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 1

I started the coast to coast traverse across Costa Rica with 6 other loco people and our guides. This basically involved us crossing the entirety of Costa Rica cycling and hiking (with a dash of rafting and kayaking for variety). To prepare before hand for this I did basically no cycling (except for a spot of training at the gym). But most weekends I could be caught hiking along the beach, or in the hills (mainly because I hate cycling). What was I thinking?! The majority of the 258k distance is cycling (like 170K!).

Costa Rica is a beautiful country in Central America which prides itself on its approach to taking care of their biodiversity. Which is to help bolster their main industries, tourism (the others being coffee and banana imports).

On the first day we did an ‘easy’ 24k cycle and 18k walk, starting out from the Pacific Coast, at Playa Quepos. It was a gentle introduction to get us over our jet lag and the extreme heat down here.

The first cycle took us quickly from tarmac roads, onto to rocky very stoney roads that would be the state of the majority of all roads we took.

We quickly broke into 2 groups, the faster paced group, and Silvia and I. Silvia is a beautiful woman I met from Barcelona, who is very patient with my awful Spanish! And we seemed to spend the entire time singing or listening to music during the entire trip. This kind of behavior isn’t conducive for others who wanted to commune with nature, but in Silvia’s words we had mucho fiesta! After walking to the point I manage to hold 2 tiny swimming pools in my boots, we arrived at the local school in Naranjillo that we’d be calling home for the night.

The rain in the afternoon was so extreme we set our tents up in the school. The school was to be one of the more basic campsites we set up at through the trip. The food was simple but very tasty. Which was to be a fairly continuous repeat of meat, a carbohydrate and vegetables through the whole trip. Of which rice and beans could be found most nights (and occasionally in the morning too), as this is the national stable food in Costa Rica. The night sky appeared promptly at 5-30pm, the few stars covered in grey, purple mottled clouds. Everyone crashed out fairly early (before 8pm) which would be a recurring factor most nights.

Day 2 was spent hiking 13k along side the coffee fields, followed by a simpler bike 13k down hill.

Once we started the walk we entered wide paths alongside large coffee fields.  Where the plants were at the beginning of showing their green beans, with the occasional bean turning a deep ruby red. Vultures punctuated the sky, with workers spraying pesticides and fertilisers from large canisters onto the crops.

The occasional truck drove past over crowded with workers on the grey graveled road. Peeking into one parked 30 year old red truck with peeling paint I could see the foam completely disappeared from the seats, leaving giant steel springs for seats.

When our guide passed a mother and son eating lunch, he stopped and gave them our left over chocolate biscuits. I became very conscious that chocolate biscuits are so common, to be a normality to me. But here their faces lit up. Where a good days work will give them over $20, when it’s coffee season. But with that pay it would be unlikely to stretch to chocolate biscuits, to the level of normality they are in the western world.

The rest of the day was spent on a simple down hill cycle, ending at Santa Maria.

Day 3 was the hardest day cycling 45k, starting with a steep 14k hill with multiple switch backs. The hill was a busy tarmac road with trucks and lorry’s passing me (along with the rest of the group!). As I reached the top of the hill, clouds descended and the wind actively started to push me backwards. It became an endurance battle, as my energy reserves were none existence from the small snack I ate beforehand. This lead me to think a lot on that hill about resilience and what it was to do this type of challenge as a single woman. The couples in our group had the women and men split the natural tasks, with the men typically carrying everything. I didn’t have any of this, and it made me wonder when do you start asking for help from those around you. Something I naturally feel uncomfortable with, as it lead me to feel indebted to people. But after today I wondered if this was a useless habit. Either that or I need to find a slave,  wait, sorry, man, yes sorry, a man, quickly.

After a much larger breakfast (which my body immediately rejected helpfully) we went down a stony road. Then onto some slightly harder up hill roads again. Before we hit the next main challenge of the day, down hill on clay pathways. With shaky legs after a near fall which left me bruised, I ended taking a slow walk down the majority of the hills, whilst the men and Silvia sped off into the distance.

The last challenge of the day was to cross a river, which I promptly fell sideways into laughing hysterically (which earned me a title of Mad Amy). We then went on a simple and fast pace tarmac road to the beautiful wooden homely cabins we were staying at in Orosi. Unknown to me at the time, this would prove to be our last day with WiFi connection, which threw me suddenly being out of touch with the world. And even worse..Matthew McConaughey had stayed here, and I wasn’t told till after wards. I am deeply scarred, as I could have very appropriately tried to sleep in the bed he’d had and try to sniff out what he’d smelt like…

Pura Vida

Second day in Costa Rica, and we’ve been cast off to entertain ourselves at the Pacific side beach. The beach here is a mottled grey and beige. The sea smells salty and tastes sweet on your lips.  The rip tide will easily drag you out and under the 6-10 foot waves.

Black lava rocks expelled from the sea,  like majestic natural sky scrapers smothered in tropical greenery. Mangroves sprouting in quiet alcoves of the sea, with families laughing and paddling together.

