Prune Without Fear

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I’ve just completed 6 weeks of postoperative recovery after  Anterior L5 S1 Spinal Fusion procedure.  I feel much better although I am still quick to tire and often experience left leg pain, numbness and tingling as a result.  You might ask how is this different than your symptoms before the surgery?  Well, primarily, the symptoms come after prolonged sitting or laying in my bed. So mornings are difficult at first.  Mostly though I feel bad when I’ve been active for an extended period of time.  Which then begs the question how do you handle not sitting, not laying around too long and not standing/walking too long??

And therein lays the rub.

My days are now such that I spend most of my time trying to figure out how long I can handle any one activity, and whether or not I can sneak in normal things in between.  I grocery shop every other day, cook in spurts, wash in spurts, visit with our grandchild in spurts, and in general plan activity in a rotation of sitting (driving), upright and laying down as much as I can.

However, I find myself erring to the point of exhaustion when it comes to walking outside. I am pulled to the levee as if by some force I simply cannot control. I love walking along the river watching it change not only through the seasons but on a daily basis as well.  Now that its winter, the leaf load is non-existent and I can see what seems to be forever.  On a post-rain day, I can stare at Mt. Diablo and the hills between us in Sacramento,  and the bay area.

Today was one of those days.  I slowly climbed the sloped driveway to the top of the levee to find a high water level, chocolate colored, debris-filled river flowing swiftly but calmly to the south. Without foliage to block my sight, I can see the places where people again have begun dumping trash on the embankments of the Yolo County side and I shake my head in disappointment.

On my side, I spot a flock of doves perched in their favorite tree.  Having lost their blind to winter winds and rain, they are revealed as plump gray bulges on various limbs and branches. Hummingbirds flit along the bank and come to rest on tiny tips of branches as they chirp menacingly at the dog.

I realize that there are many fallen branches and mistletoe is exposed in giant clumps to reveal where each tree is being attacked by the parasitic plant. A quick review of the trees reminds me that winter allows us to see what we in more cheerful, warmer times are too busy to notice or the ‘fluff’ of life obscures it from our view.  Winter makes us aware of all the trimming, mending, culling and pruning that needs to be done so that we can take fully take advantage of Spring’s unstoppable wave of new energy and rebirth.

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My dad and mom taught me to prune plants. Their best and most important lesson?

Prune without fear.

Prune without fear and you will be rewarded with new growth.  Prune carefully but know that if your touch does not bode well with your charge, that perhaps it’s not meant to be. Don’t be so delicate with you pruning that you do the plant a disservice and it doesn’t achieve its full potential anyway.

Winter reminds us to look carefully at our pared-down lives and decide where to prune, trim, cull, or mend.  Winter reveals the real, lasting beauty underneath the cover of green leaves and blossoms; the strong branches that support, the animals that inhabit, the shape of years of bending and twisting in the wind.

My personal winter has lasted almost 18 months so far.  But I can feel the Spring coming soon. I’m mending, trimming, removing, and pruning my life’s components to give me room to grow. My fear seems to have dissipated completely.  In its place, an urgent desire to move on.

I’m drawn to the levee despite the fact that I will end up exhausted and sore. In return, I get peace of mind, stronger legs and the joy of thinking. And deciding where in my life I need to prune.

Siempre Adelante!

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Co – Madres

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When my daughter told me that she wanted to enroll my grandson in a home daycare in a town twenty minutes across a bridge and a river from us I was hesitant, to say the least.  She was convinced that the person who runs the daycare was the perfect match for her and Avi’s needs because it was a smaller daycare and he could continue learning to speak in Spanish. When he started daycare he was greeted by a group of children who had been there prior to him and were well settled in. As most children do, he cried initially and drop-offs were no fun for a while.  He slowly adjusted.

Over time we have come to love not only the daycare provider and the children who attend there but also the family that resides in the home. They are a goofy bunch. Avi refers to Miss Claudia as Tia (auntie) and loves her as much as he loves anyone in his world.  He has broken bread with the dog, who being of great intelligence has mastered the art of stealing food from toddlers. He has learned to eat mangos, pineapple, tacos, elotes, sopita and all of the other traditional Mexican foods she serves him.  He boasts that he loves to eat and insists on big bites.

One of the things that our family values most is easy laughter. We laugh at all manner of things. We laugh at each other and we laugh at circumstances that to many, are silly and perhaps even not that funny. We hit the jackpot with Miss Claudia. It is impossible to walk into her house and not laugh at some point.  The circumstances of having toddlers at your feet like puppies, with a dog on the back of the sofa like “Vulture Snoopy” watching their every move, while she finds joy in everything they do and hilarity in even the not so fun stuff makes it a welcoming environment for everyone. Kids are loved in that home, whether they are her own three lovely kids or family that drops by or the charges entrusted to her daily.

Today my daughter shared a picture of Avi leaving the house on his last day as a full-time attendee.  I felt a knot in my throat. He starts preschool tomorrow and he is thrilled.  He will attend another bilingual classroom with a long-trusted teacher (she taught his mom and uncle when they were little) and he reaches another milestone.

I know that if I am emotional over this transition it’s because of two reasons.  The most obvious is that a certain little boy is getting bigger and his bravery and independence are showing through his eagerness to explore his new school. The less obvious reason is that again I am reminded that his mom has consistently made good choices for his wellbeing.  I know she is nervous, eager, worried, proud, supportive and doing her very best to make sure he has everything he needs and some of what he wants. I’m very proud of her for stepping up to her responsibilities as a mommy and provider and her hard work is evident in her child’s personality and strength.

No one ever wants less than a full connection between their child and his caregiver. That’s what his mom and Miss Claudia provide him… a full connection. Thank you to Claudia and her family for the love they shower on our baby and all babies she cares for; babies who grow into toddlers in a blink of an eye.

As they leave her for preschool she laughs and yells out for all to hear, “He’s going to do great!”

And every parent knows, that she’s talking to them and not their child.

And they are grateful beyond words.

 

 

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I’m on my way…..

I haven’t been very active this past year.  What I mean is, in comparison to other times in my life.  I hurt my lower back in August of 2017 during my third straight weekend of running over ten miles while training for the CIM.  The injury initially presented as an SI injury resulting in either a fracture or severe swelling.  After MRI and exam after exam, we decided it was just terrible inflammation.  My doctor recommended Platelet Rich Plasma injections at the joint sites to bring down the swelling and then physical therapy to work on strengthening my core.   The joints responded favorably and the swelling went down with noticeable improvement in my lower back pain.

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Over the next year, I worked on getting fit and building my core.  Unfortunately, that went well enough so that I pushed to get back to running.  Initially, I ran on the Alter G treadmill which physically lifts you so that you aren’t pounding on your joints as you maintain your aerobic health. Soon after, I ran on a regular treadmill and after a few minutes found my pain had returned.  My pain consisted of tingling, numbness, and burning down my left leg.

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Another MRI and consultation resulted in a referral to a surgeon a full year after the initial injury.  We agreed that I would undergo surgery on Dec. 5 and have my L5S1 discs separated a bit, and stabilized with titanium hardware.  The surgery went as planned and I am now into week 4 of recovery.

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photo credit: northumbriabackclinic.com

I have been walking since the day of the surgery and over time, the pain from the incisions has reduced considerably.  I still have some numbness on my left leg, but it is intermittent and according to my surgeon, expected to resolve over time. Sitting is very uncomfortable, so I spend my time either walking, standing or in bed. I can only support sitting for about half an hour and both my back, and leg begin to ache.  Again, I am told this is pretty normal so I won’t worry about it. Time will tell.

So then, why this post?  I think because its the end of the year and like many, I am reflecting on all that has transpired in 2018 and all that I look forward to in 2019.  I had a great year despite all of the physical discomfort caused by my back injury.  I spent a ton of money on physical therapy and medical appointments. My insurance while very good is costly nonetheless.  I never lost my ability to walk and while I postponed for the second year in a row my goal of running the CIM again,  I accomplished a walking goal that has been a dream of mine; I walked the  500 mile Camino Frances in Spain. (You can read about it in posts under the appropriate menu of this blog.)

My family wonders why I pushed so hard to complete the Camino, and then later, to get the surgery for my back in 2018 when it would cost less in January 2019 (different insurance program kicks in).  Well, I pushed because I felt like I was stuck.  I couldn’t execute or even plan some of my goals, and my activity level was decreasing daily.

And my dog is getting fat.  You know what that means.

This year has also resulted in the death of friendships due in part to political differences and I am sad.  I’m sad mostly because I realized that the basis for the end of these friendships, in fact, is not political. Which in a weird way makes me feel better.  At least I am standing up for myself and my feelings. It never really was about the color of the sky anyway.  It was the fact that they didn’t care how I felt about the sky that hurt the most.

I started to get really sad, you know, the stay home and don’t see anyone kind of sad.  Normally, I would head out to Yosemite to hike, or go on runs with the dog and otherwise make myself feel better.  I couldn’t do this without risking further injury or pain.  I had to cut back on hiking with my grandchild, the love of my life.

So I decided to fix the fix to my sadness. I will be 57 in January. I refuse to waste another year being sad. Since I couldn’t bend over to pull myself up by my bootstraps I asked my doctor for a backbone.  Thankfully he obliged, and like the song says, ‘I’m on the way from misery to happiness today! uh-huh!’

Happy 2019 y’all!

Siempre Pa’ Adelante!

 

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Walking Luna

Mixed earth and rain scents; solicit

Metal clinking sounds on a key ring; alert

House-bounds barking; agitate

Anxious tugs; annoy

Crunchy, semi-dead, partly soggy leaves; soothe

Dinner smells; invite

Wheels turning sharply on wet, oily asphalt; warn

Beaming headlights; seek

Eyes darting, looking for moving shadows; anticipate

A streetlamp illumining November camellias; boasts

A man shouts that “Rudolph came back to life!”; reminds

Laughter bouncing from across the street; affirms

A uniformed Catholic-schoolgirl retrieving the mail; evokes

Dark blue Vans slapping puddles into submission; illustrates

Winston’s white kitty paws tiptoe; assess

Preventative tugs and commands; direct

Her failure by missing him; relieves

One more sniff at the driveway; delays

Meeting her at the back door; abdicates

She raises her paws for cleaning; demands

Bereft of mud she grunts contented; amuses

If I don’t tell, she won’t; misleads

Later she’ll beg for a walk; wrenches

And he’ll fall for it; indulges

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El Camino: Finisterre, Muxia, and Coast of Death

Zero Day: Travelling to the End of the Earth

We have come to the end of our adventure. Tomorrow we board flights and head home. 

Today was a relaxing, learn about Spain day. We took a tour to Fisterra and the surrounding countryside. 

When we boarded we each took window seats and therefore had strangers sit next to us. 

I sat next to Connie…from Honduras. We chatted rather superficially and be fore we knew it we were both crying. 

Our journeys when shared aloud to each other brought out emotions that perhaps we hadn’t really dealt with. 

The Camino did that to us. It broke us down to raw muscle and aches and blisters so that we would be present every step of the way. 

I heard a young man say the same thing.  “I thought my mind would race but instead I couldn’t hear a thing except my own foot steps.”

Thats what a journey like this does for you…it makes you pay attention. 

I will miss this most of all. But I plan on incorporating what I’ve learned into my daily life as well. 

I could make a list of all the things I want to change or want to continue practicing, but that would be in complete opposition of what I have learned. 

