Sunday, August 20, 2006

An entry which is neither quick nor final


Today is August 20th-- more than two weeks since I awkwardly taped my boots to the outside of my backpack in front of a line of impatient Madrid travelers using borrowed packing tape-- two weeks since my departure, and longer still since I assured Annie in Santiago that I would post 'quick final blog.' My delay is without doubt, due in part to my penchant for procrastination. Yet the real problem lies superficially at least, in the realm of semantics.

"Final," to me, is a formidable word. It demands wisdom, perspective, and most of all, it calls for knowing. My trip and my reflections have without doubt brought me modicums of each, yet I can't seem to get myself to issue any final report. If I understand anything about my experience, it is that it was and is one of dynamic and un-ending learning, rather than static knowing. Today I feel as though I am only partially through the learning of my journey, and in this light, I have decided to share a journal entry of mine from midway through the Camino.

With this entry I had planned on creating a cumulative list of things learned, one which I could constantly add to as I saw and understood more about my companions. For many reasons, most trivial, I never continued the list, and today I am left instead with just one set of observations… a foundation put in place for future learning too dynamic and complex to put concisely on a list. The content of this entry still resonates strongly with me to be sure, and its focus on learning is one which I hold more than ever today. Yet most importantly, it strikes me with a sense of incompletion... its observations seem too neat, too simple, too final to be the whole and complete picture, a sense exacerbated in me with a glance at the date of the entry. Ironically, it seems my list’s reach toward finality and complete understanding proved to be the most blatant indicator of its nascence and incompletion.

This exhibition is not one meant engender condescension towards a younger, less-learned past, nor is it aimed to scoff at or devalue observations from a time of ‘not knowing.’ Rather, for me it serves as a celebration of the purity and truth in unfinished learning, and as a reminder that ‘knowing’ is the mark of a stagnant search--an indication that simplifications and modifications have been adopted to make an infinitely dynamic experience conducive to the sorting, indexing, and categorization the human brain depends upon to construct its neat world of generalizations.

So, without further adieu, I give you the truest account I can of the learning I derived from my closest companions on my journey…an incomplete one…

“Wed, July 12
Carrion de los Condes
Paul – Paul has taught me of resilience. Of unfettered spirit and eagerness.
Ti-Yanna – Ti has taught me of fiery strength and of resolute self.
Ryan – Ryan has taught me of quiet wisdom and of profound creative talent.
Caryn – Caryn has taught me of unassuming athleticism and of indiscerning kindness.
Perry – Perry has taught me of unhindered spirit of adventure and of confident independence.
Kate – Kate has taught me of honest, open self-reflection, and of uncompromising acceptance.
Casey – Casey has taught me about the joy of singing, and of radiant kindness.
Allie – Allie has taught me of humble talent and that a smile can outperform 100 years of diplomacy.
Annie & Andy – Annie and Andy have taught me of Zen and the Art of Undergrad Group Leadership.
Holly – Holly has taught me of uncomplaining resolve, and about the zing of a wit so precise and quick you almost didn’t catch it.
Chun Yi – Chun has taught me of easygoing companionship and of disarming confidence.”

Thanks for everything my friends. I may never know what you’ve given me, but I’ll never stop learning about it.
Love,
Alec

Saturday, August 19, 2006

My Photos

I've posted my pictures online.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/72598258@N00/sets/

Hope everyone is enjoying the rest of summer.
Caryn

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kate sola o con leche?

Wow, so i am still in this crazy, amazing country. Traveling alone is overwhelming, incredible, scary, and beautiful. Barcelona was a culture shock after small town northern Spain, but by the end it had lived up to all, if not more, of Perry's stories and i left running to catch a bus to Granada. Granada is my favorite city so far, nesteled within the mountians with old stone streets and people that would actually speak Spanish back to me when i spoke to them. After Granada, i was off to the coast, which happened to be the land of Indalo....his cave image was everywhere and so was his name. I spent two days at the beach and learning about cave life and now i am in Sevilla. Today I wandered around in the heat, seeing the palace that Ferdinand and Isabella lived in a one point. Being a lone traveler is nothing like i imagined. Sometimes the lonliness crowds around me in such a way that i hardly feel alone at all and sometimes it is a serene sence of being alone that i love. It was an odd transition from intense group dynamics to being completely on my own. I've had to become my own doctor Allie, my own jefes, my own Pablo reading the paper, my own Chef Chun Yi, my own trooper Holly. I've had to sing Les Mis to myself without Casey and write in my journal more than ever without Alec to talk to. I can't rely on Caryn for toliet paper or principes or Ryan for money. I've had to adopt Ti's turbo get-out of the heat quick mode, and Perry¨s traveler,s spirit. However, i am never that alone unless i choose to be. My hostel mates tend to take some kind of pitty on me and there is always someone to chat with. However, I cannot wait to get home and eat a hamburger...yes a hamburger and i dont even care how terrible that cows life was. I miss you all and cant wait to see you on september 1st. Love, Kate

Sunday, August 06, 2006

There and Back Again, A Pilgrim's Tale

I arrived home on August 4th after a long journey from Madrid via Amsterdam and a 10 hour layover, which was completely my fault and completely unnecessary. But it gave me time to read and think and sleep a little before the airport energized at 3:30 in the morning with bustling international travellers eager to board flights to exotic corners of the globe. In the spirit of Camino camraderie, I was invited to Tenerife by the businessman sitting next to me on the plane. This all was very fitting for the end of a camino that brought me from my home in Jonesville, Michigan, across the Iberian Peninsula, and back again. This was my Camino.

