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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My way

Oops! I did it again!

I did things my way (like Frank Sinatra!) in the end the Camino turned out to be more of an exploration of the North of Spain than anything else.

From Leon I took a bus to stop I’m Astorga. Another beautiful place that I would have never visited was it not for the decision I took to be a pilgrim. From Astorga I moved to Ponferrada where I visited it’s amazing old town with the impressive castle and from there I finally arrived in Lugo. And again I got a fantastic surprise visiting the old town (the new town sucks) with the Roman walls and amazing cathedral.

I spent the night in Lugo where I met Miguel, a couchsurfer, and his friends. I was surprised about the fact that in the north in general when you order a drink you receive a “pincho” and a “tapa” at the same time so basically you can actually eat just by ordering drinks that are extremely cheap. Comparing to the life in Barcelona, Lugo and the north of Spain are heaven. The salaries are the same as in Barcelona but everything is extremely cheaper. Miguel rents a two bedroom flat in the very center of the city just beside the cathedral and pays for the whole apartment less than I paid for ONE ROOM in Barcelona. Again, was it not for the dreadful weather I’d move to the North immediately.

In Lugo I had lunch at the only vegetarian place in the city called “Cafeteria Reina” where I was attended by a girl from Barcelona!!!

The following day I had luch at the “Legends Cafe” where they serve a delicious and impossible to eat without making a mess vegan burger.

After Lugo it was finally time to get to Santiago. So after 2 days I took a bus and arrived in Santiago de Compostela. I wasn’t even exited or anything. I was just happy I was there but when I arrived in the city center and saw the amount of tourists invading the town my enthusiasm was instantly killed.

I checked in at “Roots and boots hostel” very close to the center but far enough not to be in the middle of the swarming. The place is absolutely amazing with a fantastic garden at the back where you can chill drinking a beer in company of others guests but the management has a serious problem of bad temper. I made an innocent joke with the manager and his snapped saying the if I wasn’t happy I could just go and when I apologized he insisted to tell me that I was free to go and that he didn’t like my jokes. Same thing happened to Eszter I girl met there. She used the “wrong” toilet and the manager’s partner snapped at her saying that she didn’t have the right to use that toilet. Eszter apologize a few times and the lady kept on barking at her. I guess they are fed up with tourists but if that’s the case maybe they should consider changing their job.

A part from that I had an amazing time in Santiago but only because I spent my time with some beautiful people met at the hostel. The send day of my staying my and some other hosts after the visit to the cathedral (and the failed attempt to follow the soporific mass) decided to by some groceries and cook in the kitchen at the hostel. We had a blast and spent the afternoon sitting at the table in the garden eating and drinking and laughing and for a few hours we were each other best friends. And that’s what I like about traveling. We were from Spain, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia and the UK. We had nothing in common but at the same time we knew each other very well. That’s the magic of spending time traveling and sleeping in hostels. I already miss those guys!

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.

The legend and the truth

To travel is amazing. Is cool. Is exciting. But to travel is also tiring and exhausting. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I realize how tiring traveling can be. The fact of moving constantly, the fact that you have to readapt every other day and face new realities and new people can be tiresome. I don’t how many times I had to repeat my story. Where I’m from, where I’m going, why I’m traveling and so on. Over and over again. Everybody goes “Wow! I wish I could do the same!” and maybe they really mean it, but then they don’t do it. Maybe because they know deep down inside that to travel is actually a “job”, it takes a toll on you, like every other job. Maybe they know that it can be lonely, and that sometimes you feel lost and abandoned. That traveling is not just about money and meeting people and see cool stuff. Traveling is also getting to know yourself, testing your limits. And sometimes it is scary. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ll make it, you don’t know what you’re going to eat that day, or if you’re even eating at all, you don’t know where you will sleep and who you’ll meet. Of course it’s all part of the adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, but sometimes we all need to stop and make home even if for a couple of days. We all need a little consistency, for some peace of mind. And then your feet start to itch again and you’re ready for your next adventure, for your next connection, your next flight. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I feel the urge to move, to pack my bag and go. I’m nervously checking the flights and I’m already thinking about my next trip. I have this need to meet new people, see new places, eat different things. I need to feel free, to be out in this world, the travel bug had infested my body and there’s no cure. I just need to travel. I can’t explain the adrenaline that rushes through your veins when you arrive in a new place, when to talk to someone new, when you have to face a new problem in a strange land and you manage to solve it. I really miss all that, and even though I love my family and I like to spend time with them, the call of the wild is stronger. I left this instinct sleep for a few years but now that it’s awaken again there’s no way to put it back to sleep. I watch the pictures from my trip and I’m back there, with the sounds, the smells, the breeze and my heart starts to long. I have to be patient and wait just a little longer and I know it’s for a reason. But it’s really hard, I’d take the first plane out if I could, but I’ll try to calm myself and use this time to organize better my next trip. I’m like the scorpion from the tale, it’s beyond my control.

