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  • Fri, 17 Sep 2021 01:22:00 +0000

    What's in my Camino pack?

    Camino Backpack

    It was about five years ago when I was scrolling through the endless titles on Netflix and came upon an obscure movie called, “The Way.” I had no idea what the Camino de Santiago was and I thought that it sounded crazy that people would go out and just walk across a country for over a month. The journey seemed intriguing though and I thought that I could see myself doing that someday. However, I also wondered how anyone could get more than four weeks off from work. The idea quickly faded and the entire Camino got pushed into the nether regions of my brain where it was almost forgotten. Fast forward a few years and I found myself completely free, but also without a job. What better way to start a new chapter in life than to walk across a perfectly good trail. I wanted to have as much of an “untainted” Camino as I could. I made an effort to not go through any guidebooks and only look up really important information like what gear I needed and how to get there. I wanted to let the Camino happen by walking and finding pilgrim hostels (albergues) as I got into the towns I was stopping in. It wasn’t necessarily the best idea, but I did learn a lot of things. To be honest, I’m still glad that I did it that way. When I go back, it will be a whole different experience because now it is familiar.

    I know navigating all of the Camino packing list blogs can be daunting; there are so many lists and they are all so subjective. I looked through several packing lists and compared the items that seemed to be the most repetitive to make my own list. My backpack ended up being a bit heavy despite my best efforts to weigh my backpack (fully packed) the night before heading out to France and leave things behind. It wasn’t until after I had a knee injury and then Achilles tendonitis that I realized my pack could be too heavy or that it was a little too much too soon. I may never know what caused it, but a lighter pack does make a difference. 

    I want to leave you with a list of things I would probably bring along with me again on my next Camino after having walked with this stuff for over 1000km during May-July of 2019. Please take note that I have not been endorsed by any brands, I simply did a lot of research on things over the years. I would like to leave it up to you what you would like to bring on the Camino. This list of things is merely what I bought with me and would bring again. I can only hope that some of this could be helpful to even one future peregrino. 

    (Late Spring-Summer-Early Fall)

    You will notice that my clothing list is quite basic. It’s all about simplifying and using less. You’re probably wondering about laundry. Most albergues will either have a place where you can hand wash your clothes and hang them to dry, or pay to use machines. Sometimes, the weather is cold and rainy, which is not ideal for handwashing clothes and paying to use the machines may mean the only way to walk the next day in dry clothes. It is possible to split the cost of washing with others and combine all of your clothes into one load. Some people prefer to go to bed wearing the clothes for the next day, I had a t-shirt and capris that I reserved only for evenings and sleeping so that they were always clean. I would go days between washing my walking clothes since they were mostly wool, but did find the three days was the maximum I could go without washing them. Below are what I used and would use again:

    • 2 x Pairs of Socks: I opted for Darn Tough midweight hiking socks (they have several different sizes) because they have a lifetime warranty and they survived without holes. I ditched the sock liners because they would move independently from my socks and would tighten on my toes. I didn’t get blisters without them. You can find them here.

    • 1 x Capri Pant: I used a Columbia Anytime Outdoor Capri Pant as my evening/night outfit after showering. You can find it here.

    • 1 x Convertible Long Pant: Patagonia Quandary Convertible Pants are pretty awesome because the pant legs can roll up to become capris or zip off to become shorts. They also have normal size pockets (which is a big deal for women’s clothing) and a side pocket that I found perfect for holding my phone. They also have a super awesome warranty. Near the end of my Camino, I broke the zipper on the convertible pants part and was able to get a replacement when I got home. You can find the women's here and the men's here.

    • 2-3 x Merino Wool Underwear (Panties, but I dislike the word.): Not only do they dry quickly, but they are also naturally antimicrobial. Bamboo is also another alternative to the synthetics, but find that they don't always air dry as quickly as the wool.

    • 2 x Sports Bras: There’s no point in wearing anything other than functional and comfortable. I recommend finding something that will dry quickly.

    • 2-3 x Merino Wool Blend T-Shirts: I love Icebreaker T-shirts because they are natural, soft, dry quickly, and keep the stink away (unlike synthetics). You can find them here.

    • 1 x Merino Wool Long Sleeve Shirt: The mornings and evenings can be quite cold and it’s all about layering. I like having this a size bigger than my T-shirts so it can fit over the T-shirt and can be taken off quickly when the day warms up.

    • 1 x 12L Compression Sack: I used an Osprey 12L Straightjacket compression Sack to keep my extra clothes together. It made packing and unpacking my bag every day a breeze and saved a lot of space in my pack.

    • 1 x Wool Blend Zip Jacket or Fleece: I used an Icebreaker Helix Long Sleeve Zip Hoodie every day. I mostly wore this in the evenings after walking or to bed in the albergues that were quite cold. It’s one of my favorite travel clothes pieces. Find something that will work well for you, I found a crazy sale on this and got lucky.

    • 1 x Raincoat: It may be redundant to have a raincoat and a poncho, but it can also double as a windbreaker on those cool, windy days. I was glad that I had it as I used it at the start of most of my days. I used a Patagonia Rainshadow jacket, which packs small and is quite light.

    • 1 x Poncho: I preferred this over using my pack cover on days when there was a lot of rain. It kept more things dry (like pants) and it breathed better than having a backpack on over my jacket. If weight isn’t an issue, the ponchos that have extra material to cover a backpack as well looked nice as it doesn’t hike up in the back as a regular one does.

    • 1 x Pair of Trail running shoes or Hiking boots: This has been a long-debated topic. What it comes down to the most is what would be more comfortable for you. I went with the Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes. They are zero-drop shoes with a wide toe box to allow your toes to spread out as a healthy foot should. They are not waterproof, but even waterproof hiking boots were not waterproof on the days with heavy rain. The thing that I liked about my shoes was that they would dry a lot better than the waterproof boots of others that were wet since they breathe. Whatever footwear you decide on, make sure that you’ve tried them in a variety of terrains before you head out. I think the next time around, I would go with the Altra Olympus. Check out Altra.

    • 1 x Pair of Shoe Insoles: There are few good options for these on the Camino surprisingly. Most of the insoles I found rarely offered support so come prepared.

    • 1 x Pair of Atheltic Sandals: These are nice to wear in the evenings after a day’s walk, can be nice if your shoes are causing you some problems, or it’s really hot out and you just want your feet to breathe a little more. I brought the Teva Tirra Sport Sandals and used them for all of the above. Check out Teva.

    • 1 x Pair of Flip Flips: For use in the showers (albergues have communal showers) or wandering around town after a day’s walk. I had the Olukai Ohana sandals which also have arch support and soles found in shoes. They came in handy when I had Achilles tendonitis so bad that I could not put on socks let alone shoes. I walked three full days in those instead of taking the needed rest days. You can find the Women's here, and the men's here.

    • 1 Pair of Sunglasses: It can get quite sunny and it’s good to protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays.

    • 1 Neck Gaiter and/or Hat: I preferred wearing a Buff multifunctional headwear to keep the top part of my head and ears from burning. There are also just so many ways to use them and I’m all for multi-use accessories. You can find many Buff styles here.

    • Light Running Gloves: Helpful for the cold, windy, and rainy days. Depending on how early in the spring or late in the Fall you’re going, you will probably want some or buy along the way.

    The Gear

    • 20-40L Backpack: It’s not the Pacific Crest Trail and you don’t need to carry everything and the kitchen sink. The rule of thumb that seems to float around the most is to keep your pack 10% of your body weight or less. I couldn’t make this figure work, but it’s a guideline to keep you from inuring yourself too much while walking long distances. Make sure to get your pack properly fitted to you. An ill-fitting backpack could ruin or possibly even end your Camino early. I went into a couple of REI stores and tried on several backpacks with weight inside. It took a few fittings and a couple of associates later before I found the right pack for me, which was the Osprey Stratus 36L. Be mindful that not everyone fits “the mold” too, I found out that the men’s pack fit me better than the women’s pack of the same model. Some features that I like and/or would want in another pack would be: well-padded shoulder straps, side access to the main compartment, a zippered compartment at the very top for quick access, hip pockets, a water reservoir compartment, anything to quickly stuff a jacket or poncho into and attachments for accessories. Find your nearest REI or Osprey Retailer.

    • Water Reservoir or Water Bottle: This is another highly-debated item. I preferred to use my Osprey 2.5L reservoir that had its own compartment in my bag and the hose attachment had a quick disconnect so you didn’t have to feed the hose through the bag every time you refilled it with water. I liked it better than the bottles because I could drink from it without stopping, I didn’t have to ask others to fetch my bottle instead of stopping, my bag kept my water from being in the sun, and it evenly distributed the weight of the water. Most of the time, I would only fill it with 1.5L and refill it in various towns along the way.

    • Trekking Poles: There aren’t any real cons to poles. They saved me from falling on my face or rolling to certain death several times, they reduce the stress on your joints by 30%, they keep your hands from swelling up while walking, they keep your upper body engaged as well. I do recommend keeping the rubber tips on while walking on asphalt or concrete so you get enough traction and also don’t make a nuisance of your poles with the clicking. I found a cheap carbon fiber set on Amazon.

