Chemin

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My days are rolling

The road is heavy

Mud soaked shoes tread lightly

But my pack drags

Carrying truths I offload

And leave here

To be lost in the French hills

Rain tips me down

Spots of sunshine

Pull out my smile

As marchers pull forward

Following the signs till the end

Pulling each other on

Each with a purpose

A question echo’d on lips

Family and bonds created

Within each Gite, bread broken

And funny stories shared

The marche

A right of passage

All must pay a toll

Some heavier than others

But all leave a weight

Off their back

Lighter than before

You return for normality

Dreaming of the hills left

And the peace of the way

Camino- Day 4 (23K; Les Faux to Aumont- Aubrac)

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Spent the day on the trail with the lovely German guy again and we talked about fuel for your body. One of the things I’m finding hard to adjust to on the trail is to understand how to fuel my body correctly. As I’m doing this for 3 months I need to make sure I feed my body with water and food correctly at the right points to enable it to do the physical challenge based on the length of my walk for the day. On day 1 of the trail when I got lost, I’d run out of food and water 18k before I reached the hotel for the night. Needless to say, I was in a very bad shape when I arrived. Think of it like a Hangry Godzilla, in the form of a 5’7 girl.

We first started walking through pine forest just after Les Faux which slowly thinned out as we hit larger and larger villages. A lot of the villages started to have this repetitive feel to them, coupled with the continual Iron crosses covered in stones which line the Camino. There are also continual signed which easily show you the directions that you need to follow the trail (called the GR65 here). Some of these signs point you continually towards the Saint Jacques de Compostelle. It was at this point I spotted one and saw I still had 1,464k to go to Santiago (plus another ~600k on the Portuguese Camino). Am I mad? Possibly, but my family’s not committed me…. yet…

In Aumont- Aubrac when we arrived the village was larger than a lot of the places we’d stayed. With cobbled winding streets. And even better, the Gite we stayed in had a place where we could do laundry! Hoorah! I will be less smelly for half a day before I get covered in mud again.

Beginning of My Camino

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I started out on the Camino on 7th September (having had a long day flying into Lyon from Manchester).  I took the train out to Le Puy (which is famous for its lace and Puy lentils) where I went up to the cathedral to get my first stamp in my Camino passport and wondered around to look at the famous black Virgin Mary statue.

Le Puy is roughly in the centre of France, and is know for being a traditional starting point for the Camino all the way to Santiago. To be honest though, I only started from Le Puy, as I haven’t been to much of central France and I wanted to try and hit 1000 miles and this nicely took me to my target (on top of the Portugual and Camino de Santiago).

Having started out on my walk at 11am I started to confidently follow the easy signs on the route out of Le Puy. This was my first mistake. The walking pathways in France are very easily labelled. However, a number of different walks have the same colored paths but they go in completely different directions. So, the GR65 (which is the Camino route (mostly)) and GR470 can lead you in completely different directions. Along the walk I got to take in some breath taking views over Le Puy, then further onto narrow winding pathways. Although there were ominous grey clouds hanging over my head, I managed to stay dry all day.

So after having walked for about 3 hours I was starting to get a little concerned as I should be getting closer to completing my 23.5K for the day and arriving in my Gite at St- Privat- d’Allier. It was at this moment I finally took out my good old friend google maps, and it showed me I’d been contentedly walking in the wrong direction. For quite a while (massive British understatement!). Google happily showed me I had another 4 hours to go, to get back on my pathway. With a backpack of just under 30pounds (or 13kg) this was not a good introduction to my first day on the Camino. I quickly started to follow the route google showed, and slowly but surely got back on the right path.

I joined back onto the GR65 at roughly St- Christophe- sur- Dolaison. As it was nearing 3pm by this point I was completing the walk alone. But as I started walking through more and more fields I could see the French farmers coming out to continue working their fields. At one point I got to see a field of corn being harvested and got smothers in bits of chopped up green leaves.

As I slowly neared St- Privat- d’Allier I really started to question what on earth I was doing. I’d been walking for 7 hours at this point, run out of water and food several hours previously and felt wholly unprepared for my 1000 mile walk. It was at this point I saw the view out across the gorge in St- Privat- d’Allier. I stopped for a minute to enjoy the view and remembered this was why. It will continue to be a hard journey, but there will be moments where I’ll get to see something incredible.

During this walk I’ll be raising money for the Syrian refugees, if you’d like to sponsor me at all, please find the link here.

Coast to Coast Traverse Part 2

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So I finished the journey extravaganza! But to start where I just left you, although the hardest part of the journey was over, the most enlightening part of it was still to come for me.

Day 4 had us set out from the beautiful wooden cabins at Orosi, and onto Taus with a much easier 14k cycle, followed by a slightly tougher 17k walk.

This day started me of with the huge news that my divorce is a couple of months away from being finalised. Key happy dance! Which is ironic, as when I first started on this path people would honestly ask me if I’d have a party to celebrate it. And my response then was why would you celebrate the death of a happy marriage. But now my rosy coloured glasses have gone and I know it wasn’t a happy marriage, so bring on the PPPPAAARRRTTTYYYYYYYYY!!!!! This has become the celebration of the end of a painful period in my life, but also a celebration of what I’ve gained. For example, I certainly wouldn’t have taken the time I needed to get the level of fitness I needed to do this trip if I were still with my ex.

