She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

It’s been a day of contradictions, with a little whiplash thrown in. But, at the end of the day, I’m less worried now than I was 24 hours ago. And that’s a good thing. Well, for me anyway.

It was long past time to head into town and deal with our ever-elusive tractor situation. If you remember, we ordered this tractor on December 21st of 2021. Yup! Seis meses (six months) ago. And we were told it would be here the second week of January. But it never showed. Every week we checked in with the dealer. ‘Next week.’ Again, nothing and no word from the dealer. But we had paid for it. We just had to wait.

Jeff started measuring delivery times by the tractor. ‘They say such and such thing will be here by x date. What do you want to bet it will beat the tractor?’

We are used to things taking much longer in Spain. No matter what we are promised. Our sofa took four months, which we sort of understood because of Covid. And it was only one month late. When it arrived, it was not what we ordered. The owner of the sofa company came to the house and he fully agreed it was a problem and they couldn’t fix it. When I am unable to touch the floor with my feet while sitting on it – yeah, you get it. He very graciously took the sofa back and refunded our money. But the tractor people have none of the graciousness, nor integrity, of the sofa guy.

While I was walking the Camino, Jeff had his belly full of their delays, lack of communication, and bullshit. He went there and cancelled the order in writing, and told them to refund our money. But they refused. ‘The tractor will be at your house tomorrow.’ What?!! Jeff told them not to deliver it (if they even had it, which they didn’t) and that we wanted our money back. I don’t do business with liars.

Fast forward, Jeff is back from the US and I am no longer contagious, so we went to the dealership today to visit the tractor that they are saying is ours. Surprise! It’s not the 40 hp tractor with the hydrostatic transmission that is in our contract. It’s a 25 hp tractor. And they tried to tell us it is a) just as good as a 40hp tractor, and b) that it’s crazy we thought we were getting a 40 hp tractor because ‘Those are much bigger’. Jeff was out of his mind. But I don’t have a problem with confrontation or contracts. I have negotiated so many over the course of my career, I couldn’t count them. And I know how to deal with charlatans.

The conversation went round and round. Jeff was yelling, which is not Jeff at all. I had dressed up in my ‘I used to have a real job’ clothes and I finally stepped in. ‘The bottom line here is that you have two choices. Just two. You deliver our 40 hp tractor with hydrostatic transmission, today. Or you refund our money, today. Outside of those two things, there is nothing more to discuss. We are not taking this little 25hp tractor and pretending that it’s 40 hp. If you choose to do neither one of those two things, the next person you will be speaking to is our lawyer in Santiago. You have breached the contract. And you should start scratching’ at this he looked confused ‘because I am about to become the worst rash you’ve ever had in your life, and I never go away.’

We turned and left, and our next stop was our gestor. He had some papers I needed for the business. We discussed our tractor situation. ‘I don’t want to have a problem with anyone in this town. It’s a small place. People talk.’, I told him. But he assured us it is not a problem. ‘Do not worry. People here know you now. And I don’t want to say anything except that I don’t know those people, but’ he pointed to his ear ‘I hear things, and they are not good.’

Jeff doesn’t like confrontation. This whole thing upset him, no end. For me, the adrenalin meant I got a ton of stuff done today at home.

Then there was a knock at the door. It was in that moment we were both reassured that our reputation in the community for being good people is in no danger. Marie Carmen was stood on the step holding out a bag. She wanted to let us know she is bringing another fence contractor to our house for a competitive bid on the fence. So nice of her. And inside the bag was dinner. Jeff looked momentarily horrified. It was a rabbit. I am mostly vegetarian, but I didn’t say a word. I just oohed and ahhed appropriately and thanked her profusely.

‘I caught him today.’ she informed us proudly. Then she’d cleaned, skinned and dressed it and brought it over to the house.

I graciously accepted this offering. Horrifying, but so nice of her. I’ve said it before, Marie Carmen is who I want to come back as in my next life. When the apocalypse comes, she is the best possible neighbor to have. We will never lack for food. She’s like MacGyver.

MC and I walked the property, as we do several times a week. She has a lot of opinions about what we should be doing and how. Which I appreciate, wholeheartedly. This is our first foray into farming. Finally, she left and I came back inside. Jeff warily eyed the carcass on the kitchen counter.

‘Do you think that’s the cute bunny I keep seeing out my office window? I bet it is. It had babies earlier in the Spring. When you were walking.’ I thought he might cry. This has not been a good day for him.

I don’t really know and I told him so. But the rabbit lets me know that we are still loved by the most important members of the community. The only ones that count. And it’s time for me to put together a deck for the lawyer. The tractor people are going to need a big shovel because they’re about to be buried in paper.

All the Right Notes

What a ride yesterday turned out to be. In more ways than one.

We took a run into both Santiago and Lugo yesterday. We had a long list and Brickomart and Leroy Merlin are the only solutions. Well, and Amazon, but we try to shop locally and pump our money into the local economy, as much as possible.

The drive home was pure Galicia. In Arzua, we happened upon a band of roving bagpipers. As you do.

And down our own little lane we had to stop for a passel of horse-riding Peregrinos. Yes, you can do the Camino on horseback. I would like to do it sometime. There are mornings I wake up to the sound of hooves on the road. And I can see the riders over the hedge bobbing up and down.

