Day 16: Freefalling

My days on the Camino are filled with stories. That’s really what I do all day, I walk and I listen. I’ve listened to people grieve for the loved ones they have lost, teach me songs in French, tell me folktales from their home countries. I learn new things every day and, of course, I share a thing or two along the way. But most importantly, I have become a better listener than ever before. 

During an intense discussion on the road today, my dear friend Mundo, from Mexico, compared life to skydiving and it’s a thought I really wanted to share. 

Imagine you’re going skydiving. 

You’re in the airplane high above beautiful fields. The door opens and you feel the power of the wind as you stand at edge, ready to jump. 

You teeter for a moment, swaying in and out, until you finally decide to go for it and jump. 

You’re falling through the air, picking up speed, slightly terrified but absolutely exhilarated. The adrenaline is rushing through your body and you are free. You are happy. 

You’re nearing the ground and it’s time to pull open your parachute. You pull and you pull. 

Your parachute doesn’t open. 

You keep falling, terrified. But then you remember you have an emergency parachute. So you pull on the emergency parachute. 

It doesn’t open either. 

And there you are, falling. You are falling, and nothing will save you. 

You have a choice now. 
Do you spend your last moments kicking and screaming, blaming God and being angry? 

Or do you smile as enjoy the ride?

Either way the choice is yours. 
 

Somewhere in the woods along the Way
 

Day 15: Inhale, Exhale

Today I’m sitting in the mountains, drinking tea with schnapps, watching the rain over the green landscape. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to reflect on the last three days in. 

I think I have learned more about myself recently than I thought possible. 

I found peace on day 13, hiking in the mountains of Galicia through rain, fog and bursts of sunshine. I walked 40 kilometers that days, about 25 miles, because it felt inexplicably right. My body was energized by the luscious green forests and I was finally alone with my thoughts. 

About 30 kilometers in, I came upon a group meditating by a waterfall. I didn’t pass them up. Staying with them felt right, so there I was breathing in and out with a group of strangers. Letting go of the past, and being grateful for the present. 

The two Spaniards leading the meditation approached me further up the road, and told me that they had called me their “tinkerbell.” I was the mysterious blonde force, in a neon yellow jacket, that brought an intense amount of positive energy to their meditation practice. I tried to thank them for letting me share their beautiful moment, but they thanked me instead, because as much as I thought I needed them then, they needed me too. They asked my name, and told me that in Catalan, “pau,” from Pauline, means peace.

I was overwhelmed with emotion when they told me they felt my energy, because it was so beautiful to feel so deeply connected to complete strangers. It was inexplicable and exhilarating all at once.

Days 14 and 15 were flooded with thoughts about who I was and who I wanted to be. I opened my heart to everyone I met on the road, and tried to be present in every single moment. I learned more about God, and what faith meant to me. I inhaled and exhaled deeply throughout the trail, hoping that maybe, just maybe, it was possible to absorb the feeling of being in the mountains, so that it would never leave me. 

I have grown so much, and I’m still growing. And for that, I am grateful to the Camino.

I found peace. It was waiting for me in the mountains of Galicia.

Day 12: My Spanish Mother 

My roommate in Barcelona is from Ponferrada, in the north of Spain, so when I told her that I was going to do the Camino, she made it clear that a stop at her parents’ house was mandatory. 
I arrived Wednesday morning, hungry, tired, soaked by the rain and with a few ugly infections on my toes. 

Within an hour, Laura’s mother, Rosa, had me fed and showered. She did all my laundry, anointed all my wounds and put me down for a nap. I was home. 

Mothers are basically the best kind of people because they will love you unconditionally from the moment you step into their lives, regardless if they’re actually your mother or not. 

I only intended on spending one night there, but stayed an extra day because Rosa insisted. She took me shopping for hiking sandals, took me to a community theater production and showed me her city and a few other towns. Both evenings I was there, I would relax on the couch while Rosa held vigil over my wrecked feet, applying ointments and having me soak them, changing the water as soon as it got chilly.

We even picked up her girlfriends one evening and I went out for beverages and gossiping with three 50 year old Spanish women. If that doesn’t prove language proficiency, I don’t know what does. 

On top of that she took me to an evening talk at the local pharmacy about protecting your skin from the sun, because her friend was hosting it. I wasn’t quite sure why I was sitting in a roomful of Spaniards two or three times my age, listening to a woman speak about sunscreen in a little suburb in the north of Spain on a Thursday night, but somehow I was there and it was nice. 

Over dinner, delicious homegrown peppers and their own chicken, Laura’s parents adorably tried to convince me to stay the entire weekend, and it broke my heart to have to decline. As much as they had helped me, I think I had helped them, too. They were happy to have their home filled again with a daughter, and I could tell they didn’t want the feeling to go away. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, because it feels so nice to be taken care of again. But, alas, the show must go on. 

