Arrival in Santiago de Compostela – June 2016

19-June-2016

I’ve arrived!

After 7 days of walking about ~227 km (give or take one or two ;)) beginning in the outskirts of Porto, Portugal, I reached the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain at about 11:30 this morning. Excitement mounting within and wanting to arrive in time for the pilgrim mass at noon, it was my fastest day of walking. As I made my way into the city and realized that I would make it in time, I slowed down my pace, actually savouring every step, every foot forward knowing that I would soon be at the main plaza in front of the cathedral.

And then I was there. And then tears. Mine. Subdued tears of gratitude for arriving safely in good health, good mindset, and good spirits after 7 days of pilgrimage. Tears of happiness for being able to arrive here once again, under a different set of circumstances and experiences but no less memorable.

I only thought about embarking on this pilgrimage 15 days ago – I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur and as we were descending into Bangkok, I looked out the window and felt a pull to go to Santiago. I can’t really explain it in words – the feeling was just there, and there was an inner urgency about it. And now that I’m here, it’s like every beat of the heart spreads immense joy through my veins. I’m simply elated to be here again, reminiscing my time here last and just marvelling at the beauty of life.

Tomorrow, I will head back to Portugal (by bus, not walking!) but this pilgrimage won’t be in vain. From here, I will treasure the lessons of patience, determination, and perseverance, and take with me more faith, hope, and love than I started with.

Life is filled with obstacles and challenges, but no matter how difficult or insurmountable they might seem, they can be overcome – one step at a time 🙂

Buen Camino!

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Great reasons to travel

Great conversations are spoken in hostel kitchens and guesthouse terraces.

Great friendships can come into being with the most unlikely people in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Great fun happens when sharing a taxi on the way to the next party in the Balkans or while wandering through town when the schoolkids are going home and staring unabashedly at this temporary celebrity.

Great ideas emerge while persevering through a challenging, strenuous trek during a rainstorm or navigating through overcrowded aisles of flea markets.

Great thoughts materialize while admiring the sunset from atop an ancient, abandoned temple or feeling the crisp, morning air at the summit of an extinct volcano for sunrise.

Great reflections arise while looking out the window of a long-distance train or an overcrowded chicken bus.

Great humility is felt when staring into another person’s eyes and realizing there’s a common humanity there that unites us, despite all the perceived differences that exist.

Great lessons are learned in the most compromising, unfamiliar situations.

Great inspiration is found from the most unimaginable of sources.

Great fear is left in the past when you appreciate how many times you crossed imaginary lines and self-imposed barriers.

Great doubts and insecurities evaporate knowing and realizing that you did all of it.

Are these good enough reasons to travel?!

It all starts with the decision to go…

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Cross the bridge!

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And follow your path!

Haphazard hike to Gergeti Glacier in Kazbegi, Georgia

The town of Kazbegi in the Caucasus Mountains is a 3-hour marshrutka ride north of Tbilisi. Though perhaps a bit uncomfortable in a cramped marshrutka, the drive up to this mountain town was simply spectacular and the passionate traveller in me was only concerned about watching the magnificent views of Georgia while staring out the window. After spending 8 days in Tbilisi (with day trips to Mtskheta and Gori), I really felt like I was going to a special place and that I would finally get to embark on some amazing hiking in the country after hearing about such opportunities at the hostel in Tbilisi the previous week, and from fellow travellers during previous journeys. (I should also mention that this experience was a memorable chapter from my Eurotrip from two years ago in August 2013. I’ve wanted to write about this hike for awhile – better late than never, I guess!)

The picturesque Tsminda Sameba Church (Gergeti Trinity Church) overlooks the town from atop a hill, and I hiked to this point a couple hours after getting into town, taking an “off the beaten path” sort of route. I spent the late afternoon simply admiring the vibrant green fields and the majestic mountains before descending back to town to relax for the evening, knowing that the next day would be a long one.

“Off the beaten path”
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A shepherd tending to his herd
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Confession: When I’m travelling, I can be someone who does things without much thought. I’ll get an idea and simplistically think that it will somehow just happen. My trek to Gergeti Glacier was one of those instances – I read some stories online about the logistics of the hike, went into town and bought some water and freshly made, steaming hot bread made in a tandoori-like oven, and walked and walked and walked, one foot in front of the other, in my hiking boots that took me across Spain and up one of the Alps.

