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~Explore. Dream. Discover~

"Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you,
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places."

Current Missions:
~To Walk Every Street In San Francisco~
~To Give 1,000 Compliments~
!To Find my Great-Grandparents' Birth Certificates in Italy~
!To Walk Across Spain on the Camino de Santiago!
!To See Lava in Guatemala!
!To Study Spanish in Mexico!

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Welcome to the Travelingdina Blog!

I write about anything and everything I come across in my travels both near and far.

Check out some of the highlights by clicking on the story links below:

The Daring Hummingbird Rescue Mission

Love in Chamula

OMG It's Lava!
(Four-part story. Click the links at the bottom of the entry for each next part.)

Send Lawyers, Guns & Money

A Story About Blood


Diana Joy Colbert, 1970-2011

I sat in my cubicle on the first day of my first Grown Up job, staring at the screen, wondering when I could start playing minesweeper and if I would ever make any friends here.  It was 1995, and I was a Program Assistant for the Social Science Research Council in New York City, a nonprofit that, though I didn't know it at the time, was a stepping stone for young, liberal-minded grads with a bent for academia.  A lot of the work -- OK, the majority of it -- was grunt work, but we were surrounded by the best.

Each Program Officer had a 20-something Program Assistant from prestigious schools: Penn, NYU, Columbia.  I couldn't believe I was actually here, among the braniacs, feeling like an impostor in my fancy slacks, a part-timer who was still finishing up her degree.  I'd taken the job more out of cluelessness and a passion for social justice issues than as a career move, which seemed to have been the intention of the other folks there. 

And, except for a high school job in a bond-trading office where I was automatically relegated to the Kids in High School Clique, I'd never worked in a large office before.  It was overwhelming!  Would I be alone all day? Who would I eat with? Would I have any friends? What about these ridiculous slacks? Were they OK? Would I fit in, even a little?

I needn't have worried. I shared a very large, 2-sided cubicle with Christina Kang, a friendly and gregarious Program Assistant for another project-- whose wedding I eventually attended and with whom I remain friends to this very day, my first (and only!) "cube-mate." Christina took me along for lunch, introducing me to the whole gang.

My first day, my first lunch, and I will never forget meeting Diana.  She was tall, tall, tall, with long arms and legs, pale skin, short, shaggy blonde hair and a nose piercing.  A nose piercing! She wore sandals and a long, flowing dress and I was decidedly both terrified and awed by her: her look, her energy, her presence.

Diana, at some point, chose to introduce herself to me, to walk with me, to sit and ask questions about me and share bits and pieces of herself as well. She gave me the ins-and-outs of the office and was just generally unbelievably friendly to the new girl, without being overwhelming  at all. 

I was literally startstruck.  In the competitive world I grew up in, I'd never met someone who just came at me with what appeared to be such unambiguous curiosity and kindness.  Diana and I quickly became good friends, with sleepovers at her apartment even though I only lived  blocks away.  We took our first Big Travel together: flying to Calironia, renting a car, and promptly almost destroying it. 

She remained on my credit card for years after that -- to rent a car, one must be over 24 -- which she was, but I wasn't -- and have a credit card -- which I had, but she didn't.  Solution? AMEX Family card! And Voilá, we were family, off and renting and riding the brakes all the way down the steep 10% grades of California's Northern Sierras.  Once in SF, she looked up and took me to the Women's Community Center in San Francisco, an image of such striking power I remembered it instantly, despite the neighborhood having changed substantially, when I moved in literally 2 doors down almost 12 years later.  We went to a yoga retreat (me, doing yoga??) and ate flowers picked from a bush in a backyard.

Diana and I went to our first Ani DiFranco concerts together, our first festivals together, hilariously sober campers surrounded by a field of unwashed travelers playing Hacky Sack in clouds of smoke outside their tents with dogs named Ganja.  Diana was someone I could sing with and laugh with, someone I didn't need to drink or party with to have fun-- not always the easiest task for me.

Her endless reserves of hope and determination were inspiring.  She always worked steadily toward self-iprovement, and put her heart and energy and dedication into whatever she chose to focus on at that time: massage (the "I'm practicing arms today, come over!" were the best invites ever!), church, writing, love. Diana was a truly caring person and a gifted healer.

Like all friendships, we had our ups and downs.  Jealousies, insecurities, competitiveness, boys, egos: it all gets in the way, especially in our 20's.  But Diana and I had a profound effect on each other, a deep love that comes from friendships made when we're all still figuring ourselves out.  We reconciled shortly after I left NYC, and saw each other periodically: we shared a room at Christina's wedding, she saw me perform in Midsummer Night's Dream in Manhattan, we got hot cocoa in Starbuckses and cheesecake in pastry shops around the City.

Diana was so hopeful, kind, joyous, and achieved much in her short life.  She lost her battle with Leukemia on December 8th, 2011.

Rest in peace, Diana, and come smile on us, shower us with your hope and inspire us to follow our dreams. To not give up in the face of fear. To love.

In memory of Diana, I ask you to reach out to an old friend this week, someone you haven't talked to in a while, someone you haven't heard from beyond the periodic status update and a thumbs-up. Pick up the phone for a minute and give a call, if only to say, "Hi, I remember you, and us, and I am thinking of you. I love you. Thank you for being a part of my life."


           BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ! The alarm goes off. Time to move the car. Fucking alternate-side-of-the-street parking, never suspended in NYC, it seems. Eh, well, I guess that’s the price we pay for having a car in the most glorious city in the world, right? OK, maybe not most glorious, but certainly the most intense, yes? Yes.

           I was glad I had gotten out of that rat-race, though, and only visiting the City this time. I’d moved to a rural town Upstate, and was in NYC just for a long weekend, staying with Adam, well, now staying alone at Adam’s place, since he’d taken off early that morning to go to Boston.

           I didn’t even really bother with clothes, just threw something on over my PJs and headed out around the block to move the car.

           “BOOM!” I heard, suddenly, the sound making me jump 3 feet in the air.

           “Now this is why I don’t live in New York City anymore,” I thought. “My trigger-hair startle reflex has me jumping at every passing garbage truck that hits a pothole.” I didn’t give the sound another thought -- it was just another bit of loud chaos in an increasingly loud and chaotic city.

           As I walked down Third Street towards the corner of Second Avenue, I noticed a small crowd gathering on the corner.

            “It’s a fire,” I heard them saying. I peered with sleep-crusted eyes down Second Ave., looking down, down, down past the rows of parked cars and streaming traffic, but saw nothing.

           “Oy,” I thought, “I don’t really want to stare at some unfortunate person’s fire, anyway,” and continued across the street to find my car. I got in, drove down and around the block, parking easily -- a first in NYC! -- and walked up First Ave , turning again on the far corner of Third Street to walk the quick half-block home.

           But now a decidedly large crowd was gathered on the corner at Second Avenue. “Must be some helluva fire,” I thought, and, shrugging, wandered back over in my PJ pants to see what the hell was going on. I looked down the street in the direction of everyone’s stares, but saw nothing. Then I looked up, to where a few people, open-mouthed, were pointing.

        The Twin Towers were on fire!!!

           It took a second for the magnitude of it to sink in. The enormity of the Towers is truly hard to comprehend, and, my sleepy cognitive processes slowly began to put things together.

           “That’s not just one floor,” I thought, as the wheels of my brain began to kick in, trying to comprehend. “Yeah, t’s a few floors. It kind of looks like a lot of floors. How does a fire spread like that to more than one floor? Is it, like, a wastepaper-basket fire gone mad or something? How does that happen? OMG, wait, that’s not a fire, that’s, that’s, that’s a BOMB!!”

           And, just as I began to mumble that very thought to someone, anyone among the small throng of onlookers about me -- “OMG, it’s a bomb,” under my breath, a whisper -- we all saw the bright red and black and grey, sparking ring of fire, smoke and soot circle the second tower. We gasped, collectively, and in a split second it swooped upward, encasing it in a bright and terrifying fast-moving symmetrical explosion.

           We didn’t see the plane, and I don’t remember hearing a sound this time, but I suddenly realized that it was no garbage truck I’d heard walking to my car. We watched, transfixed, this group of strangers, wondering what was going on. Yes, a bomb, we all agreed. Bombs.

           I felt an odd numbness, like something inside me knew this was bigger than what it seemed, and I ran to Adam’s apartment to get... a camera? Money? Clothes? I went back, with the intention of returning to the corner to document what was going on. And in the short time I was there, turned on the television to try to piece together what was going on, and saw the tower fall before me on the screen.

           “America may be under attack,” reported the newscasters. And in a very calm manner, I decided, “I need to buy postcards. Of the Twin Towers. I need to get some postcards.”

           And so the next thing I knew, there I was, wandering along Houston Street, dazed and numb, attempting to find a store selling postcards. I bough a few, a bunch, picking out my favorites, taking one of each.This was my rationalization, this was what had to be done.

           And as I left the store, and re-entered the street, the throngs came walking up from Downtown. People more dazed than I, some barefoot, covered in soot and grey ash, every shade of white coating their hair, their eyelashes, as if they had been caught in an epic snowstorm. Walking, totally silent. The entire City was silent: everything around me appeared to be occurring in slow motion, as if I were somehow trapped inside a movie that was happening all around me, yet nobody else could see that I was there, too.

           Suddenly, somebody shouted, “They’re going after the small buildings next!!!!” and life snapped back around me, I could hear the screaming and the sirens wailing, people crying, ash falling like pieces of giant evil confetti. I could see and feel and smell the panic all around me: reality in one quick second sprang back with more force than I have ever experienced, leaving me gasping, terrified, and running for my life.

           And I ran, ran, RAN as fast as I could back to Adam’s, my lungs screaming and tearing and burning inside my chest. I dialed my mother over and over and over again. “Don’t let me die without saying goodbye,” I thought. “ I need to say goodbye. ” I need to say I love you.

           And the Verizon Lady was saying, “Due to the tornado in your area, your call cannot be completed as dialed.”

        And my reptilian mind was saying, “I am scared.”

