To Our New Camino

My friend summed it up the other day when she said ‘the best and worst thing about travelling is that it makes you want to travel more’. In a way I think I’m lucky that I’ve been away from home for so long, because while there are many places I have yet to explore I know that at least for a while my love and joy for being in Canada will be able to tackle my wanderlust. But this won’t always be the case, and I doubt it will be much more than a year before I’m back out on the road again.

In the age of technology it’s easy to believe that you can discover everything you want to do online. Prior to this year, if you gave me an atlas and told me to list everywhere I wanted to go I would have been able to jot down an organized list in no time. Not on that list would be places like Spain. This is how travel changes you-I walked across a country I had no particularly strong compulsion to see, and I fell in love with it. Moreover, falling in love with Spain made me fall in love with dozens of other places I had never given much thought to. Once the traveling bug bites you it doesn’t let go. It seems like for every place I go and every experience I have, two more places and experiences get added to my bucket list. It has the potential to be a dangerous trap. The one thing that’s become clear to me is that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you need to be appreciating it and milking it for all it’s worth. It doesn’t matter if your bucket list ever gets finished. What matters is that you pay attention in the here and now, and you lead a life you can be proud of. My aim in life is to be someone who grows up with stories to tell, but you won’t have any good stories if you’re too busy dreaming of the next great adventure to properly experience the adventure you’re on now. So live each day like a new camino, don’t shy away from new experiences, and make sure people know that you love them.

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What I Miss About Ireland

The buskers. While I support the idea that there are equally talented people everywhere, the Irish (and UK) STYLE of music and singing is just…guh. There is a lot we could and should take from Isles music. I don’t know what happened in North America but at some point (maybe the 90s?) we saw the emergence of the untalented money maker (fun fact – ‘nasal’ singing is actually the exact opposite of being nasal, you close off your nasal passages). I’m not disparaging today’s music in general. Maybe it’s not the outcome of genius, but it’s peppy and we own it. But even though we have all of these decent (if-only-because-they’re-catchy) tunes, pretty much every singer is substandard. Music broadly, but singing in particular, is one of those things that you can get much better at with work and practice, but you do need to have that seed of raw talent. If your voice is best described as “can for the most part carry a tune but nothing special”, then let someone who has something special do it.

Rain. I’m sure given time there would come a point when I would get sick of the near constant drizzle, but that day is not this day. Oh no sir, I love rain. As long as I don’t have any important papers/electronics that could get wrecked (which would make me sad face), then bring it on. Rain 315 out of 364 days a year? Perfect.

You can get lamb burgers for the same price as ground beef. For someone who primarily refers to my eating habits as ‘vegetarian except for when it comes to lamb’, this is very very good. You just can’t get good, affordable lamb back home. Oddly enough, if you’re in Ottawa the best (and only) place I’ve found is Mandarin BBQ — technically it’s an all-you-can-eat stir fry, but just be me and go “lamb, squid, lamb, squid, lamb, squid” until you have a 5 pound bowl of deliciousness.

Electric kettles. As romantic as the idea of boiling water in your pastel tea kettle on the stove is, water boilers are just where it’s at.

Irish coffee/ 8€ 1.5L bottles of Irish cream. Irish cream. Irish cream in everything. That is all.

Day One – Santander 12/05/13

Me no hablo espanol

Flying into Santander definitely leaves an impression. The plane’s wheels skim the water of the bay and out the window are lush green hills. Santander itself doesn’t disappoint. Food is hard to come by in the center, but that’s fine because every second shop is an ice cream parlour. You definitely get the impression that the Spanish are very social beings-you can hardly walk a block without coming upon a new plaza or park, and everyone just seems very relaxed and unharried (although this may just have appeared to be the case given that they’d just come off a 3 hour lunchtime siesta). I’m sure all of the vitamin D has something to do with it.

Speaking of the people, they are EXTREMELY friendly. I had so many people stop me to give directions that I had to specifically look up how to explain that I actually knew where I was going and didn’t require any help- can’t say I’ve encountered that kind of language barrier dilemma before.