Last night, we had a surprise visit from Marie Carmen. Jeff is now taking care of her landscaping on a weekly basis. She lives with her husband, who is wheelchair bound after a massive stroke. So Jeff took the mower and the weed trimmer over this week and cleaned up her yard. He said it was pretty bad and nothing like last year. It’s getting away from her. She needs help.

He told her he will come every week and make sure it stays looking good. She is so grateful she wanted to pay for the gas in the mower but we both said No! So she brought over vegetables and some other things she canned last fall. Totally unnecessary. I had told her about our plans for fencing the property and thought nothing more about it. I was in the shower when she arrived with a guy last night. Just when the Eurovision Grand Final was starting.

Jeff went out and it seems she wants to hook us up with a guy who will fence our property at a good price. ‘So they don’t take advantage of you.’ We have heard of this from others. There is a term for foreigners in Galicia. I don’t remember the word but it’s sort of like Gringo. Its not meant as a compliment. And it means you are not from here and will pay through the nose because of it. Jeff isn’t helping her for some kind of payback. But it’s nice to know Marie Carmen is looking out for us.

Finally, we were able to get back to the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final. For the uninitiated, this is a phenomenon that grips European television for a week each year, and will be filled with the usual controversy. And the selection process in each country lasts even longer and is fraught with even more. Jeff ran out to the barn to get the ice cream out of the freezer in time to hunker down for a very long night, as the hosts this year were the worst in television history. They dragged it out excruciatingly. Well past midnight.

We were in the midst of an electrical storm – a stunning display. But Jeff braved it and ran for the barn. On the way back I heard a yelp. Omg! My worst fear had come true. He had been struck by lightening! But I ran to the door and met a soaking wet Jeff running in, clutching the ice cream to his chest.

‘What happened?’ I asked. Very concerned.

‘Oh my God! Our yard is full of javalies (wild boars). I was coming back from the barn, and just stepping onto the patio when I heard snorting. Lightening lit up the sky and I realized there was a javalie right in front of me! Maybe five feet away. I yelled because of the lightening and then because a giant scary thing was so close. It freaked out and ran towards the wood shed. Then I looked out across the yard and they are all over the lawn. I couldn’t tell you how many but there are a lot out there!’

We turned on all the floodlights around the house. I’m not sure what we thought this might do. But it made us both feel better. After breathing returned to normal, and with a bowl of ice cream in hand, we sat down to Eurovision 2022.

The winner is determined by the 40 member countries of Europe – wait! Why is Australia in this thing? Aren’t Azerbaijan and Armenia in Asia? – who each have a jury who awards 12 points to a contestant from another country, as they can’t vote for their own. Its a bit like shades of the electoral college in US elections. Seems like a purely popular vote would be a better system. Today, the public can vote but you have to pay to do it. Whatever.

Moving on. I know I’m likely biased. I thought Chanel, our entry from Spain this year, was the most talented. To me, Eurovision should be big performances. ABBA won in 1974. The costumes should be over the top. The production values should be off the charts. Dancing is a prerequisite – or it should be. Jeff was rooting for Moldova. Well, we both loved them and their strange Gangnam-style oompah rap. I would have been pleased if they won. Serbia was so bizarre with their hand washing song, as to be super cool. We loved them, too. I couldn’t believe the UK entry did so well with each of the 40 countries juries. The song and the singer didn’t have that special something required to truly compete in Eurovision. But they just barely edged out Spain for the number 2 spot, anyway.

Finally, the whole thing was won by Ukraine, because the global voting audience put them over the top. Not the most talented, but the most loved in the midst of this crazy war. But, sometimes the unexpected stuff is the best thing, after all.

Camino Friends – GoFundMe Update

As most of you will remember, several months back we opened a GoFundMe for some friends who have a restaurant on the Camino in Melide. Fran and Conchi have struggled, like so many on the Camino, during the pandemic. Confinement, lockdowns, never-ending and ever-changing capacity restrictions and monitoring. Exhausting.

Jeff and I watched as their business dwindled to a trickle and we listened to their fear and frustration. When would this end and could they make it through until it did? So with their permission, we opened the fundraiser-although I screwed it up initially because I have never done one of these things before.

Fast forward, likely you received the email from GoFundMe that I did. It seems that Conchi and Fran, while grateful for everyone’s generosity, never took the money that was raised for them. So, even the €500 we gave is being refunded to our bank account. I have heard from several of you. It seems like all the donations, due to the time limits set by GoFundMe, are being returned.

Why? It’s completely their choice. You can’t force anyone to take the funds raised on their behalf. However, I know they were overwhelmed by the generosity shown by everyone who gave. Strangers who wanted to help strangers.

That is all I know, and now you know it. If you are walking the Camino this year, I would recommend stopping in to Casa Alongos and using the money you pledged to enjoy a delicious farm-to-table meal made to order, with accommodations for any and all personal food restrictions. Gluten-free, vegan, etc.

All mask and capacity restrictions are lifted in Spain and Galicia. Hopefully, this extraordinary Xacabeo year will help restore the fortunes of all the businesses along every route leading to Santiago. For us, most especially, we are hoping it’s the best ever for our proud friends at Casa Alongos.

When the Nonsense Rodeo Comes to Town

So many things. Sometimes you just have to breathe.

It’s the de facto state of being in Spain that things will take, at minimum, three times longer than we are used to in Seattle. Jeff and I adjusted our timelines, and our expectations, from the moment we moved to Valencia. It’s just how it is. And moving to Palas, and living along a Unesco World Heritage Path of Cultural Significance? Multiply that a few more times. <and we breathe, again>

We have submitted this form and that form, and these plans and those plans to the Concello, the Turismo, The Patrimonio. People are sick <i get that>, they are on vacation. They are too busy. Some are nice. Others? Not so nice. It’s the full meal deal. And it is exhausting.