Thank you for reading my posts about our travels. I hope to embark on more adventures soon but for now I need some assimilation and incorporation of the lessons learned and look forward to a quiet holiday season. 

Love to you all and may you find your own path to be as wonderful. 

Buen Camino!!

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Santiago de Compostela Zero

Zero Day: Santiago de Compostela

Yesterday we arrived at Santiago de Compostela  however we arrived after the pilgrims mass had been conducted. Naturally then we decided to attend today, Sunday. 

We were warned to get there an hour early to be able to get into the church. That was no exaggeration. We arrived before 11 am to a line wrapping around the corner and down the street. 

Luckily we were able to actually get seats just in front of the altar. I can only tell you that there was some kind of divine intervention because I was shooed out of an aisle and Judy as well. However both of us were given seats by generous women who made room for us. 

The mass itself was exactly as masses go. It was multilingual and yet exactly as heard around the world. 

The homily however focused on the pilgrim.

Father reminded us that Saint James is here to receive us. He wants us to unpack our mochilas and leave all our burdens with him. Leaving our burdens behind makes room for Christ and his love for us. 

We cannot live a burdened life and live like Christ. 

The highlight for the pageantry of it, is the swinging of the botafumeiro.  I honored the request that no pictures be taken during mass but I found this recent you tube video. 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6tubocIIycM&autoplay=1

Bottom line: We cannot live a burdened life and live like Christ. 

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Rua to Santiago de Compostela

Today’s trek: Rua to Santiago de Compostela

We had only to walk about 18km or 11.25 miles. There was nothing to hurry for. Nothing to particularly see. As we walked we seemed to float along a path, not hovering, but somehow lighter on our feet than normal.  

The sky remained dark well into the 800 hour. The clerk at reception said it won’t rain. Maybe tomorrow in Santiago, and she shook her head knowingly. 

We scurried to eat breakfast and with one last adjustment I tossed my rain coat between my pack’s lid and the main compartment. 

People seemed to stream into the path. Laughter, singing and talking sounds filled the woods. 

The marker read: Silence, stillness, present, now.   I absentmindedly repeated it over and over.  I focused on my feet and my chant until everything else fell away. 

I was snapped into reality when I realized that the most we were walking through had finally turned to a true rain complete with wind and big drops falling off trees we pases under.

People peeled off the trail to swap shoes, find their weather gear, and even eat in the relatively dry patios the cafes provided. 

We walked in the rain rarely talking because the hood on our coats prevents you from hearing clearly. It’s just not worth it to say, pardon meover and over. 

We heard an airplane overhead and realized we were near the airport. We grew excited to see a carved Santiago sign. We took turns taking each other’s pictures with a South Korean couple. He was thrilled we agreed to be in one of his pictures. 

The city seemed to rise up round us. The population and city pace always a little getting used to after being in little towns and hiking back roads. 

Our arrival to the back of the cathedral seems a little anticlimactic. We soon realized that the rest of the pilgrim world kept walking to the front so we followed.  The shear number of people in the square was pretty amazing to see. 

We congratulated ourselves and headed off to see about our certificates.   It wasn’t long before we came across many of our Camino friends; some of whom we met on day 1!  

Snacks and beer; sharing stories; making fun of each other; and clapping loudly for anyone walking by carrying a certificate created an afternoon and early evening of great fun. 

Of all the lessons this road has taught me, the value of friendship. 

The people sitting round our table has become our Camino Family. There are very few people that can relate to walking 799 km across someone else’s country. 

This bond will never be broken.

Tomorrow Finsterre. 

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Arzua to Pedrouzo

Today’s trek: Arzua to Pedrouzo

Today’s walk was not remarkable other than the knowledge that it is the second to last walk of our trip. 

I spent the day with Lisa from Switzerland laughing and encouraging each other to go just a little more. We rested once but spent most of the time in line waiting to use the bathroom. 

The last few days have been much more crowded on the trail than any days prior. There were school groups (30-12 year old boys), groups of women traveling as family, buses of people walking  only portions of the days schedule then being driven to the next convenient crossing of trail and road so they can walk a little further, and people being followed by support vehicles so they can have food and drink at will. 

The silence of the trail is practically gone. 

Each rock represents a sorrow left behind by a pilgrim.

Tomorrow we will walk into Santiago.  I don’t know how to describe my feelings because I don’t know what I’m feeling. 

Curiously, I am (besides incredulous that we are about 18km away from our goal destination) still missing that feeling of transformation. 

I think in part I feel a sense of confirmation about being a person that is goal oriented. I feel mentally healthier than I have in a very long time. I have met and had very, very deep conversations with a few young people (mid twenties) that reaffirm my affinity for working with teens and young adults. I have reconnected with my spiritual (probably religious) side.  Overall, I’m proud of myself and in awe of Judy. 

But it’s not over yet. We have one more day. There’s no celebration yet. But tomorrow..?  

Oh, tomorrow!

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Palas de Rei to Arzua

Today’s trek: Palas de Rei to Arzua

A few days ago I told a fellow pilgrim who was planning to get up super early to walk (in the dark and fog) that she should be cognizant that it would all be over soon and that in fact we would miss being on our adventure. 

We do hurry a lot don’t we? We hurry our babies to walk and talk. We rush them and ourselves off to schools and work. We rush around hurriedly seemingly all the time. 

And for what? The end of each day bring us a day closer to the end of our lives. Is that what we’re running toward?  

This journey has been a little like that. Each day we rush to make our distance goal knowing that at the end of the day we are one day closer to finishing our trip. 

The melancholy is starting to come up in conversations. Just like our end of life conversations we seek to make ourselves feel better knowing we aren’t alone.  

But we kinda are, aren’t we?

We walk for hours, sometimes chatting with others, mostly walking quietly thinking, we are focused on the present. This luxury is about to end. 

I will not waste a minute of it. I will rely on my prayer life to convey the gratitude I feel for this adventure. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity and the support of my family. 

There is so much more I haven’t thought about.  But worry about the lack of time left will not be my focus. I will enjoy the present and let time wash over me slowly and gently. 

Marker by marker. 

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Today’s trek:  Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Three more walking days. 

As we arrived at Palos Del Rei we stopped to eat and sit for a minute. Judy had picked a restaurant for its view of the Camino so that she could easily spot me as I made my way to the accommodation. 

As we ate a very early dinner, we spotted and talked to a number of peregrinos that we have become friends with throughout our journey.  

It seemed when we last saw them that we would not see them again. We wondered about their feet, knees and if they might have had to leave because of them. 

But here they were! Smiles, jokes, lost toe nails, sunburnt, knee braces, bad hair and all. 

The people that are meant to be in our lives will be.  They will be there during our most vulnerable and equally during our most triumphant times. 

If people are only there during the great times they really don’t know us.

It’s important not to mistake fun times as interchangeable with triumphant times. The former can happen anytime; the latter usually are at the end of some sort of struggle or endeavor. So if those fun friends are never around for the struggle/ endeavor can we really call them friends?  Not likely. At least not great friends. 

I’m counting my friends as true blessings these days. I love them. dearly. 

Three more walking days.  We keep pinching ourselves. 

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Sarria to Portomarin

Today’s trek:  Sarria to Portomarin

Walking among people from all countries and backgrounds is very interesting. The variety of sounds and languages my attention. 

The one constant throughly out this process has been the sound of my footsteps. There is no music nor are there phone rings beyond the occasional local who responds apologetically and scurries off to speak to their caller. 

Now that we are closer I find I sometimes can’t hear my footsteps over the pounding of boots and the soothing sound of mumbles, punctuated by laughter or a shout. 

That sound is soothing. It’s nice to be alone but after a month, having people around is comforting. 

I wonder if we come out of the wilderness on our own no matter where or what kind of wilderness it is.   If it’s a sign of health the timing of which is determined by the state of our mental health. 

All that to say, we’ll be ready when we’re ready. 

The 100Km marker.

We’ll get there when we get there. 

I had a great walk, although I took much longer than my feet would have liked. Dinner was delicious and with no WiFi, I slept extra long. 

I woke up on my own…the best way to wake up. 

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Triacastela to Sarria

Today’s trek:  Triacastela to Sarria

Oh what a glorious morning!  We left Triacastela just as the sun started to peek past some rather dark clouds but I held my ground and didn’t toss on a jacket. We started walking ready to face another set of hills and eventually a long slope downward.

What we were not completely cognizant of (and why would we be?) is that the trail is at the point where many people are just starting their journey.

You see, the requirement for a certificate, if you are walking, is that you must start at least 100 km from Santiago. Sarria is the starting point for many pilgrims for that reason.

We were kind of a curious as to why there were so many hikers and more importantly, why do they all smell good?

So today it seemed as a parade exited little Triacastela. Many if not all of our rest stops were crowded and wait staff rushed around to serve everyone quickly. I guessed they might be used to it, given their location.

Like me at the beginning of our journey, the new pilgrims took pictures of every building and animal they saw. They had big smiles on their faces and walked without limps. They talked…loudly to each other as they faced their first 12 miles.

Ok, I still take animal pictures.

Their energy is palpable. And transferable. I walked a long way with a very young lady from Switzerland. Later crossing paths with old friends and acquaintances; we chatted and talked as we went.

When we reached Sarria everyone was surprised at how quickly the time passed and how seemingly less difficult the climbs were than anticipated.

As usual I walked in to find Judy waiting at our accommodation and I felt hungry.

I felt hungry.

I haven’t really eaten anything solid for 6 days. I had white rice and a little salmon for dinner the night before.  I asked for a piece of meat and a boiled potato. It was delicious, though I ate only a tiny portion. I am happy beyond belief.

We have 5 walking days. Imagine what that sounds like to us. Please keep us in prayer.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: O Cebriero to Triacastela

Today’s trek:  O Cebriero to Triacastela

Morning came a little too soon for me but I decided I felt well enough to walk. I packed a light day backpack my genius daughter gave me and carried the equivalent of pedialyte (gross doesn’t describe it well enough), my camera and vital papers. Everything else went on to Triascastela. 

The 12.5 miles (or so) took a very long time to traverse but it was well worth it. 

I stopped very frequently to dig pebbles out of my sandals, take pictures and catch my breath. I thought my tired disposition was the result of my illness but come to find out everyone else thought it was a strenuous hike. 

Remember that O Cebriero was such a steep climb that I decided to taxi it after seeing a doctor for my stomach issues.  Well in our crazy heads we thought that today would be the downhill side of that story. 

Nope, we climbed for another four or five miles.  The last of the steepest climbs looked at and winked. I sat down and drank my Pedialyte. 

As I took a few steps I could see umbrellas at the top. A bar and restaurant. The hill laughed and faced its next victim. 

We walked in beautiful, cool air through little villages where cows were being miles or were in small pastures grazing. The rock, moss covered walls kept us on steep down slopes and kept us vigilant for loose gravel. 

After we made it into Triascastela we learned of a woman who fell and cut her head potentially requiring stitches. This is the second person we know of that took a hard fall. The first was early in our trip and it turns out she required 60 stitches. She continued to walk after a rest period. 

I think the highlight of the day for me is being able to witness and 800 year old chestnut tree.  It’s trunk is 8 meters wide. Just amazing. 

I walked with a man named Paul from Plymouth, England.   He is 71. We talked about a number of things and eventually I needed to rest. He said, “Rest.  Never walk faster than your soul’s pace.”