           When I got back to the apartment, I got ready to walk. I put on my boots, emptied my backpack, and filled it with as many water bottles as I could. Somehow, I’d gotten a hold of my brother, a rock, a solid block of rationality in a storm. One of those amazing types who somehow manages not to show his fear or his feelings, a stoicism he inherited from our father that I got not one drop of, a stoicism that to me is a magic power, a magic power that never ceases to amaze me.

           “I’m walking over the Bridge, Lee,” I said in the midst of my panic. It seemed the most rational way to safety. “I know it might take a while, but I can do it. Tell mom to pick me up on the Jersey side of the GW. I think we need to get off of the island!”

           He told me to stay put.  “You’ll be safer where you are,” he said, my wiser, more stable younger brother. “Just stay where you are. OK?”

           And the phone may have gone dead but I knew to listen. So I unstrapped the heavy bag from my shoulders-- but did not remove my boots. I watched the horror over and over again on the television, trying to make sense of what was going on.

          All I knew was, we were at war.

       We were not safe.

       I might never see my family again.

           Somehow, the Internet, miraculously, still worked. Up popped, on AIM, Randi and Linda Rosenkranz, childhood friends from Jersey, who relayed messages from my mother and helped to keep me calm. I felt trapped in this apartment, alone with my fear, and the chats calmed me down. There was someone there who knew me, loved me, knew where I was. It was a connection.

           In my email, I found a response from someone I’d dated before leaving NYC, someone I hadn’t heard from in a year or two, but who I’d emailed randomly a few days before this particular weekend trip just to say Hi.

           “Hi,” he’d written, “Where are you now?”

           “Third Street,” I replied. “Where are you?”

           He was online, too.

           “I’m at Union Square. Meet me halfway. Walk up Second. East Side.”

           And we met, I remember seeing him from afar, on the Northeast corner of something and Second. And when I spied him, I just ran and ran, and he was beaming, actually, to see me, blue eyes sparkling with an emotion I don’t know how to define. He scooped me up and twirled me around as always, around and around and around and around.

           “What the fuck is happening?” we asked each other. We didn’t know. Nobody knew.  There was terror all around us, the world was ending, but we were no longer alone.

          So hand in hand we walked the streets, ran, skipped, jumped, actually, glancing at the televisions people had left propped up in windows, outside storefronts and on chairs in doorways. We accepted and drank the free beer and sodas restaurants were given away. We ran down those sidewalks, flirted, climbed scaffolding, and finally just sat down on the curb and ate burritos, leaning into each other, watching the ambulances roar down the empty streets to join the others consumed within the cloud of smoke downtown.

           We went back to Adam’s place and enjoyed each other’s company for as long as we could, waiting.                         

          “They’re going after the small buildings next!”

           Nobody wants to die alone.

        Adam had left the morning before on an airplane to Boston. Adam, my first boyfriend, and now my best friend, one of the few human beings on this planet who has not just grown up with me, but battled with me, and survived, who loves me despite my million flaws which include hurting him countless times in the past. We’re friends with so much love and history that he’s become family; I could not bear to lose him.

           And so it’s an understatement to say I was relieved when I heard from him, that he was OK. But he really wasn’t OK -- nobody was OK -- and I would wait for him to get back to NYC. When he arrived, we would go to New Jersey together, whenever we could get out.

           I spent the day wandering the streets. The City was eerily quiet, like nothing I’ve ever experienced and hope I never do again. There were no cars allowed south of 14th street, and so we were all just milling around, silent, in a daze, the smoldering ruins continuing to obscure all of Downtown.

           Every lightpost was plastered with signs and photos, “Have you seen our daughter Silvia? 19th Floor.” “Missing: John X, please call home...” PETA, whose politics I don’t normally agree with but whose caring certainly shined through this time, had posted: “If you know of an animal who is missing its person, please contact...” Those poor pets, alone at home, wondering why their loved ones hadn’t come back for them.

           With every sign the lump grew larger in my throat, my heart heavier. It was OK to cry in public on this day.

           I found myself at a spontaneous vigil in Washington Square Park, candles and flyers and signs and wreaths and people calling for peace, there to support each other in our grief and confusion and loss. I held another young woman in my arms, my age, also brunette; we sat on the ground and I held her as she cried, and I cried with her, and we couldn’t say it would be OK, because it wasn’t. But being able to connect silently, with a stranger, seemed to give us both some comfort.

           Adam and I left the City as soon after he arrived as we could, driving out in relative silence, taking it in, wondering what was next. He was stunned, I was stunned; we all were. Nobody had any words.

           Back in New Jersey, I was relieved to be with my family. My father, whose stoicism is normally even stronger than my brother’s, seemed equally stunned, in a way I could barely reconcile with the man I’d known my entire life.

           “I drove past those Towers every morning and every evening for 30 years,” my father said, sitting down on the bed, “and now they’re just...” He choked back a sob. “Gone.”

           I had never before seen my father cry.

           If you’ve ever been to New York, you know what a crazy, impersonal, and sometimes downright mean city it can be. This event, this tremendous, gut-wrenching, incomprehensible event changed its energy. 9/11 was a horrible tragedy, and yet a sort of quiet, civilized magic blanketed the city in the days and months afterward. From 9/11, what I want to remember is the caring I felt from strangers, a palpable, tangible caring. The hellos, the held-open doors, the embraces and nods and sad half-smiling acknowledgments of your presence.