Our Concello in Palas is amazing. We love them. Helpful and reasonable. But dealing with others boggles the mind. Is it really necessary to have a 10 kph speed sign on your own 6 meter long gravel driveway, that only you drive on? If you think I am kidding, you’d be wrong. And six dedicated parking spaces for customers who only ever arrive on foot carrying back packs? But, of course. The list goes on… and on. We can’t even install our new front gate without approval. A gate! Because the type of gate approved will depend on which driveway is purely pedestrian or for cars. But our purely pedestrian gate can still accept deliveries by truck, so there is no purely pedestrian gate. I’m in a Looney Tunes cartoon. To quote that wise sage, Bugs Bunny: Bubity bubity bup! That’s All Folks!

Today, our wonderful contractor, Diego, came to give me the latest lowdown on the the good, the bad, and the ugly. I thought my Covid headache was gone. Sadly, it made a reappearance. He is working so hard on our behalf. He wants to bang his head on the table.

‘It’s terrible news, Kelli. In a place where the main tourist attraction is The Camino, there are no distinctions for permission for Pilgrim camping and cabins. It’s crazy.’

But I reassured him. ‘It’s not terrible. Its just costing us time.’ Always the optimist, ‘What can we do while the Bureaucratic Nonsense Rodeo is still in town?’ I’m not walking another 40 day Camino to save my sanity while I try to open a business for Pilgrims walking the Camino.

Solar panel installation. That’s something we can do with minimal permission. The Concello is happy to have us installing renewable energy sources. It will be positioned more than 100 meters from the Camino. In that section of our property where the Patrimonio and the Turismo have no say.

The company has sized it. The system is Canadian. Built to withstand more extreme weather conditions. And we are putting it in an already fenced enclosure. To keep javalis from damaging the array. Just in time too, as we are being visited by javalis nightly these past few days. Installing solar is very inexpensive in Spain, the Xunta will give us a grant to cover a significant portion of the cost, and we will save about €50,000 over the next five years – both from a personal, and a business perspective. Our dream of a Green Camino is possible. And we are closer to living off the grid. We would like the farm to be self sustaining.

And my food truck is just a couple of weeks away from being finished. The completion is held up by the stainless steel countertops. 🤞 They should be delivered by next week.

Things are moving forward. Never as quickly as I would like. I had hoped to have the food truck open by June 1st. Now, it’s looking more like July 1st. But I need to play the long game here. Focus on what is going well. Next winter, we will have a fire for beauty, rather than warmth. Our other home remodeling projects can now be built on a foundation of solar power. And so can all the solutions for power and water for the business. And our impact on the environment will be far less than ever before. Likely, there will be days sending power back to the grid. Doing our part.

It’s not so much The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, as it is The Eye roll, The Deep Breath, and The Determined. We will get there in the end. But, at 10 km per hour on a gravel driveway, it just might take a little longer than we thought 😉.

Almost Normal

Yesterday, Jeff arrived safe and sound from his US adventures. A whirlwind trip, to be sure.

The motorcycle is sold and residing in it’s new home in Oregon. The buyer wants to ride her up to Alaska. Luckily, the bike knows the way. Jeff was sad to see her go but he never gets to ride in the US, anymore. Time to pursue other interests. Then Jeff did a little shopping – a few suitcases full.

Jeff is very tall with size 13 shoes. That’s a 50 in Europe, depending on the shoe brand. Finding clothes and shoes in Spain is impossible for him. It’s been a long two and a half years. If he had known he would be stuck without shoes or jeans he would have stocked up in December of 2019. But crystal balls were in short supply back then. None of us knew. He is well stocked now. I’ve never seen so many pairs of socks, underwear, shirts. He shopped til he dropped.

Coming back to Spain they gave him no trouble, but flying to the US, the border patrol didn’t like the fact that he hadn’t been back to the US in two and a half years. When Jeff explained that a) He lives in Spain, and b) Well, pandemic, the guy was none too pleased. ‘Isn’t America good enough for you?’ Then promptly marked Jeff’s customs form for cavity search. Fun! Jeff was pulled out of every security line for swabbing and searching in every US airport. He has no idea why.

I picked Jeff up at the airport in Santiago last evening. I even got gussied up to perform this task. Putting on real clothes for the first time in more than a week. It turns out, living on popsicles for ten days means my clothes are significantly roomier. My jeans without lycra slid right on. I laughed, remembering that line from The Devil Wears Prada. ‘I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.’ Talk about doing it the hard way. I don’t recommend it.

Luckily, it was warm, so driving him home with masks and the windows rolled down was not unpleasant. He was tired, of course, but glad to be home in Spain. A Washington kid, born and bred, he wouldn’t live in the Northwest again.

‘Beef jerky is so expensive now! And the traffic…’

It seems beef jerky inflation will keep him from moving back to the US. And a $13 pint of beer. But he misses his Mom, a lot. Jeff is happy to come back to sun, warmth and tractor traffic after twelve days spent in gridlock and rain. But he got to hang out with his best friend since childhood. And to spend time with his Mom, after so much uncertainty. He will brave the cost of beef jerky for those two people, any day of the week.