I love that. 

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Herrerias de Valcarce to O Cebriero

Today’s trek: Herrerias Del Valcarce to O Cebriero

Today was the trek that wasn’t. At least for me. Judy got out there and conquered the five mile climb with no problem. She even took pictures so I could use them in my post!!

Dream Tree

Traditional home

View of rooftop and cross on hill.

I on the other hand stayed in bed as long as I could and called a taxi to take me to a small town that has a medical clinic. The doctor there confirmed I needed some medicines immediately and also prescribed medication for the next two weeks. It’s now a nine hours later and I have eaten a bowl of soup.

I keep reminding myself that our bodies tell us when enough is enough. I’m feeling though that this is a lesson in competition or ego.

There really isn’t a reason to feel bad about being sick is there? Yet I do. I missed out on walking 5 miles today. I missed out on the hot sweaty exertion that is signature of pilgrims making their way to Santiago. I missed out on making more memories with Judy.

I guess though, this memory will serve me just as well won’t it. That time in Spain when I got so sick I could eat or drink water for 4 days?!

Yup. Everyday has a blessing and a lesson. You just have to look for it.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Villafranca del Bierzo to Herrerias de Valcarce

Todays Trek: Villafranco del Bierzo to Herrerias de Valcarce.

Yesterday was not a good day. I’ve been fighting something. It’s either food poisoning or a virus which has affected my gut.

I haven’t eaten, can’t sleep through more than an hour at a time, and I’m tired. We walked 13 miles to Herrerías del Valcárce. The longest and slowest 13 miles ever.

You can’t imagine how much bread we have consumed.

Judy has been a blessing and has hung back to walk with me. But she put her foot down and let me know I would be taking a taxi for the next section which while only 5 miles is straight up a mountain.

The struggle to complete this pilgrimage has intensified and I’m beating myself up over this. While I’m not looking for sympathy I am wondering again why I have to be so competitive.

It’s not done unless it’s done all the way. It’s not ok if it’s not perfect. Everything has to be just right.

Pilar, the lady proprietor at our last hostal scolded me. She said, “when you get to Santiago that priest is t going to ask if you walked every inch of the way. He doesn’t care. Only God knows what’s in your heart.”

I will be seeing a doctor in the morning. Yikes.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Molinaseca to Villafranca del Bierzo

Today’s Trek: Molinaseca to Villafranco del Bierzo

Knowing you have to walk 19 miles can be a little daunting. As we walked I seemed to be stuck on a repetitive chant: Just focus on getting through today.

A castle!!

Yesterday I ate a big bowl of pasta carbonara. You guess it. I’m the mascot for a very unsettled stomach.

The whole day I begged that i just make it to the hotel. My focus narrowed and I simply forgot any other thoughts.

Until we made ten miles and stopped for a beer for Judy and some rest for me. The rain had finally caught us and we sat outside enjoying a short respite.

Earlier I stopped to ask a couple of women we had been leap frogging how they were doing. This was probably at mile 8. They asked if we were taking a taxi to Villafranco. I pulled my map and we talked about how it wasn’t that much further. Then we said buen camino and I went on to try and catch up to Judy.

When I found her she asked, can your stomach handle a beer? I passed but we talked. Then she said it.

Should we take a taxi? I said, well we could but we’d have to return in the morning to finish our walk. She looked at me like I was crazy. We talked some more and agreed that to be bad asses we needed to continue walking.

Eventually we made it to our accommodations and we sat in silence.

I was given everything I asked for.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca

Today’s Trek: Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca

Today started well with a great breakfast and an early start in the trail. I think everyone walking on our schedule might have been. Little more excited today than other days because we would be walking past the Cruz de Ferro.

Most of have been carrying a rock or pebble from our homes to drop off at the foot of this cross, symbolic of releasing ourselves from the sins we have committed.

As we approached people took turns going up to deliver their stones and take pictures. Many became quite emotional. Others were there simply because it is the highest point on the trail; yes, higher than Orisson in the Pyrenees.

After a bit we began walking in earnest knowing our day would be long. We climbed down rocky, uneven trails that slowed me to a crawl.

I caught up with Judy at the ten mile mark in El Acebo. After a feeding frenzy we forced ourselves up to conquer 6 more miles. Almost everyone else were finished for the day.

We walked at a better pace and found more ups and steep rocky downs. There might have been some complaining but we managed.

As we left the mountain path and found ourselves on city streets. As we approached pilgrims sat enjoying meals and beverages along the river banks. We alas, knew we had to go to the end of town to find our accommodations!

But we made it. It was a tough day emotionally and physically. But we made it.

It’s simply amazing.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

Todays Trek: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

We are all children of God.

I went to evening vespers at a little church in Rabanal del Camino. I met the priest in the tiny gift shop and asked when the doors would open.

He said, “Si ya esta abierta.”

“Oh?” I answered, “I couldn’t open the door.”

I thought about that this morning as we walked. Sometimes you have to walk in the loose rock (which hurts my blisters) rather than hop around and take a chance falling or twisting an ankle. As we got closer to our days destination the path became a sloppy, stone laden dry creek bed under the shimmering shadows of trees swaying in the breeze.

I pushed through and talked myself up to the hostal where Ms. Judy waited at the bar.

During vespers sung in Latin, the priest talked to us as pilgrims. He reminded us that we are all children of God. He described that perhaps we were walking with others from other countries or of other traditions and that at times we might find that our grace isn’t long enough.

Perhaps we find ourselves seeking quiet, and the other wants to talk. Perhaps we don’t like how they see things. Perhaps they like to argue.

He reminded us to be strong and push through. He reminded us to use our Christian strength to spread our grace beyond what we thought it could be stretched.

It might not be comfortable or pleasant. It might hurt our sore spots. But it’s what we are called to do.

Our personal grace is meant to be pushed, challenged, and stretched until we think we can give no more, then stretched a little further.

Sometimes the length of our grace isn’t long enough.

So God gave us a human to helps us understand how to stretch it to cover others. We were given a model of grace so that when we forget we are all children of God, His way can become our way.

It won’t always be easy or painless but it will help us push through. We are all children of God, and sometimes our grace doesn’t seem long enough. But it is.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Villadangos del Paramo to Astorga

Todays Trek: Villadangos del Paramo to Astorga

The walk from Villadangos to Astorga was predictably long and hot but surprisingly fun.

As we walked out of Villadangos we came across a man and I began to speak to him. Immediately I concluded he was from Mexico. We talked quite a bit and I learned a lot about him including that he has run two 3 hour full marathons. He and three friends are walking the camino while a fourth (5 total) drives a rental car in support of them. They sometimes separate and walk alternate paths but the eat and sleep together.

We separated when he joined his pals for a late breakfast. We saw them later when they caught up to us at the Rio Orbigo.

We continued on and eventually we caught up to one of the men who chose not to walk the alternate route with his pals. We talked and laughed and I learned a great deal bout his family business. he is a chemical engineer.

My new friend took this picture for me.

We parted after catching up to Judy at the statue of a pilgrim whose gourd pours water into his mouth if you close off the faucet on the potable fountain. He was happy taking pictures and waiting for his friends as I walked on thinking I was closer to Astorga than I actually was.

I thought a lot about these gents whose wives will join them in Santiago on October 6. I thought about how easily they laughed and how their camaraderie made them so happy. They are having a blast.

I also thought how they travelled to France to start their trek and crossed into Spain without a border check and into the open arms of a country that only wants you to enjoy your adventure whether it spiritual or athletic.

St James

The world should not have borders. God made it for all of us.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Leon to Villadangos del Paramo

Today’s trek: Leon to Villadangos del Paramo

The man with the huge smile umbrella’d by a gray handlebar mustache said, “You went all the way to the canal didn’t you?”

I made a face conveying shame and the table of gentleman sharing drinks after church bellowed laughter in unison. Then they all simultaneously tried to tell me that the Camino has two routes through their town. More laughter. They gots jokes.

Judy was inside the hostal checking in. Minutes earlier I had let loose of a “mother clucker” when we finally saw the hostal signage. She looked at me sideways. I said, “Some call it cursing, I call it speaking in tongues.”

We dropped our packs, shed stinky socks and hightailed it down to the bar. Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.

The morning started out with similar antics when we rose from deep sleep, packed and went downstairs to find the kitchen dark and breakfast an hour away.

Should we just start walking? Yep.

We walked about 13.5 hot miles, the last of which was not required and could have been avoided if the directions to the hostal were clearer.

But here we are. Happy as olives, tapas and beer.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Leon Zero

Leon: Zero Day

Waking late to a nice hot breakfast was the perfect start to our indulgent Zero Day in Leon.

After a very pleasant laundry experience, (it’s the little things) we headed out to find and see the 13th century Catedral de Santa Maria we stopped at a farmacia for some ibuprofen.

The young woman at the counter advised us of a festival happening in a little plaza around the corner. The sounds of laughter, castanets, drums and clarinets filled the air.

We quickly found a spot to have a beer and some free tapas. I visited with women crocheting lace items and watched as teens danced traditional steps to the music played by the band. Women played castanets and sang along.

A man lovingly described the actions of women preparing wool for yarn.

Overheard: I don’t know about the sheep. But the wool is virgin.

(Loud laughter)

We partook of freshly made churros and free melon slices before we set off again.

As we walked we decided to eat lunch. What? We were hungry.

We sat for two hours of people watching. Where it was we were seemed to be a favorite place for bachelor and bachelorette parties. A man in a pink leotard and hot pink tutu, another in a full piece costume with red dog ears, and yet another in an equally embarrassing outfit walked from bar to bar presumably drinking and having fun. One of the brides to be work a cup cake outfit while another wore representative clothing and her friends matching tee shirts and rainbow glasses.

Our walk to the Catedral was a short one. I wandered inside again astonished at the beauty and grandeur of the building which is undergoing some restoration.

A couple of ice creams later and we were off to find our hotel. Map reading at its best resulted in a quick arrival at our hotel.

Tomorrow begins the final push to Santiago.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon

Todays trek: Mansilla de las Mulas to LEON!

How do we conquer our mind?

For some reason I had it in my head for the last few days that we would be walking many miles on the day we got into Leon.

I worried about it a bit but didn’t make any extra effort to look in the guidebook and check it out.

Judy confirmed that we had to walk 12 miles and I continued to worry. She showed me a map indicating the elevation profile and I noted what looked like just one hill. I still worried.

As per routine, as soon as we finished breakfast we headed out on the trail. This morning was brisk and I actually saw my breath a couple of times.

We walked and I realized I wasn’t wearing my fit bit probably having left it in the pocket of my dirty shirt. I figured that it would continue to record my steps since I was wearing my pack. Then I forgot about it.

Normally, if I get hot or uncomfortable I check the distance on my Fitbit to see if relief will come soon. This day I couldn’t.

All I could do was walk and sing and take pictures. I laughed at peacocks screaming at me causing a flock of six enormous gray geese to run out flapping their wings. I think they thought I might have food for them.

I stopped to read wall art and to look at very old fountains for washing pilgrim’s feet.

The hill came and as I turned the corner I saw two younger women taking a picture of a city below. As they turned to return to the trail I asked them, “Do you know the name of the city?”

They replied, “Leon!” And I said, “Shut up!” I’ve got to stop saying that.

The steep downhill went well and before I knew it I was accepting a lolly pop from the volunteer greeting pilgrims and handing out city maps.

