Year One. In Review.

It is hard to believe that my first year in Spain has already come and gone.  What an amazing year it has been!  Learning to live in another country, learning to work with another team, and learning what it means to work in ministry.  However, one year surely makes me no expert, and I look forward to what year two will teach.

The Spanish journey started February 2013. My team leaders graciously housed me for the next 3 weeks until my apartment became vacant for my occupation.

In true “Anne” form, after a few days of rest, I was ready to hit the ground running.  I was not disappointed as the ensuing weeks were spent going to the Extranjería to obtain Spanish residency, meet the team, attend team meetings, open a Spanish bank account, sign the least to my new apartment, connect to the world via mobile and internet, start language school, and become accustomed to the fact that I was living in another country.

I experience my first “Semana Santa” and made some friends at the language school. Although short lived (they were only in Santiago de Compostela for a limited period of time), it was great to have met them.

From May 24 until June 7, I walked the Camino de Santiago.  Beginning in León and ending (of course) in Santiago de Compostela.  It was a wonderful experience that (unfortunately) I am still chronicling in this blog. At some point I hope to get back out there, walk the parts yet unseen for me, and meet new pilgrims.

The summer was a bit of a blur settling back in to life after Camino and meeting lots of pilgrims that had reached out to my team leaders.  It was super fun getting to know these people and hearing their stories.  It made me yearn to open the Pilgrim House even more.  It was also during this time that we signed the contract to Rúa Nova 19, the sight of the future Pilgrim House!

My mom came to visit in September. We toured Madrid and then she came to Santiago to meet the team and see this new place I now call home. We even spent a day walking the Camino from Arca do Pino (Pedrouzo) to Santiago. Even though it was just for one day, I loved being back out on the Camino.  There is something about being out there. Any of you who are reading this, and who has walked, will surely understand.

The fall meant getting back in to the groove of language school, which I was looking forward to, as it brought a little more structure to the week.  It was also my first time away from home for a full holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas).  As a team, we celebrated Thanksgiving, and stuffed ourselves silly.  I am grateful for gracious and hospitable teammates who especially made me feel welcome in their home during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Our team has also been exploring the two Evangelical churches here in SdC. Pictured is the “Baptist Church”. Started by a family of Argentinian´s. The people who attend are incredibly friendly (“dos besos” from everyone. It´s like the “greeting” portion of the service back at home, except you are giving everyone kisses.)

I also found two consistent intercambio (language exchange) partners during this time.  I meet with one or both at least once a week.  This has truly helped with my speaking skill.  Maria is a first year medical studies student at the University of Santiago de Compostela.  She is sweet and young and very helpful and patient with my Spanish. She isn´t afraid to correct me or make me figure a conjugation out or give me an odd look when I have said something that makes no sense.  Mila has worked in the tourism business but is currently unemployed.  English is necessary to know, and even though she isn´t working, she wants to keep up on her English skills.  She is a wife and mother, and is also super sweet and patient. She too is very helpful and isn´t afraid to correct me or teach me about the confusing Spanish grammar.  I love them both! For all of you who prayed for me to find good partners, THANK YOU!!  The prayers were wonderfully answered.

This year has been wonderful!  As things with the Pilgrim House begin to ramp up, I can´t wait to experience what the second year has in store!

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Journal Day 6: Day in Ponferrada

Templar Castle Front Entrance29 May 2013
0 km – 0 miles

Today I took a break from walking and spent the day in Ponferrada.  It was glorious to sleep in my own room, with my own bathroom, and in a bed with real linens.  I slept in until 8:30 a.m., and took my sweet time getting ready.

I started out the day with a coffee at a café just around the corner from my hotel.  The café looked out on to a plaza that was along the Camino, and I watched pilgrims as they started the next leg of their journey.  Although, I was glad to have a day of rest, I felt a little pang of disappointment I wasn’t out there walking myself.  I had started to enjoy my daily walks.

Susan and Kyle, two ladies from Yakima, Washington I met in Mazarife, walked by and I waved them over to say hello.  We chatted for a little while, and they informed me that the Templar Castle was free on this day (Wednesday).  That was great news!  They headed off to the Castle, as they were also hoping to get a little walking in on the Camino later.

I went back to my coffee, and continued to enjoy my lazy morning.

A few minutes later, a few gentlemen saw my Camino guidebook, and asked if I was a pilgrim.  I confirmed I was and that I was taking a break from walking today.  They said they were doing the same.  They sat with me for a little while and we talked about our Camino adventures, thus far.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember their names, but I do remember that they were from the States.  East coast, I think.  I do remember that they were walking for personal reasons.  One gentleman, said that he reason was “complicated” and didn’t go in to further detail. Not wanting to be overly nosy, I let it be.  The other gentleman, was walking as a sort of “grateful repayment” for his wife’s cancer going in to remission.  He himself called it a “miracle”, and felt that walking the Camino was a good way to show his gratitude.