We spent last night in the house, masked up. I didn’t want to risk infecting him. And slept in separate rooms with the doors closed. I woke up this morning, grabbed a Covid test and sat outside on the patio in the sun to perform it. I am no fan of these things. Drumroll, please! I’m negative, at last. Adios masks in the house!

Jeff is already out on the lawnmower in his new Carhartt overalls this morning, making the front yard look like we aren’t squatters. I’m almost back to normal. It’s just a bad head cold now. Things are definitely looking up.

Personal Bellwether

We all have things that make us, well, Us. Sometimes it’s big, personality defining traits. But for me, I passed a milestone today. And it’s the insignificance of it that makes it so significant.

I’m pretty sure Covid has spit the bit and run off to find a more hospitable host. Sure, I am still testing positive, but things are getting better, after a few days of backsliding where nausea was my constant companion. The taste has finally returned, but the smell has yet to make a reappearance. It will. I awoke at 8 am today. That’s a first in the past several days that have seen me sleeping 14 or 16 hour days. I would have about three hours, from noon to 3pm, of feeling almost human. Then things would go south until bedtime. Just trying to keep the room from spinning.

Today, my desire for feeling human is greater than the desire to live curled into a ball. And there are two key indicators telling me I am rapidly returning to normal.

The first was an email that got the juices flowing. Usually, I unsubscribe to marketing emails, or they go directly to a folder I bin. But one got through the net. The weather is warm here – 26 today. And the lawn needs a good mowing. Covered as it is in those little daisies. I am not up to firing up the riding lawnmower and taking care of it. But it does make me dream of days spent in the hammock. Dinners alfresco. And that rogue email tempting me was for outdoor dining furniture. Timely.

I have been laying in bed looking out the window – when awake. Listening to the birds chirping. Spring is in full bloom. It’s time to prepare my own nest for warmer weather. And a 50% off patio sale was just what the Dr ordered. Bada bing, bada boom! It’s on it’s way.

This inspired me to head out to the barn to collect a sling chair, get my favorite cushions out of the storage box and sit in the sun. A cold glass of French rose would be lovely, but I will save that for when I am feeling a bit better. Vitamin D is my best friend right now, and sitting there in the warmth, I looked down and realized I have not had nail polish on these toes in more than two years. Two years?!? What? No mani’s or pedi’s. Nothing. One of the most Me things to do.

So I treated myself, before the next wave of nap-time struck, and got out my lovely palette of Sephora nail color that I bought myself for Christmas in Salamanca, and I painted my toes Candy Apple 🍎 Red. Is it a perfect pedicure? Far from it. But the places where the red slopped onto my skin with an unsteady hand will rub off the little piggies in a day. Hey! I remember you guys! I am left gazing down at toes that will look like they belong on my feet when I recline in the hammock.

After all that activity, I’m back in bed. Ready to rest. But I lay here realizing that right now its not how much I feel up to doing today, its about the desire to do it. Mentally swapping out the winter clothes for spring and summer in my closets. Inventorying my sandals. Dreaming of my red Ferragamo straw wedges. Maybe a bit of warm weather shopping in Santiago is in my immediate future. Lingering over a long lunch outside. Freshening up the hair color. I’m ready to return to the land of the living. And if today is any indication, after a negative test in the next few days 🤞I’m closer than ever to being Me again.

Good Timing But No Flavor

My taste is gone. No, not my impeccable sense of style. 😉 My actual taste for food. But not in the usual Covid way.

Last time, everything tasted like I had a mouth full of copper pennies. This time, it’s the front of my tongue that can taste nothing. The back still has some weird sensations but I am not entirely sure it’s really taste, in the normal sense. And I can’t smell anything. Not one thing.

All this as my other symptoms have gotten markedly better. The waves still come, but they are less intense and further apart. So the troughs are longer in duration. And long troughs mean periods without dizziness. And that means I can take a shower without being afraid of falling in the bath. Heaven! I am clean. I always feel better after a hot shower.

Before I figured out I can’t taste anything, being clean and refreshed, I went out to the barn to re supply my kitchen popsicle stash. The lilac tree is blooming. I stopped to smell a blossom. First, one. Then another. Nothing. I wondered if these were scentless lilacs. Maybe it’s a Galician hybrid. I have never heard of that before.

Popsicles replenished, I opened one up, and…nothing. It tasted like ice. Odd. I know how these are supposed to taste. Like Welches grape juice. (I think only Americans will understand what this is) It’s all I’ve eaten in four days. Now that the intense nausea has passed, with no taste or smell, food seems pointless. This is Covid’s cruel joke. I can think of foods with flavor. A nice spicy curry. Greek chicken and rice with garlic cucumber yoghurt sauce. Spicy tuna roll. Wasabi. A burrito from the taqueria on 17th and Valencia in the Mission District in San Francisco. I actually had a dream about that American football-sized burrito last night. Perhaps it was my body giving me one last glorious sensory experience before cutting me off entirely. I can taste none of those things now.

But, I am on the other side of this thing. Every day I will get better and better, just waiting to test negative to get out of 10 day symptomatic quarantine jail, early. My lung checks with my Dr are just a precaution, I feel sure. Nothing indicates otherwise, in my book. And, hopefully, the taste and smell will return very soon. Although Jeff’s sense of smell never returned to normal post Covid.