    • Rechargeable Headlamp (with additional red light mode): Red light mode is nice when the albergues are dark and you do not wish to be that person who wakes everyone up with your light. You may also need the light to see the trail better if you are walking earlier in the morning. I used my Petzl Reactik, which has come in handy all the time in my everyday life.

    • Sunscreen: Because skin cancer is bad. I recommend getting a small tube or stick that you can keep in your bag’s hip pocket.

    • Lip balm with sunscreen: For the same reasons as above.

    • Foot Lubricant: Walking long distances can do a number to feet. I’ve seen some terrible foot carnage that I cannot unsee. I applied Body Glide on my feet a couple of times a day and it helped me to not get blisters. I went through a few of the sticks, but there are other types available that you can buy along the way.

    • Duct Tape (small amount): I wrapped a small amount around a broken pencil instead of buying the travel-size duct tapes that cost more. It is useful for so many things. I used it within the first couple hours of walking when my shoes were creating a hot spot on my feet. I ended up taping a few parts of my shoes before the end of the Camino and that also helped prevent blisters or my shoes tearing up my socks.

    • Small Multitool: I had a basic Swiss Army knife with a few different tools. I could have used one with scissors though as they are handy for shaping kinesiology tape if you need it.

    • Braces of any kind: If you have any previous injury on a joint like a knee, I recommend bringing your own. There are few good options for them in Spain with adequate support.

    • Toilet Paper (very small amount): There are a lot of places along the way to use toilets and should be the primary method as it’s not nice popping a squat on someone’s land. But for the times when duty calls immediately, or the toilets do not have any, you will not be out of luck.

    • Light daypack: I used the Matador Freerain 24L to carry my valuables with me at the end of the day when I would be walking around the town and it’s also waterproof so it’s great to use to take your valuables and clothes in while you shower. It also came in handy as a daypack when I was too injured to carry my backpack and had to have it transported ahead. You can find Matador packable bags here.

    Tools and Important Stuff

    Important Stuff

    • Minimalist wallet: Don’t bring your normal wallet that has all of your cards and things. You only need something that will carry 1 credit card, 1 debit card, and some cash.

    • Passport: Well, you won’t even be able to get into the countries without it. You will need this to check in to every albergue. Don’t be alarmed when they ask for this and input you in the system. It is a way for the government to track you should you go missing.

    • Pilgrim’s Credential: This is a really important item if you would like to earn a Compostela, but also to be able to stay in the albergues. There are several versions of these and it doesn’t matter which version you get. They may be obtained at the start of your Camino at a pilgrim’s office or cathedrals in large cities.

    • Trip Insurance or Travel Health Insurance: In case anything happens to you along the way and you need to get care. It can come in handy when needed or give you peace of mind when not needed.

    • Journal and Pen: I like writing in the softcover Moleskin journals because they don’t have lines so you can write as big or small as you’d like and they have a folder in the back where you can collect your mementos along the way. I was glad that I wrote in this every day.

    • Rock: If you are walking the French Way starting before Foncebadón, it is symbolic to carry with you a rock you have brought from home and carry it with you along the way until you leave it at the Cruz de Ferro.

    • Scallop Shell: A symbol of being a Camino pilgrim. You may bring your own from home or pick one up along the way. They are usually attached to your backpack somewhere.


    Shower supplies

    • Linen or Microfiber Towel: Regular towels are heavy and they will not dry overnight. I used a 100% linen towel because it’s one of my all-time favorite travel accessories. They are naturally antimicrobial, hold a lot of water, dry quickly (even faster than some microfibers), and are not made out of synthetic materials. They can be slightly heavier than microfiber towels, but they make up for it by not getting stinky.

    • Concentrated Soap or Shampoo Bars: Liquids can get weighty but I ultimately shot down using the shampoo bars because I didn’t want to deal with having to dry out the bars after each use or have them get my bag all mucked up. I used Campsuds with citronella while I was walking because I thought it could double by keeping the bugs away. Well, bugs aren’t a problem on the Camino and the soap is probably best used for cleaning dishes than your hair. Occasionally, people would leave behind bottles of shampoo and I would get a day of luxury. Haha. Months later, I found Yves Rocher Concentrated Shampoo and body wash. A 3 oz bottle of shampoo is equivalent to 30 washes and will be in my bag the next time around.

    • Travel Washcloth: I heard about the Lunatec Self-cleansing washcloth before I left and it’s awesome. You can use less soap, dries extremely fast, never gets stinky, and has a loop on the end so you don’t drop it in the shower.

    • Reusable Razor: If wanted.

    • Small Mesh drawstring pouch: Very useful to hold the shower toiletries and can be hung in the shower.

    • Light daypack: From the gear list above.

    Other Toiletries

    These items are pretty self-explanatory. You will notice that I did not include lotions, makeup, or deodorant. I found these items to be more of a luxury than a need and they add to the weight without the benefit. Regardless of how much deodorant you put on, you will still smell at the end of the day. The good news is that you can take a shower and all will be well again. 

    • Toothbrush, Toothpaste (less than 4 oz), Floss

    • Small Detangle brush

    • Small mirror

    • Nail Clipper

    • Tweezers

    • Hair Ties

    • Daily Medicines or Supplements

    Small First Aid Kit

    There are loads of pharmacies along the way, but oftentimes you may be in the middle of nowhere or they are closed when you need something the most. If you do get to a pharmacy, note that some of the names of the medications are used to are different and you should look them up before asking a pharmacist (for example they don’t carry Tylenol, but they do carry Panadol). Knowing what I know now, I would make my first aid kit even smaller than it was. I do recommend some of the following useful things below though in small quantities:

    • Compeed blister bandages: Do get this brand as they work the best of all of the blister bandages and are meant to stay on for several days. I was lucky and didn’t need these as much as I thought I did. However, I was able to give them away to people in need and that made me feel better. Carry a couple of these and if you need more, you can purchase them along the way.

    • Moleskin: Sometimes the compeed bandages don’t work for all areas. Donut-shaped moleskin around a small blister can help protect it from popping or getting bigger. I didn’t use this, but a couple of these are always nice to have in a pinch.

    • Nexcare Waterproof Tape: This is another item that I recommend this specific brand as the adhesive works very well. Keep the whole roll of this one as it can come in handy multiple times. I have used this stuff in many different applications while traveling, but it helped when I developed hot spots on my feet and prevented me from getting blisters. You can also use it for impromptu bandaging with gauze.

    • Hand Sanitizer or Alcohol Prep Wipes, and Triple antibiotic ointment: Just a couple of these. They are helpful to clean a wound should you bite the dust.

    • Gauze Pads: A couple of these for temporary bandaging of large wounds.

    • Needle: It is generally advisable not to pop your blisters. However, I’ve seen some gnarly blisters that would not allow for normal movement without some release. For particularly large blisters, you can poke a small hole in them. Be sure to sterilize the needle with an alcohol wipe beforehand, and then apply triple antibiotic ointment on the blister hole afterward. I never needed this, but was easy enough to bring along.

    • A couple of doses of the following: Pepto Bismol (for traveler’s diarrhea, upset stomach, etc), Benadryl (for allergic reactions, itching, and even insomnia), Ibuprofen, and Acetaminophen. 


    • Silk Travel Liner: Most albergues do not have sheets and even if they provide a bottom sheet, they expect you to have either a sleeping bag or a liner. I found most albergues to be warm enough with a liner plus blankets supplied. There were probably only a few nights on the Camino that I had wished that I had something warmer. The 100% silk liner saves on weight and also deters bed bugs if you’re worried about that. I used a Sea to Summit Premium Silk Travel liner (Traveler) that also had a pocket that goes over the albergue pillows.

    • Eyemask: (If you’re sensitive to light when you’re sleeping)

    • Earplugs: There will be people snoring and that loud one will probably be by you. Haha. 


    • Type C USB Charger with 2 Ports: Type C chargers are the round 2 Prong plugs that are widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. Be sure that the device you are plugging in accepts 220V. I recommend getting an EU charger instead of using a universal adapter because they take up less outlet space (which can be hard to come by) and also less weight in your bag. It’s nice having one with 2 USB ports so you can charge your phone, anything else, or share with another fellow pilgrim.

    • Small Camera and extra SD cards:  The majority of the time, cellphone cameras work well enough to cover most things. However, if you enjoy photography, you may want to bring a better camera. Just know that you will have to carry that weight with you the whole way and could be the difference between making it or breaking you. I enjoy photography but knew that bringing my big mirrorless camera would be both difficult physically as well as logistically (keeping your valuables with you to avoid theft). I brought along a Sony Rx100VI, but I will admit that I used my phone the most. It was difficult to keep stopping for photos all the time.

    • Noise-canceling Earbuds: Some people enjoyed listening to music or podcasts along the way. I did neither. It was nice listening to all the sounds of nature, the crunching of the soil beneath my feet, and the “Buen Camino” of passing pilgrims. I did use them at night a few times when even my earplugs couldn’t drown out the loudest snoring I’ve ever heard in my life. 

    • Camino Smartphone Apps: I did not read guidebooks before embarking on the Camino and didn’t take any along with me. I did find some useful apps though to help me plan my days as they came and show me where to find albergues. Some of the apps have changed significantly in the last year and may not be as helpful as they were before. I did like using “Buen Camino,” and “Camino Pilgrim.” 

