28 Days Later, a Cup of Joe, and a Little Appreciation

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I am back. I completed the 28-Day Field Course offered by the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in southern Utah. I am proud, because it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I am also hungry.

During my time out there, I learned to make shelter and fire, to find water in the desert, and to slaughter and process large game. I took my map-and-compass orienteering to a new level. I slept on the ground every night, and actually got used to it. I lost at least 25 pounds, maybe more. At one point, I spent 5 days and 5 nights apart from the group, doing nothing but saving my meager food rations and contemplating my place in this world.

My fears going into this experience were:
1) Hunger
2) Physical Inability / Fear of Failing
3) Lack of Coffee

As for hunger, I will just say that, yes, I was hungry. I was hungry the entire time. The interesting thing, however, was that after a couple days without food I learned that hunger simply is not something I need to fear. They say we can go 3 weeks without food. I found that I function almost as well after 4 days without food as I do on a full stomach. Check that one off the list.

With respect to physical ability, I was fine. I was not the fittest person out there, but when you need to get over the mountain to get the water that will keep you alive, you get over the mountain. Check.

As for coffee, I will never go that long without my bitter black life-juice ever again!

In all seriousness, I cannot emphasize how clear it was that my fears were not worth the thought I gave them. In place of those fears, I was left with some simple but essential lessons.

First, a calm mind is the foundation for survival. Second, there is no survival without the tribe. Finally, as a general rule, fear has little or no functional value, and should be abandoned to the fullest extent possible.

Yes, maybe I can now make fire by rubbing sticks together and have learned a variety of other cool and interesting things. There is no replacement, however, for community and the mutual support it provides. There is no worse threat to survival than panic.

I know that I will reflect for a long time on the deeper lessons of this experience. One thing, however, cannot be overstated. On the final night, as I approached the end of the journey during a 12-mile walk beneath a spectacular meteor shower, I was completely overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. This feeling has not subsided yet. I am grateful for my wife, for my family, for my friends, for my community. Simply put, I am grateful for you, each and every one of you. You have always been there, supporting me in ways I could never fathom until now. I have never properly thanked you. But there is no question in my mind that you, my community, are what have given me this wonderful life.

Survival is a daily thing, and I thank you all for that gift.

[A full set of pictures to come in a couple days.]

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An Overdue Update from Portugal

Well, it’s been a while since my last post, so here is the quick blow-by-blow since last time, followed by pictures:

– Returned to Lisbon and met up with my parents and godparents, debriefed two months of Camino, Greece, etc;

– Toured Lisbon for a few days guided by tour-guide Cris, crashed party for donors of Royal Palace Museum @ Royal Palace, which is now a museum (um, the people who donate to a royal palace/museum are the people who still have their grandaddy/king’s old miter….), regretted choice of jeans for evening wear, thanked god for choosing not to wear flip flops this one single time in your life

– Rented 9-person van for 6 people, suffered near heart attack driving unnecessarily large vehicle around tiny ancient European streets

– Headed to town of Sintra, read the brochure for a former residence turned amusement park, Quinta da Regaleira, which is described verbatim as “a magical symphonic poem in stone revealing the cosmic dimension of a phantasmogoric mansion”, enjoyed cafe beer, took nap, returned to appreciate phantasmogoric-ness of the entire town the following day, felt satisfied with level of magically symphonic stone poetry, etc

– On to town of Evora and it surrounds, checked out ancient Roman ruins and ancient-er Druid ruins, marvel at how they were able to move those stones around without the use of an opposable thumb, or whatever, drove 9-person van through smallest corridor in 9-person van history

– Arrived in Porto, ate good food, tasted Port wine, purchased Port wine, drank Gin & Tonics, appreciated parents and godparents for indubitable sense of self

– Said goodbye and thanks to parents and godparents for a ton of fun, reflection, and new memories

– Settled into new home for two weeks in Porto, realized that it’s on the actual route of the “Portuguese Camino”, assumed it was a sign from God

– Started Portuguese classes, explained to Portuguese teacher that the Brazilian accent is actually the proper accent….

Check out the photographs below.

Visiting various important locations in Lisbon:

The one and only photo we were brave enough to take of the Royal Palace/Museum party crashing:

Phantasmogoric / cosmic / metaphorical town of Sintra:

Ancient ruins in and around Evora:

Special thanks to our tour-guide:

More special thanks to Godparents:

Final special thanks to Parents:

Now, off to Portuguese school.  Follow that arrow:

Cris Speaks

And now a word from the Beautiful and Amazing Cris:

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On the 11th day of the pilgrimage I had no blisters and almost no pain other than exaustion. One day I even pushed us to go an extra 12k in order to arrive in Viana, which promised to be more charming than Torres del Rio, our original destination.