It wasn’t until I started writing this that I decided to look for my Fitbit. I found it in the shirt pocket and it read 12.44 miles.

Imagine that.

When given nothing to do except walk and focus on not falling the mind settles. The voice quiets and says things like “Step there. Use your stick to step down. Get that rock out of your sandal. Look at that cloud. What was the first line to that song?”

And then you look up and you’re there.

Go outside and walk. It’s good for you.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas

Today’s trek: El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de Las Mulas

We left Burgo Ranero a little later than we would have liked. This means that the “short” (I can’t believe I called it short) 11 mile walk was a bit warm. The morning was nice and we trucked along.

A look back to face the sun and fellow hikers.

We’ve been walking with a few people that we met on our first night in Orisson. And we’ve begun to see the same folks over the last few days that we’ve come to know from our accommodations and just from seeing them in the trail.

There was a lot of singing on the trail this morning which has led me to writing a list of songs not to sing or hear on this walk lest you be doomed to hear them in your head (ear worms) the day through. I’ll publish the list later, perhaps at the end of the trip.

The trail was unremarkable today in that it was mostly flat and we walked along a row of trees nearly the entire time. Occasionally we came across these long and wide sections of bland that were planted with perfect rows of poplar trees. In our relief to arrive in Mansilla we forgot to ask why they exist in such a fashion. However, we found a grove along the river Elsa when we explored the town a bit. Truth be told we were looking for a farmacia which we should know by now are always closed from 2-430 pm daily.

Along the last bit of trail I walked with a young (25) year old with a British accent, an Italian name, is from Paris, and who shared she wants to be a social worker in Madrid. We had a great conversation and it seemed like we were in town within minutes. As we parted she remarked she was thankful for our talk and that she forgot about her blistered feet for a while. That is always a good thing.

We made it to our hotel, a beautiful, relic filled, restored home with a gorgeous vine covered patio and delicious food.

After a walk to the farmacia and around town we discovered that the town is still surrounded by enormous walls of stone. It’s just amazing that they are still strong and in place.

We made it back to our room and we tended to foot care and rest.

The best thing ever? The room has an oscillating fan. Yup, heaven.

Tomorrow we reach Leon. We re truly blessed.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Sahagún to El Burgo Ranero

Today’s trek: Sahagún to el Burgo Ranero.

This morning we left Sahagún, the mileage midpoint for the Camino Frances. Getting to this point is an accomplishment in and of itself. We should arrive in Santiago on October 6. We are 20 days from our return to California.

As we walked out early this morning I wondered how we will feel when we finish. I imagined great happiness at our accomplishment, and sadness that the adventure is over.

I remembered that I wanted to take a picture at the arch and we walked over.

A bicyclist stood taking pictures of the arch. I offered to take his picture with his camera and he enthusiastically agreed using my trekking poles to pose. As per usual courtesy he offered to take our picture as well. But when I tried to remove my camera from the clip it was stuck. Ultimately, we wrangled it off and the pictures were taken. As we said goodbyes he gestured that I should follow him into the church.

We went in for a few minutes and were greeted with morning prayers sung by nuns. Judy and I sat and gathered our thoughts.

As we walked away I was again reminded that I am where I am supposed to be.

We walk this Earth without regard for where and why we are where we are. We rarely ask ourselves in a spiritual manner, what am I supposed to learn/do/ say/ be silent/ react/ignore/attend to today? In fact, I bet that I’ve only done this on a rare few occasions.

If you think hard enough I bet you’re asked yourself similar questions on momentous occasions; ie. marriage, break ups, births, significant birthdays, in times of great joy and crisis.

Lord what is your will?

After arriving at our hostal I overheard someone say, “I didn’t take any pictures today. There was nothing worth seeing.”

Children, a rare site in the smaller towns, play outside after school.

I picked up my phone and glanced at my pictures.

I saw what I needed to see. I was in the right place. Not physically, but spiritually.

I saw what I needed to see when I needed to see it.

I couldn’t be happier.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagún (Mid Point)

Today’s trek: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagún

We spent the night in a hostal in Calzadilla de la Cueza where we were treated like family and enjoyed a marvelous meal.

Sopa de marisco.

We retired early and left a window open in hopes of getting cool air throughout the night. The day prior was very hot and we truly we tapped out by the time we arrived. Unfortunately, even though we could hear a breeze blowing we were unable to benefit from it unless we propped our door open and we chose not to. It was a long warm night.

We managed to get on the road before 8 and while we didn’t have far to go we wanted to avoid as much heat as possible.

I looked ahead and saw a big hill and thought oh God please don’t let that be the way. We talked with a man on his second Camino adventure and before we knew it we were lost. We all (about 6 of us) were standing on the road way looking for the famous clam shell or yellow arrow. Neither could be found.

Fortunately a van approached, slowing to see why we were huddled. He instantly understood and began waving and pointing us to the right direction.

We walked in the direction he pointed and come cross officers in the Guardia Civil. They confirmed that many people get lost at this juncture and pointed us to the path. We had added about a mile to our walk but we were grateful for the help.

Today’s adventure reminded me of that old story of the man caught in a flood. First responders came to help him evacuate. He declined saying God would save him.

The waters rose and he found himself on the roof of his house still praying for help. A boat came by and he refused it saying God would provide. Later a helicopter flew overhead and over a loud speaker asked him if wanted to be airlifted to safety. Again he declined siting God’s assistance was forthwith.

He drowned. When he went to heaven he asked God why he hadn’t saved him. God replied, “What did you want me to do? I sent a car, a boat and a helicopter!”

I’m glad we were good about asking for help when we were lost and that we trusted the help that came to us.

Sometimes we have to be lost to appreciate where we are.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Carrion de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza

Today’s trek: Carrion de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza

We had a short but very hot walk from Carrion De los Condes to Calzadilla, a very small town with very nice people.

By now you know that due to my short legs (average) and Judy’s extra long legs, I am always well behind her.

To pass the time I focus on repetitive prayers or sing. Today I noticed that while Judy was quite a ways ahead of me, I recognized her boot print.

Blessed by a wide, gravel-less path I could see her steps in the heavy white dust. The temperature rose to 100.5 degrees by noon so I ran out of water fairly quickly. There is nothing worse than seeing “not potable” sprayed across water sources and not a stand or cafe for miles. In fact, we didn’t stop once until our final destination.

But today’s walk required quiet determination. I notice that no one was really talking and that a woman pulling her belongings on a two wheeled cart stopped frequently to adjust her hands.

I looked down to my feet for every step and I imagined the view a three or four year old chasing a soccer ball across a field. They follow so closely that they often chase their feet in circles or even out of bounds.

Early in the day I came across a sign zip tied to a tree. The hand painted sign reads: “Walk as if you’re kissing the Earth with your feet.” This sign registered with me.

We walk on this Earth as if it’s doesn’t matter. We walk throughout this Earth without regard as to where we are and who we effect. We expect things to go our way no matter what. We forget to be happy to walk this Earth in this place and this time. A place and time chosen for us.

We forget our place amongst the occupants of the universe. We forget to stop and look back and look up to the future. We are often so tied to what we are doing in any one moment that we fail to see the bigger picture.

There was nothing to see as we walked the ten miles to our next hostal. So I focused on my feet and recorded each step as it was taken. I followed Judy’s boot print and if she had walked off a cliff I suppose I would have followed.

Until I saw the sign.

Then, I focused on each step in gratitude. It was still hot, still boring and still miles away but each step was grounded and “about everything” not just passing time, from one place to another.

And then it pops up. You’re there.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

Todays trek: Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

Imagine being happy that you only have about 13 miles to walk so you sleep in a little and have breakfast before heading out.

Then you realize how hot it is and that your feet aren’t to happy with the little pebbles that keep popping into your sandals because you’re walking funny to void triggering the blisters!

As your walking along you hear an unfamiliar sound. It’s a click of sorts and you guessed it, the pole tips they swore you couldn’t wear through have in fact poked a hole in the deep, dark rubber.

Me in St Jean (where I bought the tips): “And these will last the entire walk?”

Them (nodding head affirmatively): ” Oui, oui! But of course!”

I’ve been really leaning on these poles and now I’m a little shocked at just how much. But that’s what they’re made for so I guess it’s all good.

Along the road I thought about how every time you ask someone how close you are to your hiking destination they typically say, “Oh just a couple kms or so.”

Today it dawned on me that a couple kms translates to a “mile, mile and a half.” Hikers will completely understand this. If you don’t, find the movie on Netflix. Worth the watch: Mile, Mile and a Half.

There was so little to see today that when we made it into town we headed straight for our accommodations, a cold beer and a long shower.

Now I know that the monastery is the place to see today. It’s just not going to happen. And that’s ok.

Sometimes it takes a toll on you and you have to stop and replace the tips with new ones.

Tomorrow is another day.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Castrojeriz to Fromista

Today’s Trek: Castrojeriz to Formista

Walking today reminded me that we walk in this manner every day. We get up hoping for the best and start our days with joyful expectation.

Some days it goes as planned. Other days we stumble and fall.

Today I thought that while we would have over 15 miles to travel I would be ok if I could get over the 12% and 18% grade hills.

I figured that we’ve been traversing hills and we’ve been getting stronger every day.

I was so focused on those hills that I forgot about everything else. I forgot about rocks, thirst, sun, traffic and heat.

So naturally I was completely shocked when those hills felt good and the air felt fresh early in the morning.

Yes, then the rest of the walk started. The sun grew hot, the path became rockier and less even.

We laugh about how we manage to get through the tougher spots of our day. We sing. We dig deep and meditate. We count steps.

And we give thanks for the occasional tree or cafe.

Every step becomes one step less we will have to take. Each step gets us closer to our goal destination.

We never consider quitting. There is no quitting. I sometimes wonder what in fact it would take to make me quit. I don’t want to tempt fate so I shoo the thought from my mind.

Just when I get to feeling desperate and dismal something pops up around the corner. Something happens to distract me and keep me on track.

And I give thanks.

I think maybe God gives us relief from our burdens in ways we don’t expect. Our burdens aren’t actually lifted they are just made easier to bear.

That’s the answer to the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” They just do and God is there to guide us through them in whatever way we helps us.

The strength we have inside us is endless. We just have to trust it’s there.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Hornillos to Castrojeriz

Today’s trek: Hornillos to Castrojeriz

I was able to walk without constant focus on my feet today. Well, until the path turned rocky. But mostly it was a great day.

We walked 12.5 miles from Hornillos to Castrojeriz. Hontanas, the little town in between is quite lovely and quaint.

Bibles of many denominations.

When I made it to the Convent of Saint Antón I remembered that Karrie, a Sacramento member of American Pilgrims on the Camino is volunteering there so I stopped to say hello.

We continued on to Castrojeriz where we found a Castillo, a beautiful church, lovely people and many tired pilgrims.

Cheers to us and an early night.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Burgos to Hornillo

Today’s trek: Burgos to Hornillos

This morning we began our walk to Hornillos.

Soon we were at the gate where they filmed the scene in which M. Sheen lost his back pack to a teenaged boy in the movie, The Way.

On we went until I looked over and immediately recognized prison watch towers. I stopped to take a better look. The prison in fact has a number of towers round the complex. The buildings within the fences boast intricate architecture and it looks like there is a chapel entrance in the middle of the complex. I was somewhat surprised to hear radio transmissions over loudspeakers talking about the schedule for the day and the sound of iron gate opening (or closing).