Settling into the albergue (9 ruamayor) was a similarly interesting experience. Not a hint of English anywhere in sight, let’s just say that after this trip I will kick all of your asses in charades. Luckily a-you guessed it-Irish lad! with sliiiightly more passable English came along and between the two of us we were able to figure out the credentials situation. The albergue was nice enough, and had WiFi in bed! (I know, I’m so western). I realize it sounds entitled but I was a bit disappointed that other than Ireland and I no one spoke any English (or anything other than Spanish, really). I enjoy figuring out ways to communicate with people from other places, but when there’s no middle ground it’s hard to get past anything but the absolute basics.

Basically spent the night figuring out where to go next before turning in around midnight. Slept like a log though, thanks sleep dep?

Bag is Packed!

Bag is Packed!

It’s kind of obnoxious for the camino, but that’s what you get when you tackle 3 very different treks at once. I’ve got my chocolate and my salami so I’m happy. Just need to pick up a foam sleeping pad and a bowl and I’m set to go! (Maybe a compression sack too…everything fits inside should it start raining etc but it’s like playing tetris). A lot of the volume comes from the most badass first aid/survival kit known to man. But hey, better to be safe than sorry! 

For those of you who don’t know me, I stand at a bitty 5’2″ and 56 kilos. This bag is 20 kilos. Should be interesting. I’m counting on the beasty Millar-genes to get me through!

Also you have my dad to thank for that shiny piece on top. Giant Harley Davidson logo — suits me perfectly! :p

Change of Plans…Again.

Hola amigos!

…aaand that’s about the extent of my Spanish. This next month should go well.

So some of you may have noticed that this blog’s undergone a name change! Trying to navigate the waters of independence while still very much being part of a family unit is hard. Which is to say that the famjamily weren’t terribly impressed by my summer plans.

I will admit that the trip I was planning on taking (and will do! someday!) was pretty ambitious. I’ve also been away from home for a long time and am getting to the point where I’m excited for this summer’s treks, but I’m equally excited about getting to laze around the house for a month AFTER these treks (especially now that we have a hot tub! My feet are excited). The culmination of these two factors is that rather than finding my own way through Iceland, I’m going to do slightly more well-established hikes in Spain, Norway, and Iceland.

My journey begins on El Camino. The St. Frances pilgrimage is one of the most well-known long distance treks in the world, stretching horizontally across Spain for hundreds of kilometers before arriving in Santiago de Compostela. It’s busy though — which is why I’m not going to do it! Instead I’ll be doing a lesser known Camino, El Camino del Norte, the North route. This trek has a number of advantages over its Southern counterpart. It’s less well-known, which means that fewer people will be doing it and it will be easier to find places to inconspicuously camp when the mood takes me. It’s also more challenging, which means that anyone doing it will be there for similar purposes as me. And, decisively, it winds it’s way primarily along/near the coast, unlike St. Frances which sticks to the interior. For being born far inland and having an intense fear of oceans, I definitely have water (coastlines?) in my blood. Being near the shore is invigorating. Technically in order to get your Pilgrim’s Passport you have to be doing the trek for spiritual/religious purposes. Obviously religion is out, but walking beside the sea is about as spiritual as I will ever get. So that’s the first part! I’m still undecided as to whether I will stop in Santiago or continue on to Finisterre (once believed to be ‘the end of the world’– which is funny and so wrong, it’s not even the point that’s furthest West in Spain) before doubling back to catch my flight. I’ll let you know! Either way this leg will be 3 1/2 weeks – 4 weeks.

After that I’ll be doing a little R&R in my home away from home, Belgium. I was thinking of throwing the TMB in Switzerland/France in here instead, but honestly after a month of walking in the Spanish heat it’s almost 100% guaranteed I’ll be burned out (literally). What better than some family, food, and fun (although french…merp) to bring up the spirits! .

Side note: Lien and Maya! My lovely roomies! Turns out I’ll be close to you after all – let’s catch-up and maybe go to that bar you were always talking about and try the gazillion beers and the gin that’s not actually gin!