    What I wished I wouldn’t have brought (and ultimately parted with at various times of my travels):

    • 1 Tank Top

    • 1 Pair of Shorts

    • Extra Pair of Pants

    • Extra Buff neck gaiter

    • Deodorant

    • Lotion

    • BB Cream

    • Campsuds and Dr Bronners Liquid Soap

    • Collapsable bottle (Hydropack)

    • Bamboo Utensil Set

    • Lock and Cable (was meant to use for securing my backpack)

    • Baby Powder

    • Powerbank

    • A small portable solar panel ( I thought I could charge my phone while I walked but it was an extra weight I had to get rid of and there were plenty of outlets in all of the albergues)

    • Bluetooth Keyboard (because I thought I would have the energy to blog while I was on the Camino)

    • Small Drybag (it was recommended and I never used it, my waterproof daypack worked better for shower stuff)

    *There wasn’t anything that I didn’t bring that I wish I had, just these things that I wished I had not brought.

  • Fri, 19 Feb 2021 23:03:00 +0000

    Camino Memoirs: The Calm before the Storm and Over the Pyrenees

    Saturday, 25 May 2019

    I embarked on my journey to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France today. I had a hard time sleeping last night in anticipation of the first day of the Camino de Santiago, which wasn't even today. I had packed two bags, one for the Camino and another for everything else I would need afterwards to travel around Europe for a few months (including camera gear). The sun was just barely starting to rise when I walked to the train station with my Camino backpack on and my duffel slung across my body; that was quite a weight. The Bayonne station was a small depot with only a couple of platforms. I sat down on one of the open benches across from some men that were of retirement age and a couple of younger guys who all appeared to be Camino pilgrims (peregrinos). Some pigeons were walking about in the open area between all of us and the old men were speaking in French and chuckling while playing around with the pigeons; it made me smile. 

    A train had arrived, but I didn’t know where it was heading and none of the other pilgrims were getting up to board it, so I thought it was going somewhere else. The younger guys and I almost missed our train. They must have thought the same thing that the older gentlemen were going to Saint-Jean too, but were returning home from their Camino. The guys bolted through the doors to the train platform and I hurried behind them. The train doors were already closed when we got to the train, but they reopened them for us. Phew. That was close. I moved past the others to the back of the train. The windows were hard to see through because there were spray-painted graffiti on the outside. I also managed to make an unfortunate seat choice and I ended up sitting across from a strange Australian lady. Her clothes were a bit tattered, she wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks, and I could tell that she had a serious infection in one of her feet. She kept exclaiming that I was using a scratching app on my phone to cause her pain and that she would turn me into the police for what I was doing to her. That didn't make for a pleasant journey. I counted down the minutes and just hoped she wouldn’t lash out at me before we got there. The conductor came back to collect fare money from her and also offered to get her help because of her foot, but she refused his help. 

    The train wound its way from flatlands to the very hilly Basque region of France. I was happy when we stopped at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and was able to leave the scary lady there on the train. I now was truly embarking on my journey. I huffed my gear from the train station in what appeared to be a long walk through town to the city center. I was able to drop off my extra bag that would be sent onward to Santiago de Compostela and stored there ahead of me for my travels after the Camino. A literal weight was lifted from my shoulders and I now had all that I would need for the next undermined amount of Camino days. I walked down the narrow streets made of brick laid in the familiar clamshell design representing the Camino. The first time I went into the pilgrim’s office, I didn't get a lot of information from the volunteers because they assumed I knew what I was doing and I was too overwhelmed to know what questions I should have asked. I realized that I didn’t even know where I was supposed to go to start the Camino or how to find a place to stay for the night. I had to come right back to the office asking about a map. A man in the office gave me everything I needed to get me on my way. He gave me pointers on landmarks to look for when I needed to get off of the road to follow the trail and which alternative routes to avoid that could lead me to certain death. I still wasn’t completely reassured though. A woman had taken the restricted path the previous week, falling and breaking her arm among other things. I had not booked an albergue (a Camino hostel for pilgrims) ahead of time as I thought that you could just show up and find one like in the movies. I was finding out that there are a few locations that you sort of need to pre-book as they can fill up; the start of the Camino Francés (Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port) is one of those places. Luckily, the man referred me to an albergue at the edge of town that included a couple of meals and still had a bed available for me. I was saved. 

    I walked nearly to the end of town when I reached the front door of the albergue on the main street. It appeared that it was closed until 1500 hours and it was still just late morning. I didn’t have a local phone or the ability to speak French, so I messaged my friend in Switzerland and asked if he would call the albergue to see if I could at least leave my bag there so that I may wander the streets unburdened. The door in front of me opened and an old woman in her late seventies or early eighties appeared. I had my first crack at using a voice translation app that allowed us to speak back and forth to each other and we were getting an adequate translation to comprehend what must have been spoken. I was able to leave my bag there until I was allowed to return after they reopened in the afternoon. I walked around town until it started to rain and was quite cold outside. I found a restaurant where I could get out of the rain, pass the time, warm up and fill my belly for the coming day. I felt a bit alone for a couple of hours as I watched other pilgrims come and go with their companions while I enjoyed my hot chocolate and pesto chicken pasta by myself. It was a way to pass the time. I had seen that the weather was going to be junk for the next few days. I had contemplated whether I should just stay in Saint-Jean a few days and wait it out for better weather, or not. I watched countless pilgrims continue onward in the rain and I knew that I couldn’t just sit around for a few days for better weather; pushing through bad weather was part of the pilgrimage.

    I had been standing in the rain with a couple of other pilgrims before the albergue door opened for us. After registering with the lady of the house and given my first albergue stamp in my credencial del peregrino (pilgrim passport), I was given a room with a woman from Quebec and a man from southeastern France. It was interesting communicating with the two of them because they both had limited English knowledge and I had never studied French. Her English was fine enough to converse with, but she mostly had to translate what I said for the man. He was clearly in better shape than both of us. He told us that he had already walked 250 km from his home while averaging 35 km a day, but was also suffering from tendonitis in one ankle. The other woman walked partway up the hill out of Saint-Jean yesterday to Orisson and was driven back down to Saint-Jean because she couldn’t make it over the Pyrenees in one day. The only albergue in Orisson is fully booked for months, so she couldn’t stay there. That was not reassuring for me as I was already doubting my abilities to make it over tomorrow. I did have a lot of fun chatting with them though. The woman was initially supposed to go on the Camino with her husband, but she divorced him two years ago and lost her job three weeks ago, so she thought that going on the Camino now was a good idea. She is also participating in a medical study about the health of people doing long walks or thru-hikes. I love when she’s talking about animals in the wild or free she says, “animals at liberty.” It makes me smile. 

    We sat at a long table set for a multi-course Camino family meal. Most of the pilgrims at the albergue spoke French except for a couple of Germans that would occasionally speak English. It was so nice sharing stories and laughing around the table with everyone; the calm before the storm. All of the dinner courses were home-cooked by the old woman and her family. After a tart for dessert, we finished with some fine French cheese before heading off to bed. My roommates and I continued to talk once we were all in our beds, kind of like sleepovers I had when I was a kid. I think it helped to put our minds at ease for the day ahead.

    Sunday, 26 May 2019

    I had a hard time sleeping last night so I woke up promptly and was a bundle of nerves for the first day of the Camino going over the Pyrenees. Why must the first day of the Camino also be the hardest? I went to breakfast and they had small bowls placed in front of us at the table that I assumed were for cereal, but there was no cereal, they were for coffee instead. I had some coffee, orange juice, and bread with jam and butter. I filled up my hydration pack and grabbed some extra snacks for the day as I did not expect that meal to carry me very far and I had no other food. I felt like I was in a rush, but also like I was going in slow motion. While I was deliberately packing my bag, I was wondering if I could truly do this. I double-checked that I had everything, said my goodbyes to everyone, and I was off leaving Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the cold, drizzling rain. 

    The Camino started as a paved road that wound its way up into the countryside. Fences and hedges with trees separated rolling, green pastureland, and farmland. Not far from Saint-Jean, I passed two ladies that were walking together, from Holland and Colombia. They were deep in conversation and I was keeping a brisk pace, so I continued up the road alone. The road kept meandering around and the trees would hang over the road at times keeping some of the rain off of me. Eventually, I felt a hot spot in my shoe and I knew I had to address it right away or I'd have blisters, so I stopped to put duct tape on my shoes and foam tape on my feet. Back on the road, I was glad that I had added my poncho over everything; it was way better than the raincoat. I was just leaving the pavement to continue on a steep stretch when I met a group of ladies from La Gomera, one of the Spanish islands just west of Morocco. They only spoke Spanish, so it was good practice for me to have conversations with them on the way up. I paced myself with them because Nina and I had been talking for a while and were now fast friends. By this time, the Camino turned into a muddy gravel trail and with several switchbacks. We could see down to the lush, green valleys and the views were spectacular despite the dreary weather. Out of nowhere, this little oasis appeared beside the road; we had reached Orisson and stopped for refueling. It was quite busy inside and reminded me somewhat of a chalet at a ski resort, except that it was tinier and full of pilgrims. While waiting in line, there was an American woman in her early twenties who told me that I could get a stamp here for my credencial. I had been under the impression that we only got stamps at the places we stayed at overnight; I had no idea you could get them from many other places along the way as well. I settled for a cheese baguette and fresh orange juice but saved most of the sandwich for later because I wasn’t that hungry. Another fun fact about the Camino, the only real toilets along the way are at bars, which are more like cafés during the day. The emergency toilet paper I packed was meant for all of those times in between. The only toilet available on this day was at Orisson, so it was that you, “go now or forever hold your peace.” I left my backpack inside with the Spanish ladies and waited in the toilet line. It was long and found out too late that I needed to bring my toilet paper; luckily, someone gave me a handful before I went in. The other caveat, there were no lights inside and it was pitch black. That was an experience. 