           May we never again forget our humanity. Let us cast aside our differences, and care for each other in good times and in bad as countrymen, as Americans, as human beings, as people.

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My life these days doesn't leave much time for blogging. As a brand-new School Social Worker (Capitalized!), I'm working 11.5 hour days for peanuts, coming home and working some more.

So, I'm trying to take a break and "relax". Which means cooking all the veggies that are rotting away from neglect in the fridge, plus the new ones that I just got from my CSA ("Community Supported Agriculture"), Eatwell Farms.

Basically, it's a box of fairly locally-grown (California), mostly organic veggies that gets delivered twice a month to a drop-off location; I pick it up after work. (That is, when I don't forget, which has only happened once or twice over the last 4 years, miracle of miracle.)

I love Eatwell because everything is in-season, they give me recipes, and I can put the boxes on hold for my travels. The only downside is every now and then you wind up with 800 pounds of yams or 6 uneaten eggplants in the fridge.

This week, it's tomatillos and zucchini: they got delivered this week, and I've been so busy the last 2 weeks I haven't done anything with them at all.

So, I'm attempting to cook. Generally, my food is pretty ugly but tastes OK. Except for a few disasters, that is (a zucchini basil soup was particularly wretched).

Today I'm attempting this recipe from the She Wears Many Hats blog, for a tomatillo salsa. (Image from her blog, too!)

Veggies are roasting. I was about to look for a zucchini recipe, but it seems my work-12-hours, come-home-and-isolate isn't the healthiest idea, so I'm going to just... let those veggies roast and go out to dinner with my friend Allison at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack. (<--also stolen from google)

So much for best laid plans! Now we know why my fridge is full of rotting veggies...


Unless USAir does something to make it right, I'll just donate my miles and write them off. My experience with USAir so far has been the typical stuff that can happen with any airline: Lost Luggage? (check). Broken Plane? (Check). Overbooked flight? (Check.)

Howabout getting an error message from the website saying they can't process your change request, only to discover: Website Cancels Original Ticket, Doesn't Give New One, Blames Me


Dear USAir:

I attempted to change a reservation online, and USAir took me off my paid, booked flight, without charging me for or putting me on the new flight that I’d attempted to book on the web, thereby leaving me stranded with no way home to San Francisco from Mexico. My experience trying to get my reservation back was extremely stressful and time-consuming; to add insult to injury, your agents were condescending and refused to acknowledge a website error. The details of my experience are as follows:

On Wednesday, June 22nd, between 6:30am and 9:30 am Central time, I tried to change my flight online, to return home to San Francisco from Mexico June 26th instead of June 28th. The website showed me some options, and I chose one where the new flight was actually cheaper than my old flight. The website warned me that I would not receive the difference because it was a non-refundable ticket, and I would be charged $150 for the change fee. There was a big red button saying I agreed, and they should charge my card $150. Great! Perfect! Go ahead, charge me and change my flight!

However, as soon as I clicked it, I got a USAir “We’re sorry” error message. It said to call 1-800-327-7810. The customer service representative at that number asked for the error number inside the parentheses, which was 1.20.124000.37210. They noted all the information I related above, but said they could not help me, and transfererd me to International Reservations. Whereupon I was immediately disconnected. This then happened three times.

Since I could not get through to Customer Service, and I’d already spent hours on this, I decided to give up on changing the ticket, and just keep my original flight for June 28th. But later in the evening I went to check on my reservation, and received this error message:

No combination of numbers or dates could show me a reservation. Since one leg of the original flight was through United, I easily logged on to their website, which… showed me going only to Phoenix, and not all the way to San Francisco! Panicked, I called USAir again, and finally made it through to a USAir representative. She said that I had canceled my reservation. I replied that no, I had tried to change my reservation for $150, but the website gave an error. I assumed that, since my credit card had not been charged, no changes had been made and I had my original flight. She replied that, no, in fact my ticket had been canceled, and it would cost me $275 or so to change the flight. She refused to acknowledge the original price quoted to me. She also said it would be impossible to put me back on my original flight.

Eventually she got me on a flight to Phoenix, but not all the way through to San Francisco on the original United flight. When I asked what I was going to do to get from Phoenix to San Francisco, she said “I suggest you don’t worry about it, I’m sure United will take care of it, get some sleep and call back tomorrow.” Well, instead, I called United immediately; they said there would be no way United could let me on the flight because of a change in the fare class, and that I should call USAir and ask for a supervisor to either change the fare class or put me on all USAir flights.

So of course I called back USAir. Eventually a supervisor got me all the way through to San Francisco, although I had to pay an additional $22 additional to guarantee me a seat. He explained that if I didn’t pay that, I could be “bumped” in Phoenix because of USAir’s policy of overbooking flights. To add insult to injury, all the while he was trying to get me back on my original flights to San Francisco he was telling me he was “doing me a favor” because it was “not USAir’s mistake.” Honestly, I do not understand how USAir could take me off a paid, booked flight without charging me or putting me on a new flight first. Clearly my mistake was simply trying to change a flight via USAir and believing that their website would work.