I have one final thought, and I would like to share an idea that I have been entertaining for some time, an idea that is probably quite different than what most others are now thinking. But we all have our own opinions of the Camino, and there are no right or wrong answers. In fact there are probably no answers at all. Therefore, I take the Camino as what is was to me and nothing more; it was an education in untraditional terms, an education I have never had before. It was not a major life-changing revelation or moment of personal insight. It was what it was, and it was very good. Unfortunately, it all had to end on August 3rd as we parted ways and said good-bye. Now we must face our own journeys, but ones that are no longer marked by yellow arrows and guide books. We neither share the same goal nor take the same path. I think we just went parallel for 33 days.

I want to thank everyone in GIEU who made this trip possible, from A.T. Miller and the administrative staff, to all my fellow pilgrims and friends, and especially to Annie and Andy, the Jefes. We know how excellent they are, and I hope they know as well.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Chapter 11/Epilogue. Camino Ellipsis

It comes as no surprise that I've waited 5 days since completing the Camino to post my final blog. As I stand in the same Hostel in the great city of Madrid from which my Spain adventure began, I am able to channel all of the feelings that I felt before even knowing what the Camino would be like, before getting to know my 10 team members as well as I have, and before realizing all that I'd learn about myself.

When we entered Santiago on July 31 a weird feeling crept over me. It was over. No more walking, no more albergues, no more camino. During the two days that we spent in Santiago I heard from more than one of my teammates, comments regarding feeling disconnected from the pilgrimmage and other pilgrims. Indeed it was a strange feeling to recall that the camino was no more. We went out with a bang the night of our arrival with a strangely perfect concert of Beatles covers that saw us singing until two in the morning, the sprit of the camino still deep in our hearts. As long as the Camino remains with us in this way, as long as we don't forget the arrows that pop up in life every now and then to tell us which way to go [some less visible than others], and as long as we remember the feelings of meditative simplicity that we felt for a month as our only objective was to get to Santiago, the Camino will live on in our minds. We went big for 770 kms and now we can go home mentally and physically stronger than we were before...

adios Spain, hola Portugal

In the last 48 hours, I have spent 20 travelling on a train. But, at long last, I have entered the final stage of my trip and arrived quite smelly, but safely in Lisbon, Portugal.

For what will most likely be my final blog, I figured I'd share part of a journal entry I wrote in O Cebrero, also our first day in Galicia:

"I cannot believe my time together with this group is coming to a close, and such a rapid one at that! We have entered Galicia, and with our physical crossing into this region, so is it our metaphysical crossing into the final chapter of our journey. It is always a dark and mysterious moment as you enter the final chapter of a novel, and though the darkness is beckoning, in its enticing ways it is the most beautiful moment of the story: you never wish to see it end, but know it must and with such knowledge, you can only tingle in anticipation as to how the author ends his masterpiece. And so, as I flip the pages of my journal left and look west to St. Jean, Zubiri, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and all the memories each step holds, I can only simply sigh and smile, and then I look east into the valley of Galicia and the empty pages I still have left to write with thoughts, poetry and prose, and giggle to myself, knowing the last chapter of any story worth reading is always the most satisfying."

Our last chapter was indeed the most gratifying. I remember laying on the floor, the cathedral we had been walking towards for 33 days directly in front of me, and feeling as though I was on a mountain pass. Although surrounded by pilgrims and tourists, I was in absolute solitude; though laying on the cold plaza ground, I was thousands of feet up, way above the tree line after a 33 day ascent to the summit. And then, I put my pack on and walked to our hotel, no longer a pilgrim but once again a citizen, thus making the fastest descent of my life, and it was perfect in all its imperfections.

Now its off to the beach I go!!!!!!!!!

peacin' out for the final time,

Perry

Thursday, August 03, 2006

"No place is ever far"

Our camino is over, and we are now back in Madrid. Last night I slept in the very same room, the very same bed that I slept in before we left for St. Jean Pied de Port to begin our walk. Needless to say, there were a lot of thoughts running through my head -- none of them calm or organized. How have 77o-ish kilometers under my feet changed me? I think I am smarter, more experienced, and also more driven. In Santiago, the day after we finished the camino, we were shopping around the historical town and came across an artist selling her paintings on the street. She specialized in cartoon-like drawings of children doing very cute, often inspirational things. She usually included a fitting Spanish quote on the top of the drawing. A painting of a little boy pilgrim skipping along the trail and the accompanying quote translating to "No place is ever far" struck me as the perfect piece for this trip. I think it begins to sum up how the camino has affected my outlook on life... if we can walk across a country, what can't we do?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Leaving on a jet plane

So I will be catching my 430 cab in about 5 minutes. Back to the states I go. I'll never forget you Espana. Hasta Pronto Mom and Dad.