Burgos prison. Picture from Caminomyway.com

We hiked through farmland and along and across a small river.

I looked down to see fishermen looking for crawfish. I should have asked what they call them.

As we continued on we entered Rabe de las Calzadas and came to the 13th century Iglesia de Santa Mariña.

Inside we were individually greeted, gifted with a medallion on a white string, then given a blessing by an elderly woman. She brought me to tears.

The tiny church is beautiful.

The rest of the hike was pretty normal until we came over the last hill to see Hornillos in the valley below.

There we had a good old burger and beer and I wandered off to explore the Iglesia de San Ramon.

Fuente del Gallo

Look at the angel faces looking down at us.

Time to rest.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Burgos Zero

Burgos. Zero day.

We spent the day in Burgos getting chores done and exploring. The people here are so nice and have a great sense of humor.

We started at the bank getting change for laundry. I was kicked out at the metal detector for my camera. I tossed it into a locker and headed to the line.

We found a laundry mat and discovered there was a change machine there we could have used but it all worked out.

A quick walk to the post office and we mailed non essentials ahead to Santiago. Bye bye boots. My bed is now made and I’ll be walking in sandals the rest of the way.

Post office ceiling.

After a loooong and leisurely lunch we toured the Catedral de Burgos; a world heritage site.

I think we spent at least 3 maybe four hours in there. The building within 20+ chapels and museum is actually awe inspiring and a little overwhelming. We listened to prerecorded tour guides and made our way throughout.

We wandered home and climbed into beds. Tomorrow will be here soon.

For more info on this beautiful cathedral visit: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/316

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: S. Juan de Ortega to Burgos

Today’s Trek: San Juan de Ortega to Burgos.

We left San Juan Ortega as per our normal routine with the exception that we were carrying damp clothes that just didn’t want to dry in our equally damp room. Once we started walking everything seemed to fall into place.

While our walk wasn’t necessarily longer than others, and in fact we only had one steep hill, we still felt very tired and sore.

I noticed as we walked that I was concentrating so hard on making sure that my feet didn’t land either toes or heels on a rock. The pain of either of those two positions happening would bring me to a complete halt.

So I focused. All I could see was my toes and my shadow.

So as I walked I thought about all the people I am doing this walk for. I thought of why I was asking for things to happen for them and then I thought, why am I not asking for something for me?

I just kept walking. And then I saw it.

It stopped me cold and I struggled to bend down holding trekking poles and feeling off balance because of my back pack, I grunted to take a picture of a tiny little crocus growing straight out of the least hospitable patch of ground you can imagine.

I wondered if that little flower asked to be there? Why would it just pop up like that?

Later, as we walked I found more of this tiny little blossoms… and I realized that they were there to remind me that there is beauty everywhere, even in pain.

See them? At the bottom of the picture?

My job isn’t to ask for something for myself. My job is to ask that the people I love be happy. My job is to make the world a little better for them.

So my sphere of influence is not very large. But I do know that God listens.

He listens so well that he puts tiny little crocus at our feet to make us feel a little better.

Maybe that’s the lesson for today. Make someone feel a little better in any way you can. That’s all.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Belorado to S. Juan de Ortega

Today’s Trek: Belorado to San Juan de Ortega

We woke up to an extra dark morning. A peak out the open balcony door revealed dark clouds overhead. The clothes left out to dry still wet.

I felt annoyed. Another day started with the dreaded decisions of the day. Wear boots that cause blisters but are water proof or the new sandals I purchased during a rain storm no less.

Now I have to leave my rain jacket out or on top of my bag. My camera! Yup. Does it get packed inside Purple Reina or do I carry it and take the chance it gets wet?

I decided to postpone my decisions until after I dress my feet in bandaids, athletic tape and clean socks. I stared at them thinking about what would happen if they get wet.

My inner voice yelled out, “If it’s going to rain, then let it rain.” I packed up, put my sandals on and we headed to breakfast.

This whole day I thought about how much time I spend trying to avoid, prepare for and respond to eventualities that may or not happen. That’s probably why I spent the last two weeks of my time at home setting up scheduled bill payments and making ToDo List of things that couldn’t be left to chance or our terrible memories.

So we walked. It was cool and breezy most of the day making for a very comfortable 16+ mile walk.

Keeping fit

We passed through or near a number of towns today and I thought, “someone’s trying to distract me from these darn hills and rocky trail.

Church bells rang out as if to remind me that the purpose of this walk is to get closer to God and not question every little detail of my life.

There are gardens everywhere. There are tomatoes, flowers pumpkins, watermelons, onions, apples, figs, pears, plums, hops, green beans, etc. None of these gardeners question whether or not their garden will be productive. They just wait to see what happens.

Now they aren’t careless either. They tend to their crops gently and lovingly adjusting for rain, lack of rain, pests, and the plants own response.

As we walked I thought if it rains, it rains. I’ll put on a jacket if need be. When it stops I’ll put on dry socks.

If it rains it rains.

It’s amazing how much better you feel after you give up responsibility for things out of your control.

San Juan De Ortega Church. Read up on the light streaming in on the equinox.

It never rained, and my feet were happy.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Santo Domingo to Belorado

Today’s trek: Santo Domingo to Belorado

We’re sitting in a restaurant in Belorado amongst a large groups of peregrinos all talking about why they are walking the camino, how they feel, and how they are looking forward to the meal. This restaurant starts dinner service at 8pm so I may fall asleep in my food.

We had to wait for the restaurant to open so we sat outside in he sun and later walked in to wait at the bar where it seems that every septugenarian and their spouse is at a table playing cards.. for real money. We admired again how husbands and wives walked in holding hands or arm in arm. They quickly found their friends and plopped down to commence play.

We had a rather meditative day and I for one am ready to sleep. But we need to eat. We climbed the stairs or should I say we hobbled to the upper dining room.

For the record, not having elevators seems to the norm here. I secretly believe that they are adding penance to the loads pilgrims already carry. Either way, it’s not funny. Ok, it’s a little funny.

As we sat in this quaint little dining room whose main decorative theme is a variety of clocks hanging throughout, we listened to the conversations around us; French, Spanish, English. Most people talkled about their reasons for walking and or riding the Camino.

These conversations were superficial and didn’t rally broach the elephant in the room.

We are hear to find peace in ourselves. Each of us has something to pray or meditate on and for some reason we haven’t handled our issue at home. Even if our trip didn’t start out this way, all that alone time seems to draw it out of us.

Even if we thought we knew our purpose for walking or riding the path the actual doing so has taken hold of our hearts.

Each crunchy step… Each stab at the ground with trekking poles, each meditation interrupted by “Buen Camino” or cyclist’s bell reminds us that as it were, we are in fact finding a peace within us that has been buried by daily life.

As we opened the dining room door to leave a wave of chatter reminded us that we were back in the real world.

Tomorrow we start another meditation. I can’t wait.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Najera to Santo Domingo

Todays trek: Najera to Santo Domingo

After such long treks these past few days, walking 14 miles on mostly even trail seemed like a treat.

Giraffe lady in the lead.

We walked quietly through a two smaller towns and a number of grape fields. All in all, a good day.

I got to thinking about how many of our normal days at home are non eventful, but good days. My guess no, my experience says, most of my days are good days.

It is nice once in a while to be able to acknowledge and appreciate that our regular, everyday good days are actually quite good.

But we don’t. We might label them as boring, unproductive, lazy or some otherwise negative connotation.

We view our regular days through the privileged eyes of expectation. We want our coffee hot, our eggs cooked perfectly, or day exciting and our rest thorough and long lasting.

When we don’t get what we expect we are as disappointed as a child who wants a second dessert. We know have it pretty good but we want more just the same.

So these little reminders are good for the soul. And in my case good for my feet.

Go around me Mr. Biker Man my feet hurt.

Today was a good day, I hope you recognize that so was yours.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Logrono to Najera

Todays trek: Logroño to Najera

We walked from Logroño to Najera today… then another two km to find our hostal. So all in all we walked 19 miles. Yep another step or two and I would have been crawling.

But. We made it. We even gathered ourselves up, walked to a farmacia then dinner and had a great time.

Earlier in the day I overheard two woman talking about getting someone to do something. Could have been a child but was most likely a man. One of the women laughed and said, ”Por gracia o de golpe…”

We try not to stop walking because it’s hard to start up again if you do. But sometimes you need to eat or go to the bathroom or just rest our weary bodies.

So I started thinking about what that woman said. Sometimes you do things by the grace of God and sometimes you do things by force.

This journey has only just begun and there are days that feel like we are moving by force. But it never fails, once our boots come off we see only the grace in our pilgrimage.

Tomorrow is another day and honestly I need to sleep.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Los Arcos to Logroño

Today’s Trek: Los Arcos to Logroño

Hiking can teach you a lot. Especially when you have to hike through the mud. There’s strategy to consider: do I tip toe? Use sticks or not? Hop over it? Walk around it or just walk through it?

I thought about this a lot this morning.

Yesterday, we were advised that there would be rain through the entire day. Most of the trails are natural earthen paths that can become muddy. The rest of the paths are either road or stamped cement walkways that are somewhat steep and with loose gravel rain might result in slippage or an actual fall.

We know of a woman who fell a while back. She ended up in a hospital and received 60 stitches to her forehead. She has returned to finish her walk to Santiago.

Given everything, Judy and I decided to send our packs over to the next stop so that at least we wouldn’t have the added weight to contend with.

We got up earlier than usual, ate breakfast and began our walk. The day was a pleasant one and not too hot. But it didn’t rain a single drop. I kept thanking God for the great weather even as we scraped mud off our shoes from the previous night’s downpour.

I lamented that I didn’t have my camera. Since I was worried about getting it wet I sent it on ahead.

I lamented that I wasn’t carrying my pack.

Finally after walking over 17 miles we found our lodging and I removed my boots. My blisters, while still there, didn’t worsen. The choices I made in caring for them the night before seemed to work. The fact that I carried less weight helped as well.

Grateful beyond words I gave thanks and decided on a strategy for tomorrow.

I scraped the mud off my day and let it go.

Judy bought me a glass of wine to sip while I write. She is already asleep and I’m going there as fast as I can.

There is nothing to be gained by ruminating over things that don’t matter. The fact is I will walk tomorrow… and the next day, until we reach Santiago.

Tomorrow the sun will rise on mud free boots and we will continue on our way.

Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Estella to Los Arcos

Today’s trek: Estella to Los Arcos

As the day started I began to dread dressing my feet. After years of hiking I know where I get blisters and how they progress.

I purchased some supplies the night before and decided to use them.

We hit the road after a light meal and we knew we were too late to meet our newest friends.

Judy, bless her, wanted to hike a little closer to me today but I am much shorter than she. Even when I match her pace I end up behind because her stride is longer.

After a while, we found ourselves greeting our friends once again.

Now, Joan and his wife Francis are terrific hikers. They are scheduled to complete just a section this third go round for them.

After just a little while Joan insisted he carry my pack (presumably because I walk slow.) I gave in and we traded backpacks.

Immediately I felt terrible. I wanted to carry my own pack. I felt bad about him having to carry my load when they themselves had chosen to use a luggage transport service.

I then started hearing my ego complain that if I didn’t carry my pack my trek wouldn’t count.

Why?

I do this all the time. This time I bit my tongue and said thank you. For a few miles I rested my body. My feet were grateful and so were my shoulders. I couldn’t have been more grateful for Joan. His gallantry and wisdom won the day.