I am requesting compensation in the amount of the $22 extra that I had to pay to simply guarantee I could get home on my $464 ticket. In fact, since I spent uncountable hours on the web, on the phone, and with incredible stress during my trip, I would appreciate additional compensation (such as miles or a free round trip flight from San Francisco). I am livid at my treatment by USAir, that they would cancel my ticket in the first place, and then not take ownership of their website’s mistake.




Day 4: Camino via Escort (21K)

Day 4: Tabara to Santa Croya del Tera (21K)

June 22, 2009

So, after spending a few hours waiting for me like nervous Jewish moms (and perhaps not without reason) the night before, today Hugo and Maartin decided to walk part of the way with me. Their main goal was less about protecting me from potentially hazardous tractor-drivers (they thought he was probably fine) but more about showing me how to “read” the Camino-- i.e., figure out which way the arrows are pointing, or which way the trail goes if there are none-- so I could avoid feeling (or, um, getting) lost and the need to actually engage with said tractor-drivers beyond a wave.

"Reading" the Camino involves tricks that are vaguely like what it must be like to stalk wildlife: we look at the ground for footprints, bicycle tracks, and small piles of stones that previous walkers may have left as a sign to those to follow. Ironically, this part of the stretch had really good waymarking – you could follow the arrows pretty much even without a book – so their effort, though well-intentioned, was kind of silly.

It seemed all the more silly since I’d had it in my head that I would prefer, in general, to walk alone (and, as it turns out, in general, I do! Except for those rare cases where I really clicked with people, I enjoyed the alone time to meditate, listen to books/music, or, um, freak out in peace. But more on that later.) Hugo kept emphasizing a bit dramatically that later in the day we would need to part, he wanted to walk alone, he prefers to walk faster, etc., etc., all of which I thought was pretty amusing, since he’d took it upon himself to walk with me and “show me the ropes" -- I never asked. I don’t know if I just bring out the caretaker in people, or if he just likes to feel self-important. Most likely it's  a combination of both-- and the company was certainly a combination of amusing/annoying.

Listening to Hugo's cute Irish accent was fun, but he tended to talk a LOT, and mostly about himself and his own experiences – when I’d try to add to the conversation (for example, he likes birds, and I wanted to talk about Rangering and how I got into birding, share some birdie love) he pretty much didn’t care. At all. Maartin tended to walk a bit ahead, or smile and nod and add little to the conversation.

This whole somewhat odd dynamic, in turn, though, made me reflect on the nature of conversation in general. What do we get out, emotionally, of conversation? Is it from hearing about the others’ stories and points of view? Or just having someone listen to our own? Is it paying attention? Or is there something in the exchange?  

Where I grew up, much of "conversation" is about relating our own experiences and commonalities with those the other is sharing.  There's not much silence, and everyone jumps in to share their own side.  In this case, it was clear that wasn't what Hugo was interested in. So, even though a back-and-forth is more what I’m used to, I took it upon myself as a cue to just listen and reflect, and to try not to talk about myself so much.

So Hugo yammered and yammered, and I tried to be pleasant and listen, but to be honest, It was hard to disentangle my own need to yammer and yammer, and so I soon began to tune out, and didn’t really enjoy walking with them all that much. The time did, however, go surprisingly quickly – much more quickly than when I’ve been alone.  By the time we’d gotten 14K though (pretty much without stopping), I was really, really, really tired, and my feet were killing me.

We were almost through a pretty much deserted town when I decided that I couldn’t go on without a rest. (Put hand to forehead in dramatic gesture here.)  So, Hugo went on, and shortly thereafter, Maartin realized I had turned into Grumpy McGrumperson and probably wanted to be alone, and went ahead, too. I walked all the way back to the softly rotting stone church we’d passed at the entrance to the town, and climbed up the rickety, smoothly worn stone steps on the outside to the belltower. I had a nice view of the fields we’d passed and the path we’d come up from up there.  I sat and tried to nurture my poor little feet, airing them out, poking at blisters, and adding wads of band-aids and cotton before eating some sardines and putting my shoes back on.

By Day 4, the walks were beginning to blend into each other-- hours of red dirt roads, winding next to undulating cut straw fields.  The 7K stretch I had left from the church to Santa Croya del Tara is where another one of these clay-colored dirt tracks snaking to the horizon began to climb slowly but steadily uphill.  My feet were throbbing, and I felt if I stopped, I might never start again.  I'd already begun listening to "The Secret" (a new-age version of "Think Positive!") on my ipod, and decided to put it to the text.

I fixed my stare at the top of the hill, and, with every step and spring of my pole, repeated, "I am strong! I am strong!” over and over. And over. And over.  It was my meditation, a mantra, and, in my 1-minded, goal-oriented tunnel vision, I made it to the top!! And... wiithout stopping once!

Safely at the top, I paused, and a friendly man with a car (read: non-pilgrim) and binoculars made me spill out my water -- "Caliente! Caliente! Necisita agua frio!" and gave me some cooler water from his canteen. We had friendly chat (to the best of my ability) and he told me the town was "not far now." From there, I could see the tiny town waaaay down there in the distance, and how the terrain, as the camino made itself slowly downhill, would be changing.