I think being so healthy after walking the Camino made it the perfect time for me to get Covid, again. If there is a perfect time. When I was in the best shape to fight it off. If there is a silver lining here, I am opening a food truck on the Camino in the busiest year on record. With a pandemic still in the offing. People from all over the world will show up at our gate dragging the virus with them. Likely, having it now will provide some immunity throughout this season. I had to look hard, but I think that’s the upside of this. It doesn’t taste so sweet (or anything like that glorious San Francisco burrito) right now, but it will, eventually, I’m very sure.

They’ll Do the Worrying for You

In the beginning of the pandemic it was a lot of make-it-up-as-we-go. Spain was reeling. Not enough tests. No tracking and tracing infrastructure. If you got sick, really sick, in Spain you called an ambulance or your family took you to emergency, or you died. Not so anymore.

I’ve been sick this time with Covid in ever increasing waves. Just when I think I am better it crashes again. I can feel it coming on. I was texting Jeff yesterday but I had to sign off, ‘I need to go. Its coming.’ Yesterday in a trough, I vacuumed the living room rug. Only to have to lay down afterwards for three hours.

Since Saturday, I have been largely living off popsicles and water. On the way back to the car from buying Covid tests at the farmacia on Saturday, I stopped at the Dia supermercado in Melide and bought four boxes of popsicles. Saturday seems like a week ago. Clearly ill, the woman behind the register insisted I use a card. She didn’t want to touch the €20 note I held out. When I arrived home I took three boxes of popsicles to the freezer in the barn. And deposited the contents of the remaining box in the freezer in the house. But they are gone now. So I was going to go out to the barn to replenish, but first had to sit down on the sofa for a rest. Then I thought ‘Screw it, I don’t need popsicles that bad’ and laid down on the sofa with a throw to sleep for a few hours. All this before making the long journey back up to bed to sleep, yet again.

This morning at 5am I thought I was much better. I even told Jeff in the US. It was only 8pm yesterday there. But by 10am, the next wave had hit. I was sicker than before, so I drove myself to Palas to my Dra. I love Dra Jennifer. She is awesome. She said it was good I came. A fever for more than two days needs attention. Gobs of meds later and a daily treatment check-in plan, since I am alone, I am home and ready to get better. The farmacia in Palas cleared out upon my utterance of ‘Tengo Covid.’ No other patrons were allowed in. The other, older farmacists left to the back. A young woman attended me and gave me all the instructions on the seven prescriptions I have. It all cost a whopping €20.

Now that I’m home, please lord, let the phone stop wringing to check on my condition by the national health service. To instruct me on the protocols and my obligations by law to only leave my house to perform urgent health functions for the ten days after I have tested positive, quarantined household family members, and kept close contacts informed. I just told a guy who called from Pontevedra that I have no household family members during this. He sounded horrified.

‘You are alone?’ I said that I am. ‘But you don’t sound well.’

‘Well, I do have Covid.’ I reminded him. Since that’s why we were speaking in the first place.

This is so against anything normal in Spain. No one here is alone from birth. Its unbelievable. I think that got my box checked on my records to keep checking on me. My phone rings again with another person telling me the same things. Usually it takes two calls. The first in Spanish. Then they realize my healthcare lingo is ingles and someone calls back, again. I’m not saying it’s not nice to talk to someone. But I need to sleep. I’m afraid not to answer or I’ll have a masked up Guardia Civil pounding at my door making sure I haven’t kicked the bucket.

In the midst of all this hullabaloo, my food truck guy in Barcelona sends me pictures while I’m in the Dra office, of my almost completed food truck. And has just a few more questions. It seems I have a bright spot on the horizon to look forward to. Our contractor, Diego, is recovered from his dance with Covid and is continuing his work. He assured me today that they are moving forward. All this calls for a celebratory popsicle. Where are the champagne flavored ones when you need one? Now there’s a business idea. Great for summer weddings or baby showers or christenings. But wait! The kitchen freezer is still bare. On second thought, I don’t need a popsicles that bad, right now. Perhaps after a little nap.

Anyway, if you get Covid in Spain now, they got you covered. You don’t have to worry about yourself because the national health service will do all the worrying for you. Knowing this, I feel better already.

Unusual Fruit

Growing up, my Mom had a passel of kids to drag behind her to the grocery store. I don’t imagine it was a picnic. And the best way to wrangle kids is to give them something to focus on.

Back in the 70’s you could send your children off alone for a whole day and not worry that they might never be seen again. Now they call it ‘free range parenting.’ Back then it was just how things were. My Dad smoked in the car with the windows rolled up. We never wore the seatbelts in the car, either. The wild west. My Mom would send us off in the grocery store with the instructions ‘Go pick out a piece of fruit. Just one. Each. And take your time’ She was buying herself 10 minutes of semi-solitude. So, off we would run. My siblings would select an apple, or a pear. I would choose a watermelon or a pineapple. Technically, it met the criteria and I never understood why anyone would choose something small, when bigger options were readily available. Go big or go home has always been my life philosophy.

With my children, I continued this same tradition, but with a twist. Instead of sending them to pick out an apple or a pear, I launched ‘unusual fruit’ night. Together, we would choose something we were unfamiliar with, and we would buy one. That night, after dinner, this would be the desert. Buddha’s hands, dragon fruit, chirimoya, etc. We ate them all. Or tasted them, anyway. The kids loved it, especially Ryan.

So when I went to El Corte Ingles on my way home from Santiago on Wednesday, I went to their better-than-most-grocery-store-fruit-sections-in-Spain, and decided that it was time for some unusual fruit. It’s not like they had fruit I had never seen before. But I bought some things I haven’t eaten since the US.