Sometimes we need to let others help us. I don’t want to be that person anymore.

I’m going to continue to carry my pack. That’s my choice. But I’m paying attention to the gifts that God sends my way and thanking Him for them.

No more sending them back, unopened.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Puente la Reina to Estella

Today’s trek: Puente la Reina to Estella

Another extremely hot day for those walking El Camino. The book describes our route as “gently rolling hills and delightful natural paths.”

Uh, no. Rolling hills is like saying up, down, up, down, up, down. Natural paths is like saying dusty road through the dessert.

Then I ran out of water and I lost Judy. That woman walks faster than a rental horse heading home for the day.

See no sign of her.

So I finally make it to Estella and I didn’t die. I’m thinking I’ll find Judy waiting for me near the city portal. Nope.

I realize that she doesn’t know where we are staying. I decide that’s not a problem, I’ll call her as soon as I find water.

I ask a local gentleman to point me to the address in my phone and he did so with a smile on his face. I’m pretty sure he was laughing at me because I smelled like a dirty skunk and my face was red.

He said, and I quote, “Vaya erecto, erecto, erecto… Hasta que see terminal la calle.” What kind of directions are those?

I decide to get water because I was sure I was going to die. I stood in front of the cash register and guzzled 16 ounces of the cold liquid. I thanked the man and left. A few blocks away Im lost again so I look for a friendly woman to ask for help. Then I realize that I am not carrying my trekking poles.

I stomp my feet, thank the lady and practically run in the direction of where I think the store is. Thankfully the clerk placed my sticks behind the counter and all was right with the world again.

Now to find Judy. I made it to our accomodations, dropped my pack and plugged my phone into the battery pack I wanted to leave because it is heavy. (I won’t even begin to tell you how heavy my pack is, but rest assured.that traitorous shirt is the first thing I’ll toss to lighten the load (see below)). As soon as my phone comes to life the texts start up. “Where are we staying?”

Now the fact that I sent her a PDF format for saving into her ibooks with all the trip information is beside the point. The phone rings. Texts still coming in. She’s been waiting for me for two hours. I give her directions and she makes it to me minutes later. I tell you she walks really fast.

Later I realized that the shirt I’ve been wearing proudly for a couple years has betrayed me.

And it betrayed me in Spain.

Let me tell you about this shirt. It says, “Beach, por favor.”

It dawned on me today… This is a racist, dumbass shirt.

The shirt replied, “B%#ch, please.”

All I have to say is I need it to be tomorrow.

Wait, in 28 minutes it will be.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

Today’s trek:  Pamplona to Puente la Reina

There’s a certain kind of comfort in putting on hiking boots even though the day before you couldn’t wait to get them off.

The protection these boots provide is wonderful. But they are heavy and clumsy. By the end of the day your feet are throbbing. But regardless of how badly your feet feel, you know that you have accomplished something incredible.

I’ve been thinking about this all day since our trek seemed particularly quiet and treacherous at the same time. We left the bustle of Pamplona (elevation 1463) and stepped into a quiet countryside.

We were almost immediately confronted with hills and heat. One or the other would be fair game but both was just brutal.

We were almost at the base of the enormous wind turbines stand guard over the valley below the ridge.

Step by step we plodded our way up and then down and up again. By the time we got to Alto de Perdón (2,460 ft. ) we were pretty tired.

Then came the downhill.

Walking down up and down hills on loose rock and 84 degree heat, was a little intense. But we did it.

My friend Judy has giraffe legs so she is always way ahead of me. I love the quiet and relish the meditative nature brought on by the crunchy sounding steps I take so my alone time is valuable too.

We passed green fields and fields at the end of their season. I looked over to see beautifully cultivated land and simply admired it.

A little further on I walked very close to a field that produced hay. I realized quickly that the land is filled with rocks. I thought about why hay was planted there and figured it was probably easier than the impossible task of clearing the land for other crops.

I looked to my right and saw corn, fruit trees, vines etc. I wondered if their land is different or they just worked harder to make the land more fertile?

All I could think about was how tough the work must be.

My boots protect my feet but I have to do the work. Maybe that’s how God sees it too. The opportunity is there inside us. We have to act to want to make it work. Whether it’s taking on a seemingly impossible task or entering into some type of relationship or agreement. We have to make it work.

God will protect us in the process.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Akerreta to Pamplona

Today’s trek: Akeretta to Pamplona.

Have you ever noticed that everything that you fear but face anyway turns out not to be anything big at all?

We walked 18 miles yesterday. I completely dreaded waking up this morning thinking I wouldn’t be able to move. To my surprise, I woke up feeling pretty good. By 9am we were discovering that we were near the buildings that served as location sets for the movie, “The Way.” Not too soon after we made donations to a local charity in trade for some bananas. The gentleman proudly displayed a picture of himself on set with Martin Sheen during the filming of the movie. I asked him about the actor. He said, ” I visit him in the states, with all his family. He is a great man.”

We are starting to recognize pilgrims even when we have never spoken to them. So it’s been great to be able to ask other pilgrims if we are on track.

And so today, we made a decision that paid off big time. We chose to walk through the town of Arre (instead of going around) and came across a festival celebrating the unification of the three burgos. We ate freshly made, delicious corn based tortilla filled with cheese, sausage and bacon.

Powering on, we made it to Pamplona where here too the city is beginning the week long celebration of los tres burgos.

We took the advice of fellow pilgrims and ate dinner at a tapas restaurant called “El Gaucho.” The food was perfect.

Since we were so close to La Plaza del Castillo we wandered over to listen to the Navarra symphony on the debut of their new conductor, Miguel Hernandez-Silva. A local soprano, Sofia Esparza sang beautifully.

We headed back to the hotel but stopped in to see the Catedral de San Fermin, patron saint of Pamplona. I reflected on my friends and family who support my adventures and lit candles for the ones that need interventions the most. You know who you are.

Time to rest.

We are tired and dread the long walk tomorrow. But you know before we realize it it will be over and we’ll say, “That wasn’t that bad at all.”

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Roncesvalles to Akerreta

Roncesvalles to Akerreta

September 1st, 2018

The world is really not that big. Ok yes, it’s huge but if you venture out of your own little plot of real estate you might discover some astonishing things.

We’ve made some friends over the past few days. I’m am shocked at how we can be from such varied and distinguished places, yet we all seeking the same goal.

I think I am even more astonished when we come across people that 1. We really have no reason to meet, and

2. Even if we did have a reason to meet them the chances of doing it while on a trek such as ours which is so individualized, is so far and few between that the chances of this occuring is ridiculous.

Yet, that’s what happened.

We hustled down to breakfast, ate and snuck an extra sandwich for lunch then we were off.

This section of the Camino.de Santiago is a very long section (18 miles for us) that has all configuration of trails. There are sandy trails covered in decomposing leaves and there are flat rocky trails too. There are trails to labor over and others to trot down.

Exhausted we dragged ourselves into a tiny little restaurant where we purchased drinks to accompany our sandwiches. I went inside and struck up a conversation.with the owner. Eventually I learned that at one time his father lived and worked in Bakersfield as a “pastor de ovejas,” a sheepherder. When I told him I was born in Bakersfield and reared nearby his broke into song and dance. He told me how much he loves the Mexican culture and danced with his daughter.

Meanwhile I watched a group of men from the village playing cards. I read about these men on the internet somewhere and here I was watching them play. Their voices elevated and excited as they slapped cards on the table.

Who would have guessed?

As we travelled slowly and deliberately toward our goal we caught up to a family that we happened to meet in Sacramento REI as we were preparing for this trip.

This family of 8 are musicians and are walking the Camino together. We took a rather long break and spent some time with them. They advised us that they are proud that the youngest two girls in the family are officially the youngest people to ever walk the Camino! How cool is that?

Aren’t they precious?

We are being rewarded with such a truly blessed experience that neither of us can hardly believe it.

After 18 hot miles our feet are tired and our muscles sore but our hearts are over flowing with affection for our fellow pilgrims.

That seems to be a fair trade, don’t ya think?

Tomorrow…Pamplona.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: Orisson…to Roncesvalles

Today’s trek:

Orisson to Roncesvalles

Up and at em in Orisson… ok no. I woke up at 0730 and as a result we missed breakfast. Not to worry the night before we ordered lunch and eating some of that delicious baguette with prosciutto and cheese for breakfast was just the ticket.

Today was interesting. In planning I inverted tow numbers. One was the km for Orisson and the other was for Roncesvalles. So we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Orisson quite quickly, then were terrified at learning that Roncesvalles would take most of the day. Nevertheless we headed out and by 230 we were looking for a shower and a glass of wine. By the way, we paid $6.10 for two glasses!

Later we had a wonderful dinner and returned to our room to rest.

I have to say that we were both brought to tears at different points in our day today. Walking in the French countryside among cows, pigs and horses, listening to the bells on flocks of sheep while horses come down to greet us can make anyone cry.

There were signs again today. The kind that make you wonder about the reason you are called to make this journey. The friends we made the night prior leap frogged us and us them throughout the day. Each occurance a joyful reunion and discussion about feet and distance.

The sheer joy of pulling your boots off while lunching on the wet grass overlooking the mountainside cannot fully be described. Then the slow deliberate act of slipping them on again to face yet another hill cannot be overstated.

Walking a few steps at a time then looking up became my routine. Lucky for me, looking up has always been part of my hiking routine. I saw that people were leaving the trail for an outcropping of rocks. The cloud’s mist swirled around as people visited a statue of the Virgen and her child. After saying hello to her we started back to the trail when the clouds suddenly parted. Of course I went back to take one last picturebut only because Judy asked me if I wanted to go back. When your hiking partner supports your love of chasing light , well all is good with the world. We talked about doubt and faith as we walked away under her watchful gaze.

Our too heavy packs still in our backs made it easy to notice that the people who struggled to get to the albergue in Orisson had given up carrying theirs and sent them on ahead via luggage transport. We talked of weight that would be off of us as we went and I wondered what spiritual weight were we already shedding? We are already lighter by living out of our packs.

I can’t seem to sleep well despite being exhausted by the end of the day. I wait at 3am each morning. I’m not sure why but at least I can use the time to write. And to think.

For now the the giant hills of the Pyrennes are behind us. We are n Spain. I can finally communicate with ease and am rewarded by richer, meaningful conversations.

I’ll stop for now mostly because I must sleep but also because I have to see how my thoughts develop. There’s a goose outside honking and it’s another sign that life outside waits for us to rejoin it.

Tomorrow is a very long day (18 miles). I suspect that we will go well past the place most pilgrims will stop for the night. We will rejoice when they inevitably catch up and ask us how our feet are doing.

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Siempre pa’ adelante!

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El Camino: St. Jean…to Orisson

Today we received the first two stamps in our Pilgrims Credencial. As per my normal, I forgot the Spanish issues Credencial so I had to buy another (French) at the Pilgrims office.

We left Saint Jean at ten am after a lovely breakfast and a trip to the outfitters where we bought some trekking poles. We visited the church and were set to cross the bridge just as the bell tower chimed 10 am.

As we walked we saw pilgrims ahead of us starting the steep incline to the Refuge de Orisson. Thankfully the day was overcast and cool. No matter, we were not.