They left a few minutes later to begin their day of sightseeing, and I thanked them for their company and for sharing their stories with me.  I LOVE that part of the Camino!

After I finished my coffee, I headed over to the tourist office to get a map of the city and to inquire about the Templar Castle being free.  The woman confirmed that this was true, and added that the Bierzo Museum was also free that day.

Fabulous!

I headed over the Templar Castle to check it out.  Here is some background and fun facts about the Castle, taken from Wikipedia.

The “Castillo de los Templarios”, is a Templar castle which covers approximately 16,000 square meters. It houses the Templars’ Library and the Ponferrada Investigation and Study Centre, which contains almost 1,400 books including facsimile editions of works by Leonardo da Vinci.

In 1178, Ferdinand II of León donated the city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims on the Way of St. James who passed through El Bierzo on their road to Santiago de Compostela.

The castle hosted the Knights Templar’s Grand Master of Castille. However, the Templars were only able to enjoy the use of their fortress for about twenty years before the order was disbanded and its properties confiscated in 1311. Several noble houses fought over the assets until Alfonso XI alloted them to the Count of Lemos in 1340. Finally the Catholic Monarchs incorporated Ponferrada and its castle into the Crown in 1486. As with many other historical sites in Europe, many of the blocks that at one point formed the walls of the castle were removed and used in local construction projects. Extensive restoration works are ongoing.

 As I wandered through the castle, I met a young couple from Hawaii.  Ryan and Tiffany were visiting friends in Europe, and had decided to walk the Camino on a whim.  They were both Christians and chose to walk the Camino, relying solely on God’s provision.  It was awesome to hear how God provided sleeping bags, coats, packs, food, and shelter during their journey.

After we walked through the Castle, I asked if I could take them to lunch, as I wanted to hear more of their story.  They were on their way, eventually, to Thailand to work with a ministry called SHE Thailand.  S.H.E., is an acronym for “Self Help and Empowerment”.  The ministry helps girls who are in the sex industry, get out by training them in a trade so that can earn money elsewhere.   Tiffany is a hairstylist and hopes to pass on some of her knowledge to the girls so that they have a chance at a better life.  Tiffany and Ryan shared more of their story with me.  It was only in the last 2-3 years that they had made a serious choice to follow Christ, and it was amazing to see God’s hand in their lives leading up to then and now.

I really enjoyed talking with Tiffany and Ryan.  They were an incredibly cute couple and I wished them all the best in their Camino and life adventure.

I spent the rest of the day, wandering around the city and checking out the Bierzo Museum.

The Bierzo Museum showcases artifacts and history of Ponferrada and El Bierzo region.  The museum starts in the Paleolithic era with displays of some cultural material objects.  Panels describing the Roman settlement and the Las Médulas (one of the most important gold mines in the Roman Empire), the Visigothic Period, the active monastic life in the Valley of Oza, and Ponferrada Castle were located throughout the museum.  There was also an impressive collection of gold and silver coins dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. (data taken from the ponferrada.org website)

I finished out my day with a delicious pizza dinner in an Italian restaurant.  I enjoyed my rest day, but am glad to be getting back out on the Camino.

Click here to see pictures of the Templar Castle.
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Day 6 Pictures: Day in Ponferrada

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

I love the sea.  I feel calm and free whenever I am at the beach.  While exploring the shops at Cannon Beach, Oregon, there were a lot of cards made by Mary Anne Radmacher. One in particular contained the phrase, “I come to the sea to breathe.”  Without question, this simple phrase fully describes what I feel when I am at the beach.

So hard to choose just one picture.  Hope you enjoy these!

Sunset walk along the beach. Ocean Shores, WA

Sunset walk along the beach. Ocean Shores, WA

Ocean Shores, WA

Ocean Shores, WA

Cresting wave. Cannon Beach, OR

Cresting wave. Cannon Beach, OR

To be part of the Weekly Photo Challenge, click here to see how it works and sign up to receive each week’s new challenge!

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Journal Day 5: Ponferrada cont.

Albergue ManjarinAs I made my way down the mountain, I ran in to Cody and Becca (Missouri kids).  They were taking a break, as Becca’s foot was acting up again.  Back in Rabanal, they thought that her foot issue was from a large blister that wrapped around her toe. When the blister guy took care of her, she felt much better and determined that she could walk again, instead of taking a taxi.  Unfortunately, however, it started to hurt again, and they were taking a break.  Alternatively, Cody and I talked about how great we were feeling (maybe it was the mountain air?).  My feet and legs were feeling great.  I felt like I could walk all day.  The walking poles were working beautifully, and I have no doubt, were playing a large role in saving my knees and keeping me steady on the rocky ground.

