Some thoughts

I was actually happy to leave behind the not so friendly people of Santiago. I guess they are fed up with tourists but again, if that’s so, change your job. Tourists are what make Santiago alive so they should not complain so much.

I took a train to Vigo on my way to Porto. I planned to stay in Vigo for some hours, visit the city and then take off. But arrived at the information office I am informed that the luggage deposit is ONLY at the bus stop. Which is of course on the other side of the city. No comment… So I take my backpack and walk a bit around the city but it’s hot and don’t feel like walking that much so I stop often, in the shade as the weather is very hot and see what I can, what’s not too far on walking distance. For lunch I found the only open vegetarian place called Veggie Burger El Sojita. When I arrived the had actually just closed but the girls working there I guess they felt sorry for me and prepare a hot dog and a salad to go. Delicious!

I arrive in Porto without a place to stay. I was waiting for an answer from a CSer that happily forgot about me so I think “what the heck, I will find a hostel”. As if… I check with one, fully booked. Second one, same story, and the third and forth. I actually thought it was a joke. But no, the city was under siege with tourists, for whatever reason. Luckily for me at the last hostel I checked the guy at the reception let me use the computer to check availability. My phone was almost dead and I was at my wit’s end.

I finally found a bed available at Oporto Music hostel that is a very fantastic place although a bit far from the center. So since I didn’t want to spend my time on the metro to go and come back from the center the following morning after a very good breakfast I booked a bed at Oporto Invictus hostel.

As I did the check in I asked the girl working there if it was possible stay 2 nights instead of one. Of course not. It was sold out for the following day… I started laughing!!!

So I left my stuff at the hostel and started to walk the city to visit again and little by little memories from my first visit came back to me. I guess what I really love about Portugal are the old beautiful buildings that are crumbling down all over the country.

Although it gives me a great pain to see all these beautiful buildings forgotten and almost destroyed it also fascinate me to see the pass of time on something that it was beautiful and it still is in a way. It’s like watching the face of a beautiful old lady and you can see she was beautiful but the time nonetheless has walked its way through the face (of the lady and of the building). I dunno I can’t really express what it causes in me, but I just know that I love (and feel great pain) watching these buildings falling to pieces…

I spent my third night at Porto Downtown hostel so far the less nice of the three but on a very good position and with breakfast included.

I left Porto for Coimbra where I booked at Olive Street house, a beautiful place very close to the train station. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to spend the night there as I had to go back to Spain to fix some admin issue and there was just one night train to Salamanca that same night.

I arrived in Salamanca at 5 am and the people at Room In were so nice to let me in and take my bed even though I booked only for one night (so the upcoming night not the one who was fading away). After fixing my admin issue I was able to visit the city and I was in awe of how beautiful Salamanca is. Super clean, all the buildings are in perfect condition, people are very nice and the city historical center is perfectly preserved. In Salamanca I met Alvaro a young medicine student who explained to me a bit of the history of the city and in the evening we had a couple of beers together.

The following day I was back on a bus to get to Lisbon. It’s been a long trip but not as horrible as I thought. In Lisbon I was supposed to have a CS host that once again disappeared on me so I booked at Brothers hostel of which are two. From the bus stop I took a Cabify as it was late and didn’t feel like walking at night with my backpack on.

After the check in I asked if I could extend my stay (old habits die hard) and the answer was no, of course. But the guy at the reception was so nice to find a place for me at the other place they have further up the hill. Fifteen minutes walks he said. More 25 I would say. But the place was so much better with more spacious rooms and a very nice garden. But, since it was very far from the center for the following day I booked one night at the Suave Lisboa hostel, very close to the center and although not as nice as the second “Brothers ” it was still a happy choice.