I passed lots of little huts, which I understood to be like above-ground wine cellars. The terrain was becoming more and more green, as i descended off the hot, dry Meseta into the valley and foothills that would lead me to of Galicia. I heard the plaintive bleating of a sheep, and watched as a farmer walked from a stable and across a field to another stable, all the while carrying the limp body of a tiny sheep,  its legs swinging under his arms. The bleating didn't come from this lamb, though, but from who i presume was its mama, who trotted next to the farmer, just bleating over and over and over as they made their way across the field. It was kind of sad and kind of shocking -- was the lamb dead? -- but the mamas cries made me think of love, and I chose to think, the farmer was just helping the lamb along, since he could walk faster. Or something.

I finally made my way over a small bridge and into the town, where I came upon a clean square and gorgeous park next to a river. The alburgue was near the exit of town, so I sat on a bench for a while (oh my poor feet!) before pressing on the last 10 minutes.  The alburgue itself was super nice, although, being a "private" alburgue and not the Camino-sponsored one, was a pricey 10 Euros for a bunk.  The typical pilgrim dinner made by the alburgue hostess for the 3 of us -- HUGE plate of pasta, salad, and the ubiquitous Lomo (pork loin made with salt-n-pepper) with wine-- was delicious, and cost 8 Euros. 

I didn't last much longer after dinner -- just picked a bunk near the window, cuddled up into bed, and had a nice, long rest.

Below: Casa Anita, the private Albergue in Sta Croya del Tera

Casa Anita Alburge in Santa Croya del Tera


              After the dramafull morning, walking slowly got better. The terrain was gorgeous, with the river behind me, the gently forested slope in front of me, clear views from the top, and easy paths later on.  The craziness of the morning felt like it had happened to another person, in another lifetime. 

            However, something I learned is that the sun actually gets hotter at 4:00pm than it is at Noon. So, my late starts and slowpoke ways aren’t always so innocuous! It was time for a break.  I wound up stopping in Faramontanos de Tábara -- an extremely cute, more modern-looking but still tiny pueblo probably about 7.5K from Tábara, where the albergue ultimately was located. 

            A pretty, 20- or 30-something with a glass in her hand – the only person I’d seen in the town -- pointed me in the direction of 2 bars.   The closer one, naturally, was closed. I trudged back up and through the bright square into the darkness of the 2nd bar.  I had another of would be a million bocadillos over the summer (basically, a sandwich made from a baguette – this one with a not-that-spicy chorizo) and a coffee.  I wasn’t all that comfortable sitting in the nearly-empty bar, so I headed back out through the annoying rubber-fringe door curtain and started back across the square.

            As I was walking, I noticed an old, old, old – I mean, like, really old – lady sitting in slippers on a bench under the shadow made by a porch balcony from the town hall that lined one side of the deserted square. She was hunched over, and nearly bald, a tiny woman with a long, long, hooked nose. She saw me, and called out for me to come to her.

            “It’s too hot for you to be walking,” she said in Spanish. “You should sit here with me.”

OK, I thought. Who was I to say no to the world’s grandmother?  I sat with her for about an hour, where we had the same conversation over and over and over again.

             “Es tu primera vez aqui?    “Oh, yes, it’s my first time here.”

            Que bueno!!! Vas solica?”   “Yes, I’m walking alone!”

            Que valiente!!! Donde comenziste?”   “I started in Salamanca.”

             “Que marveilloso!......  Es tu primera vez aqui?” 

 And so-on.  It was actually OK—I got to have a conversation in Spanish where I actually understood the questions and knew how to say the answers. And, this little old lady reminded me of my beloved Aunt Bibbie, who, in her mid 90’s, has a tendency toward this same conversational trick.  It just made me feel good to give someone some much-needed company, and filled me with feelings of love toward my Aunt. (And, yes, it was nice to have an excuse not to walk out in the heat!)

             Eventually, a not-as-old man sat down, who I actually understood a little better, and then a not-as-old-as-the-old-lady-but-older-than-the-man joined us. She had fewer teeth than either of them, a hairier chin than both, and I understood not a word. Eventually, they all got up together without much ado– it appears they were waiting for the Welfare Man, or someone similar, who came by to give them some money—and I decided to head out again.

            This may not have been the best idea – it’s hard to say if the sun actually gets any cooler the later it gets, or just hotter – but, well… a) I should have peed again (everything is worse when one has to pee) and b) I should’ve learned my lesson about what happens when one is too embarrassed to go back and ask.

            So what happened was… The route just kind of… disappeared.  And my book made NO sense. There was an arrow on the stop sign that pointed… kind of straight, and kind of left.  I didn’t know. The book implied go straight, so straight I went. For a while. 

            But I could tell the town I was heading for was off behind me and to the left, and it just felt like I was going clearly the WRONG WAY.  I sat under a tree checking out the ants and reminiscing about how just a few lifetimes earlier that day, I was sitting in the woods by a river freaking out and checking out a scorpion. (Yes, a SCORPION! A tiny, fucking scorpion! I’d never seen one before, and almost didn’t believe it was really a scorpion, but they’re kind of unique. Boy, am I lucky!)    (Those are ants moving the little leaves around in the photo.)

