First: Figure Out How to Get to Crete; Second: Figure Out the Rest

If there were a road to Crete, I would have taken it. Crete, however, is an island, which is one of the several things I’ve learned in the past few days of our impromptu side trip to the Greek islands. Here’s a retrospective itinerary of how we got to Crete and then to the idyllic town of Sougia.

STEP ONE: GET TO CRETE

5/21

– 11:40 pm flight from Lisbon to Athens, arriving 5:30 a.m.

5/22
– 6:00 am bus to the port, arriving 7:00-ish
– 7:10 am, realize there is no boat to Crete until 9:30 pm, but there is a boat to Santorini at 7:30am
– 7:30 am, board the boat to Santorini, hope to get a ride from there to Crete
– 3:30 pm, arrive in Santorini port, get in a van to Tony’s Villa. Tony “The Legend” drives and talks
– 6:00 pm, talk to boat ticket agent who says there’s no way to know about boats a day ahead

5/23
– 10:30 am, inquire about boats to Crete, still no information but maybe they know in the port
– 10:35 am, drive to the port, even less information, boats to Milos cancelled due to weather (weather looks great to me…)
– 11:45 am, drive to Oia, enjoy a gyro and the view of the caldera (see caldera below, plus bonus view of beautiful wife)

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– 2:00 pm, drive to capital of Fira, ask about tickets to Crete. “Um, I don’t know, it doesn’t look good. I will have to make a call.” She makes a call, no answer. We wait. There are still two seats on a 6:00pm boat. Hooray!
– 6:00 pm, the boat has not arrived, two other boats to Crete are in the harbor, having a hard time getting people on and off due to high wave situation
– 7:45 pm, the two boats to Crete that are not ours have finally gotten people off and then on and have now left, making room for our boat
– 8:15 pm, we board our boat to Crete, it is only half full and we wonder why those tickets were so hard to come by. The boat begins to rock from side to side. Violently.
– 8:30 pm, boat leaves the port, still rocking violently from side to side and now front to back as well
– 8:35 pm, boat engine stops
– 8:40 pm, boat engine starts again
– 8:45 pm, boat increases speed, rocking increases tenfold, puking commences
– 10:00 pm, 95% of the passengers have utilized the special bags that were passed out by the crew, including Cris and me
– 11:30 pm, the 2-hour journey concludes after 3 hours of pain

STEP TWO: FIGURE OUT THE REST

– 11:50 pm, the first two places do not have rooms, Hotel Irini has a room, take it

5/24
– 12:05 am, look for food, feel lucky that a convenience store is open, wait, there’s a happy noise around the corner – a restaurant is open! Enjoy delicious Greek fare.
– 1:00 am, get to bed. Where do we go tomorrow and how do we get there? Figure it out in the morning.
– 9:00 am, wake up, fall asleep, wake up, shower, nap in shower, get out of shower
– 9:40 am, get coffee/breakfast, buy map, rent tiny car.
– 11:40 am, check out and pick up tiny car (see car below)

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– 12:00 pm, drive to Paliohora via Hania – “just follow the signs to Hania”
– 12:40 pm, realize you went the wrong way
– 1:20 pm, back to square one, realize there are no signs to Hania
– 3:20 pm, get to Hania, stop for directions to Paliohora, verify directions to Paliohora
– 3:40 pm, begin drive over mountain to south side of the island on extremely curvy road, remember how you felt last night on the boat
– 4:40 pm, arrive in sleepy beach town of Paliohora, realize this was a good idea after all (see picture below)

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– 6:30 pm, eat even more delicious Greek fare, hatch plan to walk to Sougia the next day

5/25
– 7:00 am, wake up and get breakfast buffet worth every penny
– 8:45 am, begin hike to Sougia, take in perfect weather and views of blue sea, beaches, cliffs, Mediterranean awesomeness, realize that this was the best idea ever, arrive in even sleepier beach town of Sougia and reaffirm the fact that this was the best idea ever. Enjoy a drink on the beach. (See pictures below).

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We Made it to Santiago. Now What???

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As one of you has already reminded me, part of the Sabwavique was the walkabout – an aimless wandering. Part of the reason for starting this journey with the Camino de Santiago was that it seemed like an introduction to the concept. It was a walkabout-light, or the walkabout minor leagues. That is, while it required a heck of a lot of wandering, it is not aimless. The destination is not only clear, but your every step is marked by an endless array of yellow arrows that keep you on the “true” path to Santiago de Compostela.

Well, having finished the Camino and with time to spare, Cris and I find ourselves (1) addicted to wandering, and (2) searching for those yellow arrows. This, I guess, is where we get our first look at major league pitching.

I have already taken an unplanned side trip to Germany to reunite with some friends I made along the Camino. While I was there, Cris got some advice from a fellow pilgrim to hike around the southwest coast of Crete. So that’s where we’re headed tonight.

Crete has a few advantages. It allows us to continue hiking, which we have come to enjoy more than I think we expected. It allows us plenty of time to do the post-mortem on our different experiences with the Camino – and they were quite different. It allows us to wander, somewhat aimlessly. It has numerous beaches and will hopefully have more sun and less rain. Finally, there are no yellow arrows.

I have intentionally left our itinerary off this blog for the very purpose of embracing the concept of walkabout. That said, plane tickets vary wildly in price and predetermine a certain amount of our travels. So, as we take this journey to the next level, I hope you will join us as we head to various spots in Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and all the unexpected side trips that have yet to make themselves known.

Buen Camino!

Some pictures from the last few days in Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Porto, Lisbon (where we are today to catch our flight to Athens).

Cris at the Santiago cathedral.