My last day in Lisbon I had lunch at a apparently very famous vegan buffet restaurant close to the center called Jardim das Cerejas. Delicious food and a lot of choice. The following morning I went to Sintra for a quick tour and returned to Lisbon in order to to catch a train to Faro for that same afternoon. Sintra was a big disappointment to me. It was just a tourist trap. Everything was an expense. You had to take the bus to get to the castle. You have to pay to visit the castle. Then again you have to catch a bus to go to Pena Palace and the entrance to the palace was 14€. I calculated that if you wanna visit everything there is to see and have lunch you can easily spend 100€ in one day. So I left as quickly as I could but bot after a nice walk up the hill in the middle of the forest just to make up a little bit for the Camino I didn’t walk.

At the train station in Faro I got an Uber. Once again it was late and didn’t feel like walking at night. I guess I’m getting old but what the heck!? As long as I can afford little treats like this I will take full advantage of the situation. The place I booked in Faro is called HI Hostel Faro – Pousada de Jouventude. I felt a bit silly to stay at a youth hostel but then I saw that there were hosts older than me so I relaxed.

In the morning I visited the city and it really doesn’t take you more than one morning to see what’s to see and had lunch at this vegetarian place right in city center called Gengibre e Canela. I was so happy with my choice. For 7.5€ you have a eat-all-you-can buffet and a pretry good choice.

At 2.30pm I met with my Bla Bla Car company and headed back to Spain.

I really enjoyed Portugal but I don’t think I’ll go back unless I have a special reason to. I’m glad to see that they have begum to take care of the buildings that were falling to pieces but other than that the situation form my previous visit around 6 years ago has not improved a lot. In Lisbon I had again that feeling that I wasn’t safe, every where there are boards inviting you to keep safe and don’t walk alone especially at night. In full daylight people harass you on the street to try and selling drugs. Cannot take more than 10 steps without having someone to try and sell you weed, coke, hashish. Your choice. When I was in the main square I actually got followed by a couple of guys that insisted to get me buy drugs. It’s very annoying and I never felt that uncomfortable before. So I guess Portugal is done for me. But still I’m happy I went back and visit again even though CSers there are not serious and don’t really have a sharing attitude.

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And now it’s time for a break…

As we say in Italy: il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi (devil makes the pans but not the lids) meaning that you can make all your plannings but there’s always something that can go wrong.

On my fourth day of Camino something went wrong. The day started on a gloomy note. It was raining and rumor had it that it was the hardest part of the Camino what laid ahead. I woke up early and I was on the road at 8. It was drizzling so I put on my raincoat and embraced the idea that I just has to walk on. As I walked I started to actually enjoying the walk and the foggy landscape that surrounded me. I finally was fully immersed in Nature. No one and nothing around. According to Gronze website I had to walk 7 hours to get to the next stop Markina.

By 12.30pm I was there. I was super happy and with Milena, and Austrian girl I met along the way, we stopped in a restaurant on the main square an had a sandwich. Of course I had to have it custom made because of my diet and imagine my surprise when the cook came into the restaurant with an entire baguette all for me!!!

After food I decided to carry on until Guernica. I felt good, a little pain on my back and a funny knee but it was a beautiful sunny day (after the rain it always come the sun) and so far the view had been fantastic. So I left Milena behind and carried on planning to arrive in Guernica around 7 pm.

It was almost 6 when I arrived at Marmiz that I knew it was one hour walk from Guernica on the main road. I figured it would be a little longer for the pilgrims but I was still perfectly on time. I started to walk up the mountain and up and up and it looked like it was never going down. I started to feel there was something wrong. The supposed 5 km to Guernica started to feel like 6, 7… and the fatigue of the long walk started to wear on me. At every turn of the way I expected a descent but I was always disappointed. After 45 minutes walking up the mountain I was desperate. My back was hurting like hell. There was this muscle that I was pretty sure it was not there the day before, that was giving me hell and the left knee was more than a nuisance now. I wanted to cry and I started to scream cursing Santiago and myself to make the decision to do the walk. It was almost one hour after I started to mount up that it was clear that the walk was finally moving downward. I felt relieved and started to accelerate the pace. I was in pain and tired and wanted to get to Guernica as soon as possible.