 Anyway, I was wavering between feeling lucky and unlucky and somewhat like the luckiest unlucky person there is. I had been walking along these worn, dust roads that went through scrubby fields with little shade.  I peed (finally!) and began to feel a little braver. At this point, I was still doubting the wisdom of stopping any passing cars for help, and wound up walking all the way back to the stop sign to check out the arrow again.

            It had not changed since I’d been there last. I absolutely could not figure out where the hell I was supposed to go, so I just decided to follow the paved road directly toward the town and figure it out from there.  I was fairly sure the road would bring me there eventually, but I did still have to work somewhat to keep the “fairly unsure” thoughts at bay.

 I took a lot of rests – it was HOT – and eventually started to count my steps out loud to pass the time, a bit like a lunatic.  (It turns out there are about 1025 travelingdina footsteps in a kilometer.) I finally made it to the town I’d seen in the distance.

 A nice, friendly, slightly older-than-middle-aged woman was heading the opposite way from me, and, when I asked where the albergue was, turned around and started walking with me in the right direction! I think she even asked if I wanted to come in and sit down, and I regret not taking her up on it. I’m never sure when someone is being honest and someone is just being polite.

            I left her at the house, and continued on into the town. Again, I had some trouble finding the albergue. Why in the world the guide doesn’t have small maps of the towns or give turn-by-turn directions on how to get to the albergues, instead of just a street address (streets aren’t really numbered or labeled in Spain) is beyond me. 

Eventually, however, I found my way there, and Hugo and Maartin were there, making pasta, with ham and veggies, including a nice big portion for me! They were worried when I hadn’t shown up till so late, and thought maybe I’d decided to stay elsewhere, but, knowing there weren’t that many other choices (and that I was a Camino newbie), had expected I’d just pull in late.
It was wonderful to have a delicious dinner with my new friends.  Although Hugo got a little drunk, and I got my feelings a little hurt when it became clear he was only interested in his own stories and not mine, it was still a fun and good night.  There was a lot of me teasing him and him calling me a “cheeky sod,” with Maartin chortling along Dutchly.  This third phase was a perfect end to a decidedly long, long day!


Day 3: Monday, June 22 2009 – Granja de Moreruela to Tabara, 21K

I woke up grumpy and late, as per my usual, and got a café con leche at the bar/restaurant across the porch from the alburgue. I asked the woman there how to get back to the trail, and she  walked her bike with me to the start of the “new” route toward Orense. This route was listed in my CSJ book as now being waymarked, and was also described as being superior to the "old" route, which was via paved roads.

But in reality, the route wasn’t waymarked at all, and was totally confusing! Here is is where the Camino splits-- One way goes north to Astorga to eventually join the Camino Frances (not my way), and one way veers west to Orense (my way). But, to go to Orense via the "new route," the book said to first follow the signs toward Astorga, and then to turn left. But figuring out what exactly was meant by left was difficult to parse out, to say the least.

For even though the bike lady had pointed me up the hill, and the extraordinarily old ladies sweeping their porch I'd passed (now two of several who’d asked, “Sola?? Vas solita???” and clucked their tongues finding out I was walking alone) seemed to imply I was going the right way, I arrived at the top of the hill to… a big confusing fork.

The trail crested the top, and then split off into a hard left, a medium left, and a right, with no arrows whatsoever. I was totally confused. The hard left just felt like the wrong left, despite it being technically what I’d interpret as the real left, so I just followed the medium left.

I walked for a while without seeing any flechas (yellow arrows) and began to get nervous. Luckily, I was just walking on a straight dirt road, through the trees, so I wasn’t "lost" per se. I thought about heading back down to the little town of Granja de Moreruela, but I still didn’t like the idea of putting in so much time and distance in the wrong direction, nor did I want to look like an idiot in front of the old ladies (something I really need to get over.)

Anyway, a dude on a tractor rolls up, and I ask if he knows where the Orense route is. He spoke a heavily inflected, enthusiastic and gruff Spanish I could barely understand. What I gathered was that he thought I was heading the right way, I should hop on, he’d drive a little way down to look for the flechas, and if we didn't see one, he’d drive me back down to town. I was still high on the excitement of being a Pilgrim, and the generosity and kindness of everyone I’d met, and so without even really thinking, I hauled my ass up into the tractor.Example of a big-ass tractor. Credit Google.  [Example of a big-ass tractor, courtesy of Google Images -->]

So the next thing I know, I’m high up in the cab of this tractor, next to a guy who, as it turns out, smells kinda like beer and is getting progressively more and more excited (and loud) as he talks to me without acknowledging that I can’t really understand ¾ of what he’s saying. From what I could gather, he’d been at a fiesta the night before. And something along the lines of “I had to work, but now you’re here!!!! ¡Fiesta!

I’m getting a little nervous at this point, because, well, that’s what I do. We don’t see a flecha right away, so I say that I want to go back to town, and he says (I think) to hold on, one is coming on up. The trail is by the river. Tranquila.