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In front of the San Francisco Monastery (now hotel) in Santiago.

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A stop over in Vigo, Spain.

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Overlooking the Rio Douro in Porto, Portugal.

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Arriving in Lisbon.

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Dusk in Lisbon.

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Oh yeah, and I got a beard trim and haircut. Here’s the before/after:

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Arrival

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Well, two days ago I walked into Santiago de Compostela. It was a little bit triumphant, a little relieving, and little sad. It was nice to arrive, but as they say, it’s about the walking, not the arriving. So, I won’t try to sum up the journey with trite conclusory statements other than to say that it definitely fell into the category of things delicious. Now for some statistics.

The Butcher’s Bill
790 kilometers
36 days
8 blisters
2 sore tendons
1 24-hour flu
0 regrets

Country’s Represented
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, USA, Venezuela (and I’m sure there were others I can’t remember now)

Inspirational People Who I Saw Walking the Camino
– A woman with her physically and mentally disabled son
– Autistic 24-year-old twin brothers
– Blind woman guided by sister
– 80-year-old man
– Cancer patient

Who walks the Camino? He or she who chooses to.

What is the ultimate lesson of the Camino? If you really need to know, start walking.

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700 Kilometers and Counting

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I am now less than 100 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela, in the town of Portomarin, Galicia. Today I spent some time talking to an American who joined his girlfriend in Leon, about 320 kilometers from Santiago. Talking to him, I could tell that my experience of the Camino has evolved substantially over the course of the last 700 kilometers.

I am currently dealing with blisters on the bottoms of both feet and inflamed tendons in the lower part of my left leg. This is not new. In fact, this is the third or fourth round of these kinds of issues. At earlier stages of the Camino, these problems were a source of discouragement and suffering. In each case, the physical pain eventually went away. But then, a few days later, new problems would arise.

This time, however, there is a difference. While my physical pain is actually the same, if not greater, my reaction to it is different. In the early stages, when physical pain would present itself, I would experience the additional trauma of stress. I was worried about whether I would be able to continue to deal with this pain. And not knowing how long it would last costed me great amounts of emotional energy.

The way I react now is entirely less involved. I would not call it toughness. In fact, I don’t know what to call it other than a sort of lack of appreciation.

While the blisters and the tendons are there every time I take a step, reminding me that they are sore, I just don’t care as much. I don’t dwell on how long the pain will last or whether it will go away. I merely recognize that in the present moment, it’s not unbearable, and so I take another step.

Enough steps like that, and I finally reach a point where that voice in my head that tells me to worry or stress out about my discomfort goes quiet. And with that, the kilometers are not kilometers any more. They are just a series of steps, each of which may or may not be slightly annoyed by some physical ailment. In each case the physical pain is bearable. Whether or not that will be the case for the next step is irrelevant to the present step.

I’m not sure if I’ve conveyed the idea, but for now that’s the best I can explain it. I can attest that it is a liberating feeling.

Here are some pictures of Galicia, a very different part of Spain:

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Pace Yourself

If you’re paying attention, you have not heard from me in a while. After Cris got horribly ill, and then recovered, I caught the same bug. That put me out for a couple days. Then there was a series of events/delays that could fill several of these little posts. We are finally back to full health and back to taking one step after another, one little town after another. That brings me to today’s theme: pace yourself. Or rather, go your own pace.

Along the Camino, there are numerous messages left by pilgrims for other pilgrims, and a surprising number of them speak to you just when you need it. This was one that I passed yesterday:

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This is one of the things that the Camino teaches you: you must go your own pace. If you don’t, you get blisters, tendinitis, and sore all over. On top of that, you don’t get whatever it was you came here looking for.

Up until a couple days ago (in Leon, if you’re keeping track), Cris and I were trying very hard to do this Camino together. But that meant that I was going slower than my pace and she was pushing herself. And we both felt the pressure of having the other person to accomodate, even though neither of us was making any noise about it. Meanwhile, we were watching hundreds and then thousands of other pilgrims walk the Camino in each of their own unique ways. We had both developed an unexpressed frustration with the way it was going, and it became clear that we needed to shake it up.

Thus, after 26 days and about 480 kilometers of doing this together, Cris and I decided we would each just go our own speed. After all, the good speed is your speed. There is no exception.

About a week ago, a delightful Swedish man and I were having a drink after a long day, and he said, “the Camino is like a life in itself.” Well, that theme was rephrased today when I walked with a middle-aged woman for a few minutes. She had seen Cris and me together at a pior point and asked where Cris was. I explained our decision to go differents speeds, and maybe my voice betrayed some insecurity at the prospect of telling her that I had left my wife behind.

She immediately congratulated me. Then she said, “On the camino, you walk your speed, and other people go their speed, and yet you keep running into each other. It’s really wonderful how that works. And that’s how it has to be in a marriage too.” It turns out that she had suggested the Camino to her husband, who rejected it on the spot but encouraged her to do it alone. And now there she was perfectly happy to be walking across Spain having her own adventure.

Cris and I will have our own adventures for the final 300 kilometers, and it is clear that this is the way the Camino must be. My goal is to arrive by May 11. Cris will arrive on May 18. In the interim, I will take a side trip to see our German friends from an earlier stage on the Camino. When Cris arrives in Santiago, I will be there waiting for her with a bottle of the best local wine to congratulate her.

As I was walking alone today, it occurred to me that the lesson is quite clear. At some point you just have to forgive yourself for being yourself and get on with life. It’s that basic, and that’s one of the ways the Camino wraps an entire life into a 5- (or 6-) week journey.

And now, some pictures:

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Onward.