Surfers jump in and out of the waves, with life guards yelling and whistling at them constantly to move on. Couples cheekily smothering each other in the contrasting sand,  laughing at the disarray.
Street sellers hawking their toy wooden snakes and clay painted whistles in imitation of colourful macaws. Homing in on any tourists in optimism of an over priced sale.

The day leaves me aware that I stand at the beginning of my journey and the things that scare me are very different to other people. Going to a new country, trying strange foods, and meeting new people doesn’t bother me. As people are fundamentally nice, and its unusual to meet unkind ones. For me the challenge is to be alone. And I don’t mean to just spend time alone, this is being single. I’ve been in long term relationships since I was 15years old. I’m now hitting close to 8months since I separated from James. And it’s been weird, enlightening and scary for me. I like being in a couple,  so to try and activitely choose to be single for a while goes completely against my grain. But the next few months on the road (especially walking 1000 miles on the Camino) will help me to work at it. So that I can learn who I am. Because at this moment in time, I can be anyone, do anything.

With this question of what do I want, you can start to apply this to anything and everything. This becomes an endless list of limitless possibilities. Which on the one hand is incredibly freeing. The other, becomes exceptionally limiting. This is because when you have so much choice,  you naturally take the easy route, the most travelled, the stereotypical one you’re expected to take.

This thought was jumbling through my head when I saw the Kokopelli (the piper in the picture above). He is a Native American deity, representing fertility, traveller and story teller. I wasn’t expecting to see him here, but it makes me think I’m here to tell a story, so its very serendipitous that he was there to remind me. I don’t have the answers yet,  but hopefully I will at the end of my story.

Beginning of a Journey

20170716_183400So I’ve been avoiding writing this for several weeks. I’m not 100% sure why, probably because although I’m about to embark on an amazing adventure and I’m going to have to say goodbye to Dublin (at least for a while).

I’m writing this in what has been my little slice of heaven, 20+ degrees, sunshine, and looking out on the beautiful port of Malahide with a tea in my hand. Why would anyone willingly leave this? Good question.. again, not 100% sure why, I just know that I have too. If I go back to the start, everyone says, ah, yes that makes sense. So my start is 22nd December 2016, my husband calls me and out of the blue and tells me he doesn’t want to move to Dublin (and part of that reason was me). To say it came as a shock is an understatement. Within 4 days, I faced accepting the man I loved intensely wanted a divorce for reasons I wasn’t ready to acknowledge or accept.

So, that’s my start, but my decision to pack everything up and walk 1000 miles on the Camino came some months later. I was back in my old house in Weybridge alone packing up the meagre parts that were 13 years of a black, white and grey relationship. Some things I opened and investigated, other things were too painful to do more than throw in a box (and hope in a few years will have lost their power over me). One thing I dared to open was a jewellery box my Dad had given to my mother (hats off to my epic pilfering (and sorry mum…you love me really?!)). In this was a chain I’d worn during my travels with my ex, which contained 2 St Christopher’s. Who would need 2, isn’t that a little greedy? Why yes! However, both mean a lot to me. One is my mum’s (again, sorry mum…got a feeling I’ll be saying this a lot in here!). The other, my mum gave to me, before I got lost in South America for several months.

Needless to say I pulled it out and put it on. Something hadn’t quite clicked yet. But little did I know, it was about to crash down, like an avalanche.

That evening my mum arrived and I managed to escape the house with her. After chilling out the next day, I had a horrible realisation about how much work I needed to do. So getting back to the hotel at 10pm, I opened up my emails, and began trudging through everything that ‘needed’ to be done. And when I say ‘needed’ to be done, it didn’t. The world wasn’t going to end, there was no emergency, there were no lives at stake. Just another over- demanding group of stakeholders who didn’t care I was on holiday, they just wanted me to get done what they wanted at their convenience. All whilst I was dreading the next day, where I’d be moving out of my home. It was at this moment the crash came. Here I was again, working till 2am, to satisfy some grumpy stakeholders, when I had much bigger things going on. What was I doing with my life? And this is when it hit me, I wasn’t doing my life. I was a passenger trying to make myself believe a white picket fence, with the 2.1 children would make me happy. And none of this had. If anything, it had taken me further from my happiness than I would have thought possible. Within 24 hours I just knew I had to walk 1000 miles on the Camino, and that was that.

And so now I have to say goodbye to my little flat. Something that’s been my sanctuary for the last few months. Where I’ve started to learn to come back to myself. And its because of this I’ve decided a few things:

  1. I’m a cliché… a British version of Eat, Pray, Love and, I love it!
  2. I’m very lucky that I’ve had a roof over my head. So I want to raise some money for those who aren’t as fortunate (the Syrian refugees). I’ve picked 2 charities to support (Movement on the ground and Football for refugees) and will be setting up my donation site imminently.
  3. Divorce is tough. Even when its amicable. And maybe the lesson’s I’ve learnt can help someone else out there. So I’ll be tracking my journey on my blog and hopefully I’ll have enough material to cobble a book together at the end.
  4. My feet are seriously going to hurt soon… Please send plasters… massage therapist.. someone to fan me and serve me peeled grapes.

See you soon, and as they say on the trail, Buen Camino! xox