In the sections in between trail and rock, I saw enumerable abandoned homes along the way.  Stone houses with walls completely broken down, others with caved in roofs.

All empty and abandoned.

It was eerie, sad, and other worldly all at the same time.  I wondered who had lived in these homes before, and why they had left.

My next stop was in Acebo.  I was starving and getting light headed.  Not a good combination when working your way down steep, muddy, and rocky mountains. I also wanted to refuel since I had decided to try for Ponferrada.  A city that was 6.3 kilometers further than the days’ “scheduled” distance of 26.5 kilometers.

Why was I walking another 19/20 mile day when I swore I wasn’t going to do it again?

Simple…I was going to treat myself to a day off and a hotel.  I reasoned that the extra day would help to heal my feet and I could rest all I wanted.  For me, it was sufficient motivation.

The meal in Acebo was delicious and I chatted with a couple from Idaho, who sat a few tables over from mine.  Prior to walking the Camino they quit their jobs and sold everything, using their time on the Camino to think about what they wanted to do next in life.  How amazing is that?

After Acebo, I lost track of all my “buddies” and didn’t see many pilgrims in general.  It was certainly a time for solitude.

As I walked through the next town of Riego de Ambrós, it was strangely quiet.  Everything was closed up.  Some of the homes were totally run down and some looked nice and well kept.

But I saw no one.  Did anyone live here?

The narrow path out of Riego was incredibly rocky.  Long slabs of rock covered much of the path, with some places where loose rock threatened to turn an ankle if you weren’t paying attention.  I was very thankful that during this time there was no rain.  The sun had come out and dried the rocks, making for much surer footing.

As I walked this path, I soon became very tired of walking on rocks.  I was on constant high alert to keep from losing my footing, and my mind and body were weary from it.  I was not thinking about anything else but just enduring to the end.  At times, reminding myself to pay attention to the path so I didn’t kill or horribly injure myself.  Otherwise, I was pretty much on auto pilot.

Finally, at the bottom of the mountain, was Molinaseca.  The “scheduled” stop for the day, according to the guidebook.  However, I had decided early on that I would go for Ponferrada, and I was sticking to the plan.

And I wanted that hotel room.

As I walked through Molinaseca, I ran in to Nick, one of the Missouri kids.  He was catching up to the rest of his group who was staying at an albergue just outside of town.  We walked together and chatted along the way.  He seemed to be the quiet one of the group, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk with him much before.  It was nice to have the opportunity to get to know him a bit one on one.

When we reach his albergue, we say our good-bye’s, and I continue on the road to Ponferrada.  It is hard to tell if I am on the Camino.  My guidebook says I should be on some sort of a path, but I didn’t see any arrows or signs that would have taken me off the road.  There are lots of signs saying that this road goes to Ponferrada, though, so I stay on it, figuring I will get to the town eventually.

The 6 kilometers in to Ponferrada are all walked on road.  Turns out this makes a world of difference for the feet, and not in a good way.  They have walked a long way, on some treacherous ground, and quickly become unhappy and fed-up with being pounded against the hard concrete.

It seems to take forever to get to Ponferrada.  I can see the city in the distance, but the more I walk, the less it seems that distance is shortened.  I always seem to be just outside of it.  I feel like I am chasing a mirage in the desert.

These last kilometers are dragging, and the only thing keeping me going, is knowing that I will have a room and bathroom all to myself for two whole nights.

Finally, I reach the city, but am still on the outskirts.  I need to get to the inner old town, since that is where my hotel is.  The basic map my guidebook provides isn’t great, so I wander around a bit to find my way inside.  When I finally find my way in, I begin the next adventure of finding my hotel.

Miraculously, I find my hotel, which is down a short alley, and pray for availability.  With my limited and broken Spanish I ask the gentleman behind the counter if he has availability for two nights, and he does.

Hallelujah!!

I am thrilled to have a room to myself.  I take a LONG shower, wash my clothes, and collapse on the bed too tired to go out to eat (this is where I am thankful for my granola bars) or explore.

I will tomorrow.  I have all day.  Tonight, I sleep.

Click here for the days’ pictures!

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Day 5 Pictures: Ponferrada cont.

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Journal Day 5: Ponferrada

Morning out of Rabanal28 May 2013
32.8 km – 20.3 mi

Rabanal was a great small town.  I was a little sad that I was too tired to walk around and check it out.  I will simply have to return.

I left the albergue at 7:30 am, and walked the stone road, still slick and wet from the rains the night before.  The sky was dark and cloudy, with some pockets of sun eerily shining through.  It was the type of sky that promised that more rain was to come.