Almost at the end of the walk I started to hear the cars passing by and I felt relieved. I passed by a country house and the owner stopped me and asked me if I was walking the Camino. I said yes and he replied: I’m sorry to say but you took the wrong one. My heart dropped and I felt I would die. I couldn’t even think of walking any extra steps. I thought I would stop right there and then and would left myself die. Luckily the man who gave me the bad news also offered to drive me to Guernica. I couldn’t believe at my luck. Had I arrived two minutes later I would have missed him. He said that I was not the only one that got lost. Apparently the walk is badly signalled and many pilgrims go astray.

So, I spent the night in Bilbao at Iker’s and now I’m in Santander ready to try and took my Camino back. A few lessons I’ve learned from these few days:

  • I’m not as trained as I thought
  • Never over estimate your strength
  • Take a rest every now and then when you are tired
  • Listen to your body
  • Distances on papers are shorter than in real life
  • Don’t always follow the yellow arrow (it’s not always well signalled as it should be)
  • On the way up take quick short steps
  • Zig zag your way down (it won’t strain your knees)
  • When you can’t walk anymore take a day of rest and if necessary take a bus to your next stop
  • You don’t have to destroy yourself Do what you can, this is not a marathon
  • Walk in a way that gives you the time to appreciate the view
  • Pack light (and I mean LIGHT!!!

So. At this point I know I won’t walk the whole 800 km and it’s fine. I will do only the easiest parts in order not to fuck up completely my knee. I only have two and I’d like to keep them healthy as long as I can. Also, I don’t have THAT much time so I have to make it quicker than I thought. Lesson learned. Now I’m off to bed.

Tomorrow is another day to visit Santander and walk the 9 km to get to Santa Cruz de Besana.

Here I go again. Dedicated

It’s been almost a year exactly that I was boarding a plane to Manila. Now I’m waiting for my bus to San Sebastián to begin the Camino de Santiago (Saint James’s way).

This has been a dream since my walk last year in Annapurna. Or maybe even before and it was also a dream my mum had. She makeover had the time to fulfill it, so I’ll do this also for here.

When I left Barcelona a few days back, I was relieved. My love for that city is still very alive but I’m sure now I can’t live there anymore. It’s like a lover you have, that you love very much but can’t live with. My love story with Barcelona is over. And it gets clearer every time I leave it. Is still need to meet my new lover so in the meantime I snoop around.

I’ve spent a few days in Bilbao that I LOVE and if it wasn’t for the weather I would move here tomorrow. But during my trips and my life in general I came to the conclusion that I cannot live without a large amount of sunny days. And Bilbao unfortunately lacks that.

But it’s OK. I’ll keep searching and when the time comes my new lover will come to me with open arms. For now I just enjoy my time wandering around. I’m actually really excited to start this new adventure. I don’t know what lays ahead of me and that’s the beauty of it all. In Bilbao I spent my days with Iker a beautiful local soul and if this time is an example of what’s next, this long walk will be just beautiful.

Summing it up: India 

Some LOVE it,  some HATE it and someone like me loved some aspects of it and hate some other.  But when I left (and I was looking forward to leave) I was sad and felt I wanted to stay longer.  India is a strange and magic place.  When I got my request for visa approved I was almost disappointed.  I had read so many bad things about it that I was almost terrified to go there.  And since I had no expectations whatsoever I was able to actually enjoy it after I realized that it was not so scary after all.  My experience in India has been some kind of an adventure.  There were moments that I asked myself what I was doing there and others that I couldn’t get enough and I wanted more.

Indians with their barefeet, their obsession with hair, with their constant talking, their clumsiness, their naivety, with their contrast of poor covered in gold,  their attitude of Jack of all trades , their constant trying to get more money from you, with their despise of stray dogs,  their togetherness,  their faulty legs (mainly men), their loud music in the buses, their habit of spitting, their food served in newspaper pages and most of all their inquisitive bobbing heads are the most annoying but at the same time charming people I’ve ever met.  