A sense of where I’d be going: from Gergeti Trinity Church to about 2 km southeast of where Gergeti Glacier is pinpointed. Also note the proximity to the Russian border. (credit to Google Maps)
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Two years ago: My arrival in Santiago de Compostela

Two years ago, I arrived at the plaza in Santiago de Compostela after 32 days of walking roughly 800 km. It was a journey that began at the Pyrenees on the edge of France and passed through scenic mountains and picturesque valleys, modern cities and modest farming villages. I had woken up at 3:30 am that morning to walk the last stretch of 20 km with a group who I became friends with throughout the past month, in the hopes of getting into the city before the onslaught of pilgrims and tourists.

I know I post periodically about my experiences on the Camino de Santiago, but I don’t think I’ll ever adequately be able to write any collection of words that would do my experiences and emotions justice. It was a true journey of the spirit, an ongoing expression of limitless faith, hope, and love. It was a supreme test of perseverance, waking up early every morning (sometimes earlier than desired, ahem, those nuns playing new age music at 5:45 am in Carrion), walking across all sorts of terrain through the pouring rain, blistering cold, numbing wind, pulsating sun. From the outset, there were difficulties: I got lost on the very first day, mistakenly climbing a winding mountain road that ended up adding at least 4 km to the day. Realistically, I should’ve taken a break after just the third day when I limped into the city of Pamplona, searching for a pharmacy to treat weak knees and sore heels. I would also catch a lingering cold and get an allergic reaction to a spider bite later on.

But after all of those challenges and many more, I made it to Santiago de Compostela. I actually made it. Me. I remember feeling weightless walking through the streets of the city, taking the last steps to the centre of the plaza. There was no more walking. I leaned against both my walking sticks, bowed my head, and, overwhelmed at finally reaching my destination, I wept. “I’m here,” I thought. “I’ve arrived.”

A warm embrace to everyone I met along the Camino. It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since our paths first crossed. I’m grateful to have shared part of the journey with you 🙂

Route over 32 days from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela
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Me!
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It ain’t too far

Camino - en route to Acebo

Often during my month in India, a rickshaw driver would pull up to me and try to convince me that where I was going was too far to reach by foot. And I’d just be thinking, “I once walked 800 kilometres across Spain. It ain’t too far.” 😉

A look back to the Himalayas – Trek to ABC, Nepal

Travelling and trekking have kinda become my thing the last couple years. It’s a great feeling to have an almost endless array of stories, many of which are simply inconceivable to the imagination, to tell friends and family at various occasions.

Still, it’s hard to believe that I’ve actually lived some of these experiences – how what was once just a vague, perhaps outlandish idea in my head somehow manages to simply become reality, sometimes through determination, sometimes through sheer chance.

I remember reading guidebooks of Nepal at a public library in Toronto in the autumn of 2013, researching a bit about treks. A few months later, a year ago today, in fact, I found myself in this video, at Deurali on day 6 of my trek to ABC, Annapurna Base Camp, in Nepal. It was already a wonderful feeling to just see the Himalayas all around, and to think how far my body, mind, and spirit had taken me. In many ways, it’s still so surreal…

I hope to see more of the Himalayas when I visit India next month, and will definitely keep you all posted!

One step at a time

One step at a time. A simple phrase, but one which takes on greater meaning when you’re somewhere on an 800-km trek from the Pyrenees to Galicia, Spain. One step at a time. That’s the only way you can accomplish such a challenging journey, to keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter what weather conditions you face and whatever physical or emotional baggage is weighing you down. One step at a time. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.

between Hontanas to Boadilla del Caminoon the Camino de Santiago

between Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

One year ago today, I began this pilgrimage from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela. I take a look back and memories flash through my mind, some like blinding lightning, others like a slow-motion replay of a sports highlight. Many memories will forever remain vivid, while I guiltily acknowledge that some are already fading, and might disappear with the passage of more time…

But I will remember to take life one step at a time. And with each step, attempt to recognize what makes life so mysterious yet gratifying, be appreciative of every breath, every foot forward, every person that shares my journey, and every person that almost inexplicably appears with an almost inexplicable precision when I need a reprieve from my solitude.

The Camino also taught me that the path – my camino – that I walk must be my own. I must walk at my own pace, not be afraid to take alternate routes, and always listen to my body, mind, and soul. I can’t live for the wishes and expectations of others and place their dreams in front of mine, no matter how good-intentioned they may be. I know it sounds incredibly selfish, but that path won’t create happiness and ultimately the person who ends up hurt is myself.

I believe I am still on a pilgrimage and that I continue to walk my camino. In fact, it’s an often arduous journey and the road looks like it never ends. But I can say that if there’s a destination, I’m closer to getting there today because of my experiences last year.