The promise soon came true, as I headed out of Rabanal.  And just to keep it interesting, some snow and sleet were mixed in as well.  If that wasn’t enough, the wind blew so hard, the rain/sleet/snow fell almost horizontally.

I was thankful for remembering to pack my poncho, gloves, waterproof windbreaker, and rain cover for my pack.  I did not have to use these items often, but they were certainly necessary for the trek over the mountains.

For some reason (maybe it is being from the Pacific Northwest, where we Northwesterners don’t even carry umbrellas), I didn’t put the poncho on until it actually started to rain. Perhaps I thought I could wait it out (I did have my rain cover for my pack and my waterproof windbreaker on).  But as the rain fell harder and harder, showing little signs of letting up, and the wind blew so hard that the rain hit me square on, I reconsidered my position, and attempted to put on my poncho.

Ponchos are great, but they can be a little cumbersome to put on when you are in a downpour and the wind is whipping the poncho every which way.  I was able to get it mostly on and was trying to situate it over my pack and snap the snaps, when some ladies came up and asked if I wanted some help.  I gratefully accepted and they straightened the poncho out over my pack and buttoned me all up.  I must have looked pretty silly in the middle of the trail trying to get this done myself!

I thanked the two women profusely for their help, and after I was all bundled up, we continued on our way.  We kept pace for a while, and chatted.  They were both from Sacramento, CA. One of the women was part of the group American Pilgrims on the Camino or A.P.O.C.  When I told her I lived in Santiago and about the Pilgrim House project, she seemed very interested, and really liked the idea.

Eventually, the rain stopped, but the wind kept up its blustering.  I was ok with this, as it helped to dry me out from when I was exposed earlier.  I was also not as cold as I thought.  The many layers I had on, and the walking helped to keep my body temperature insulated and up.

Once I arrived at Foncebadón, I was glad I had not stayed there.  The town looked practically abandoned.  The muddied ground, grey clouds and swirling mists, did not help to promote a welcoming atmosphere.  I did not have much choice, though, as I had already walked over 5 kilometers, and the next possible place for food wasn’t for almost another 10 kilometers.  I needed to try to find some food here, or I could be in trouble.

I looked for a café, and found a tiny store run by a couple of very nice Spanish gentlemen.  I asked for a café con leche (latte, basically) and chose some snacks to munch on.  The coffee process was totally manual.  The guy ground the coffee beans (manually) in this huge, hand cranked grinder.  Then he went in the back to heat up some milk.  Finally, the grounds were put in a French Press with the warm milk to steep.  It was an incredible process for a cup of coffee, but boy was it a darn good cup of coffee!  As I munched on my snacks and drank my coffee, I was soon also joined by 3 or 4 Germans who were also making their way through.  They mostly talked amongst themselves, but we smiled at each other as we ate and drank.  I picked up a few more snacks for along the way, paid for my wares, and left happy to be fed and stocked for the next leg of my journey.

Although it was overcast and misty from the mountain weather, the scenery was eerily beautiful.  The trail was lined with tons of wild flowers, and the area was green all around.  It reminded me of my Pacific Northwest.

I was also feeling amazingly cheery.  I was not bothered in the slightest about the wind, rain, and snow.  I giggled to myself as I made my way through the mud and crazy weather.  It just seemed ridiculous to be hiking through it. I loved it!

The Cruz de Ferro was not far from Foncebadón, and soon I saw it atop its rock mountain of laid to rest burdens from pilgrims who have come and gone.

It was still pretty windy and a little wet, so I dropped my pack underneath the covering of the small church and walked up to the top to drop off my rock.

Here I must make a confession.

I am a pilgrim idiot at this point.

I knew I was supposed to drop off a rock here, but I hadn’t done any research as to “why” I was dropping the rock off.  I figured it was a way to mark what I had done or something.  “Anne was here!  Yay!”

Although I had neglected to find out the meaning of leaving the rock, the rock itself (at least) had some special meaning.  It was given to me by my friends, Todd and Angie, in Portland, OR.  After a dinner and watching the movie, “The Way”, Todd handed me the rock to take with me to Spain for when I eventually walked my Camino.  It was from a pile of other rocks and treasures they had brought back from trips to the Oregon Coast.  He wanted to be sure I had something from home to place here at the Cruz de Ferro.

(Later I did find out that the rock was supposed to signify laying down a burden.  I thought about it for a while and determined that I didn’t feel like I had any burdens to let go of.  So I was content to simply leave a little of the Oregon Coast in Spain.)

On the way down from the Cruz de Ferro, a flurry of snow began to fall.  It didn’t stick too much, but there was still a lot of it.  This was the highest point of the Camino.

From here it was all downhill.

(This was an especially long post, so I am breaking it up and will post part 2 in a few days.  Stay tuned!)

Click here for pictures!

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