Friday, September 29, 2006

El Camino

If anyone is still reading, I'm still alive. (Well, I'm still alive even if you're not reading. Whatever.) It's Day 8 of my walk across Spain--we've come almost 200k so far and have about 550 to go. My feet are sore and a little blistered but they haven't mutinied yet.

Today we stopped after only about 20k because it was starting to rain. That makes us sound horribly wimpy--we can walk in the rain. Stopping was really more about doing laundry, which maybe makes us sound wimpier, I dunno. Bad pilgrims. Anyway, I'm writing this from a laundromat/internet cafe and listening to some Brazilian pilgrims trying to figure out the washing machines.

Here's what it's like. All the towns on the route have albergues, which are like hostels only with even fewer comforts. Some have all the beds in one room, other have a few different rooms. Bunk beds, most have sheets and pillows but no blankets. You're supposed to bring a sleeping bag but my friend and I, the most half-assed pilgrims ever, decided sleeping bags were too heavy so we have to scrounge. We at least haven't had to sleep in a chicken coop yet, like the two slightly hapless Brazilians we met the first night did. Anyway, you usually have to be in by 10pm. This may well be my least favorite part of the camino--it doesn't matter how tired I am, I pretty much can't go to sleep at 10pm. Whatever. I wake up between 6 and 7 because by then other people are up and being loud. Change clothes, brush teeth, find coffee and protein. Finding coffee and protein that early in Spain is hard but we've done okay so far. Walk. Walk. Fruit break. Walk. Walk. Lunch. Walk. Coffee. Walk. Find albergue, shower, sit, eat. Drink. Drink. Drink. (Not really, but there is this crazy old Italian guy who calls me (in Italian) the old drunk.) Sleep. Repeat.

We started in Roncesvalles, in Navarra just on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Went all the way through Navarra and are now going through La Rioja. Lots of grapes. Lots of big dramatic scenery--mountains, big fields, open blue sky. Lots of interesting people. Names seem sort of irrelevant and I'm bad with them anyway, so people have names like the Italian, the chicos, old and young Bob Marley, the guys who like churches, the bus drivers. Lots of languages--most people speak English but not everyone. I've managed to have a few broken conversations in both Italian and Portuguese, and am getting lots of Spanish practice as well. I've already had three arguments in Spanish about the fact that Catalan is a separate language and not a dialect of Spanish--the conversation is frustrating as hell but I also kinda like it because I'm getting good at having it in Spanish.

Last night the bus drivers gave me a forty (yeah, as in forty ounces of bad beer) and I sat on a curb drinking it and smoking. How is this purifying me again? Wherever I go, there I am....

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What the fuck was I thinking?

Tomorrow I'm gonna wake up at 6am to take a bus to Pamplona. Then I'm gonna take another bus to Roncesvalles, just on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. And then I'm gonna walk to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia. That's 750km. It's a religious pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago. I'm not looking for god, just adventures and cheap travel and muscle tone. We'll see what I find. It seemed like a good idea back when it wasn't gonna happen for a few months.

I dunno what's gonna become of the blog, exactly. I'll try to at least make occasional "I'm still alive" posts. Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I am the eggplant

Okay. This afternoon it finally stopped raining and the sun came out. I take back the mean things said to myself about Santander. I do think the people here are particularly unfriendly, but whatever. (Dear waiter from this morning: Yeah, I ordered a second piece of toast and a cup of coffee. It was pouring rain and there was nothing else to do but eat more. Fuck you and your raised eyebrow.)

Santander is mostly on the bottom of this peninsula that's surrounded by a bay to the south and the ocean to the north. On a map it looks like a short walk to the ocean part of the peninsula. It's not. Its a very long walk. But it was exactly what I felt like doing today. The sun came out just in time. I threw away my umbrella. (I imagined myself very dramatically throwing it into the ocean, but that would be littering.) It was beautiful. Part cliffs, part beach, waves, surfers. At the end of the peninsula is a little pool with walruses, of all things.

So. This is it for this part of the trip--nine hours on a bus tomorrow and I'm back in Barcelona. No real deep reflections on the trip, at least not yet. They'll go in the book. (Promise you'll read the book if I ever write it, even though you'll already know what happens. I'll add some new stuff. Or I'll just make shit up.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sixty feet under

Fucking hell I had forgotten how much I hate rain. It's been raining for days but I mostly managed to stay out of it. In Cangas de Onís it thunderstormed, which was at least interesting. This morning there was a rainbow. I'm trying to be positive. But then my feet got soaked and my umbrella inverted and that sucks so fucking bad. Grrr.

Anyway. There are these caves with prehistoric paintings outside of Santander. Seemed like a good thing to do on a rainy day, since caves have rooves. But the caves are 1.5k from the bus stop, uphill, in the rain. Stop whining.

The cave (there are allegedly four, but you could only visit one) was very impressive. They let you go about 20m down and it's all dark and spooky and puddle-y and full of stalacmites and stalactites. And the oldest of the paintings is thirty thousand years old. Wow. Painting is kind of a strong word; it's an outline made by blowing crushed oxidated iron against a hand placed flat on the wall. So the ancients found a use for rust. You know the turkeys that kids draw by outlining their hands? It looked like that, but with no beak. The "newer" ones (only fifteen thousand years old) were actually paintings, of horses and deer and bison, and better than anything I could paint. Excavation of the cave started in the early 1900's and was originally funded by the prince of Monaco.

