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“Be prepared.”

That’s a piece of wisdom that anyone who backpacks can appreciate. When hiking in the wilderness one has to rely on self-preservation. It’s You and Mother Nature. How you have prepared for the hike and how you handle any issues that arise is a difference between enjoying your adventure and telling the tale . . . or not making it.

This is harsh reality.

Walking the Camino is not a walk thru a city park. You will hit a variety of terrain from mountians, valleys, farmland, forests, towns, cities and industrial areas. Be vigilant and prepared with both mind and body.

When my husband decided to walk the 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port in 2015 to Santiago I would have loved to go with him. I wasn’t ready though plus I knew at that time he needed to do this alone. Now I have had 2 years to get my self “up to speed” for the 600-mile hike that we plan to take. I have actually been quite surprised at how quickly my body has come back into shape after too much neglect.

I also have two really good pair of boots that I have broken in with the daily walks and weekly long hikes that we are doing.

 

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Those comfortable boots that you have loved for years?  Maybe not a good idea.

 

Taking care of your feet is something often talked about in the various articles and web sites on El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Good quality boots, good health practices and…moleskin for blisters.   When my husband was getting prepared for his walk the first thing I told him was that he needed to get a good pair of boots and to bring moleskin with him.

“Moleskin? What’s that?” He asked.

I showed him and told him that whenever he felt the beginnings of a blister that he was to put this on it and leave it on. I was thanked via text many times by him while he was on his first walk. He also encountered people who didn’t take care of their feet and suffered gravely for it.

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My husband’s feet with moleskin…and no blisters

 

To me it’s common sense to take care of yourself and make sure that your feet are well cared for since they will be taking you on a long journey. It should be common sense…but common sense is not always there.

Which reminds me of a story…I am a storyteller…

Anansi the Spider decided that he wanted all the common sense in the world for himself. So he took a gourd and collected all the common sense he could find and placed it in that gourd and stuck a cork in the opening good and tight. He then tied a rope around the gourd so that he could carry it around his neck. He found this too cumbersome though and decided that he needed to hide the gourd full of common sense somewhere where it would not be found. He decided high up in the tallest tree would be a good place.

So one day he began to climb, up and up and up. But that gourd swinging around his neck between his belly and the tree just kept getting in the way. It was a difficult climb even with his eight legs.

Far below he heard a small voice, “If you put the gourd behind you you’ll be able to clime easier!”

“What?!?” Anansi didn’t quite hear what the voice said. He looked down and far below standing beside the tall tree was a small boy. His hands where cupped around his mouth and he repeated even louder:

“If … you … put … the … gourd … behind … you … you … will … be … able … to … climb … easier!” He called out again.

Anansi had heard the boy this time. He looked at the tree trunk in front of him; he looked his belly so round; he looked at the gourd full of common sense between the two.

“What?!?” He thought to himself. Here he had all this common sense…all the common sense of the whole world and a little boy still had more than he. What good was it doing him? Nothing.

So Anansi popped the cork and let the common sense ride the four winds. It was taken all over the world and some people ended up with a lot of common sense, some a little and … well others … ended up with none at all.

 

Take care of you feet. They will be carrying all the weight.

Boots1328   The boots that will carry me along

 

 

 

Shells found throughout Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Like many of us, I collect shells. I have bowls and jars full of shells that I have collected along the coasts of California and Costa Rica when I lived there. When I was leaving California in the mid 70’s for the Army, I dragged a friend of mine to Black’s Beach that lies just South of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. I had seen bits and pieces of cowrie shells there along a line of rocks that protruded out of the ocean. We spent about an hour looking for a cowrie shell that was not broken, then we gave up and that’s when I found it.   I have carried it with me ever since.   It reminds me of my childhood, growing up and the value of a great friendship that still continues to this day…Love you Jeffrey.

In Costa Rica in 1992 while pregnant with my daughter my husband and I visited the family ranch in Guanacaste along the Pacific Coast. There I found another cowrie shell. This one joined the first and reminds me of my early adulthood, the man that has become my life partner and motherhood…Love you Guillermo and Geannina you’re the heart and soul of my life.

Cowrie1324_4x3 Cowrie Shells from California and Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

Shells are the primordial reminder of where life began. They protect, are beautiful and some hold the sound of the ocean within them.

Throughout Europe the symbol of the scallop shell can be found on doors, windows, walls, statues, and embedded in the roadways. It has become a symbol of the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela.

The scallop shell is found naturally along the coastline and at the end of the Camino in Finisterre. Early pilgrims would collect one to prove that they had walked and finished El Camino to the end of the world. Modern day pilgrims will attach one to their packs. It has both practical as well as symbolic uses in the long history of the Camino. For more information on this please go to www.Followthecamino.com they have a very good article on the legend, history and symbolic use of the scallop shell.