With the hindsight I realize that India should have been a trip by itself.  By the time I got there I was already tired and extremely annoyed by anything that was not working in a western way.  I could not really make the best of my time in India for this reason but at the same time, especially towards the last days when my homecoming was approaching I realized that I wanted more,  that I wished I had stayed longer.  Now that I’m back home I miss the mess that is India.  I miss the colors (not the smells…),  the smiles,  the friendliness,  the carelessness that characterizes life in India.  I miss the easy going attitude,  the chats in the streets or wherever as a matter of fact, their way of seeing life,  the it’s OK attitude.  I’m already thinking of going back some day.  Don’t know yet when.  But I feel I have left something behind and wanna find out what it is. 

The famous straw…

This morning I was looking for a title for this entry and I couldn’t find it.  I was about to call it “Untitled” until I arrived at my hostel in Goa. 

But let’s go back to the beginning. 

My train to Bangalore was pretty much on time so when I arrived there it was really early in the morning.  After checking my backpack at the train station I met a CSer (not my host) for breakfast.  He then had to leave and there was another CSer waiting for me. Nirmal is a very nice and polite guy.  We walked a bit around the city and then we went for lunch at a mall.  Food was OK but nothing worth writing home.  At three he had a meeting so we parted our ways and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the mall trying to recharge my phone (that always takes centuries) and waiting for Dan,  my host, to let me know where we could meet.  He finally got off work earlier than expected so we met at the Metro Station and went together to his place.  By the time I was exhausted so went to bed straight after shower.  

The next morning with Dan we roam around the town and had lunch at this beautiful and quiet place called Yogisthaan,  an oasis in the chaos of the city.  The rest of the afternoon we chilled at home and went out for a walk and early diner before catching my train to Hampi.  So far Bangalore is one of my favorite cities as it looks very european in a way and has plenty of nice places to eat and chill. 

I arrived in Hampi after the usual night train ride and I almost immediately fell in love with the place.  Hampi is a village known for its amount of temples.  And they are very nice indeed but to be honest I fell in love with the place itself and it’s surroundings.  Hampi was founded by the river Tungabhadra,  in the Karnakata region.  Although a very touristy spot it still preserve its village essence and life is quiet and easy there.  The area on the river bank it’s absolutely astonishing. There is a lot of greenery and at the same time it looks a bit like the desert.  Enormous rocks and banks of sand intermingled with spots of forest where people have built their temples and shrines dedicated to their gods. And it’s so peaceful and relaxing… I could have stayed there forever!  

And the good thing about this place is that it came at a moment in my trip that I really needed it.  Even Alfredo,  a guy met on the train that was staying in the hostel in front of mine realized that it’s time for me to go home.  My patience is really exhausted and every single twitch in my every day life is cause for big discomfort and stress for me.

The hostel I booked was OK.  1985 hostel and restaurant is where every other hostel is.  In the center of Hampi,  very close to Virupaksha Temple. I wouldn’t say it’s OK for western standards but it was OK for me.  Single room with private bathroom for 8€ was a bargain. 

So with Alfredo from Madrid (but that actually lives in Lanzarote) I roam around the area for the two short days I spent there. Close by there is also a waterfall (if you wanna call it like that…) hidden in a banana plantation that we found thanks to a local guy who guided us there.  

My time is running out so the night of my second day I took a bus to go back to Goa where I planned to spend a couple of days before heading to Mumbai to spend my last 2 days before heading back home. 