With the exception of our triumphant exit from Pamplona, all our days in the camino have been drenched with rain and cold. Yesterday was no exception, and I will admit that beyond any physical hurt, I was struggling with lack of motivation to continue. After walking over 200km, I felt extremelly exausted and saw my spirit collapse.

Along with it, the arches of my feet started colapsing as well. I had felt pain there earlier on the journey, but yesterday it became really really painful. I am not typically a slow walker, but I just could not keep up with the rest of the group. Every step became an exercise in patience and suffering. I was miserable, tired, wet, the wind was blowing hard, I felt my lips dry up dehydrated.

At some point I just wanted to give up, really bad. Beyond giving up on the whole camino plan, I also wanted to give up on making to the next pueblo. I wanted to sit down and cry.

Somehow I found the strength to continue, but with each step, I asked the divine for help – I just couldnt handle this much pain on my own.

The divine never ceases to respond, sometimes in unexpected ways. When I finally made it to the next small pueblo, I came accross a welcoming group of expatriate Brazilians.

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The server at the bar quickly spotted my accent as I ordered a coffee. She then brought over the cook, who was from Sao Paulo, and her friend who was sitting at the bar, from Espirito Santo.

They couldn’t quite understand the whole deal with the pilgrimage, and why on earth we were choosing to travel by foot. In any case, one of them noticed I wasnt doing well and offered to drive me to the closest albergue at Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 7k away.

I was torn for a moment there – am I bailing on the camino thing? Is it allowed to enter a vehicle while boasting the pilgrim status? Should I endure hours of pain and make it there on my own?

I followed my instinct and accepted the help. I had prayed for it, so it felt right to take it in whatever form it came. As I arrived at the albergue, I was told by the hospitaleros that a foot specialist was due at the albergue within the hour! He massaged my feet, taped them, and created a temporary insole support for my shoes. I stopped limping almost immediately.

Today I entered every church on the way to thank for the help I had so gracefully received in a time of real desperation. Another small miracle granted by the Camino.

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And now some pictures:

Pre-coffee:

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Aaaaah:

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On the road again:

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Goofy German:

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Happy as a clam?

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If it snows, get more coffee:

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Yes, it snowed today. It snowed in Spain:

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But we made it to Belorado (which looks like Mexico):

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Adelante peregrino!

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Not an Island

20120414-164501.jpgI imagined a lot of things about the Camino – the long walks, the struggle to find the right hostal, the snoring/stinking bunkmates, the blisters, you name it. One of the things about the Camino that I didn’t really think about too much was the people. I mean, I knew there would be other people I would run into on this walk and who I would eat with and see every once in a while. What I didn’t quite get was how social it would be.

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There’s just a lot of time to run into the same people, and, once you do, a lot of time to pick up the conversation where you left off. There’s no story that won’t pass the time. Plus, most of these people have a pretty good story to tell, and they all have a reason for doing this trek and not doing something else.

In the past four or five days, Cris and I have been adopted by a gang of Germans. They are wonderfully happy, friendly, and stereotypically goofy.

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To their credit, they each came separately to the Camino and bonded on the road. Just like so many others, we met them by walking to the same place and hearing their story. Now we’re sort of a pack. Truth is, however, we couldn’t shake them if we wanted. Today, Cris was having some trouble with her foot. She insisted we stay in Najera rather than continue to Azofra as the Germans were doing. When they found out, they decided to stay with us rather than going the extra 6 kilometers.

Hanging out with the other pilgrims usually happens out of a desire not to miss out on hearing their stories. It also usually means we don’t get a jump on the next day’s walk. But, as I’ve mentioned before, no matter how fast you go, you get there. It’s not exactly the quiet, contemplative walk I had imagined, but the people who walk beside me are invariably genuine – and can’t help to be after 20-30 kilometers. They’ve all come here to think about something and they are all curious to hear your thoughts and your own story. And, walking together, we have an exchange that is hard to find anywhere else.

Some good pictures:

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Catching up with Caterina, the 65-year-old Canadian who is putting us to shame:

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A fountain that pours water AND wine:

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A Templar octagonal church:

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Delicious dinner last night in Navarrete at Bar Deportivo:

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The cook:

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Follow that sign:

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