Thirty thousand years; that kinda makes my head spin. I'm not sure how they date things made of iron, and my Spanish skills don't really support that kind of conversation. Maybe the rust had some carbon in it, I dunno.

I meant to wear sneakers to the cave, but then I forgot and showed up in my flip-flops, which are on their very last legs and have no traction. Not exactly caveworthy, and there was even a warning at the entrance about wearing appropriate shoes. So I was a little worried. But fear not, this is Spain, where even my most ridiculous shoes are borderline practical. The flip-flops were fine.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The best train ride ever

I'm sure that's not really true. It wasn't even a nice train, and it was all rattle-y and stopped about every three minutes and kept blowing its horn really loudly. But it was beautiful. Heading east, mostly through the mountains following a little river and sometimes cutting north to the coast. They call the north coast of Spain the costa verde (green coast) and it is so pretty. I won't bore you with ramble-y landscape descriptions, but I'm a sucker for ocean and mountains together and, if not the best ever, it was the best train ride I've ever been on.

The train stopped in Santander, the last stop on this leg of wandering around Iberia. On Sunday I'm back to Barcelona and then off to start the Camino de Santiago. All I really wanted to do today was walk on the beach, but it rained. Again. I think I've seen more rain in the past three days than I had in the previous three months. So I went to the art museum. Free museums are so great.

I'm not sick of art museums yet, but I don't always have much left to say about them. But this one did have this weird abstract piece, this amorphous sculpture (I think it was called The Blob) with a face projected onto it, repeating a very muffled monologue. But it wasn't really a face because it had no nose and the eyes slanted up at 45-degree angles. It was strange looking. The fun part was that almost the whole time I was there, the museum employees were laughing uncontrollably at it. Nice change from the typical stern, bored, frowning museum guards.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My name is Samantha, and I'm not an alcoholic

The Picos de Europa are a little mountain range in eastern Asturias (pico means beak, and also peak) that I would like to be hiking through but I don't really have time and I'll be doing plenty of hiking very soon. I'm pretty sure Congas de Onís is not one of the highlights of the Picos, but it worked for me because it's easy to get to. It feels touristy even in September and you need a car to get to the good hikes. But still, it's in the mountains and I took a nice long walk by the Rio Sellas, passing little farms with cute houses and horses and cows and sheep.

So, cider (sidra, en español). The restraint that Spanish people show towards alcohol amazes me. A Spanish person will go into a bar, order a beer, drink half of it, and then leave. It's partly a cost thing, I guess: Alcohol is cheap here. (Beer is often cheaper than water or soda.) But it's also a cultural thing. I really don't think I have a drinking problem. But where I come from, if you've paid for alcohol, you drink it. If you're given alcohol you pretty much drink it. To do otherwise is alcohol abuse. I don't even think that's funny, but it's ingrained.

One of my favorite memories from living in Spain was going to a Basque cider house outside of San Sebastián back in April. My current trip through Asturias has been almost nothing like that Basque adventure, but I have drunk a lot of cider. They make it here (there are apple trees all over Asturias), it's really popular, it's really good, and I've had it for lunch and dinner every day that I've been here in Asturias. Which is where the restraint thing comes in (or doesn't, I guess). When you order cider here they bring you a whole big bottle, about the size of a bottle of wine. Cider has less alcohol than wine, but more than beer, and a whole big bottle is more than I need, especially in the middle of the afternoon. But once they put the open bottle on the table, well... I've been drinking a lot of cider. Is it possible that it's good for me? It is made with apples....

Oh, and I'm on a quest. It's good to have goals, and one of my current ones is to like blue cheese. People who like blue cheese really like blue cheese. It brings them joy, and I feel a little left out. I wanna feel the joy, too. But it's not working. When I eat blue cheese it still tastes like feet.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm sorry, what was your name again?

The Oviedo art museum has a room full of El Grecos. Twelve, to be exact--the twelve apostles. Each has the apostle's name painted on top, but I guess the Greek was confused or something, because next to the painting labeled San Mateo is a sign saying the painting was mislabeled and it's really San Felipe. And the one labeled San Felipe is really San Mateo. San Bartolomeo and someone else are similarly mislabeled, but there was no more information than that given. Seems like a strange mistake to have made, and I wonder how anyone noticed it; the paintings didn't seem to include a lot of identifying features. Maybe if I knew my apostles better it would be obvious.

I was a little skeptical about Oviedo. For no good reason whatsoever, but doesn't Oviedo just sound like someplace that might not be nice? Turns out it's lovely, and Asturian boy (his name might have been Jordi, but then maybe that was his friend's name) is two-for-two.

It's not that different from most other medium-sized Spanish cities, really, but it's nice. It seems exceptionally clean, and the little Spanish balconies that cover the buildings are filled with plants and flowers. There are lots of cute little squares and nice cafes. And the bus station bathrooms are well-stocked with toilet paper; that almost never happens in Spain. Very likeable.