Being at elevation 125 and climbing to a few thousand feet in a matter of 2.5 hours left us breathless and pensive. We talked about getting up the hill and determined it was the same as eating an elephant, one bite at a time.

The lesson of this hill lies in the knowledge that you have don’t really have to go over it to get to Orisson you can take an easier route. We never considered taking the easier path but we could have.

So why don’t we? Why do we choose the more difficult path?

We came across an older couple that while not technically elderly were up in years. They were struggling. When they eventually made it to the refuge everyone was happy and relieved. Especially them.

The work we put into something is a reflection of the worth we see in it. That’s nothing new or is it?

When do we come to know what we already know? When it’s important for us to know it.

Today’s trail rewarded us with some comical burros, fat and happy cows, sheep, giant buzzards, hillsides completely covered in ferns, and white houses with red shutters and tiled roofs, among other things.

Traveling this path was definitely worth it. Knowing that was the easy part.

For some of us, allowing ourselves to see ourselves as worth the reward of the accomplishment might have been a little trickier.

We (plural and generally speaking) are definitely worth the effort we put into our success. However how we define that success is up to us as well.

If we want to do something and work hard to achieve it we are then also deserving of any resulting reward. Even if that reward is seeing fat happy cows eating grass among miles of ferns dotted with white, red shuttered, tile roofed houses.

And you know, we really didn’t know what was around that bend in the road…..only that we desperately wanted to see it.

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El Camino: Travels to the Trailhead

Sacramento to San Francisco to Biarritz

  • Beside the fact that my backpack grew overnight and weighs way too much, everything went pretty well on our journey today. We made all our connections, enjoyed our inflight meals, laughed at ourselves, and we people watched.
  • We know this trip will be fine. No matter what awaits us we know we will be fine.
  • We did discover however that our trekking poles did not follow us to Biarritz.

    Much hand wringing ensued but all that ended when we discovered that there is a gear shop near the pilgrims office. We will be fine.

    Over our shared dinner we discussed what Father Greg Boyle said at the opening remarks for his yearly staff training program; “People rediscover that they know what they already knew about themselves.” Fr Greg says we rediscover ourselves when we are ready.

    Perhaps it’s maturity. Perhaps it’s our age of discernment. When we are ready we turn away from our insistent refusal to believe that we are in fact the heroes in our own story. We finally accept it.

    Deep in our hearts we seek to validate what we already know about ourselves but we are afraid about what that might mean.

    What does it mean to be the hero in your own story? Who does it effect? Who tells us we can’t be our own heroes? What do they gain from it?

    Our knowledge about who we are lies in the deepest corners of our heart. The information lays there holding memories, hiding inside structures, that like restrictive cages that keep our truth locked away.

    This walk will serve to break down those walls and to get us reacquainted with ourselves.

    Every bump in the road, every set back, every joyful bout of laughter will show us in glimpses of the radiant beauty and light within us; the light that is us. It’s who we are, the women we knew at one time. The women we forgot to value and keep alive. The women yearning to be revealed in strength and beauty…

    Tomorrow is an early day and we have miles to go before we rest, but if today is any indicator, tomorrow will contain only blessings.

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    Siempre pa’ adelante!

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    El Camino: Departure

    Last night I finally felt ready enough to load my pack, sans camera equipment that will be carried everywhere I go.

    As I packed with the goal of keeping under 20 lbs in mind I asked myself, “Do I really need this?” Depending in the answer the item went back on the bed or into the correct dry bag. I have learned to love these dry bags because they act as compression bags as well. Since we will carry the bags onto the plane ‘squishing’ everything into the bin is vital. We are already saddened that our trekking pole must be checked.

    After some huffing and puffing and a few choice words, I proclaimed my pack ready to be weighed! Tadaaaa!

    22 lbs.

    More choice words and I started all over again. Finally I got to 20 lbs.

    Without water.

    Ugh!!! Fine, I’ll deal with it I thought not wanting to pull stuff out again.

    I decided that playing with Avi then talking with him in the dark would be better than unpacking. We laughed and sang and finally fell asleep.

    This morning after picking up my travel partner, Judy we discussed our pack weights….17 pounds she proclaimed.

    Wait? The competitive worry wort juices started flowing. In the parking lot of the airport I pulled my pack apart. I tossed a few unnecessary items and instantly felt better.

    Throughout this whole packing process I’ve been reminded again and again that my blessings are many I’ve been forced to choose that which matters and that which does not. I’ve made those choices without too much wailing because logically they make sense.

    Nothing I’m leaving behind is a detriment to my trip. For the next month all of my most vital belongings are in a backpack.

    I know that I’ll have a place to sleep and food to eat, but even those are choices of preference. I am blessed.

    The only “belongings” I will completely miss and will be lesser for not having is my family.

    Again I am reminded that belonging to each other is the foundation of a happy life. This pilgrimage has already taught me important lessons and we aren’t even on the plane yet.

    For now, I look forward to our return.

    Siempre pa’ adelante.

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    El Camino: Packing and Unpacking

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    Judy and I met this morning, to talk a little about where we are with our lists of things to do and pack.  She has been on a trip for the last week or so and this is our first opportunity to catch up face to face.  It seems that we are well on our way to getting into a car that will take us to the airport. But wait. I am missing one thing.

    My backpack.  (I heard you all gasp)

    Even as I cautioned Judy to get measured/fitted into her pack and I indeed had mine supposedly fitted to my torso, the pack I ordered according to the measurements they took, is too small.

    I hightailed it back to REI and asked to be measured again.  The gentleman that measured me agreed, the size small would not sit on my hips as it should and recommended a larger pack.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have it in stock and again, I had to order it.

    I have been tracking this box for a few days. It started in New York, and has travelled to West Sacramento.  It will be delivered on Monday, tomorrow, the day before we leave.  Can you understand my nerves are quivering.  But, hey I think I have everything else I need, so I shall “be still” and let it go!

    The cool thing about having to go into REI was that the gentleman that helped me also gave me a gift.  He talked to me about a group in Sacramento called the American Pilgrims on the Camino, Sacramento Chapter.  He gave me a patch (see above) that I will adhere to my new pack.  I think that this is another one of those signs I wrote about before that have propelled me to accomplish this journey.  I will wear it proudly as a symbol of God’s intent for me.

    I have then, to practice patience and have faith that everything will be fine. Even if the weather looks like this for day one.

    forecast day 1 and 2

    We start walking west from St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson, France, over the Pyrenees Mountains and will follow the green line to Santiago de Compostela.  That little black cloud will greet us on Day One.

    But hey that’s a costume decision for another day.

    Siempre pa’ adelante!

    camino-shell.jpg

     

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    El Camino: Stuff just got real!

    They say that El Camino de Santiago begins at your doorstep.  I beg to differ.

    I have been dreaming of doing this walk for at least 5 years.  I have watched movies about it, read about it, googled it until I couldn’t see straight and I’ve prayed about it.  All this time it seems that events and situations have placed me on this path and that perhaps I’m really just doing what God wants me to do.  This journey began a very long time ago and now it’s becoming real.

    Today was as busy as I could possibly make it.  It seems like I’m nesting.  Ok, really it seems like I’m coming up with lists and reminders for my family as well as taking care of as much of the household chores as I can. I don’t know if I will be able to get everything completed before leaving but I’m trying.  I just don’t want to let my absence be a bigger burden on my family than it has to be.

    This preparation is not silly.  It reminds me of working really late on Friday nights.  I did this so that I could enjoy my weekends at home without having to worry about what would await on Monday.  So it is with this trip. I don’t want to worry about home “stuff.”  I am confident that everything will run routinely, etc.

    There are a number of things that I cannot fix.  People are ill. I will not be able to accompany them. However, I will take them with me; in my heart and in prayer.

    I will miss my family, especially that grandbaby of mine.

    I will miss my pal Luna and my ever starving fish.

    For me, I want to be able to concentrate on the long road ahead.  I want every step to be deliberate. I want to absorb this experience in every way possible.

    This preparation is my way of committing to my pilgrimage.

    Just a couple more things to think about and do. Santiago de Compostela I’m well on my way.

    Siempre pa’ adelante.

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    A Lonely Bird

    robin-in-grass.jpgI’ve been sitting in my home office researching and preparing for my trip to walk the Camino de Santiago. The past few days have been very mild and on the cooler side of August temperatures. I’ve left the sliding glass door open so that I can enjoy the sounds of my backyard and for the welcome fresh air.

    Two days ago I walked outside in my typical hurried gait with the intent of watering the garden before it became too dark. It was already dusk and I had not cared for my beloved eggplants.

    I stepped down from the house entry and found myself reaching then recoiling from the garden hose. There near the spigot lay a beautiful, fat healthy robin. I gasped and looked to the adjacent window where the telltale feathers marked the spot of his or her demise.  This is not an unusual occurrence for our home, but one that shocks us nonetheless. I asked my husband to gather the lovely bird so that I could finish my chores and so that the dog wouldn’t be tempted to tamper with the poor creature.

    Since the day we discovered the dead robin I have noticed another staying very close to our backyard. It seems as if it is calling out to its partner. The song is the same over and over, all day long.  It just breaks my heart.

    God sends us reminders of our purpose every day. Sometimes we acknowledge them, sometimes we miss them all together.  But always, ALWAYS, those signs remind us that we are only here on earth to be with each other. There is no other reason. We are here to love, cherish, help and support each other.

    This poor little robin is spreading the word, (via tweet?) that without our relationships we are not fulfilling God’s wish for us; that we belong to one another.

    Without belonging we have no meaning.

    Siempre pa’ adelante.

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    El Camino: Meet Sally and Sue Sawtooth!

     

     

    Sally and Sue Sawtooth

    They are plus size girls, and happy on the trail.

    Just a quick update on whats going on.

    Last I wrote that my shoes, Sapphire Oboz gave me blisters on the very first day that I wore them.  So with head hanging low, and in complete awareness that if I walked back into REI I would buy more “stuff” I headed back to my favorite store.   You know why we call everything we buy at REI “stuff?” Because we come home and try to stuff it into a backpack.

    Anyway, I walked in and asked for the same shoe I have worn for the last three years.  They were happy to oblige and it was ordered to pick up at a different store.  A few days later I walked into the second store and picked up the shoes.  Just as I was leaving I thought, no matter what, I should try these on.

    I walked to the shoe area to borrow hiking socks and quickly slip on the shoes.  The woman who helped me said, “Great idea! We should make sure they fit properly.”

    I quickly replied that they would fit since they were exactly the size of my prior pair.  She insisted on putting her finger at the end of the boot and immediately declared that they were too small!  My heart started pounding. Oh gosh, what if she’s right? What if I end up hurt on the trail.  Like a dummy, it didn’t occur to me in my panic that they would have more shoes available.  In my defense, I was remembering that my usual store didn’t have them in stock.

    She said, “Let’s see what size you are,” and she pulled out the insert from the size 8.5 shoe.

    Wait. No one had ever done this for me before.  EVER. And I have always purchased my shoes at REI! So needless to say I was blown away at what happened next.  Now you professionals out there, just stop rolling your eyes.

    She placed my foot in the insert and got down toe level and said, “The arch support is in the wrong spot.  Let’s measure you.”  She put my foot in one of the fancy contraptions and said, “You’re definitely a 9 with a .5 for extra room.”

    I about fell over.  1. I have worn size 8 shoes for most of my adult life. 2. I have been hiking in size 8.5 boots forever. 3. What kind of sasquatch am I? (present company excepted).