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Scallop Shell on pilgrim’s pack

When my husband finished his 500-mile walk to Santiago de Compostela in 2015 we bought each other silver shell charms. He added this to the chain that he wore around his neck throughout his walk and still wears. He added it to a wooden St. Francis of Assisi cross that I bought him at Santa Croce in Florence. When we bought the chain for the cross it was too long so we had it shortened and a bracelet made for me. I placed the shell charm on the bracelet and have worn it almost everyday for the past two years. (Had to take it off for a while when I got my tattoo)

This charm reminds me of the goal that I have set for myself. It reminds me of what I hope to achieve for myself and be a better person. I don’t know if I will be wearing it as I walk but I will have it with me. When I finish and return home I will be adding a new tattoo to my wrist, just under the one I have of a gingko branch and three-legged crow. I will add a scallop shell.

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Note: Follow the Camino is the company that we are using to organize our walk.

 

 

Today I picked out my stone. I have a collection of stones that I have picked up along mountain passes and beaches thru my lifetime. Quite a few of them are from California. Many have fossils embedded in the ancient and hardened sand. That’s what I chose:  A small stone the color of blue grey with white flakes thru it…ancient shells embedded in sand that time hardened. It’s flat and round. 1.75 inches across and feels good in the hand. I picked it up on a beach in Northern California.

I will carry it now in my daypack. Carry it while I go on practice hikes here in Illinois and carry it on the plane when I head out to Southern France. I will carry it across the Pyrenees Mountains into Northern Spain. Than about 553 kilometers or 343.5 miles into the walk near Ponferrada at the highest point of El Camino in Spain, 1,530 meters above sea level (5,020 feet) I will be standing on the “Roof of the Way” in front of an iron cross perched on top of a 7 meter (23 ft ) wooden post that is surrounded by stones, stones that pilgrims (peregrinos) have left over the years.

CruzdeHierro4x5adj

The iron cross, Cruz de Fierro, sits upon a point in the Leon Mountains that once had an altar dedicated to the Roman god Mercury. Now it is where pilgrims come and leave a stone from their home. The stone can symbolize a deliverance from sin or protection from the dangers encountered along El Camino. It’s what one wants it to be. For me it symbolizes the release of unneeded weight that gets in the way in life. It’s an offering to all that have traveled this road thru the millenniums.

 

“When I let go of what I am,

I become what I might be.

When I let go of what I have,

I receive what I need.”

                                                                             — Lo Tzu

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned,

so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

                                                                                            — Joseph Campbell

 

Notes:

Photograph of Cruz de Fierro by Guillermo Gutierrez, 2015

Ramos, Sergi.  Camino de Santiago. 2014

http://www.cyclefiesta.com

http://www.caminoways.com

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Santiago, A Coruña

In August 2015 my husband told me that he was going to do something stupid. “What?” I asked him.   “Quit my job and walk El Camino.” He answered.

“That’s the smartest thing that I’ve heard in a long time.” I told him.

Since the “down turn” in jobs and getting caught in the whirl wind of job after job after job in the world of Private Equity Firms where companies are flipped and people let go for no good reason we both were tired and going a bit insane.

My husband had wanted to walk El Camino (The Way) since he was a boy. When we first met he told me about it.  I, an avid backpacker at the time, was intrigued. Our plan had been to do this together…Someday.  Careers, a daughter, life and all its insanity just got in the way of walking The Way.

I was not ready to walk with him in 2015, bad knees and so out of shape. Besides this was a time that he needed—by himself.  So…in October of 2015 he left for Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port, France to start his walk and I later met up with him at the end of November, in Santiago de Compostela where he ended his 500-mile walk. To his discernment I was already planning to get myself in shape and walk El Camino with him in 2017.

So here we are…in two months (September 2017) I will be in France with my husband and walk the 600 miles to the End of the World, Finisterre.   We actually plan to continue on to Muxia then bus back to Santiago de Compostela and travel a bit more (by bus, train and plane) before we end up in Madrid.

It’s been a good year training and getting into shape. I loved my time in Spain two years ago and look forward to going back…this time seeing this lovely and culturally diverse country in a more intimate way.  I also look forward to enjoying the wine, pulpo (octopus), and olives! … And of course so much more!

This blog will be a chronicle of my time walking El Camino. I am more of a photographer than a writer so I hope to fill the pages with photos more than words. To do this I needed to get a camera that was compact and shot RAW. I ended up with a Sony.  It’s a great camera and though I do miss my DSLR and lenses, I am happy that I won’t have the size and weight to deal with yet still a good quality camera.