    Leaving Orisson, I stayed close to the Spanish ladies as we kept a moderate pace heading into the clouds. I walked on the grassy area alongside the road that wound its way through more pastureland. A man was training his sheepdogs and other local cyclists rode by for their daily rides. There were marks on the road indicating how far I had traveled on the road; there would be twenty-seven kilometers today. The mist grew heavier, the hill got steeper and the kilometer markers seemed to take forever to pass by. I would walk for what seemed like a considerable amount of time and only one kilometer would go by. I lost my group of ladies shortly after Orisson in the mist. They fell behind, and I had to keep going or I wasn't going to make it, and I was past the point of no return. I couldn’t see much beyond the grassy area to the right of the road, but I knew that’s where the hill dropped off sharply. I was pacing myself with some random people for a while. There was one guy ahead of me; he would stop and be behind me, then go and be ahead of me again. I kept marching on. I marched on and on so much that soon there was nobody ahead of me or behind me. I was alone. I couldn't hear anything except the howling of the wind. The wind was cold and violent now blowing more from the side. I had regretted taking off one of my layers but felt like it was too late now to put it back on as the wind was blowing a fine mist that would cool you to the core. I was only around kilometer twelve when I realized I had so much more to go. I had to hunker down and dig deep within myself to continue going on.

    There was a point on the map (from the pilgrim’s office) that indicated I needed to get off of the pavement by a cross. There were times when I thought it was time to turn off, but I could hardly see anything beyond the edge of the road. I stopped walking and stayed still for a while to see if I could hear anybody and reassure myself that I wasn’t lost. Had I passed the turn and was now alone? It was just then when I heard some commotion behind me coming out of the mist. I waited and a group of six Irishmen came walking by. They were very outgoing, introduced themselves, and started asking me all sorts of questions. They were all walking at a very brisk pace, but I tried my best to stay with them as they were good company and they were helping to get me where I needed to go. Shortly after meeting them, we stopped by a food truck that appeared in the mist and that just so happened to be there in the middle of nowhere. The guys treated me to hot chocolate and a banana; it was just what I needed because I started to feel a lot better. I walked with them further until it was just Sam and Evan walking with me. I felt bad for holding them back from their group because I was walking slower. They said they didn't mind walking with me because they had all day to get to Roncesvalles, they already had a place to stay and liked the company. We carried on. The kilometers passed much more quickly with their company, and also because of their pace. The top of the hill crested, and we continued going down a bit when we continued through some woods. The trail led through a sloping forest, the mist had saturated it and a part of me felt like I had seen something like this before. I turned around on the path and half expected to see the wraiths from, Lord of the Rings, coming after us. The trail was a combination of mud, leaf litter, and puddles of water. It was at that moment that I wondered if I had made the wrong choice by wearing trail shoes instead of boots. It wouldn’t have mattered much wearing boots though because I sunk halfway up my shin in the soaking wet detritus despite being quick and thoughtful with my foot placement. My feet were soaked and I worried whether I’d be prone to blisters later on.

    I have no idea when we crossed into Spain. I didn't see a sign, so I have no clue when on the walk that was, but people said there was one. Evan and Sam were chatting with me the whole time, but I couldn't tell you what all we talked about, but it was a nice distraction from the task at hand. We continued on and even passed one of the experienced Camino pilgrims from my albergue in Saint-Jean. We came out from the woods to more of an opening where the wind was howling something fierce. For some reason, this area also had loads of huge slugs on the trail everywhere. We rounded this one particular hill and wound up randomly reconnecting with the rest of the Irish six. We continued onward together and the trail was steep and gravely; we still couldn't see down the mountain. Along the way, there was an old bunker for something that Dominic looked at, but we have no idea what its purpose was. The way eventually led to a fork where we could take a paved road or a trail that followed a river. We opted for the trail along the river and it was a lovely choice. From the mist, it became green and beautiful again. I was walking ahead of the others taking in the sights and sounds of the bumbling brook next to us; we were almost to Roncesvalles. We continued through the forest when all of the trees parted, and the municipal albergue at Roncesvalles stood before us in the distance. We had made it. I had made it. Not only had I made it alive in one day, but I made it there by 1515 hours. 

    It was at the entrance of the albergue that I said my goodbyes to the Irishmen who had helped me get this far, and particularly, Sam and Evan. I had to register to get a bed in the albergue and they were off to their pre-booked accommodations. I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again, so I tried to make sure to grab their contact information just in case. I went to register and they gave me a necklace that would be used to call groups of people in, so registration wasn’t so chaotic. Unfortunately, that was the only albergue in Roncesvalles, and if they were full, you would have to continue to the next town. As I sat there waiting for my necklace group to be called, I snacked on that baguette I had stowed away earlier and watched the pilgrims come in. There were people there that looked like they were in much more pain than I was afterwards. They eventually called my necklace group where we were filed inside a room to get our information taken, pay our dues, and get our credencials stamped by a grouchy man. Nobody that worked there seemed to be nice now that I think of it. We were given directions of where everything was and then led to our respective floors. The place was huge; the building was made out of stone and had several floors to sleep a few hundred pilgrims. Each floor opened to a common sleeping area with assigned beds that weren’t in bunks but sort of looked like cubicles. The ceiling was vaulted and had several windows open letting in cold, damp outside air. I noticed there were no blankets provided and I only had my sleeping liner (like all of the blogs I read suggested); however, everyone else had sleeping bags. I was going to freeze. I had an emergency blanket that I brought out but it was not ideal. I couldn’t imagine rolling around all night with that foil crinkling; I’d surely get thrown out. I went for my much-needed shower. The enjoyment was short-lived though as women continued to harass everyone showering to move along faster. In addition, you had to continuously hold down the shower button or the water shut off immediately. I gave in to their pressure and ran out with my towel around me to the toilets to change as the women continued to wail at us. 

    A happy thing happened though, and I was invited to come by to the hotel restaurant next door to hang out with the Irish group. I met with them at the hotel lobby where we continued to the pub area to wait for the others. The young woman I met in Orisson, who had told me about the Camino stamps, was sitting with a couple of the Irish guys I hadn’t met yet. I wondered how she was connected to this group too. Turned out that the Irish group was not just six men, there were three others I hadn't met yet from the group, and Alexis (the young woman) had walked with them. We had some beers and eventually, the two of us ladies got invited to join the others for a pilgrim dinner (a three-course menu). I had spaghetti, followed by trout, and completed with a brownie; I even paired with some wine. We all got a bit merry that night. My face hurt from laughing so much, it was such a good time. I had left Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France alone and here I was in Roncesvalles, Spain with a whole group of new friends. The waitstaff were so patient with our loud group. We had a waiter that Alexis thought looked like Seth McFarlane, but he definitely did not. Nonetheless, he became Seth. I felt bad for the guy, but he didn’t mind and was so kind and patient. The night was filled with great stories and laughter as they continued to tip the waitstaff so that we could stay longer. It was around midnight when we closed down the restaurant and they walked back Alexis and me to our albergue. When we pulled on the door handles, they were stuck. The doors were locked. We tried every door and they were all locked. We were locked out. Apparently, there are curfews at some albergues and we had missed ours by several hours. We went back to the hotel (where the restaurant was in) and the Irish guys ended up donating a room and did a room shuffle for us. We said that we could sleep on the floor or the couches in the rooms, but they didn’t like that idea. Instead, Alexis and I shared a room while the guys combined in the other rooms. Alexis and I went from having to sleep in cold, hard albergue beds to warm, comfy hotel beds to sleep on for our first night. The novelty was short-lived though as I could not turn my mind off enough to fall asleep. She slept soundly on her bed, while I lied on mine and thought of what the next day would bring. It’s amazing how much can happen in a day.

  • Sun, 26 Jan 2020 05:35:00 +0000

    There's an elephant in the room and it's called, the Camino
    I've been trying to reflect on the last year and decade, but kept getting stuck with my words. Perhaps it's because I have done little to dwell on one of the most major journeys I completed last year: the Camino de Santiago. I don’t want to bore you with just another Camino story. The same one you’ve heard over and over. Whether you know about the Camino de Santiago or not I’m just going to tell it like it is and start from the end. It’s something that changes you. You finish it after several weeks of walking on the trail and the weeks seem like just a few days. It’s hard to comprehend how long you’ve been on the trail in the end. It had become a lifestyle. You got up, packed your bag, ate a quick bite, carried on the road, had coffee and food along the way, looked for an albergue (hostel for pilgrims) to stay for the night, showered and washed any clothes, ate dinner, journal-ed, slept and repeated. Everyday started and ended this way and so life was very simple. You didn’t have to make many hard decisions or carry huge responsibilities. 