For those of you who don’t know, "Tranquila" essentially means “Chill out” or "Calm down." (Not surprisingly, this is a phrase I hear repeatedly throughout Spain. It is simply not culturally appropriate in, well, the rest of the world to be as un-tranquila as I am.)

The tractor was rolling along pretty slowly because, well, it’s a tractor (and that's what they do.) And, it did seem like we were heading the right way. Still, I’m American, and I’ve seen way too many crime dramas and New York Post articles an anxiety-prone chica should be allowed.

So I’m vascilating between thinking this guy is a nefarious alcoholic creep with his constant prattling (“Fiesta! Tranquila! Mi Corazon es bueno! Fiesta! Jejejeje!”) and simply kind of a dumb guy who had something interesting happen to him that day (giving a Pilgrim a lift.)

(Photo from near where we had been driving.)

As we then slowly veer off the dirt road toward the main road, there is a car blocking our way. They seem to be moving gas cans around or something, and the Tractor Dude says something like, “Do you want to go in the car?”

And I’m like, “With 3 guys!? And leering Spanish guys, at that? Oh Hells, NO! I’ll stay up here, thankyouverymuch.” (OK, it was more like, “No, I prefer with you.”) I asked if he knows them, and eventually it sounds like he says something like, “Don’t worry, they’re family.”

Anxiety now officially has the upper hand. The guys get back in the car, and we follow them slowly down the road. Tractor Dude continues laughing and rambling. He assures me that the trail is coming up, and, true enough, as we cross the bridge over the river, I see an arrow and the trail off to the side.

But… we don’t stop. “¿Porque no parada?” I ask (which means something along the lines of “Why no stop?”) and Tractor Dude tells me that the tractor is too wide to stop on the bridge. This makes sense. But shortly thereafter, we are past the bridge, the road seems plenty wide enough to me, and… we still don’t stop. He seems to be telling me to wait, wait, a little farther, a little farther. Tranquila.  But we were plenty far enough past the trail for me.

At this point, I realize I'm stuck in a tractor with a possibly half-drunk farmer and following a carload of 3 men. Scenes from Law & Order begin flashing into my mind and I blurt out in my broken Spanish, “¡Quiero Bajar! Bajo! Baja! Bajan! Parada! Pares!” (“I want to get off! I get off! You get off! They get off! Stopping! You stop!”)

Eventually, I switch to English, mixed in with Spanish, until I’m in a full on panicked scream, my voice pitch rising with every breath. “Stop! Stop! I’m SCARED! I’M SCARED! I'M SCARED! ¡TENGO MIEDO! ¡¡¡TENGO MIEDO!!!!”

I’m wild-eyed and reaching for the door. I can’t figure out how to open it – it’s some secure, confusing lever-type latch, and, remember, I’m probably 10 feet off the ground in this cab. Tractor dude looks at me like I’m completely insane (the term “banshee” comes to mind), slows the vehicle down, opens the door, and I guess rushes to the other side and actually helps me down.

He looks kind of baffled and actually kind of hurt, and, as I get down, he makes the “not me” hands off kind of gesture. I growl at him, “¿Corazon bueno?? ¿Es verdad??” ("Is it true you have a good heart?") and literally run off – with my stuff jangling – while all at the same time thinking how ridiculous I was being.

I mean, why run? He, plus any of the 3 gentlemen in the vehicle in front of him, could’ve caught me, especially with me running WITH MY STUFF. (I just couldn’t let it go!) And, was my imagination and American-indoctrinated "Everyone wants to hurt you" ideology just running wild? But, it didn't matter: I was simply panicked. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such corporal, instinctual panic before, but if I ever had a doubt, well, this was the real deal. Rational me was watching from above, baffled, as well, as I ran into the trail, stashed my stuff in the woods, and just ran and ran and eventually tried to hide myself behind a rock and some trees.

I’d heard them drive away, but I was a little afraid they’d come back. I checked to see if I had a signal on my cellphone to call Hugo or the Spanish version of 911 – but no luck. I paused and looked around. It was the first really, truly pretty place I’d come to, but I had a hard time enjoying it at that moment. I finally went back for my stuff, and headed back to the trail.

I then realized I must’ve left the phone where I’d sat down the first time. I stashed my pack yet again, and headed back the other way – again – to look for the phone, but got scared – again – and decided to screw it. I aborted the mission, re-found my stuff – again -- and headed back (again!) in the correct direction.

I turned around and looked at just how tranquil and beautiful the scenery really was. The bridge we had driven over was in the distance. I replayed what had happened as the shaking began to subside. I still don’t know if I totally misread this person and my overblown sense of doom caused me to make a ridiculous scene worthy of an Oscar, or if my acute sensitivity protected me from something horrible.

Most I’ve spoken to lean toward the former. I didn’t know what to think at the time. But I took in the tranquility of the now-still environment, looked down at the gorgeous river, put "Your Heart is An Empty Room" on my ipod and, giving thanks for being OK, finally cried.

"Burn it down
'Till the embers smoke on the ground
And start new
When your heart is an empty room
With walls of the deepest blue..."




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