The end is the beginning is the end… 

And like everything else this trip has also arrived at its end.  I left Goa with a bitter taste in my mouth as I knew that I was not coming back. At least for a while.  Arrived in Mumbai in the morning I went to my host house.  Rintu is a nice guy from the north east of India that has moved to Mumbai for his studies and has not moved back.  He smiles from down the road,  a nice and honest smile that makes his round face shine.  He looks more Indonesian than Indian so I tell him but he confirms that he is Indian.  After a shower and a quick chat we have breakfast in his place and then we take a bus to go to the train station to go south where the historical area is.  Mumbai is a big city but I like it more than Delhi. The weather is much nicer and people seem more relaxed.  Rintu takes me around,  we walk for a couple of hours and I’m in owe of the beautiful crumbling buildings,  remainings of the British era.  I take a lot of pictures as usual and the heat is quite hard to stand after a while.  So we decide to go for lunch at a local unnamed restaurant where we have thali.  My last one… 

I was on the mood for beer so after a shower and a quick nap for dinner with Rintu we go for beer and food at a place nearby his house.  The following morning we wake up early but we’re both very lazy so we chat,  have breakfast,  we take tea and chat some more and only at 12 o’clock we decide it’s time to go out.  We go to a mall nearby (India distances) where we meet a couple of Rintu’s friends and where we shop the ingredients for the dinner that I’m asked to cook.  Brunch was nicely offered and cooked by Rintu so for supper is my turn.  I happily agree as cooking is always a pleasure to me.  I cook spaghetti with vegetables in tomato sauce and Rintu is very satisfied. We chat some more and then it’s time to head out to go and get my 3.00am flight to Venice.  

Parting time is a difficult moment for me. Although I know it’s good for me to go home it’s still very sad.  These last 2 days spent with Rintu and his friends have been very good and made me think of all the good things I lived during the last 7 months and all the beautiful people I met along the way and that it will be be hard for me to readjust to “normal” life back in Europe,  a lifestyle that I’ve often longed for during these months but that at the same time I don’t feel mine anymore.  In India,  in Asia people are maybe less “civilized”, trash is very common in the streets and hygiene level is not what we know.  But people seem more carefree,  happier,  they dress in color and talk to each other.  Once again Asia has been a good school of life for me.  I learnt so much of myself,  of the world,  of the fact that I call myself open minded but in the end I’m prejudiced and racist as those that I judge.  I have tried to get rid of all the conventions acquired during my life in a privileged society that considers itself better than the eastern society (unknowingly most of the times) but where we’re all stressed and grey,  where the colors we use to wear in general reflect the status of our souls,  grey and black.  A friend of Rintu just got back from Paris and complained of the fact that people look sad and angry and they dress all in black (comment made also by a friend from KL). 

It’s good to travel abroad,  I know.  And at every trip I realize how much I don’t know about life and about myself.  Landing in Paris to catch my connection to Venice I shed some tears.  I’m happy I will soon see my friends and my family but I know already that I will miss these last months. I will miss the train rides,  the colors,  the food, the smile on people faces,  the interest that people have shown towards me (although at the time it was really annoying having to repeat over and over the same things).  I will miss my portable wardrobe and the excitement to try a new restaurant,  to visit a new city.  It will take me some time to grasp the entire experience that I lived in the last months and probably when I’ll see the whole picture I will be taken aback.  In the meantime I will try to enjoy my family and my friends that although miles away have been with me the whole trip.

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. 

Summing it up : Nepal 

I’m on the plane to Delhi.  Kathmandu and Nepal are still a fresh memory.  All in all I can’t really say that Nepal has been a pleasant experience.  Since the moment I’ve touched land I’ve had problems and worries.  Until the last moment. 

 The Annapurna base camp trekking has been nice,  although cold. Being in nature,  away from cars and traffic and people and chaos has been a refreshing break.  The last few days I had a roommate – Paul – that literally saved me from going mad.  I met a few nice people,  even locals,  I had good food but I don’t really think I’ll be back to visit Nepal,  at least not in this life.  I also cancelled my volunteering because goimg to the Dang would have meant to travel “12” hours on a bus. And honestly I wasn’t ready to do that.  It would have been too much.  It would have been fatal for my nerves.  The “6” hours bus back from Pokhara had already been very tiring.  I was not ready and willing to face again another “ride in hell”.

 So I decided to buy my visa to India (which surprisingly enough was extremely easy) and leave the country before planned but at the moment of buying the ticket I was stuck as the website didn’t accept my cards and according to Nepal laws you cannot fly on a ticket bought by someone else….and once again I was stuck.  Chance though sent me a guardian angel called Paul from France.  Without even knowing me Paul offered to buy the ticket for me and soon said and done he booked the ticket to Delhi and paid it with his own CC (of course I have to pay him back). And finally, at peace knowing that I was finally able to leave the country I managed to enjoy my last moments with Paul and some other cool people met thanks to couchsurfing. But I really think that Nepal has been a big disappointment because I was expecting so much.  I was so looking forward to visiting that I had imagined a land of fairy tales.  But that doesn’t exist and Nepal is just another country in Asia.  With its pros and cons.  Anyways… 

Once again I met a few cool people that by themselves made the trip to Nepal worthwhile.  I trek up to 4000m without any training.  I escaped two or three life threatening situations (in traffic)  so I guess I can still consider this stop as a positive one.  

Maybe next time – if ever – I come back,  I will just skip Kathmandu and move to nicer places. 

The good thing about Kathmandu are the restaurants.  I tried a few,  here is the list in no particular order :