    You just had to keep going. One foot in front of the other.

    That in itself was difficult most days for me though. I suffered from a bad knee injury and extreme Achilles tendinitis in both feet that left me in a lot of pain on most days. I would get up, take some anti-inflammatory medicine, and push through the pain and let the tears come if they did. I was determined to finish because quitting was never an option for me. I had walked every day in Hawaii. I thought that the Camino was just a long walk that was just a wee bit more compounded daily. I could do it. 

    It was much more difficult than I had imagined. I never thought that my old knee injury could flare up to the extent that it did. Getting Achilles tendinitis wasn’t even on my radar of possible bad things to happen. I woke up one day and I couldn’t even put on a sock. The day before we had walked a brutal 33 kilometers with a lot of it on hard pavement. The pressure of the elastic in my sock touching my ankle caused me excruciating pain. It felt like a knife was slowly slicing off the back of my heel. After trying to suffer through putting shoes on and attempting to walk, I had to realize that I could not walk on the Camino that day. I am a stubborn lady by nature, but it was beaten out of me that day. I cried a lot. I felt like I had failed, but I knew that if I carried on trying to walk that day that I would cause more harm than good. I could possibly ruin my chances of finishing the Camino at all and potentially cause long-term problems. 

    Getting back to the last day, I was walking backwards from the coast by myself this time. It’s not a lonely way, but different. I was walking on the familiar path but in reverse, allowing me to see everything in a different light. I took my time on the last day. My knee wasn’t causing me as much pain, but my Achilles were very much still a problem. I made several stops that day and wasn’t in any hurry to get to Santiago de Compostela for the second time. I walked slowly through the forest - the one just before getting into the Santiago de Compostela city center. 

    The sun finally broke through the thick overcast morning to reveal a beautiful blue sky through the trees. I could feel the warm sunbeams on my face. It felt like I was having a movie montage in a scene where someone is seeing their life flash before their lives. Only I wasn’t going to die and I was only seeing moments from the Camino. All of the events that led up until that very moment in the woods were going through my head and a heavy sadness came over me. I didn’t want it to end. But all things must come to an end and I chose to end my camino on that day. I got to the end of the wood and before me I could see the cathedral in Santiago from afar. I was nearly there and it would be done. 

    I had to walk through another small forest patch where there was a highly-decorated kilometer marker. I teared up and had a moment before forcing myself to keep going, I was just outside of the town. I was passing other peregrinos (camino pilgrims) going the opposite direction, starting their journey to the ocean all fresh. I had finally become one of the crusty peregrinos that had clearly been on the trail for awhile. As I got into Santiago, I started to see the sprayed-painted footprints on the ground that were pointing the opposite direction I was walking. I could see glimpses of the cathedral and it was a much different experience than I had going into the center for the first time. 

    I had started the Camino de Santiago alone and I had walked most of it with other people, but here I was to finish for the second time and I was alone again. I could hear the faint sounds of the familiar bagpipes as I walked up the stairs into the square in Santiago de Compostela. They stopped for a moment and I hesitated to finish my walk into the center because there was something anticlimactic about finishing without them. But they started again and I was finally able to proceed until I was standing in the middle of the square facing the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. I had just walked over 1000 kilometers/630 miles over 42 walking days and was on the Camino for 51 days with a lot of rest days by the ocean. 

    It was done.

    I didn’t cry because I was in Santiago, I cried because it was over. The pain, the endless stories on the road, the terrible pilgrim meals, the uncomfortable and noisy albergues, the coincidences, the deep conversations about life, the hugs, the moody struggles, the birds chirping in the woods, the sound of the ocean and the breeze blowing through the trees - it was all over. I wept and realized that I would never have this moment again and I needed to feel it. No matter how many times I could tell my stories, I could never make anyone understand the Camino unless they were on it AND GOT IT. It was a long walk, but it was also more than that. 

    There were other peregrinos walking in too, most of them finishing up from walking the last 100 km of the Camino. I had three groups of people come up to me while I cried in the square. They asked me if I was okay and then asked me how long I had walked for. Another woman told me she wished she had had her camera because my emotional moment looked like something for the National Geographic magazine. I had no idea what to say. I felt like my moment had ended and I had turned into a tourist attraction.

    I would return to the square a few times before I left Santiago hoping for some moment of clarity and I guess - what all of us peregrinos call, our “ah-ha” moment. My moment would never come. I would go on to continue traveling Europe for a couple more months. As the weeks went by, the feeling of completing the Camino never became real. Walking the Camino felt more like a dream to me more than a memory. It’s hard to explain and I’ve only found one other person that walked the Camino that understands and has felt this too. 

    I’m not sure if the ah-ha moment is real, but what I do know is that the many micro moments that happen all the time along the Camino are real. Through stories and conversations with other peregrinos, through solitary walks in silence, through long conversations with locals, and by dreaming - you discover things all the time. 

    I came back to America and expected to become the storyteller that I had hoped to be, but discovered that people weren’t ready for this story. So I’ve been stuck trying to decide how to revive this blog of mine and formulate the words to tell you. I had hoped to have blogged the whole time during my travels, but I got too caught up living.  I hope you understand a bit more now and I want to keep sharing with you. This might not be the Camino story you were looking for, but it’s mine, and it’s definitely not the last. 

  • Thu, 23 May 2019 17:56:00 +0000

    New Beginnings
    Ever had that feeling like being stuck, whether it was a job, a location, people? Well, I did. For a really long time. It wasn't until recently that I decided that I needed to take control of my life and follow my heart more. I'm most alive when I'm traveling, meeting people, being out on or under the water and in nature. It felt silly that only a small portion of my free time was actually dedicated to that. I keep hearing more stories of cancer affecting people or freak accidents - tomorrow is not guaranteed. I've been so scared about preparing for the future that I felt like I was slowly giving up on my dream to travel the world, really meet and get to know the people in it and try to make a truly meaningful impact on the world before my time comes to an end. So, I quit my long-time job, sold and donated most of my possessions and left Hawaii after over 10 years to chase those dreams. I want to really focus on the things that make me happy in this life and share them with my family and the rest of the world that may not be able to do so.

    So here I am... in Bayonne, France of all places, writing to you. It took a lot to get to this point and I want to thank my family from the bottom of my heart for supporting me through this and encouraging me to chase my passions. It's been a pretty eventful couple days to say the least. I managed to accidentally leave the secure part of the airport in Paris before collecting my bag yesterday. I thought I was following signs to my claim and they did not lead me there. I also do not speak or read in French. It all worked out though and I managed to collect it after some walking. Today, I'm sure I looked like deer in the headlights at the train station. I also thought I knew where I was going this morning, but it turned out that I was too early and also confused. There was also a shortage of people who could speak English. I asked one lady if she could speak English and I was in luck. To top it off, it turned out that she was also on the same train, same train car, same level and only a few rows away. That would be what my great uncle would call, cosmic. We both found our train and got sorted out in time. I was so relieved. However, I had to take another train in Bordeaux and I was going to be by myself since she was getting off at another stop. I started to think that I was getting the hang of reading the train signs and ticket information until they threw a curve ball by leaving out platform 6. I could see platforms 2-3 and 4-5. Hmm. Maybe the station goes really far? No. I asked a security guard and I had to go under the tracks which led me to a platform on the other side of the train I just took. From there I could match up my car number with what letter I needed to stand by. I think I get it now... Oy.

    Bayonne is nice. It's really hard not to sing Beauty and the Beast songs in my head walking around the town with brick rads, bakeries, butcher shops and shutters on all the windows. Weather is slowly starting to turn though and it makes me nervous for the camino. It's forecasted to be between 35-45 degrees fahrenheit with rain if I stick with my original plans. I may delay as to avoid dying like the guy in the movie,  The Way. Stay tuned for more. Also, my sister made a flat version of herself so that I can take pictures with her everywhere I go. 

  • Wed, 30 Jan 2013 08:24:00 +0000

    Day 4: Underwater exploration
     When I got up and started walking this morning, everything hurt. I feel old, injured and achy. I slept pretty well last night despite the pain and having to get up early to take another dose of ibuprofen. I was going to get up to see Kini and go to the market, but I got woken up by one of the resort staff saying someone was here to pick me up. I didn't know that anyone had responded to the emails I had sent to the dive shop nearby because there's only one small corner of the reception area that has WiFi. I really didn't want to flake out on Kini, but this would be my only opportunity to go diving in Fiji. I made the split second decision and told the worker to tell them that I'll be on my way. I grabbed my suit and clothes that were hanging on the line outside and quickly put them on. I hurried out the door after I grabbed my waterproof camera, wallet, and phone. I went so quickly that I didn't have time to get ready; brush my hair or eat breakfast. The dive shop workers were waiting for me in the front and said that they came over yesterday, but I was gone rafting so they came over today just in case and I'm glad that they did. I left a note with the receptionist for Kini so she wasn't left wondering what happened to me.