Some references:

Movie:   The Way   Produced by Emilio Estevez, Staring Martin Sheen

Websites:

www.MarciaGutierrezPhotography.com (Photos of the trip will later be placed on                                                                            this site)

www.americanpilgrims.org

Books:

Ramis, Sergi. Camino de Santiago

BlarneyCsmall

When I began planning to go to Ireland the first thing that came to mind was that I MUST go to the Blarney Castle and kiss The Blarney Stone. As an oral storyteller this was a true pilgrimage. So I chose a day and booked myself on the Cork/Blarney Tour through Irish Day Tours and chose a Saturday to go. I had been in Ireland since Monday and it had rained on and off everyday. That’s really not a big deal if you are prepared for it but to climb up stone spiral stairs and walk along the upper battlement to lie on your back to kiss a stone while it’s raining—well can’t do anything about it.

As it turned out, Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day and now here I was looking up a spiral stairway with only a thick rope running down the center of it to hold onto. I slowly made my way up, stopping at the “Young Ladies Room” then the “Priest’s Chamber” above it and finally the kitchen. On the forth floor there are some modern stairs that take you to the battlements where the Blarney Stone is located on the south end. The interior of the castle has long rotted away so from this height you can see to the first floor of the main area as well as the countryside around it while you wait in line to The Blarney Stone. It’s a beautiful view.

Finally on my back, with my hands holding tightly onto two metal bars, a nice young man helped me lean all the way back to the area of The Blarney Stone for the kiss. The Blarney Stone was rather rough until you reached the part where you kiss it. There at the bottom lip it was smooth all across.

This intrigued me.
IMG_2021smallLater I asked a friend about it and was told that it was from all the kissing.   “Well,” I pointed out, “it was smooth all the way across not just where you kiss it. It’s like there was a lot of liquid that passed there at one time.”

“Oh,” she said, “I did hear that it is located where the toilet was.”

“Oh great.” I thought. “I kissed the arse of a stone lion in Girona, Spain so I will return there and now I kiss the bottom of a stone that was once a medieval toilet.”

I needed to find out the truth.   So I asked another friend and he told me that he had heard that the young men liked to climb up there at night after a good night’s worth of drinking and relieve themselves at The Blarney Stone.

Okay…this was all beginning to sound like a bit of Blarney to me so I did some research…Historical research.

The Blarney Stone that is kissed today is actually located on the south end and the medieval toilets or garderobe are located on the north end where the spiral stairs and rooms are. The Blarney Stone is actually a part of a machicolation, which is an opening where rocks, burning objects or hot liquids were thrown or poured down upon attackers. Ah, my lips are safe.

There is also a bit of confusion through history as to where The Blarney Stone is actually located. Some historical reports place it high up in the tower where it was rather difficult to reach, others place it on the highest north-east part of the castle, and still other reports place it on the face of the north-east wall.  All of which are difficult to reach. Wherever the true Blarney Stone is located, its magic of the gift of gab has permeated throughout the castle.

I should know.  I kissed it and that’s no blarney.

BlarneyCKissingsmall

5590Tam

My mother-in-law’s family, Quirós Sánchez, makes the best tamales and I should know, I have eaten many but none compare to her’s or her sisters’ tamales.   Traditionally before La Navidad women in Costa Rica will be busy making them for the holiday.  In the stores and markets the ingredients go up and up in price and bags of dried corn kernels (that the women cook and have ground) are seen everywhere.  My mother-in-law, Doña Irene, would be busy in her kitchen or mine (since I had a nice long counter) making them.  That is how I learned to make them.

First you cook the pork loin with herbs (I used an herb mix that I buy at a local spice shop), fresh garlic, salt and white pepper—add water to cover.  I use a crockpot and cook for 8 hours.  I then steam cook the rice in some of the meat broth (traditionally it’s white rice that is first sautéed in lard and then steamed—I used a rice mix that I buy at a local Japanese market and added wild rice).  At the same time that I cook the rice I also boil potatoes, cut up the bell peppers in strips, lightly cook the peas (I used frozen small sweet peas), place a couple of cups of corn masa in a large mixing bowl and add salt, white pepper, and Spanish paprika to the masa.  Once the rice and potatoes are done I use the meat broth to mix up the masa and add the mashed potatoes to it and mix well.  The first time that I made tamales on my own they were REALLY bland.  I added salt to taste; the trick is to add A LOT of salt.  The tamales will be boiled right after constructing them and then they will be boiled again before eating them so add more salt than usual.  For these tamales I used a smoked sea salt.

Traditionally the women exchange their tamales (like a cookie exchange) so the ones that Doña Irene made would be traded with the neighbors’.  This is where I ended up tasting different tamales and never liked any except the ones made by Doña Irene or her sisters (oh and also a friend, Doña Clemen).  I did learn a lot about what NOT to do especially never, I mean NEVER, add canned green olives to them.  I love olives but with this combination it really destroys the taste.