    She brought out the bigger boots and pulled out the inserts.  I placed my feet in them and immediately felt the arch support in the right spot.  I tried on the boots and said, wow.

    I have been walking about 6 miles a day in them and have not had a single problem.  I did re-lace them as she suggested and now I feel not only supported but discomfort free as well.

    I am so grateful for the expertise and leadership this woman demonstrated toward my situation. She didn’t try to sell me a lighter shoe. She respected my anxiety and calmed it by knowing her job. I wish I had paid attention to her name so I could give her personal kudos here, but alas I was high on relief when I walked out of the store and didn’t make a note.  I will write to them to let them know that she is fantastic.

    Meanwhile, the biggest anxiety producing hurdle is passed.  The rest should be easy….ok…I still have to pack…that’s weighing on me.

    I slay me.

    Siempre pa’ adelante.

     

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    El Camino: Boots, Socks, Blisters, Oh My!

     

    boots.jpg

    All the articles I have read about walking the Camino have one thing in common.  Every article, blog, list etc says, “Take care of your feet.”

    I’m a runner, walker, hiker, and backpacker.  I am no stranger to blisters, hot spots, ankle pain, black toenails and foot cramps.  When I am told to take care of my feet, I listen.

    SO….I’m very late in buying boots for the trip.  I did buy a pair of the same brand I fell in love with for my wilderness trips, Oboz.  However, this new pair is lighter and more flexible.  I have been wearing them for three days now.  First, only in the house in case I hated them and wanted to return them.  Nope…all good. The second day I wore them all day in and out of the house.  All was good and I started to think, “yay, I will not have any problems.”  Then today I decided to walk briskly to our local levee to see how my feet would do.  Mile two…hot spot.  I decided to turn around to avoid a blister.

    When I got home I got distracted and kept my shoes on while I cleaned up and made lunch.  Eventually, I realized that while my hot spot was not only acting out, I have a blister on my heel.    4 miles.  I am beside myself.

    So back to square one I go.  I think I’m just going to get the exact pair of shoes I have been using for a couple years without a single blister.  I know  I’m starting way too late and that stresses me even more.

    I am also very suspicious of the socks I wore today.  They are double layered.  I’ve never used them before.  I tried toe socks once and thought I was going to have to amputate my toes as a result.  I’m going to wear regular socks for a while before I head back to REI to try more boots.

    I think the Camino is testing me already.  No problem… Better now than later.

    Siempre pa’ adelante.

     

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    El Camino: Decisions, Decisions.

    IMG_0939.JPG

    A few years ago, on a ferry taking us out of the wilderness and back to our awaiting vehicle I engaged in conversation with a lovely woman named Susan who having been injured, was leaving her backpacking trip a little early.  Somehow I mentioned having watched the movie, The Way, and her face lit up. She talked to me about the Camino de Santiago.  She said she completed the French route, well because of the F*ing food.   I listened intently feeling drawn to her adventure and wondering if I could do it too.

    Most people have heard about hiking the Camino. But like me, many may not realize that there is a network of trails that can be taken to Galicia, Spain. Many do not understand that hiking the trails is in fact meant to be a pilgrimage to the site where St. James is buried in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

    Over the years I have talked about it to anyone who will listen and have been rewarded with conversations with those who have to my surprise, completed the journey themselves.  One woman gave me her map/guidebook to study. Another man I met in Yosemite, Walter, has recently completed the trip with his lovely wife and as such has provided much-appreciated details and recommendations.

    Accompanying my husband and one of his “bromances” and his wife, Judy to the California Classic summer league basketball games, I was happy to strike up a conversation about my desire to travel in August.  To my happy surprise, she said she wanted to go too. And so the planning began.

    Today, over five years after I first started dreaming about walking the Camino, I have confirmed an itinerary for hiking the 500 miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to the cathedral in Galicia.  We should be in France on August 31, 2018. I’m so excited I can’t think or sleep.

    I hope to post updates as we go, although really, I’ve not yet figured out how this will work.  That’s ok, its all an adventure!

    camino-shell.jpg

    Siempre pa’ adelante!

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    When the nest is (really, really) empty.

    This weekend was wonderful albeit filled with all the anxiety and discomfort of a family milestone. We packed up the older sister and the three-year-old non-stop talker (talkers are nothing new in our family) and headed to Santa Clara to bear witness to the conferral of degrees to the Santa Clara University class of 2018. My youngest child, my son of 22 years received his Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He graduated Cum Laude, lamenting that first quarter freshman year when the adjustment managed to damage his GPA. His choice to enter into a five-year program to accomplish his Masters in short order caused him to have a three-year undergraduate experience and leaving him .03 points away from the Magma Cum Laude honor.

    He already rented his apartment and is raring to move in. It’s one day after graduation and he’s ready. His internship job is morphing into a full-time job for the summer while he begins his summer classes to get a jump on the master’s degree.

    It’s now Sunday, Father’s Day. We clean up the house we rented nearby and pick him up for a quick lunch. He chooses a small but familiar diner type restaurant for our meal. It’s good hearty food and even the baby seems to enjoy the meal.

    We return him to the house he’s lived in for the past few years that is so trashed and unkept he won’t let us go in. It’s more attributable to the slum lords that charge ridiculous amounts of money for college kids to live close to campus than the kids who actually live there. Things need regular upkeep and repair; this house for 8 gets neither.

    We hug and say our goodbyes. He walks away. As we drive off I realize that even though his room is filled with his clothes and belongings that he will likely not return to call our house his home anymore. Well yes, it will always be his home, but not likely his residence.

    Then it kinda hit me. We actually are real empty nesters. Like Shrek’s donkey says, “Really, really.” Neither of our two kids lives in our house.

    They really don’t go away, but they are no longer a constant presence. Or am I kidding myself? I don’t know. This one just feels really different. He’s always been a little more standoffish, independent.

    It just feels different.

    So as we leave the Bay Area to go home I cry a little. Santa Clara University you have been good to my son. Thank you.

    Pleasanton. Livermore. Tracy. Stockton.

    One day he’ll understand how this silly separation seems so abysmal. And when that day comes, I’ll be old enough to know that it really wasn’t.

    Congrats to the universities’ Class of 2018 and their parents. I wonder how many of us are feeling this way.

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    Out of the Mouths of Babes

    Originally posted online on Tuesday, August 3, 2010, at 11:58pm

    1312896478_bracero-workers-registering

    Registration

    This morning I sat, as usual, typing at the computer when our student walked into my office to file some papers….she bounced in like Tigger and said, “Hey Ms. Garcia I told my boyfriend that your parents were farm workers and you went to Cal. He asked if you were in the Bracero Program?”

    Ok, so when I stopped laughing and picked myself up off the floor, I saw that she was dead serious. I said, “Let me put it this way, “No, but my grandfather was.”

    The Bracero Program, which brought millions of Mexican guest workers to the United States, ended more than four decades ago. Most young people today know very little about the program, the nation’s largest experiment with guest workers. The Bracero Program’s name comes from the word, brazo, (arm) and means manual laborer.

    The Bracero Program grew out of a series of bilateral agreements between Mexico and the United States that allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work on, short-term, primarily agricultural labor contracts. From 1942 to 1964, 4.6 million contracts were signed, with many individuals returning several times on different contracts, making it the largest U.S. contract labor program.

    The Bracero Program was created by executive order in 1942 because many growers argued that World War II would bring labor shortages to low-paying agricultural jobs. In 1951, after nearly a decade in existence, concerns about production and the U.S. entry into the Korean conflict led Congress to formalize the Bracero Program with Public Law 78.

    The Bracero Program was controversial in its time. Mexican nationals, desperate for work, were willing to take difficult and labor-intensive jobs at wages scorned by most Americans. Each contract also had built-in safeguards to protect both Mexican and domestic workers for example, guaranteed payment of at least the prevailing area wage received by native workers; employment for three-fourths of the contract period; adequate, sanitary, and free housing; decent meals at reasonable prices; occupational insurance at employer’s expense; and free transportation back to Mexico at the end of the contract. My mom has a copy of my grandfathers contract.

    Employers were supposed to hire braceros only in areas of certified domestic labor shortage and were not to use them as strikebreakers. In practice, they ignored many of these rules and Mexican and native workers suffered while growers benefited from plentiful, cheap, labor.

    Unfortunately, not all of this immigration was legal. While the Bracero Program allowed more people to find work in the United States, many farm-owners and employers continued to illegally employ undocumented workers with disregard to the Bracero Program because illegal laborers were more willing to work for lower wages. In 1949, approximately forty percent of the country’s migratory workers were illegal.

    To stop this problem, the federal government initiated a program called “Operation Wetback” in 1950. The purpose of this program was to encourage undocumented workers to leave voluntarily and to deport them. While the Border Patrol forces used in this operation did not exceed seven to eight hundred men, they were able to seize an average of eleven hundred “wetbacks” each day. 1.1 million Mexicans were deported. This program continued until 1954.

    DeportationToMexico1951_600px

    Deportation

    Ten years later, the Bracero Program was also terminated after having legally and temporarily employed nearly 4.5 million Mexican laborers. From then on, immigrant workers were left with the options of obtaining citizenship, green cards that permit temporary employment, or a resident visa.

    Now, between 1952 and 1953 my grandfather Vicente Vidaurri (1896-1973), came to know a rancher named Homer Dillon. He met the man as a Bracero and was contracted to work for him for two, three month periods. My grandfather was a landowner and rancher himself, in Mexico but wanted a better life for his family in the US. He brought a great deal of expertise with him and soon earned the trust and respect of the Dillon patriarch.

    He was working in Donna, Texas and left his family in Mexico. He worked and they applied for passports to join him. Eventually, on April 23, 1953, he entered into a three-year contract with Mr. Dillon. The family still continued to apply for permission to join him and each year did not make it into the 12 thousand person quota. Each year they applied again. The contract ended on April 22, 1956, and on October 26 the family was allowed to join him. He was called an indentured servant on the contract.

    My mother tells that she was 15 years old when she came to the US on her passport. In those days, her picture and that of her brother Francisco (also a minor) were located on the same passport as that of her mother, Gregoria, and her father, Vicente. The older children, Jose, Melecio and her sister Inez, had their own passports.

    The family joined my grandfather after being registered and examined physically. My mother recalls the complete physical she endured. “It was like when you have a baby. The tell you to take off all your clothes and examine each part of you. They were looking for diseases, sexually transmitted ones.”

    Examinations

    Examinations

    She negates having been fumigated like most of the men were in order to ensure that they were pest free. They were fumigated with DDT.

    Fumigation

    Fumigation

    She recalls that she earned money by cleaning Mr. Dillon’s house for his wife, Irma. Mom recalls that the Dillons were very nice to her family. The Dillons had two older boys and no daughters. Mrs. Dillon spent a great deal of money on my mom and bought her dresses and other clothes. Mom laughs, “She even bought me shorts! Papá never let me wear shorts, so I had to hide them.”

    When the contract was over, my grandfather continued to work with the Dillons about three more years. Eventually, the family left Donna, Texas and came to California around 1960.

    My parents married in 1961 and I was born in 1962.

    So I was never a part of the Bracero program (geez, how old does she think I am?), but it is a part of me.

    Thanks for being my friends.

    Siempre Adelante

    *PhotoSource:

    https://are.berkeley.edu/~howardrr/pubs/lmd/html/winterspring_93/gallery.html