I am forever grateful for their kindness and hospitality, and I know another visit will be in order when I do the Camino again. 

Dinner with Tito and Rosa

Day 10: How Far We’ve Come

Days 5-8 were my rest days in León and they were full of some great conversations; the kind of conversations that happen a bottle of red wine in, when you and a stranger both let your guard down and you talk about your mothers and your fathers and your brothers, and men and mistakes and regrets and God. León not only rested my body, but also my soul. 

The 9th day of my camino was physically tough. Nadja and I left León late, because our bed was too comfortable, and we had to walk in the full sun for 37 kilometers, or about 23 miles. I thought I wouldn’t make it, but ibuprofen and a bottle of wine does wonders. Actually, I wouldn’t recommend that in real life, but here two ibuprofen and a bottle of wine is basically lunch.

Today was day 10, and frankly I’m still struggling with blisters. I have tried everything from double socks to Vaseline to wearing my Nikes. I even shipped my backpack to my destination today to lighten the weight on my feet. I’m tired of having to sew through my skin every night with a needle and thread to drain new blisters. Side note, it is as awful as it sounds. 

However, there is always a bright side: I now know how to say blister, needle and thread in Spanish. 

The only thing to do is keep on keeping on, which is what I will do, because as much pain as I am in, it’s worth it. Every day I learn something new. Every day something or some one inspires me. 

Also, I’ve earned a new reputation here, and I’ve learned that people somewhat admire me.

I am the girl that always smiles, no matter what. 

I rather like that. 

Blister approach number 17

When People Visit

Visitors are exhausting.

You walk around all day, spend more money than you normally would on entrance fees and metro passes and you eat constantly, and I mean constantly, just so that they can have the best possible experience in Barcelona.

Over the last few weeks, I have had three visitors. I have re-visited all of Barcelona’s major sights, from Sagrada Familia to Park Güell, I can recite Antoni Gaudí’s life story by heart and I have perfected a Barcelona sightseeing itinerary, which I am more than happy to share. Also, I have been to Brunch & Cake, a local bistro, four times this week with my visitors. That means I have eaten brunch four times in a week.

That is not okay.

Well maybe it is okay, because as tiring as it’s been, I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up my semester.

You see, visitors are actually the best.

They allow you to experience your city in a fresh way, as if you were discovering it for the first time.

Once you’ve been living somewhere awhile you tend to forget the city’s magic. You walk past the same things every day and they become mundane even if they are really special. Parisians walk past the Eiffel Tower daily, unfazed, and Romans apathetically speed past the Colosseum. And here I am, strolling down Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, absolutely oblivious to Gaudí’s Casa Batlló or Casa Milà because I see them practically every day.

The joy of  showing someone around is that you can actually look at what you’ve been seeing this whole time; you pause and you think,

“Whoa. How lucky am I to be surrounded by something this beautiful?”

Showing Kristi around Park Güell
Showing Kristi around Park Güell

Fútbol, Confetti and Tears- Visca el Barça!

Kristi, or KrIstanbul, whom I visited in Istanbul in March, came to visit this weekend and accompanied me to my first FC Barcelona game this past Saturday.

I had waited all semester to go to a game, and with only two weeks left in my stay, it was now or never.

FC Barcelona was playing Deportivo de La Coruña, and ended the game in a tie. However, it was an incredible game to attend because the club had just won the Spanish League Championship and was celebrating that win after this game. On top of that, FCB’s midfielder and captain, Xavi, was leaving the club after 17 seasons. The stadium was full of people paying homage to a man who spent 25 years in a Barça jersey.

FCB fans are truly something special. I was expecting rowdiness and chaos, drunkards and maybe a fight or two. Instead, I saw an entire stadium-full of people intently watching the game, and occasionally cheering. Old men speaking Catalan commented on every play, and kids sat with their families, chanting along with the crowd. You could see everyone was just keeping their eyes fixed on the players and truly relishing the sport, a huge contrast to American sporting events. In fact, the stadium doesn’t even sell alcoholic beverages, and not a single person was visibly intoxicated.

What a beautiful concept. People at a sporting event actually watching the sport.

After the game, all of the players accompanied by their adorable children made a lap around the field with the Spanish League Championship trophy. At the end, Xavi took a solo victory lap through clouds of confetti, and made everyone cry with his final speech.

I had never seen so much confetti and so many tears in one place, it was an honor to attend.

Visca el Barça!

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Steps away from the Barça babes
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Barça players and their young ones

Conversations with Strangers: Pabloski from Wrocław

About him:  Paul, who goes by Pabloski because he is half Mexican and half Polish (Pablo-ski get it?), manages Funky Cycle, a rickshaw business in Barcelona. He has been living in Spain for about 16 years now, and his hidden talent is guessing what country people are from.