The majority of my day was left in contemplation of my divorce and the attacks of Barcelona (which happened the day before) as we cycled through gently loping hills, and hiked into our first real view of the jungle. After stopping to try sugar cane with the group, I loped in front of everyone to get some quiet time and space to reflect on life. Heading out into the peaceful cloud forest with cricket buzzing, bright blue large butterflies floating everywhere, helped my head clear. After this the path gave way to fields with gently doe eyed beige cows.

Taus gave us the last of the most basic camp sites leaving us unconnected to the world, cold showers and basic conditions. But a swim in the river cured everything, taking away layers of stress I didn’t even know were there.

Day 5 gave us a long, but easy 45k bike ride, followed by a relaxing 18k white water rafting on the Pacuare river. Ending in camping at the best site yet, El Nido del Tigre, which translates to nest of tigers. The cycle took us across a tarmac road with field after field of sugar cane crops. Even passing a sugar cane factory from 1882 which mared the soft hills with its rusty and dilapidated appearance. The last of the cycle took us to a steep down hill stoney section. I defied my nerves and made it all the way down on my bike, with a continual mantra of ‘f**k, f**k, f**k, f**k, f**k’ mixed in with ‘sh1t, I’m going to die’.

Once we were in the raft one of my team mates did an awesome impression of superman and catapulted himself out of the raft (much to his wife’s chagrin). And a snake decided it might be fun to try to jump into a raft, but thankfully his aim wasn’t that great! The rest of the trip was fairly sedate much to my disappointed as a adrenaline addict. Although we had a quick stop off to swim in a waterfall pool which seemed more appropriate for the couples in the group (whilst being served chilled champagne and truffles). Sadly not though, instead they got the guide trying to demonstrate his manliness by climbing the waterfall and jumping off instead. But in fairness if I’m not getting any, it only seems fair their mood should be killed too!

When the raft pulled into our campsite everyone’s sighs of happiness could probably be heard for miles away. But this day wouldn’t continue without some more adrenaline to satisfy me. So the ground literally shook whilst we were in the wooden open walled 2 story common room. The vibration ran through my body, whilst the steel bolts in the house screeched, and the timber creaked in response. And I think I could see the moment the guide bricked himself… literally…. Needless to say he’d never felt an earth quake out that far out but we were all safe and sound.

After a refreshing brief cold shower I spent the rest of the afternoon snuggled into a hammock with Silvia listening to bad music off my phone.

Day 6 we had to suffer another day in El Nido del Tigre. The campsite woke slowly with hummingbirds buzzing every where whilst I went hunting for the little tarantula I’d met the night before.

Although it was a free day we went on a hike through the jungle and the girls stereotypically squeaked every time they spotted a rather ferocious looking tiny spider, whilst I tried to get the angle right on my camera for my soon to be national geographical award winning shots of the deadly mites. But sadly no, none of them wanted to seem to do the poses I kept yelling at them. Why can’t they understand English?

The afternoon was spent jumping in the river again before it hammered it down with rain for the rest of the day. The river was a murky brown, with a small cable cart running across the top of the river. For the local Maleku indigenous tribe to run into the village for general products.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lazing in a hammock contemplating the next adventure on my list. Walking 1000 miles on the Camino across Europe. Unsure if I was really ready,  but trying for once to be kind to myself and accept that I’d done as much training as I could and the worst that could happen is that I would take longer over it than I wanted too.

Day 7 took us out of our little slice of paradise on the rafts for 18k, finishing at Finca Pacuarito. The river was abundant with Tiger Herons and King fishers. But unfortunately no matter how much I yelled at the monkey’s they funnily didn’t want to appear or even come into the boat with us. The guides spent the rest of the time trying to marry me off to one of the guides. With promises that he was an excellent cook, and only wanted 20 kids.  I told them that I wanted 30 and wouldn’t settled for less. Unfortunately I think this was too much for him. Shame, as I really can’t cook.

Day 8 was the last day of our epic journey across Costa Rica. We start off early cycling a brief 27k through banana plantations. Then finishing in what felt like the never ending kayaking of only 11k.

The cycling was the first time I felt the difference between the Pacific and Carribean sides of Costa Rica. Mainly as most of the time men kept yelling come here beautiful, and hello lover to me and Silvia. Which had us giggling like school girls.

At the end of the afternoon we finished at the Carribean coast, which was no where near as beautiful as I’d expected. Littered in rubbish with a grey beach. But hey ho, we’d just finished 258k journey coast to coast, so all I was really thinking was hand me the bubbly!

After this we jumped into a speed boat and I caught my one and only glimpse of a monkey, whilst the wind was making my hair look like a mad woman. We finished our trip in a hotel in Cano Blanco, where we partied till the incredibly late hour of 11pm. On the plus side though, I got a salsa lesson from the barman there. So it wasn’t a complete loss.

After a morning crashing out on the white sandy beach we jumped back into the truck for the long trip back to San Jose, before I flew onto Atlanta.

As my first serious physical adventure I think this has me a little prepared for the adventure of the Camino across Europe. Would I do it again? Probably not, as I’m definitely NOT a cyclist. If you are though, this would be an adventure I’d recommend to anyone for a introductory challenging cycle, whilst you get to sample Costa Rica’s culture and amazing wildlife.

Apples

I was one half

of a whole Apple

dangling on a branch

 

Till you cut yourself free

my friends poured Lemon Juice

to stop the rot

too late

 

I browned beneath

acid burning my eyes

turning the years stale

twisting against what had been

 

My seeds fell to earth

burrowing into fertile soil

my roots sprouting wings

leaves stretching forth

 

A whole tree is born

where my apple once was

your scar remains

but consumed and lost forever more