The bus ride was as good as it gets and by 6 o’clock I was back in Goa bus station.  I had made a reservation at JUNGLE by thehostelcrowd as I had such a good time at its twin in Palolem (there is was called SUMMER).  I arrived by local bus and had to wait a bit to be able to check-in as it is not allowed before 2.30pm. And here,  although India they are as precise as a Swiss watch.  2.30pm it is.  Not a minute before. And what an unpleasant surprise!!!  I paid for a bed in a hostel and I  have been guided to the west (shitty) wing of the same hostel.  Basically JUNGLE has 2 buildings.  One is nice,  the other less… and very much so… I was furious.  So I complained a bit about the “maintenance manager” (as he called himself) that took me and a couple of other guests to the “west wing” and thought that I would have written about it in TripAdvisor and booking.com and that it’d be it.  But then I decided that no,  I really wanted to complain with the manager as he also refused to cancel the second night I had booked as there is a policy of 48h advance cancellation (when I made the reservation yesterday…) 

So after taking a good shower and having thought of what to say I headed back to the main building and asked to talk to the manager.  And then and there I lost it… In the end he admitted that I was right,  that nothing about the second building was specified on the website and he agreed to upgrade me to the nice building without any extra charge (this dorm is actually for 4 people against the other that is for 6).

It’s then that I realized its really time for me to stop this trip and head back home.  After a beer and some French fries (comfort food!  Great invention!!!) at The Mango Tree restaurant nearby I went back to the hostel and apologized to the manager for the foul language and the aggressive attitude.  I think he understood my reasons even if not the way to express myself and the fact that after 7 months spent in Asia being “attacked” non stop one can take only so much. 

So in the end I will only stay one day in Mumbai and honestly I think it’s better this way.  I will try to take advantage as much as I can of my time in Goa and let go all the stress and anger accumulated lately.  I wanna be as fresh as a rose for my homecoming. 

Far from the madding crowd… in god’s own country 

Palolem.  I could have stayed there forever.  The bus dropped me (for once) in front of my hostel.  SUMMER by thehostelcrowd has recently opened its doors.  It’s a bizzarre construction with the chill out zone outside the hostel itself on a mezzanine level. But the rooms are clean and spacious, and the only bathroom is close to the European standards.  The included breakfast is also very generous and the guys adapted to my dietary restrictions. 

But I went there for the beach so I was curiousto check it out… and this time it was more than decent.  It is a big and wide streak of sand, with very shallow waters.  It didn’t give me much of an opportunity to swim as I’m used to but I was still very happy.  And although Palolem is a very popular place for tourists the place is very quiet and peaceful.  There are a few very nice restaurants.  I tried Magic Italy,  an Italian (doh!) restaurant where both pizzas and pastas are very good.  Then I also tried Zest that is a very cosy place and even if the food is very good an interesting is far too expensive.  Then I had lunch once at Avocado Garden where I tried the vegan burger and I had a hard time to finish it.  

During my days in Palolem I spent some time with Chim a very pleasant girl met previously in Jaipur.  Chim has a shop in Palolem where she sells her own design clothing,  soaps and most interesting she sells pure coconut oil.  And although this was not time to make it she took me to the “mill” where she gets it done. The mill is still built of stone and until recently it was operated by bulls.  Now they modernized and it’s a small tractor that does the “dirty” job.  But it is still oil cold pressed and it couldn’t be more natural than that. 

So I after extending my stay in Palolem twice and getting some sun tan I was ready to leave otherwise I would have stay there for the entire time I had left in India.  On the night of my fourth day I boarded a train at 12.40am (one hour late of course…) and got off in Cochin in the afternoon of the following day.  I left Goa to Kerala,  god’s won country as they call it here.  The landscape is beautiful but it is more trafficked than Goa and I had time to get used again to honking and traffic after the peaceful break of Palolem.  

Hostel by the Sea is a hostel located in a kind of government building. Very curious by all in all not bad.  They don’t have hot water (because the temperatures outside are hot!) or PoS machine but it is very cheap and very conveniently located.  Cochin (or Kochi) is a very small town on the sea where Vasco de Gama landed first when he arrived in India.  There is really not much to do and after a couple of laps the tour is done but still a nice place for a couple of days. You can take the ferry to the mainland for 4 rupees each way and it’s a 20 boat ride but the mainland Cochin is just another big city not particularly interesting.  After 2 days there I was supposed to go to Alleppy to your the backwaters but if I wanted to visit the east coast I didn’t have time.  I had to decide what to do.  Alleppy?  Munnar?  Madurai  or Pondicherry?  I decided for the last one and took a direct bus at 4pm scheduled to arrive at 6am the following day. 