On Thursday night I peeled the chirimoyas, and enjoyed it thoroughly. But in the middle of the night I started feeling unwell. Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten the unusual fruit.

On Friday morning, I thought maybe I was just having some withdrawals from walking 20kms every day so I decided to go for a walk. Four kilometers out, then four kilometers back. (5 miles for the Americans in the audience). Easy. By the time I got home I needed a nap, and slept all afternoon. And Friday night was a rough one. This was not from unusual fruit.

Saturday morning I crawled to the car in my pajamas and drove to get a couple of Covid tests. I was sure it was just a bad cold. The pharmacist clearly wished she didn’t have to be anywhere near me. I think the pajamas didn’t help, with my raspy voice, and my swollen bloodshot eyes over my mask. In the short time I was out of the house I had become even sicker, sweating and shaking, so driving home was a challenge. Our road was covered in Pilgrims. It was like a video game trying not to hit them with watery, blurry vision. Perhaps I should have rolled the window down and shouted ‘Covid!!!’ And watched them scatter.

Long story short, the test, which is supposed to take 15 minutes to register, took less than two minutes to tell me I have Covid, again. And very soon I would wish for the good old days when I only felt as sick as I did standing in the farmacia. I called the Spanish health number in Madrid to report my infection. Which was an interesting exercise given my strangely long, and incomprehensible name. I kept saying, ‘Can’t I give you my NIE? You could look it up.’ But no. She made me spell it a hundred times. I get it. Spanish doesn’t have so many silent letters. I was exhausted by the time I hung up. I want to fill out the comments card with If someone has Covid, saying their name, health number, and rural address, then spelling the same over and over is counterproductive. They need to rest. Just ask for the NIE.

I’m having a flashback. Fever, my skin on fire. It hurts to breathe or move. A blinding headache. Where have I seen this movie before? Oh yeah. I remember. It hurts to have a blanket on my skin, like all my nerves are electrified, but am so cold I need four duvets. I lay here and moan to myself. But I’m not scared, like you’d think I would be after the horror of the first time. Banking on what they told me. I am triple vaccinated. I have a much lower chance of ending up in the hospital with serious complications.

Jeff has been in the US for all this. He will return next Sunday. I will test again before he gets here. If its still positive, I’ll stay away and remain masked up in the house, isolated. I know if Jeff had been home now he would have gotten it, again, too. Before I knew I was infected. And I would never have wanted this for him. So far, he is healthy in the US, so I know I got infected after Monday morning, the last time I saw him setting out from Arzua. I thought I was careful. Still wearing masks in public indoor spaces, and crowds, although not required in Spain. And I did not give it to my Canadian friends on Tuesday in Santiago. Not yet infectious, apparently. Even with hugs in the square. After pinging them in Madrid, they have had two negative tests. Relieved. Not a nice way to end an epic adventure.

The good thing is that I just spent most of the previous six weeks alone, taking care of myself without too much help. I can get through this alone, too. Although the positive self talk is out. I have no voice now.

If you are feeling unwell while walking, don’t be stubborn. You are not being alarmist. Get tested. It’s only €2.40 at any farmacia here. It takes 15 min. If not for yourself, to keep from spreading it around to other people. It’s the right thing to do. And after this, I’ll never look at unusual fruit quite the same way again.

A Little R & R

Time to celebrate by returning to normal life. Embracing the mundane.

I started my transition from Peregrina with a taxi ride from old Santiago to the airport. No, I’m not skipping town for parts unknown. I needed to pick up the car in airport parking at Lavacolla. Jeff flew out and texted me where I could find it. I had the key.

I’m sure I looked interesting getting out of the taxi with my backpack, entering the terminal, then heading down to the parking garage. I mean, what Pilgrim doesn’t leave their car in airport parking while they walk a 40 day Camino? But I hear it’s all the rage these days.

It felt weird to drive. It has been awhile. Since I was close enough to downtown Santiago, I decided my celebration would take an unconventional form. A reflection of myself. So I headed to the book section at the gigantic El Corte Ingles department store. You can’t carry real books in a backpack for 800km. And I like real books. So marking this accomplishment with heavy things seems like the right thing to do. And readers make better writers. If you know a good story when you read it, you will know good writing when you write it. And I have a great deal of writing to do after crafting stories in my head over hundreds of hours of walking.

I took my time and bought five of the thickest tomes available. Are they a good read? We shall see. But I liked the weight in the bag. Books in ingles are no more expensive here than in the US. Sometimes they’re cheaper. The difference is that most of those available, with a few exceptions, are by UK or Irish authors. Books I would likely not have read in the US.

This one spoke to me.

Then I treated myself to a poke bowl at Mercado de Boanerges It’s one of my favorite restaurants in Santiago and it’s practically next door to El Corte Ingles. Healthy food. Veggies. Salmon. And a lovely atmosphere with nice staff.

Sated, I made one last swing back through El Corte before heading home, to the Hipercor. It’s the gigantic grocery store inside. And they have a gourmet section. Maybe a thousand different kinds of cheese, fruits and veg, cider and wine. Plus a ton of foreign foods i.e. stuff we miss from living in the US. And good natural foods and produce. It was time for a big shop. Like going to Costco.

On the way to the farm, over hills I had just walked, our contractor reached out. There was no rush getting home. He has Covid and couldn’t make our meeting. So a bit more Tranquila, Kelli will be required. Surprise! But, truly, his health is more important than Construction. I can wait.