How we met: My friend, Kristi, is visiting from Istanbul and after a whole day of walking we decided to treat ourselves to a rickshaw ride. I came up to a group of rickshaw bikers and began fiercely negotiating when Pabloski approached me and began arguing with me about prices. Then, through a hot mess of English, Spanish and Polish we somehow ended up on his bike bonding and having a great time.

Coolest experience: The coolest thing Paul has ever done was move to Barcelona. He loves the people, the atmosphere, the climate and his lifestyle in general. But, can you blame him?

Life dream: Pabloski’s big dream is bike around the world. Aside from biking people around all day on rickshaws, he bikes competitively, so I think he could totally do it.

Just riding around with Pabloski
Just riding around with Pabloski

 

About that Wallet Again

About a month ago, almost to the day actually,  I wrote about how I had left my wallet in a taxi. Since then, all the credit cards had been canceled and replaced, the cute leather wallet completely forgotten and the incident forgiven.

Today I got my wallet back.

Out of the blue, I was informed that it had been returned to Barcelona’s lost and found office yesterday, so I went to collect it first thing in the morning.

I was absolutely baffled when I picked it up, thinking there surely must have been a mistake. It was, in fact, my wallet and still contained all my IDs, cards and photos. Naturally, any cash I had left in there was missing, but somehow that didn’t matter. What baffled me the most, was that someone somewhere cared enough to turn it in.

See, I’m a firm believer that if you are good and you are kind, then good things will happen to you. Barcelona is funny like that, good things just kind of happen here.

I would love to know where my wallet has been for the last four weeks. Who helped it find it’s way back to me. What story about my life did they piece together from the clues within my wallet? How did it take this long, and who can I thank?

Truth is, I will never know. And that, in itself, is pretty cool.

The moral of the story is that with a little bit of time and a little bit of faith, everything will work itself out in the end.

Also, people don’t suck.

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Just another act of kindness from Barcelona strangers.

 

Lessons from Jellyfish and Deserts

Today I got stung by a jellyfish for the third time in my life. Once was in Belize, once in Honduras and now here on the beach near Barcelona. I didn’t even know they had jellyfish here this time of year.

I limped out of the water, slightly annoyed thinking, “just my luck,” and also annoyed because I knew that someone would offer to pee on me, which is absolutely unnecessary.

Then, I started laughing to myself, because no matter how unfortunate it was to be stung by a jellyfish again, I was still a happy little lady.

It was last weekend, watching the sun set over the Sahara desert, that I came to a very important conclusion: Life is good. Being abroad and traveling has taught me to be mindful about each moment and to be grateful for this beautiful life. After all, nice things are happening every day.

I slept outside, under the stars, in the desert that weekend. With no cities, houses or lights for miles,I saw more stars than ever before. There are about 5,000 stars visible to the naked eye, isn’t that incredible? Whether it’s the beauty of a sky full of stars or the sting of a jellyfish, life is full of tiny delights and surprises that remind you how good it is to be alive.

I really don’t mean to get all “one love” and “namaste” on everyone, but I implore all of you take a moment of each day to pause and feel grateful for our beautiful lives, because in the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Have a lovely day, all.

Somewhere in the Sahara, watching the sunset.
Somewhere in the Sahara, watching the sunset.

On Children and Mothers

The other day, my father and I made our way into the Sahara desert to round out our Moroccan experience. On the way to our desert camp, our driver asked if we wanted to visit a nomadic Berber family that had set up camp nearby.

Nomadic family? Berber locals?! Observing a rare gem of African life? CULTURE?!

Naturally, I jumped at the chance. It was every traveler’s dream come true.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Africa, our driver pulled up to a wicker hut and a mess of patched together blankets, which resembled a tent. We were invited inside the hut and served green tea by a cheerful elderly woman sitting cross-legged on the ground, who was warming up a teapot over a charcoal pit.

A darling little boy appeared from behind her, smiling shyly at me, and suddenly the Angelina Jolie complex kicked in.

The Angelina Jolie complex is what I like to call the compulsion of most American travelers to believe we are all superstars and that every impoverished foreign child wants to come home with us to a better life.

I swooned over the four-year-old, Mohammed, as he stared at me from behind his grandmother and then latched onto his mother once she entered the hut.

When it was time to leave, I jokingly asked our driver to ask the boy in Berber if he would like to come home with me.

The boy responded without thinking twice, “Okay. But, only if my mama can come too.”

My heart warmed at the honest response that only a mother’s child could muster and I smiled at the boy, because I understood exactly what he meant.  

Happy Mother’s Day Mama Kulka.

Sunset in the Sahara
Sunset in the Sahara