Camino- Day 2 (19k; St- Privat- d’Allier to Saugues)

Today was a 19k (supposedly hard walk) from St- Privat- d’Allier through till Saugues. This walk ironically felt a lot easier because of a few different points though. I’d managed to off load some weight. This has meant posting back my walking boots and only using my trail running shoes moving forward, but my pack will be down to 25 pounds. I also walked with a lovely German man I met in the Gite the night before, which significantly decreased my chances for getting lost. And we set off about 9am.

The walk started out on tarmac roads up to the chapel at Rocheguade which was a left over turret of a 13th Century castle. The chapel has a stain glass window within it of St James (and the Camino shell). It had a natural serenity that all religious buildings possess and the view out onto the gorge at Rocheguade was beautiful. After dropping down from this we headed to Monistol d’Allier, then up the other side of the gorge. The rocks looked as though they’d been chiseled into by hand creating these odd peaks and troughs in the rock. Walking up further through Vernet, Rognac and then to end at Saugues was beautiful grass fields with hundred of grass hoppers. This reminded me of my childhood trips to France trying to catch the noisy creatures in bewildered excitement with my brother.

In the Gevaudan region (where Saugues is) from 1764- 1770 there was a Beast which takes the form of a wolf which hunted and killed around a hundred peoples. Before it was shot and killed by Jean Chastel in 1770. The town itself has some decorations in recognition of the Beast, but it was also one of the first places where the Camino started to come more alive for me. The well known shell symbols could be found on the roads, a number of Gites and hotels calling out, welcoming the pilgrims in.

Atlanta

DSC_1539Concrete pounds to my steps

Sky scrapers dance in the wind

Rhythm dogs every twist

 

People mixed in a melting pot

History pictures the contrary

Nerves abound of a Trumps- led world

 

Obese and Anorexic alone

Cosmetic perfection sought by all

Love of natural beauty missed

 

Drinks and laughter everywhere

Southern hospitality in a perfect harmony

With the slow Southern drawl

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.

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…

Lovers

Revolve to each other

Moon and earth

Locked in each others gravity

Unwilling and constant movements together

Love fills each glance

Unable to stop gentle touches

Unwilling to break each others sphere

Giving warmth to others

Of what love can be

As if cast from the same mold

Smile from the debates

Designed to set the other alight

Power in your fire

Warmth in your love

No pretense in who you are

Lovers games amiss in your behaviour

Trust eternal in each others arms

Naturally revolving to the others needs

Concern continuous, to ensure each others hearts

Are unbroken

And eternally each others

Lovers in the dark

I watch in hope and education

That there maybe another

Awaiting the spark of life

My presence will give

As you do for one another

In a jungle lit with life

Your love over shadows all else

With a unique light all of its own

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.

Picos

DSC_0772

The mountains climb up

Unexpected grey jagged edges

Jagged little pill in my ear

Swallows diving, dancing

The gruff tanned Spaniards weary eyes

Barbers cut throat razors

A distant memory elsewhere

 

My heart heals

The hole dissipates

In the trickles of water

The giggles of young women

And limitless fresh air

 

The doe eyed cows

The bright greetings of old friends in local cafe bars

Nursing small coffees over cards

Giggles over bad photos

Life returns on

And I return home

A little less damaged, a little more whole