Today, I decided I deserve an entire day of doing nothing. Reading, a little writing, and napping. Lounging in my jammies. It turns out, a little more tranquila is just what I needed anyway.

The End of the Camino – Tears and Bear Hugs

I just woke up in Santiago to the bells of the Cathedral ringing across the way. I love the sound of Church bells. There is something comforting about them. Reliable. Like the tides.

Yesterday I awoke before dark to the sound of rain on the skylight in my room. Not a good sign on the final day of my Camino. But by the time I crawled out of bed and packed up, it had passed. And blue sky could be seen through the clouds.

After fortifying myself with some coffee, I set out for the last 20km. The pilgrims joining since Sarria had been mostly Irish people. There is something wonderful about walking amongst them, listening to that sing-songy accent. And they are all happy, smiling faces that resemble my own Irish roots.

This final day it wasn’t so much a party atmosphere as a quiet reflection. It was mostly sunny and warm until Monte de Gozo. That’s a hill overlooking Santiago on the French Way. Santiago is laid out before you, ready to receive the Pilgrim who has come to the end of a very long journey. At last.

It was at that moment the heavens opened up and dumped its fury upon us. Everyone scrambled to shuck their packs and get out rain gear. I had taken my coat off early on, as the heat from walking kept me warm. But with rain pouring down, and just a little over four kilometers to go, I thought I’m not stopping now. It’s just a bit of rain. Other Pilgrims, and locals huddled under umbrellas, thought I was crazy, I am sure. But I just kept going down the hill and through the city streets, getting wetter by the minute.

Water pouring down my face, I left everyone behind and finally made my way near the old part of the city. Coming up over the hill where the street narrows and the Cathedral comes into view, I started crying. I had actually made it. All this way. Through all that pain. And heaven was crying right along with me. Walking down that final stretch, strangers wished me Buen Camino. One old man shook my hand. These people see Peregrinos every day, so I am not sure why I sparked their specific interest.

Then I crossed the street to make my way through the warren of streets through the the old town towards the Cathedral. Coming to the portico by the church, the piper was playing his bagpipes. The sound bounces inside the stone structure like an amplifier. You can hear it from far away. Bagpipes always make me emotional, I don’t know why. I walked gingerly down the steps and out into the square where a big group of cyclists was celebrating the end of their trek. And who was there amongst them? Canadians, Darren and Lauly, the first Pilgrims I met on the Camino back near Puenta la Reina almost six weeks ago. Everyone else I knew had already left Santiago, but they were there waiting for me. I cried so hard when I saw their faces I couldn’t even walk towards them. But Lauly did the work for me. She ran across the square with her arms out wide.

Not a beauty crier😂

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they hug. Big bear hugs mean a big heart full of love. A generosity of spirit and a transfer of positive energy from one person to another. I got bear hugs in the square yesterday. I couldn’t imagine a better greeting, nor end to a Camino.

I had no intention of getting the Compostela. This walk was mine alone. Between me and God. She knows why. I didn’t need a certificate for that. But Lauly and Darren talked me into it, and escorted me to the Pilgrim office. There was no waiting. I walked up, got my code, entered my info, then went right to the window. The volunteer was from Ireland, of course. He examined the credentials I received in St Jean in France, so long ago. I have been terrible about getting stamps this time. In 2017, I had two full books by the time I reached Santiago. This time, my one book still had spaces. But stamps aren’t what makes a Camino. Not for me.

I woke up this morning exhausted after a rough night. My body hurts. I have blisters under my blisters. Who knew that was a thing? But I feel lighter today, after carrying a pack for 800km through winter weather and over mountains the entire width of Spain. Darren said it best. ‘When we walked in I thought, ‘Thank God we’re done.’ But now, waiting for you to come in and walking you to the Pilgrims office, I think ‘I could do that again. I already miss it.’ And laying here this morning with bandages on my blisters, with aching feet and a grateful heart, I couldn’t agree with him more.

Turn Around to See the Sunrise

I arrived to Pedrouzo after a hot and sunny walk. This Irish girl has her freckles back after today. I stood at the sink in a cafe bathroom and looked in the mirror. ‘Hello old friends.’ It made me smile. My grandpa used to say I had the map of Ireland all over my face.

This time tomorrow I will be in Santiago. It hardly seems possible. A friend of mine from Seattle messaged me. ‘What’s that trail you walked that time? How long does it take?’ You can tell that not all my friends are fans of reading the blog, nor all my musings. But I sent her the link and told her she could read the past 40 days and it would give her a good feel for it, since I am about to finish it again.

And then I took my own advice and went back to the the beginning of this little trek. Let the tears begin. I had forgotten some of what’s gone on. The people and the views. The weather and some lonely days. And laughing, a lot.

I am the slowest of my group. The last to walk in to Santiago. Reunions in the square in front of the Cathedral are not in the cards for me. Unlike last time. But looking back through the blog reminded me of their encouragement and their care. I sat over lunch using my napkin to wipe my eyes.

I know tomorrow will be an emotional day for me. The slowest Peregrino ever, finally made it to Santiago. But the tears will be tears of joy.

I was recently invited on a podcast while I was walking. The host asked me how I found a way to get back up and keep going in that first week, when I would find myself on my knees. The answer was simple.

‘I had one person who asked me why I was torturing myself. ‘Just quit this.’ But that’s not the time you quit. That’s the time when you dig as deep as you can go. And you find the strength to get up and gather yourself, adjust your pack, wipe your tears, grip your poles, and put your head down and move forward. P.S. It works in the rest of life, too.’