The good thing about stopping in Belgium is that I’ll be able to stock up on trail food for the next leg, because I love Norway but it has one of the highest standards of living in the world which is reflected in their prices. After a week recuperating in Belgium then I’ll fly into Oslo, where I might chill for a day or two before working my way up to Jotunheimen national park (and wherever else I decide). There’s no definite plan here yet. I’m sure Norwegians themselves have a much better grasp on what’s worth doing/how it can be done, so I’ll just be taking things as they come. Norway has FANTASTIC wild camping laws. Norway, Sweden, Scotland, and with a few restrictions Iceland are essentially the only countries where it’s legal to camp wherever you want, provided you respect the land and respect people’s privacy. There’s a good chance I’ll just wind up wandering around a national park and camping wherever I see fit for a week or two (especially because I’ll have food supplies). Maybe if I get a chance I’ll be a typical tourist and go and tour some of their prisons (because I’m pretty much just always in awe of their prison system. It’s one of my favourite topics of conversation. Norway, man…they’ve got their shit together). After about two, two and a half weeks it will be on to the final (and most exciting) leg – Iceland!

Once again there’s very little plan for Iceland, because it’s something you kind of have to experience in the moment. I’ll be spending a few nights in or around Reykjavik (checking out the hot springs) before heading out onto the Laugavegur trail. This guy’s quite famous, so parents rest assured that I’ll be in good human company in case anything happens. In case you were wondering, this trail takes you right to the foot of that volcano that erupted in 2010 that no one can pronounce or spell and that I’m too lazy to google right now. Ahh, it’ll be glorious. Have a few links: http://www.adventure-journal.com/2011/11/made-in-iceland-chronicles-one-womans-beautiful-month-long-hike/ ; http://www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/ ; http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/iceland-expedition-feet/ . The trek’s just under a week long, so I can either catch a ride back to Reykjavik and then decide on another hike to do, or, as will probably happen, I’ll double back and do the trail in reverse (so that I’m familiar with it and can really appreciate it). I definitely want to check out Reyk and the other towns as well. It’s pretty easy to catch a plane/train/automobile up north to near Akuryeri, so that might happen as well. The week in Belgium will be spent sorting this out, and most importantly how I’m going to get food up there without breaking the bank.

And then finally in late July I’ll be coming home for the first time in a year where I will proceed to buy out Timmies and then eat my weight’s worth of Gwenny-cooking just in one sitting. Pretty excited, won’t lie.

 

By the way, from tomorrow on I’ll be posting from my tablet which means no pictures:( I’ll try to find PCs to upload some along the way though.

7 Reasons Why Humanity is Still Awesome (despite evidence to the contrary)

1. In some places, like my hometown, when an emergency vehicle (especially an ambulance) turns on its sirens it’s like Moses’s parting of the Red Sea. Everyone immediately pulls over, like a choreographed dance. I get a little shiver down my spine every time it happens. Sure it’s largely the product of socialization, but the action carries so much respect for one another. *does dance* We’re all in this together.

2. The fact that pretty much anyone who knows anything about Scandinavia thinks it’s at least a little bit awesome, even if it snows all the time and sun? What’s a sun? Yeah, Sweden is awesome. Know what makes Sweden awesome? The fact that is has one of the lowest inequality rates in the world. If you think Sweden is awesome, at least a little bit, it means you think equality is awesome, at least a little bit (I don’t care if this argument is built on a fallacy! If a=b and b=c then a=c, deal with it). And know what? As part of their effort to achieve equality Sweden also believes in taxes and social welfare. I love taxes.

3. Westboro Baptist Church. Hardy har. But no, seriously. I think Westboro Baptist Church is awesome. More specifically, I think the fact that Westboro Baptist is essentially a highly effective unifying force rather than a divisive one is awesome. I often hear my Christian friends moaning about how Westboro gives Christianity a bad name. Have no fear! As a (narrow read) antireligionist/apatheist/occasional antitheist, I can genuinely say that, if anything, Westboro just makes me feel closer to my Christian (and Muslim and Buddhist and Ascetic and Pagan…) brothers and sisters. Sometimes it takes a giant vat of crazy to make us realize that our differences are not insurmountable. In the wise words of Simba (because Disney knows everything) we are one. That Westboro espouses hate and we choose to respond with love is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking things about humanity.

4. I once made a remark to my Belgian roommate about how I thought it was awesome that when Belgium fiiinnnaaalllyyy chose a Prime Minister, the man they chose (Elio Di Rupo) was gay and no one seemed to care. Her response? “Why would we care if he’s gay? It’s his life. If anything’s going to upset people, it’s going to be the fact that he’s french”. Now I’m not saying it’s good to judge people based on any other background trait either, but why do we put so much stock in people’s sexuality and gender identity. These days when you meet someone it’s like “Hi I’m Jerome and I’m gay, just thought you should know”. Thank you for the disclaimer, Jerome, I’ll be sure to act accordingly (wtf). A person’s sexuality is just another small piece of a complex and incredible whole, and has no bearing on what they can and cannot do. Why does it matter if your PMs gay? It doesn’t. That’s the point. I long to see the day when saying ‘I’m gay’ is like saying ‘I’m naturally dirty blonde’. I’m so thrilled that in some places this is already the case.

