in college, begins at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France (we started in Pamplona) and crosses over the Pyranees through the northern plains of Spain to Santiago. That part of the Camino has becoming increasingly popular since I walked it in 2001, to the point that it now sort of resembles a human highway from May-August. In the interest of being original, we've decided to walk the Camino del Norte, an 825 km stroll that begins in Irún, a coastal town on the Spanish side of the French/Spanish border. During Muslim rule in Spain (711-1492), the Camino del Norte was the only safe way to Santiago, and is believed to be the oldest of the Camino de Santiago routes.

Inevitably, the next question I get after explaining the "What?" aspect is "Why?" Why in the world do I want to spend my last free summer before law school walking across a country with nothing more than my backpack, boots, and a couple of changes of clothes? Because it's an awesome experience. I walked the Camino the first time because two guys in my study abroad program decided to do it, one of whom said I'd never be able to finish the whole thing because I wasn't tough enough. Right. What he didn't realize is that I am the youngest daughter of a Marine who made up for his inability to have sons by teaching his girls how to keep up with the boys. I was PLENTY tough enough. And it took a little toughness. There's nothing like walking the equivalent of a marathon 3 days in a row with a 25 pound pack on your back. As grueling as some of the longer days of the Camino could be, there was something so calming about waking up in the morning and having nothing else to do all day but walk. I believe in God and go to church every once in awhile, but I describe myself as more spiritual than religious. For me, the Camino is more about finding a little inner peace than practicing an exercise of penance, though I suppose I could also come up with a good list of things I could atone for in a month. It is my reset button - an opportunity for me to find a mental center again before I run myself through the 1L gauntlet.

Not to mention I'm going to have some rockin' calf muscles by the end of July.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Inner 4 Year Old

By this point in my life, one would think I'd be able to manage my impulsive tendancies. Apparently not. 5 days away from unemployment with plenty of boxes to deal with in my small, small office, and all I can think of is how I'm going to spend my first 36 hours in Madrid. I think my kindergarten teacher was right - I don't have any self control.

Screw self control. After 3 years in a city that has a walking pace that is far faster than most in the US, it's time for a change and I'm going to enjoy my excitement. I've had a wonderful time living in DC, and as difficult as it is for me to leave my friends, the stability of my job, and my comfort zone, I'm in for an incredible ride. I start law school in the fall, and before I set myself aside for 36 months of non stop mental assault, I deserve one last big blowout.

My family's nickname for me is the Gyspy. It all started my sophomore year of college when I got a scholarship to a study abroad program in Seville, Spain. I was 19, completely fearless, and had a little more money in my bank account than any college student had any business managing. I had the time of my life. I saw Amsterdam, Tangiers and everything in between. I learned the fastest and cheapest ways to see 2 countries and 10 castles in one weekend. My parents were never quite sure what country I'd be in (or continent I'd be on) when I called. I fell in love with food and a boy in Barcelona, and I walked across a country in under a month with 3 changes of clothes, a journal and a camera. That's the year I became addicted to travelling. My passport has gotten a little exercise since then, but I haven't really gone on any audacious jaunts like I did that year. In the last 5 years, I have lived some pretty random places, moved for some pretty random reasons, and had some unbelieveable stories to tell. I think it's time for another fearless run around the world.

I miss being 19, but 26 isn't half bad. I've learned a little since college, and I'm excited to see if I'm still as good at being a vagabond as I was then. Here's to finding out. This time next week I'll be in Madrid, and 12 days from now I'll be soaking my feet after my first day of a month long pilgrimage across the northern coast of Spain with one of my favorite girlfriends and my cousin. I'm flying to Tunisia on my dad's birthday to spend two weeks exploring the ruins of Carthage and sitting on the beach. I hope I can find chocolate cake in Cap Bon.