    Apparently, I didn't even need to rush because everyone runs on Fiji "island time," which is actually even slower than Hawaiian time. I was the first one at the dive shop, but  shortly after, ended up getting grouped with the odd Australian family from the rafting trip yesterday. There was also an Australian Chinese girl, Vivian, that came diving by herself because her boyfriend didn't want to come. She was very nice and it was just interesting to hear her with an Australian accent. We did a shallower dive in a nearby bay because there were first-time divers in the group. I had a difficult time getting down at first because I didn't have enough weight, so Joe (the divemaster) had to put another kilo on my air tank. Right away we saw some lionfish and some soft corals. Vivian kept chasing after the fish trying to touch them, the boys kept swimming under me and basically that whole family kept getting in my way. As Vivian was after this one fish, I noticed a stingray in the sand very close to her and she ended up kicking it up and it swam away. Nearby, we saw some clownfish (Nemo) in a big cluster of anemones and Joe also found this strange sea cucumber. I got to hold it and it sort of sticks to you, but not as much as some sea urchin. He later told us that those sea cucumbers are worth a lot of money per kilogram because it's a delicacy in some Asian countries. Vivian was the first to go back to the boat because she burned up her air quickly from chasing fish. I was glad that I was able to control my breathing better so I was one of the last to go in. I decided after that dive that I wanted to go again because I can never get enough and I knew that there were probably better spots than where we were. We went back to the shop and I had to say goodbye to the group. Vivian gave me her contact info and a big hug. She thinks that it would be cool to meet up some day on our travels - maybe Australia will be next.

    Can you spot the fish and the lobster?

    I'll be honest, I don't know the name.A few lionfish
    With fronds like these, who needs anemones?!
    The little stingray coming out of the sand
    Joe making air rings

    The guys at the shop couldn't believe how big my bruise was and this one guy kept giving me sympathy and wanting to hug me... I headed back out not that long after, and this time I had the boat all to myself. We got into the aluminum boat and motored out on the surge. The weather wasn't favorable; it was windy, cloudy, and there was a lot of chop on the water. Joe asked me if I had ever done a wall dive before and I replied that I hadn't. He said, "well, there's a first for everything." I guess I was going to learn quickly, and we sat on the edge of the boat once we had our equipment on. As the boat tossed up and down, he counted to three and then we leaned back and fell into the water. Once I righted myself, I looked out and all I could see was blue. I couldn't see the bottom or the coral wall. It was the first time that I ever felt like I was really in open water. I started to see the wall as we were descending; it was towering on our right, but in front of us it was just blue. We saw several fan corals and even other corals growing on the fans. Joe poked in a hole, cupped his hands, and once I was ready with my camera, he opened his hands up and two nudibranches (Spanish dancers) came swimming out. That was so cool! We saw more soft corals, sea anemones, sea turtles and little tiny fish. We swam with one sea turtle for awhile, but it went ascended and went out of our area. Joe started poking a stick in a hole as we were nearing the end of the dive, but it had a lobster in it that wouldn't come out. He came back with a bigger stick to poke another hole nearby. I thought it was the same lobster hole, but I saw a tentacle come out and it was an octopus! It grabbed onto the stick a couple times, but eventually it shot out and left. I had to go up after that because I had reached my limit on the air in my tank. Joe filled an inflatable orange marker for the boat guy to find us.

    Where's the wall?

    Spanish dancers (nudi


    A lil hermit crab

    After a short bumpy ride, we took our equipment off and brought it ashore. We were waiting for the boat guy to anchor the boat and come back when a stranger Australian woman walked up holding a mask and fins. It turned out that she was walking the beach to the dive shop for the afternoon dive trip. She had a pretty impressive bruise on her arm from hitting herself when she was drunk and fire spinning. She declined the ride to the shop since she fancied a walk on the beach. Evidently this lady is pretty crazy. Joe said she just broke up with her boyfriend and was crying at the dive shop yesterday. I asked him how long she's been here and he said, "too long, maybe." He was thinking that we were quite the pair because we both were bruised, but I told him that at least my bruise wasn't self-inflicted. He said that I had a good point. Ha ha!
    Diveaway guys
    I had to get a ride back to the resort to get my dive log and go to another resort to take out cash for the dive at an ATM. I was driven by Ray, a Fijian guy that was raised in Australia, but had just moved back here three years ago. It's a little confusing because he looks like a Hawaiian guy, but has an Australian accent. We stopped at a roadside stand along the way to the resort and he bought me a half of a pineapple that was already peeled and semi-sliced for easier eating. I think it cost less than a dollar because he paid in coins. The pineapple was super sweet, soft and extremely juicy. It reminded me of white pineapple, but with a completely different taste. We had a good time talking story about life while going to and from the resort. I chatted with some of the dive shop people and took pictures before I had to return to my resort.

    The ladies at the desk and restaurant
    After I had a late lunch, I decided to get a massage for my soreness. I had a good time talking with Lani, the masseuse. She told me these hilarious stories about old Australian women coming to Fiji to find boyfriends! I will be missing all of these people here because they really do feel like family. In the evening, I had a great dinner of garlic prawns over rice with vegetables. The guys were playing music as usual and I was the one person that got people clapping every time. They don't play for tips and I just thought that it would be rude not to clap for them. Kini came over and apologised for our plans not working out. Turned out that they boys wouldn't have been available to cook anything anyways so it was okay that I ended up scuba diving. She didn't have time to bring her hand line for fishing so she said that we'd do it next time. That made me feel a little better about changing plans early in the morning.
    Lani and her massage parlor
    Later in the evening, the band got closer to the dinner tables and I though it was just because it was only me and another couple in the dining room. Kini came forward and said that she wished safe travels to me and hopes that we'll get to meet again someday. The whole band, including Kini and another staff member, sang a song just for me. It made me all teary and very special as I've never seen them perform for anyone else's last night there. I didn't know what the words to the song meant, but I had a good idea when it ended with, "....until we meet again." They all came up to me and gave me a hug after the song was over. I went and chatted with everyone for awhile and took pictures with Sera and Kini. Kini was funny, she saw a sculpture on the front desk that she had never seen before and called her "Grandma." We took our picture with Grandma and later with "Grandpa," a large wooden statue of a man. We had to take a few photos because Kini said that I wasn't hugging Grandpa close enough. She's such a hoot. We said our goodbyes, and Kini was like "awwww....Kara." She told me to come back someday with my boyfriend or hopefully a honeymoon. Ha ha!
    Sera and I 

    Kini and I with "Grandma"Kini and I with "Grandpa"

  • Tue, 22 Jan 2013 07:58:00 +0000

    Day 3: Fijian whitewater rafting adventures
    Sunrise at the resort

    Wow. What a day. Right now, I'm icing my thigh and waiting for dinner, but I'll get back to that later. I started the day pretty early talking to one of the guys that works the night shift. He was pretty curious and asked me a lot of questions. He's staying in the village that I visited yesterday; however, he's from another island and only gets to see his family every two weeks. Our conversation was cut short because my shuttle arrived to pick me up for the whitewater rafting adventure. The last person to be picked up was an American man with an annoying southern accent. He was stereotypically loud, but at least he was also funny. We continued driving for probably another 45 minutes until we reached an area where we had to switch buses. The new bus was 4-wheel drive, had a similar seating arrangement, but was much more ghetto. We continued inland going up into the mountains and winded our way up on a poor, clay dirt road. The views from the higher altitudes were amazing, but it was difficult to take pictures from the bumpy bus. Our guide explained that the cutting of mahoganies both benefits the Fijians monetarily through export as well as ecologically since they are introduced species. Mahogany has pushed out other traditional plants like taro and banana. One of the guides, Moses, wanted to take pictures of us on the bus. He told us to say, "Tuki," and told us not to worry because he'll tell us what it means later, but it's not a bad thing. He later told us that it meant, "sex." Halfway through the journey to the rafting site, we had a break for banana bread and juice. Our guide paired us up with our rafting guides and companions. Since I was by myself, I was placed with a group of three guys from Australia. We loaded back up and kept driving for quite some time - it probably took 2-3 hours to get to our drop-off site from the time we left the resort. 


    Once we got to our drop-off site, we were outfitted with gear and had to take another twenty minute hike through the woods, down and up some steep stairs, and then down to the river. At the river there was a guide that gave us our safety instructions. He was very difficult to understand and you could definitely tell that he had a different dialect than the people that lived along the coast. He also explained that they usually put the strongest paddlers in the front and usually have the women in the back, which I thought was very lame. When the guys asked who wanted to sit where, I said that I wanted the front right away. I figured that I probably was the strongest paddler of the bunch, since I outrigger canoe paddle. We first started practicing instructions, turns, etc. before heading down the river. We went right into a canyon with wall sides that were very steep and showed erosion and water level lines. It was so amazing that it's really hard to describe with words. The rapids weren't very big or scary, but they made things exciting. Our guide, Ben, told us stories along the way of local legends. He told us about the legend of this one waterfall - I forgot what the name was, but it translated to something like Push Waterfall. There was a village chief that had the power to do anything he wanted. He decided to have two wives; one wife was good, and the other was bad. One day the bad wife was being nice to the good wife, so the good wife figured that the other was plotting to kill her. The bad wife had led the good wife by the waterfall so that she could kill her and be the only wife for the chief. The good wife tied something around the bad wife's ankle or something while they were doing laundry. When the bad wife pushed the good wife over the waterfall, they both fell down so neither of them could be the chief's only wife. Ben also pointed out areas in the rock where there were old corals. At some point in time, the ocean used to be there and it was underwater. He also told us about this one kind of palm that the Fijians use to make the thatch in their bures. He pointed out another plant that is used for food and tastes a little better than cabbage. 