Poha and techno music at breakfast 

At Mumbai train station I bought my ticket to Goa for the following day and then I booked a Uber to go to my hostel.  The stupid driver took an eternity to get to the meeting point and he dropped me off half way through.  I protested of course but there was really nothing else I could do so I got off the car,  I told him to f#ck off and booked a second car.  And this time the driver took me to the right address in a very polite and friendly way.  Arrived at Welcome guest house  I was taken aback by the horrible choice I made.  Of course I checked first on Trip Advisor and Booking.com before but somehow I got tricked.  The reception of the hostel was smaller than my bathroom and the room (just one) is behind a curtain behind the reception.  Basically on the street.  Thankgod the place is located in an alley so it is still pretty quiet.  But I had the “last” bed,  in the middle of the room,  no electric socket,  no head lamp.  Of course I asked to get a better one but the guy at reception replied it was all booked.  All the guests were local except from me and another western guy.  

I resigned myself and said that it was only for one night but when I woke up in the middle of the night because this Indian guy was snoring like a pig with sinusitis (he woke up the entire dorm!!!) I realized that the place was “all booked ” because there were a few friends of the receptionist passing some hours there and now they were gone.  I was furious and changed my bed with one close to the wall so I managed to at least charge my phone (my tablet,  iPod and power bank were all dead…) and when it was 6 am I got up and left for the train station where I boarded the 7.10 am train to Goa. It was supposed to be a 12 hours train ride but we left 20 minutes late and by the time we arrived at destination we were 1.30 hours late.  From the station I had to drive 20 minutes to get to the hostel and I had to bargain some 1/2 hour to finally meet a guy decent enough to not take complete advantage of me.  With the wind in my hair (…) we drove on his motorbike and when I arrived at the hostel it was already almost 9.30 pm.  

I usually book 2 nights wherever I go but for some reason unfathomable to me this time I just booked one.  The managent at Folklore hostel were super nice and professional in a friendly way when I did the check in and when I told them I was planning to stay 2 nights they told me that they were fully booked for the next couple of days.  The hostel is recently opened but it works very well.  Spotless both the rooms and the bathroom, decent Wi-Fi and good breakfast.  I had Poha and black tea and it was nice and quiet in the garden but then for some reason they decided that they needed some music to accompany the breakfast.  And they thought that techno music full blast at 9.00 am was the best option…. But then in the following days I discovered that techno music is pretty popular here.  It doesn’t matter time or place. It always sounds appropriate… Figures…. Since I couldn’t spend another night at Folklore I booked a couple of nights at Caterpillar hostel some 10 minutes drive from my previous location.  And it was one of the owners and managers of Folklore to drive me there!!!

Caterpillar is more expensive and less nice thank Folklore but still a nice stay,  as I could use the kitchen and cook food for myself.  As soon as I checked in I walked the 10 minutes that separate me from the beach and what a disappointment when I got there!!!  There were lost of bar all playing loud music,  people screaming on the shore for getting splashed by friends,  water scooters and banana boats.  Not what I really expected.  

On my second day there I had breakfast at this place called Michele’s Garden Cafe (there is also a guest house annexed) . The place is very nice and the food pretty good but a little too pricey for the amount they serve. Then for lunch I followed Happy Cow advice and went to Bean Me Up where I had the best vegan lunch so far.  It was massive and a bit expensive but it’s all local organic food and they make their own bread.  But this unfortunately was not enough to keep me there longer and although I finally managed to move out of the city and get to the beach I was still not satisfied and after a couple of days in Anjuna I decided to try my luck and move further south to Palolem.