challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized, writing

A Walk on the Wild Side … of Spain – 217-229/300 Camino Photos

It was early May, and I continued to walk the Santiago de Compostela, bloodied but unbowed. Well, all right. Not bloodied. And only slightly bowed. My feet, however, hurt. When I would sit for a rest I was all right – until it was time to get up again. That’s when the grunting and groaning began. I wasn’t the only one with such afflictions, and commiserating with fellow pilgrims helped somewhat. So did views like this:

Galicia Spain panorama

Galicia Spain panorama

Galicia Spain panorama

Before I left on the Camino, I daydreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a donkey as a companion on the road. Not only would he keep me company, but he could tote my cumbersome backpack as well. It soon became clear that such an endeavor would take more logistical energy than I had – where would the animal sleep, how would I feet it, where would I get it, what would I do with it when I finished my journey. I decided to let that dream go. Instead, I felt certain that God would bring a donkey into my Camino in some way. Sure enough, he did. I passed this duo on the way:

The donkey, perhaps, had much to eat along the way.

Camino 1613 (Copy)

Camino 1614 (Copy)

It was, doubtlessly, a blessing not to have to tug the poor creature away from such treats hour after hour.

Mileposts like these showed that my journey would soon be at an end.

Camino 1616 (Copy)

Reminders of a simpler life cropped up unexpectedly. I halted on the trail as a married couple herded their cattle past. They were old, and wearing ragged clothing and mud-slick boots. I spied a wound on one of the cattle, and a broken down dog wore a giant goiter around his neck. How awful it would be to eke out an existence in such poverty, with old age slowing your steps. What if I could not afford to take my animals to the vet when they needed it? I thanked God for the goodness I take for granted so often – my easy suburban life in sunny southern California.

Camino 1618 (Copy)

Between the little villages are peaceful places where nature reigns supreme.

Soon enough human habitations arise, made from stone, slick and mossy.

Camino 1623 (Copy)

Camino 1625 (Copy)

Little churches dot the wayside, like this one, Iglesia de Santa Maria de Leboreiro, built in the 14th century. It is simple and humble.

Camino 1632 (Copy)

And the torments of past terrors, such as the ones suffered by Saint Sebastian, are ever near.

Camino 1634 (Copy)

The Renaissance costumes betray a 16th century origin. Old to us. So old. Like the urge to walk onward, an instinct encoded in our genes from our days as nomads, wandering day by day.

My pilgrimage continues on in future pictures. Subscribe to see them, or backtrack, if it suits you, to other images in my 100 Spanish Photos series.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized, writing

Over the Misty Mountains – 202-216/300 Camino Photos

 

I was raised in the desert. I know heat, parched earth, scorching sun, and dry, dry air. The rain, when it comes, is either a light pitter patter or torrential floods. There is no in between, it seems. And so when I come to a place like the region of Spanish Galicia, “the country of a thousand rivers,” I find it irresistible. So much green! So much moisture. Misty and rain and moss. Mud and more. Gnarled trees and stone huts. All of them are here, and more.

Galician hills

Flat heavy stones are everywhere. Stacked to form walls, bridges, homes …

Galicia

Even charming old chapels.

Stone church

Grain is stored in these odd looking little huts to keep them safe from rodents. Every house seems to have one.

no 4 grain

Hills everywhere. An endless panorama of them.

no 5 hills

The sign beside it claims that this tree is 800 years old. Called a castaño, it produces chestnuts in the fall.

Camino 1492

I never tired of the overflowing streams, and the constant drip, drip, drop from above. I don’t melt, and my shoes are waterproof. What more did I need but a rain jacket and backpack cover?

no 7

It is in such places that I am constantly surprised about the many hues green takes.

no 8

Camino 1506

I took a longer route on this day’s walk, determined to visit the Benedictine monastery of Samos, founded in the 6th century.

no 10

Along with two Finnish women, we toured the cloisters with a monk who spoke only Spanish. He showed us the lovely frescoed walls with pride. The Botica interested me as well, a long ago pharmacy.

no 11 botica

The monk blushed when I asked to take his picture. What a lovely, humble man he was. A credit to his profession.

no 12

More streams, as I traveled on.

no 13 bridge

More idyllic scenes.

no 14

And another bridge, leading to the unknown.

no 15

Join me, if you like, as my pilgrimage continues on. Or backtrack, if it suits you, to other images in my 100 Spanish Photos series.