Casey

Hail! Hail! To Michigan...

I take a lot of ribbing from students for my loyalty to my alma mater, the University of Kansas, especially during basketball season. Those years in Lawrence had a lasting impact on my life and that institution will always hold a special place in my heart. Having said that, these past 30-plus days have been so rewarding, I must admit humming the tune of The Victors on occasion and feeling quite the sentimental attachment.

Hail! To the victors, valiant,
Hail! To the conquering heroes
Hail! Hail! To Michigan the leaders and best


Yes, we did not conquer anything but our own doubts and the only thing truly valiant about our adventure was our devoring the mystery meat served at the occasional lunch BUT, oh Michigan (and Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Colorado & Singapore) be proud of your sons and daughters. Be proud because they rose to every challenge as a team of 11 individuals with a sincere caring for others both in and outside of our group. In the words of our dear Ryan,¨I´m not gonna lie¨, these 11 students have had (and will continue to have) a lasting impact on my life.

On July 22nd, we set out from Rabanal del Camino on a long and difficult hike very early in the morning. The presence of two high school student groups made our previous night´s sleep less than restful, yet all of the team was ready and waiting for me as I finally (and five minutes late, mind you) made it outside the albergue to start the day´s hike. No second wake up call was needed. There was no need to remind them how much time was left until our departure. No one had to tell them to pick up the trash left behind from breakfast. Quitely, sleepily, they waited. When I passed through the gate to the albergue and saw them huddled, ready to hike 30 km, I said to myself The Leaders and the Best, indeed.





Tuesday, August 01, 2006

the journey itself is home

There are times when the body knows things before the mind does. As we hiked into Santiago my mind was scattered with thoughts...hardly believing that we would shortly be arriving at our destination...but my body sensed the end. It felt the momentum of walking foward in one direction for over a month inside and it was as if my stomach was doing backward summersalts trying to prepare for stopping. Now there are no yellow arrows to point our way, but we will continue to journey and set forth in all kinds of new directions. As a sign painted on the wall at Jesus´s albuergue said, "Every day is a journey and the journey itself is home."

Finally...

I'm here!!! It seems to have taken forever, but I overcame much to get here. I'm just thankful to God for being Almighty and giving me his traveling grace to make it here safe and sound, as well as all the other peregrinos. I am truly blessed not to have incurred any blisters and illnesses and I was also fortunate enough not to cave into the boys antics about urinating outside, lol. When all is said in done, I just know I couldn't have ever made it through this journey without the goodness of my God!!!

Santiago and beyond

Of course, I never thought we had designed a program that students would not be able to finish, but it wasn´t until a plane leaving from the Santiago Airport flew over me yesterday morning that I realized what we had just accomplished. This year we set the bar high and students rose to the challenge. We are, as far as I know, the first university program to walk the entire trail in 30-some days starting from St. Jean Pied de Port.
These last two days have been a wave of emotions and reflection for me.
First I am happy with the fact that we all made it in to Santiago. Repeatedly this group of students amazed me. Each person has brought something unique to our group; yet, collectively grace, kindness, and curiosity is what comes to my mind when I think about the 11 of them. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to share this challenge with them. Too often I forget that many of these students don´t speak Spanish and are unfamiliar with the culture, until I see one of them tied up in a linguistic knot with a local and then I am reminded what this experience must be like for them. Thank you all for being so fantastic and making this trip for me so enjoyable.
Now my thoughts turn to going home. Unlike most of my students, I have been feeling nomadic now for about a year, so home to me is a bit unclear. I have spent the last year living out of my backpack commuting between Paris and Berlin--a great experience, but one I am glad is almost over. A few more days in Berlin and a short trip to Italy will end my time in Europe. Now I have to begin thinking about finding an apartment in Ann Arbor and moving my stuff out of storage.
Lastly, thanks to all the parents who offered their comments. I really enjoyed reading them. I hope to have the chance to get together over lunch or a coffee sometime when you are in town. I would love to meet you all!

The Start of an End

The camino has finally come to an end for us. However I have been constantly thinking about the lessons it has tried to teach us. Thus after a night of fireworks and concert I got it out straight. Just like the camino, we all have a goal in life that we would someday love to reach. Sometimes we have easy days, sometimes we have hard days. Sometimes we like to increase the pace of our life just like being the first on the trail, and sometimes we would like to lay back and enjoy the scenery. Somtimes we get lost in life, but as long as we find our own little yellow arrows, we will know where to go again. Therefore, just like walking the camino, we should never stop walking forward in life.