Reading the entire journey made me realize that we never really know how anything will turn out. We just have to begin and take the first step. One day at a time. And, much like so many moments in life and on the trail, the best views are behind you. But you have to take a moment to stop and turn around to appreciate just how far you’ve come.

So many people helped me on this journey. I have a list to remember them in the Cathedral after I arrive. I wouldn’t be here without them or the lessons they taught me. But the biggest lesson of this whole trip is one drilled in to me on cold mornings when I was walking alone in the dark. And it’s one I won’t soon forget. When there is no light and the road ahead feels uncertain, all you have to do is stop and turn around, to see the sunrise.

Almost Home

The weatherman said it would monsoon rain today from Portomarin to Palas de Rei. So I got up at sunrise this morning and strapped on the rain gear. Ready for a deluge. I have walked this leg in bad weather before. I know how bad it can be.

Packing up! The crack of dawn this morning – I sent it to Jeff ‘One day away!’

The ankle and foot are better. No pain this morning . The knees have decided to make a return to shouting at me on the downhills. But today there were very few downhills. Out of Portomarin it is straight up, any way you slice it. And it goes on for hours. But the views are worth it.

Yesterday, I took some photos on a day that was also supposed to be a gusher. No rain ever materialized.

Morning on the way to Portomarin
The 100km marker. Just 41km to home.
Getting even closer. 17km to walkimg thru the gate

I sent pics to our friend, Chris, back in the US. His response made me smile. ‘You’re so close you can almost smell the barn.’

Today’s walk produced no promised rain. It just got sunnier as we went. I found myself walking with a fellow Peregrina from Sacramento, CA. A Camiga who started in St. Jean 32 days ago. We kept each other company on the big up hill to Ganzor, and beyond. It was nice to spend a day speaking West Coast Ingles. It’s funny how, after so many days, hearing American english means so much to me. With the same cultural references. There is a shorthand of expression that requires no explanation. Or additional thought, while you are focused on taking another step on a long up hill.

I thought I would hate the change that happens at Sarria. When the Camino becomes crowded. And the feeling changes. But I am actually enjoying the energy. Sure, there are a ton of people who just started with little day packs and shiny new gear. No dirt on their shoes, clean pole tips, and some with back packs filled to the gills, right off the sporting goods store shelf. I look at them and cringe. Ouch. Those are blisters in three days, I think automatically. But the attitude is very friendly and there are smiles all around. Even the students have been happy and friendly.

I shouted ‘Smile!’

I am tired. More tired than I remembered from last time. But perhaps its like child birth. You forget just how painful it really was. But the other long haulers are also saying the same. The pain is our constant companion. My Canadian friend, Darren, described it like ping pong. ‘First, its the right foot. Then the left foot. Then your right knee and your left achilles. It climbs up your body, one side at a time. A new pain every day.’

But I will be home tomorrow. Walking into our gate. I have said it this entire Camino ‘I’m just walking home.’ And I’m almost there. More than 450 miles so far. My friend, Chris, is right. I can actually smell the barn from here.

Tapping the Camino Grapevine

Lets face it, staying on the Camino is not a million dollar luxury experience. It’s often just a bed in a dormitory. Or a private room with a shared bath. After a day of walking that can still feel luxurious. I like a private bath, when I can get one. But staying off stage can prove challenging in that department.

Most hosts, hospitalieros, and hotels use Booking.com. And the platform charges an exorbitant fee to the proprietor to book a bed for €13. Or a room for anywhere from €25-60. Depending upon how up market you want to go in a village with evening cow herding as the main attraction. Pro tip: Wear your gators in the morning. You’ll be walking through that stuff, likely, all day. Ah, the scent of Galicia! 😉

But, of course, where there is a will there’s a way. And an informal network of the acquainted service providers has sprung up from Sarria onwards, and I love it!

Shop owners, cafe bartenders, mochila services, and Albergues are working together outside the Booking.com system and it begins when you check in for your stay. ‘Do you have a place to sleep tomorrow night?’ This surprised. Yes, I know I am on the busiest stretch of the Camino Frances now. But I avoided leaving Sarria on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday. I am behind the giant weekly wave in front of me. Jeff says a few thousand people walked by our house the past two days. I only saw a couple leaving Sarria. And most were long haulers, like me. So I didn’t book ahead. Only two people are in my Pension tonight. But that didn’t stop the reception from picking up the phone. ‘Let me get you a room for tomorrow night. Private bath?’

Hey, I get it. While I could just walk my 22k and find something, they know I will likely look online to check availability as I get close to the town. And that cuts into their profit right off the top. Better to get to me early, and lock me in. Before I stray into an app, or a website where they have to pay a commission for the booking.

Did I feel a bit ‘managed’ in this process? Maybe a little. But I admire the hustle and the organic self-organization of it all. The Albergues have found ways to help each other. Props to them.

The Camino is heating up. By May there will be few beds to be had on this stretch without an advance booking. Leaving Sarria on Tuesday-Friday is the best way to guarantee a decent selection, and to avoid walking with a crowd of thousands. But if all else fails on the securing a bed front, talk to taxi driver or a bar tender or a shopkeeper. They’ll know a guy, who knows a guy in the Camino grapevine. How do I know? Because they just booked a lovely room for me tomorrow that includes dinner. And it’s no where on Booking.com.