5. Heroic acts of kindness are heroic because they are kind. This is a tricky one to explain. It’s not something I’m sure I really can explain, it’s sort of just the warm feeling that everyone gets in the pits of their belly when we see someone do something nice. When someone does something (extra)ordinarily kind, we don’t say “Thank you for your drive and ambition!” we say “Thank you for your kindness, your compassion, your love”. At some level we recognize that compassion trumps ruthlessness, and love trumps hate. We also recognize that we are stronger together than we are alone.

6. Prison reform is slowly (not entirely) but mostly surely shifting towards a more Norway-esque approach of rehabilitation rather than punishment. I could go on for days about how flawed the current prison system is, but the gist of it is this: it’s just dumb. It’s illogical, and it doesn’t help anyone. It’s inhumane, it’s uneconomical, and it does way more harm than good. The Norwegian system, on the other hand, is sort of an experiment in humanity. Yes, prisons like Bastoy are going to infuriate a lot of people. Why should we have to pay to support and comfort criminals? But as the prison’s governor says, “We should reduce the risk of reoffending, because if we don’t, what’s the point of punishment, except for leaning toward the primitive side of humanity?”. Just because you’ve done something bad doesn’t mean that you are bad. It doesn’t mean that your soul is irredeemable, that you have no worth, and that you should be punished for the rest of your life. Even if we take humanity out of the mix, from a purely economic viewpoint it still seems like the world is coming (at glacial speed, but coming nonetheless) to recognize that reform and rehabilitation will always be of more value than revenge and punishment. I encourage you to read up on Norway’s system, and to promote a similar approach in your own areas. People are still people, no matter what. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/24/world/europe/norway-prison-bastoy-nicest

7. The ‘Suspended Coffee’ movement and pay-it-forward in general. Things like this are, by their very definition, selfless. You do it because you won’t receive some sort of praise or reward or pat on the back for it. It’s not about what you get out of it. I think that’s beautiful. And awesome.

Coming Home, or: the things I plan to do after I step off the plane and am back on Canadian soil for the first time in a year.

My Triumphant Canadian Return (WIP)

0.5. Go to the Toronto Zoo because they just got PANDAS.

1. Get Timmies. XL double double and an everything bagel with plain cream cheese, thank you very much. Nothing compares to Tims. Nothing.

2. Go to Subway. Why is Canada the only country to have discovered the deliciousness that is sub sauce? But seriously, why?

3. Get sushi (I’m sensing a food trend). SSM is not exactly Japan, but it’s a heck of a lot closer than Galway (I don’t mean literally).

4. Raid my fridge. If you’ve met my mother, you know that looking in my fridge is like Christmas every morning. So much good stuff. (I think I’m done with food now; I’ve been having preemptive hunger pangs).

5. Play with my puppies! I love my dogs!

5. Take a nap on my corner couch and/or deck to the sweet sweet sounds of 99.5. You miss the weirdest things when you’re away, I just want my crappy repetitive American bubble pop.

6. Go to the dentist. A year in Ireland (hi, guinness) and 3 months hiking in the bush (hello, calcium deficiencies), and you have a me that’s worried about my teeth falling out.

7. Cuddlefest. Self-explanatory. Hugs, hugs everywhere.

8. Visit all da people. This extends into the school year because I only have 2 classes left before I graduate! Woah! Note to past-self: somehow condensing your 4 year undergrad into what would have been 2.5 years if you hadn’t gone on exchange just means that you have to start paying back student loans sooner. Although it also means that your graduation coincides with both your 21st birthday and christmas hols (and you live in a border town so HELLO).

9. Drive out to the Orphan Lake trail and find that awesome beach I accidentally stumbled upon while hiking that one time. Bonfire, guitar, friends.

10. Castor board around the loop. Another one of those weird things you miss.

Image

(Sunset over Lake Superior)