Growing up in San Diego, I never really liked tamales.  They were so spicy hot that I couldn’t eat them and even when someone made some that were not so spicy, the taste really never appealed to me.  Costa Rican tamales are wrapped in banana leaves instead of cornhusk.  What a difference in taste!  I buy banana leaves in a local super market and I get them when I see them then keep them in the freezer till I am ready for them.  I have also found them in local markets that cater to the Latino community.  I use two packs and can make about 30.  They will need to be cleaned with a towel.  I do a quick wipe to get rid of excess water and then I wipe each leaf down before I begin to place the masa on it.

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Sometimes the leaves split so I will use a small piece as a “Band-Aid” with the leaf grains crossed.

Bandage2Tom

I might have the sequence off but this is the order of the filling that I used:

Large serving spoon of masa/potato mix, tablespoon of rice, a few peas, a couple of strips of bell pepper (I was using the small ones, traditionally there is only one strip of bell pepper), and some of the meat.  Wrap it up and make another one, wrap it up and place the two tamales “sides that open” together and tie (I used kitchen twine).  I then place them in the basket of a large pot (I used a spaghetti pot).  Once the basket is full I place it in the pot that has some water in it that has already boiled.  I add more hot water to cover the tamales and I boil them for about 15 minutes (this is the part I was never really sure about—how long to boil them the first time—Doña Irene boiled them on an open fire in the backyard and seemed to know when to remove them.)  Once they are cooled, I place them in a large plastic bag and put this in the refrigerator.  I keep them there for a day or two and then place the bag of tamales in the freezer.  It takes about 5 days for the flavors to meld together.  The banana leaves give it a wonderful kind of smoky flavor.

Tamalecoverpg

           Costa Rican Tamales a la Gringa.

  (Just click the link above to see a video of the process of making the tamales)

After 5 days or for us, New Year’s Day, I will boil the frozen or defrosted tamales again until they are hot (about 10 minutes for defrosted).  Remove from the water and let them drain a bit.  Remove the twine and place one on a plate and unwrap.  In Costa Rica we would add a little Salsa Lizano to it but it is difficult to find here in the U.S. and VERY expensive to import so we use Worchester Sauce instead.

Now—with fresh made coffee, chayotes picadas, and a tomato and cheese salad, the Costa Rican Tamale—a la Gringa is ready to enjoy!

Finished1TAM

¡Disfrute!

Ha'Penny BridgeHa’Penny Bridge on the River Liffey

Night photography is more about color and light than the sunlight we work with in daytime photography.  At night we work with different spectrums of light giving off various colors that both lights our subject and reflects off of the environment around it.  Photographs taken at night show off the light in so many different ways because it is contrasted against the dark so much more and because there are so many different types of light coming at us.

O'ConnellBridge&AstonQuay

O’Connell Bridge & Aston Quay

 At night I see so much more with the light than just illumination.  The colors, glare, contrasts, reflections, and textures:  photographing at night, for me, is more abstract.  It brings out the rebel in me.  I always love the opportunity for night photography.  Yet I have few opportunities because, well, it’s at night and walking around with a camera, passing dark streets and alleys is not a really safe thing to do–especially if I am not familiar with the city.

GrandCanalDock

Grand Canal Dock

So with this in mind, I was thrilled when I found out that there was a guided Night Photography Tour of Dublin offered by www.Dawn2Dusk.ie.  Not a workshop where someone would be teaching me what to do—no—rather a tour where the guide would take me and others out into a central area of Dublin and show us the best spots to take photos of different points of interest.

DublinConvention Center Dublin Convention Center

Ha'PennyBridge_1727

Ha’Penny Bridge

The tour takes place by the River Liffey, where one can take advantage of the reflections and textures of the river.  Another plus that we had that night was that it was raining.  Rain adds to the mood of the photos with reflections on the streets and pavement.  It saturates the environment.  A raincoat to protect yourself, an umbrella to protect your camera and a soft cloth to wipe it down if it does get a bit wet are all you need.  I have a water resistant camera that can take some dampness.  I also used a tripod.  It’s a must if you don’t want camera shake and want to experiment more with exposure.

GraffitiU2studio

Graffiti on U2 Studio

The Dublin by Night Guided Photography Tour is the brainchild of David Cooke and Yvonne Costello of Dawn2Dusk that offers various photography tours throughout Dublin.  They began the night photography tour in the beginning of 2013 and have done a lot of footwork looking for the best spots for great photo shoots of the different bridges and buildings that are along the River Liffey.  David also gives interesting historical information about the areas that the tour stops at.

BordGaisEnergyTheatre

Reflection on Bord Gais Energy Theatre

Dublin has a lot to offer with its long history and development to what it has become today.  This Night Photography Tour is a plus giving visitors the opportunity to take night photos of this interesting and vibrant city.

Samuel Becket Bridge

Samuel Becket Bridge

 

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