    We got to go under a few waterfalls throughout the morning to cool off, but after awhile I thought he was purposefully trying to get me wet every time. We drifted down the river for awhile when we spotted a stranded piglet on the side of the cliff face that must have fallen down from the forest above. The camera guy went up on a small trail on the cliff face to try to get the piglet, but it fled and fell into the water. The girls in the other boats were gasping as the men were trying to get it because they were afraid that they were going to kill it. I was indifferent because they're probably just as bad for the ecosystem as they are in Hawaii. I knew that they wouldn't kill it though because it would make for bad P.R. with the tourists. They ended up putting it in a bag until they could release it later.

    Scott, Dan, Me, and MatthewBefore we took out for lunch, we were on some little rapids when he turned the boat sideways and I fell out. I was making sure to keep my toes pointed downstream, but he told me to swim to the boat and he was able to pull me back in. I was fine and the guys couldn't believe that I was still smiling. I shook it off and we continued on. However, only like 5 or 10 minutes later, I fell out again and that time it was in much bigger rapids. I went underwater briefly and popped back up hacking up the water. My feet were down so I tried to bring them up to the surface and tuck my legs like Ben was yelling at me to do. Just as I was tucking my legs, I slammed into a large rock with the side of my thigh and then was thrown into some smaller rocks with my right foot. The guys in my raft got to me quickly after that because I came down through the rapids after them. The pan was pretty bad by the time I got into the boat. I sat there for a few moments just grunting a little bit with my eyes closed. The pain sucked a lot and I knew it was going to suck even more to paddle. Luckily for me, we had lunch shortly after and it gave me time to walk and stretch out. They had made a spread for sandwiches with homemade bread, various vegetables, and mystery meat. I chose the meat I could recognize, tuna, and added lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and cheese despite the warnings not to eat fresh vegetables in Fiji. I figured that I already drank a bunch of river water so if I was going to get sick, it wasn't going to be from the veggies. They also had some super delicious pineapple that was maybe even better than Big Island white pineapple, but in a completely different way. I noticed some birds nests above us in this sort of cave-ish area. I asked what the name of the bird was that made its nest in the overhang, but I already forgot it...something that starts with an "s".

     After lunch, we went back into the water and my leg was pretty painful. Dan offered to change sides with me if it wouldn't work with me paddling on the left side where I had hit. However, I knew that he wanted to even himself out since we had been paddling on the same side for half the day already and I didn't want to burn him out on the same side. Our first birds on the trip were ducks. We asked Ben what kind of duck it was and he said that it was a wild duck. Ha ha! We drifted further when I spotted what looked like birds, but could possibly be bats. I found out they were bats when a big group of them came out of the trees and flew straight above us; biggest bats I've ever seen in the wild. Ben started making conversation with us again and asked all of us if we were married. All of us looked at each other and told him we weren't married. Ben said that he's still looking to find the right person for him. I'm still trying to figure out why every Fijian guy wonders whether I'm married? Jeesh. Everybody kept splashing each other with water like children throughout the whole trip. Before we reached a waterfall, Moses dumped the rest of the orange gatorade on us so we had to rinse everything off or the flies would come and get us.

    The crew with our guide, BenWe got to stop for a "natural massage" at the large waterfall nearby. The temperature outside and the water was cool, but it still felt nice and was so beautiful. We continued down the river again; this time with our feet locked into the boat just in case. There was only one time when I almost fell out again, but I held on tight and stayed in the boat. Another story that Ben told us was that villagers used to clean clothes by beating them in the water and then would lay them on the rocks to dry while they went to take a nap. Sometimes, they would wake up and come back to a deeper river and all of their clothes would be gone. Some people still wash their clothes like that and you can spot random shirts, pants etc. caught up in the bushes higher up on the river banks. I told Ben that I spotted African Tulips (an invasive plant species in Hawaii), among the other two dozen species I've identified. He says that it's also displaced the taro and banana because of what it does to the soil. I found out that they don't do much to the taro to eat them like the Hawaiians, they only boil and eat them.

    Rafting through the rainforestThe take-out spotA traditional Fijian raft - Bilibi
    The road to the bus
    We ended our journey when we reached a village that had longboats beached on the riverbank. However, our trek was not completed because we still had to wrap up our rafts and then walk up the steepest road that never seemed to end. We passed by some of the village women that had machetes and stacks of branches carried in bundles on their backs. The estimated time of ten minutes was way off - it probably took 25-30 minutes walking up concrete and then sticky clay before we reached the bus. It was obvious that the bus wouldn't have made up the hill. We had some pretty crazy drivers on the way back. We actually got stuck going down this curve on the dirt road in the forest. The driver was pressing on the gas more and the bus started to lean to the right, I thought we were going to tip over! At the same time, these stupid Americans were yelling that this wasn't in the brochure. I just kind of chuckled and leaned to the left (like that was going to help). Eventually, we got out and everyone cheered. I just laughed instead of getting mad like some other people because we didn't die so it was funny and I chalked it up as an authentic Fijian experience! 

    After the long 4-wheel bus ride, we stopped back at their office and waited for the bus to take us back to our resorts. Dan was nice enough to give me his contact information and said that I could contact him in case I get into any trouble in New Zealand because he has a lot of friends there. The guys say that I need to go to Australia someday - especially Cairns, the city I still can't figure out how to pronounce ever after hearing them say it. It was a little sad to say goodbye to them because we had a lot of fun together and they we like my guys. Dan is an oncologist, Matthew is an infectious disease doctor, and Scott works in human resources.

    When I got back to the resort, Sera greeted me and welcomed me back. Some of the band members were in the dining hall and they helped to give me ice for my leg. It was super painful, but slightly better with pain relievers. So that brings us back to the beginning, now you know why I was icing. I had chicken fettuccine for dinner tonight and it was pretty good for someone starving. I also just found out that I can't dive at all in Fiji! They cancelled my dive to Beqa (Beng-ga) lagoon and I'm so heartbroken because that was the only thing I really wanted to do here. I doubt that the local dive place will take me now too. Kinni said that I could go to the market with her for most of the day tomorrow. She said we could pick up some food to cook underground instead of going to the other village that I got invited to. Kinni told me that I shouldn't go to the other village alone because nobody from the village works at the resort so it's just safer if I do dinner with people from here. I'm glad that I have someone to watch out for me and willing to teach me how to line fish after work! We'll see what tomorrow brings.
  • Sun, 13 Jan 2013 02:12:00 +0000

    Day 2: A Visit to the Village
    After a night of mostly trying to get to sleep, the morning seemed good. It was nice to listen to the waves crashing last night and the temperature is just how I like it. However, it's a little on the humid side - okay, a lot a bit. I had a good breakfast; a mushroom omelet and three slices of toast made from homemade bread. I ended up visiting the tour desk to figure out what to do for the day and to try to book the rafting trip that I had found online before I left. I probably should have booked before I got there because I ran into some problems. My credit card kept getting declined, so I had to call my credit card company. They said that there was nothing wrong with my card, nothing had been denied and that it must have something to do with a third party. Turns our that the electricity was down in Nadi so they were going through another hotel and that wasn't working. Looks like I will be meeting up with them later this afternoon to try again or drive to a resort to stop at an ATM.
    Benji and Danny
    I had heard that there was a handicrafts store that offered transport, but the Indian guys that were working the tour desk said that they would just drop me off. I went into the store and got sucked into the tourist trap, but I knew that I needed to get Christmas presents still. The Fijian guys in the store, Benji and Danny, were so funny. They kept wondering why I wasn't married... ugh. They gave me juice while I shopped and we talked story about life. Danny brought up the fact that Indians and Fijians don't get along. He said that the Indians were originally brought in by the Fijians for labor in the sugarcane fields. However, over time, the Indians coming over were wealthier and more educated than the Fijians. They are currently buying and controlling land, limiting what Fijians can do with it. He also said that their money is so poor that they even only make FJ$2.50/hour at the store. They help keep their village surviving by bringing people over there, like me, who will give a donation that's shared three ways in the village.

    Danny arranged for me to take a walking tour of the village with Poate (Poo-ah-teh), the village pastor. The first thing that I noticed walking down the street was a Royal Poinciana tree, which are also found in Hawaii. He said that when you see the red and green, you know that it's almost time for Christmas. He showed me the village hall where they have gatherings and whatnot. It was a simple structure, and most the houses were too. He told me that the people in the village are Methodist. He took me inside the church and told me that everyone sits separately. The choir sits up in the front, the children are in the middle, the women are on the right, the men are on the left, and there's a special spot for the village chief in the front. Poate also told me that it's a good time for me to be here and lucky because they used to eat people with my skin color and that only one person got away. I told him that I was glad too, or I probably would be in Fiji. 

    Poate's cousin with babyInside the church (choir seats on left)Town HallHe brought me over to his family's bure and let me come inside. He said that it takes 3-4 months to complete the construction of a bure. The pillars of the structure take the longest, as they must be buried underground seven feet deep in order to withstand the hurricane season. It has a thatched roof and the floor has a mat that is woven from banana leaves. The leaves must be cut, boiled, and then dried in the sun before they can be woven together. Poate showed me a necklace that had an orca whale tooth on it. He said that in the older times, it would be used if someone liked someone and would be given to them like asking them out. It was also given for other special occasions. His tooth necklace has been passed down in his family, so now he just keeps it hanging on the pillar in his bure. Poate told me that a holiday to Fiji is nothing if you don't stop at a village and see how real Fijians live. He said that some villages do homestays and that you can also partake in their activities. "Once you visit, you're like family." He said that if I wanted to donate some money, they village would cook a going away dinner as tradition with friends. I'll have to think about it. It's cool if it doesn't happen that often, but I don't want to fall into a money trap. Oh, I forgot to mention, there was a funny moment when he was wondering why I wasn't married yet. I wasn't sure how to respond so I just told him I didn't know. Then he asked me how old I was and said that it was too late for me! Yikes. Way to make me feel old. However, it was a great experience being able to see the village. Danny dropped me off at the resort and encouraged me to eat dinner at the village.
    Poate's BureBure Entrance                                                

    Poate in his bure 
    Orca tooth necklaceBeam structure inside bure 

    Chairs in Poate's bureVillage Chief's housesWhen I got back, I killed some time on the beach before the Indian guys came back. They said that my card worked on the third try and I was good to go for rafting tomorrow. I was able to get a cheap massage at the resort. Since I wasn't doing anything extreme today, I thought I'd make it a relaxation day. The lady was nice, but made me think that Fijians have different thoughts on nudity. She was setting up on the beach and told me to take my shirt off with five guys sitting nearby. I just was shocking saying, "uhhhh, here?" She then moved me inside my bure where I had more privacy. It seems like they're all very religious here and listen to Christian rock. She left for Church service after and I wondered if they go twice to service on Sundays.

    Shells from the beach that I wasn't allowed to take homeA hermit crab running away from me I had a great dinner and company tonight. I thought that I was going to go to bed early, but ended up a little later. When I went to dinner, there were only a few people. One of the waitresses finally introduced herself as Kini. I told her about my day and somehow we started talking about fishing. She loves to line fish and invited me to come try with her before or after work sometime before I leave. She's going to try to bring her line tomorrow so we might fish after I get back from rafting. Dinner tonight was prawn linguine. I got followed to dinner by a stray dog. I really wanted to pet her because she seemed friendly, but I'm in a different country and she's still a stray dog. I haven't named her yet, but will before the end of this trip.
    The stray that I started calling, "Bessy," for some reason.
    I went and talked with Sera at the front desk. She's so nice and always asks how things are going with me. We talked about fishing too because it turns out that she's Kini's oldest daughter. She said she only goes fishing now only when she feels like it because her mom always made her go fishing. She never catches anything and her mom catches everything. She told me a story about this one time she went fishing with her friends and she was swinging the line overhead (like a lasso motion). When she let go, she hooked her friend in the head! Sera burst out laughing when she was telling this story and she has one of the greatest laughs that only makes you want to laugh too. I said that maybe I should stay away from her mom. She said that her mom is good though, but I said that it's for me, so I don't hook her. Ha ha. We talked about the say and then we started talking about kava. She drinks it every night after work with her aunties. She said she woke up late today to the church bells because she drank too much kava. She said that if it's really strong, it makes your lips go numb, you slur your speech, but instead of getting loud drunk like alcohol, you get quiet. I said that they should serve kava at bars because that would be a lot better than a bunch of loud people. She also told me that she uses facebook and they have notebook computers. I'm starting to think that it might not be as bad as I thought before, or that maybe it's just like that for those that are lucky enough to work at the resorts. I don't know. Anyways, I have fun chatting with them. It makes me feel like I'm not alone at all in this trip and makes me wish I could stay here longer.
    In front of my bure
  • Sun, 06 Jan 2013 08:24:00 +0000

    Day 1 (23-24/11/12): What have I gotten myself into?
    I recently traveled alone to Fiji and New Zealand. The following posts are adaptations of the journal I kept while traveling. Sometimes I was able to write as things were happening, and at other times, I had to write afterwards.

    An island in Western SamoaToday is the first day of my trip to Fiji and New Zealand. There's a lot of mixed emotions right now. I should be more excited, but I'm pretty nervous. I've never traveled to a foreign country alone before (well, not a part of a group). I just hope that the flight goes well and everything with my shuttle to my resort works out. I got a little nervous at the airport about thing I need to pickup in Fiji, so I exchanged currency right away. It was kind of a rip-off so I think that I should just stick to ATMs instead. Tomorrow may be a day for rest and relaxation. It's so crazy, I'm heading to Apia, Western Samoa right now crossing the International Dateline. It's the same time as it is in Hawaii, but a day ahead. Weird. I wonder if people can still claim jet lag? The flight to Samoa was a bit turbulent, but we landed safely. I couldn't believe how beautiful Samoa was - the water was amazingly crystal green. I also forgot how much better it is to fly internationally than in the United States. They gave us a breakfast box (yogurt, granola bar, and a muffin), afternoon tea with biscuits (actually my first time eating biscuits - turns out that biscuits are mostly like shortbread cookies), and a chicken with cheese sandwich box (also had cheese/crackers, chips and orange juice). I had a nice chat with the woman sitting next to me from my Apia to Nadi (pronounced "Nahn-dee"), Fiji flight. She's Tongan, but married to a Samoan and the rest of her immediate family live in Australia and New Zealand. Seems so far away and scattered. She said that she hasn't seen her Tongan family since 2005. I couldn't think of not seeing my family for so long.

    Don't know what happened to this bridge on the Sigatoka River
    Whoa. What a day today has been. It was great seeing many of the Fijian islands before landing in Nadi. We had to walk outside of the airport to reach customs, and we were bombarded by thick, hot air. Once we were on our way to customs, we were greeted by a Fijian band serenading us. I probably had that deer-in-the-headlights look as I kept thinking of all the things I needed to do before I could safely relax at my resort on the Coral Coast. Customs went fast and some people directed me to my shuttle company that would take me to my resort. They put our luggage in a covered trailer behind the over-sized van. I didn't realize how far away the resort actually was - the ride was about 2 hours. It was also a bit on the wake up side... It seems that most Fijians live in poverty or very minimalistic. Almost every house we passed was either made out of steel roofing (for the whole structure) or wood and were falling apart. One house that I saw even had the trunk back of a van used to repair the side of the house and also act like a window. It just really make me sad and then made me feel bad that I'm spending all sorts of money on this holiday. This country is definitely more like a second world country. They have some modern conveniences of a first world country, but not quite there yet. Everything was also much father than what they looked like on the map. I thought that Sigatoka wouldn't be too far from my resort, but it ended up being at least 30 minutes away by car.

    My BureAll of the people here make you feel so special. When I checked in, I got serenaded by three band members and then a man helped me bring my luggage to my bure (cabin). The bure was nice - it had a queen bed, two twin beds, a mini fridge, and a bathroom. However, it did not have a telephone or television (probably a good thing on a holiday). It wasn't until I got settled that I realized I forgot the bottled water I bought at the airport and almost every store would be closed because of it being Sunday. I also forgot to buy a calling card and the resort's internet isn't working so I have no way of reaching anybody. I feel so disconnected, and also a bit homesick. It's like, what have I gotten myself into?

    I ended up eating dinner at the resort restaurant because it appears that it's my only option. The dining area is a nice size, but there were only a few of us there while the band played music. It was nice - they even played Eric Clapton and Bob Marley songs. I ordered the Mahi Mahi that was served with veggies, mashed potatoes, and a sweet salsa on top. I'm not even sure what fruit was in the salsa, but it was good. The couple next to me ended up striking up a conversation with me; maybe because I'm alone? They're a couple from Alberta,Canada that's possibly retirement-aged. They just came from traveling in New Zealand for five weeks. They were so nice to talk to, I can't believe I didn't get their names. I'll most likely see them tomorrow because they're only two bures down from me. The wife even came over and gave me some of their water because I had told them about my fiasco and they agreed that the water was ridiculously-priced in the resort. These people are so nice. I'm always amazed by kindness.

    This morning, I did my own good deed. When I was at the Honolulu airport, I saw a boarding pass on the ground. Everyone was walking by it, but I picked it up figuring that the person wouldn't know where they had dropped it. It turned out that the person was also on my flight. When I got to my gate, I gave it to the airline clerks and the man had just come back looking all frantic. He couldn't believe that I found it and brought it back.

    I'm also thankful for the woman at this resort. She started talking to me and just was good company. Her name is a bit difficult to understand, so I'm going to have to ask her how to spell her name. I'm actually starting to feel a little better now that I've been writing. I was feeling very sad at dinner. I'm at a very quiet couples resort....alone. Alone and no way to get in touch with anyone. I feel like experiences are better when shared. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better when I can be more active. The nights will be hard. Although, I won't have to use the beach sounds app on my phone tonight to help put me to sleep because I can hear the waves crashing and only ocean breezes and this overhead fan tonight. Glad there's a breeze, or it would be hot. It feels better on this side of the island than in Nadi. Lets hope that I get some sleep so I'm not all's an adventure!!
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