Until next time, enjoy the new year. Indeed, we are blessed to experience it, with its many highs and occasional lows.

hiking, photography, Uncategorized

Adventure in the Suburbs – Oak Park, California

I’m a firm believer that adventure lies all around us, if we only look. I’m privileged to make my home near the Santa Monica Mountains in southern  California, and the towns that surround it have wonderful parks and hiking trails hidden here, there, and everywhere. Last night the dogs and I went exploring at a nearby dog park that I hadn’t yet visited – Oak Canyon Dog Park.

It is nestled in a valley near the creek. Views of the mountains lie in all directions, as do the sights of happy, rambunctious dogs.

dog park

All three of mine come racing when I call like cowboys on horseback in a classic Western.

dogga wogs

It is such fun when you are leashed all your life to run free. Doesn’t Rudy’s expression say so?

rudy roo 2

rudy roo

To the side of the park, in the cold winter shade, lies a trail. Why not? I thought. Sure, it looks a bit steep, but I can manage it. What followed was twenty steps and a rest. Twenty-five and a rest. Twenty more and a longer rest. You get the picture. At one point I thought of turning back because it was too hard. Then my rebelliousness kicked in. “I’ve already come this far. What’s a little more?” Then up, up, up, and desperate hoping that a trail lay at the very top so that I wouldn’t have to risk tumbling down the hill on descent.

Gloriously, I made it! And promptly collapsed on a little flat space, catching my breath as the dogs and I surveyed the valley below.

hilltop

Then down, down, down to an oak grove both beautiful and serene.

oak

As the sweat dried on my back, I enjoyed the exhilaration of summiting another hill with the best companions of all.

What adventure will you find this week?

hiking, photography, Uncategorized

Fall Colors Southern California Style

It may be December, but the temperatures have been in the 70’s and the colors of fall show up every now and again. My favorite time to hike the hills is just before sunset. I haven’t been on this particular hike for quite some time – I used to take my dogs Ubu and Sam on it regularly, but alas, both of them are gone now. I have a new crop of dogs – three this time, and they were happy to accompany on a little adventure.

This little valley lies around a mile from the 101 freeway, but it is sheltered from the noise and pollution that suggests. The trailhead lies down Sunset Road, off of Rimrock. There are lots of little ranches around, and I park next to this one.

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On the trail itself the dogs and I passed two women on three horses. Up and down we went until I spied poison oak looking quite pretty.

2015-12-08 16.00.39

It looks less pretty when it turns my arms bright oozy red. But I have learned from past indiscretions and wear long sleeves now.

After a good long climb and some copious, but cleansing, sweating, we reached the top of the trail. I love how isolated it feels.

Sunset HDR

I didn’t want to be caught out here after dark, though, so I headed back after taking this photo. The sun through the oaks said a pretty goodbye.

sunset thru oak

Yet as we loaded into the car a chorus of coyotes broke out in strange song. My most fiesty dog, Kima, looked concerned and eager to track them down.

alarm

Such adventures would have to wait for another day, though. As will further posts on my Camino adventures. I want to finish that photo series by the end of the month, but holiday preparations have cut into my blogging time. Soon, though. Yes. Soon …

 

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized, writing

Up, Up, and Away! Trekking Across Spain – 179-201/200+ Camino Photos

I am drawing closer to another milestone with my 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 plus Spanish Photos!), and since it has been a while since I’ve posted, I am making this an extra long entry tonight. Last time I visited the fairy tale castle in Ponferrada. Onward I trekked, 18 kilometers from Ponferrada to Pieros, my feet hurting all the while. I ended my day early when I came to the lovely vegetarian albergue El Serbal y la Luna.

El Serbal y la Luna Albergue Spain

It is a large old home, made of bricks, mortar, and heavy wooden beams. I stayed in the room with four massive bunk beds and a view out the skylight to the starry night sky – truly one of my favorite stays. The communal meal was prepared by a chef who was next on her way to work for the summer on a Greek island. How romantic is that?

Two friends I knew from the trail showed up that afternoon – Antonia from California and Fiz from New Zealand or England, depending on the day. The albergue in the previous town, Cacabelos, was closed. As such, El Serbal y la Luna filled up quickly. However, in the late afternoon an older German couple showed up, huffing and puffing. Sweat running down his bald head, the husband proclaimed: “I am 72 years old. I will die if I cannot stay here!” We crowded in and made room lest he have to keep going.

Antonia and I headed off toward Trabedelo in the morning, taking a detour through cherry orchards and vineyards. The view was beautiful, I’m sure you will agree:

Vineyards near Pieros Spain

Vineyards near Pieros, Spain

Vineyards near Pieros Spain

Antonia and I parted ways, certain that we would see one another again soon – such is the way with companions on the Camino. One does not wait too long before pilgrims come by, although this group of fast-walking French people did not seem inclined to stop and chat:

tall bridge

I passed gushing streams:

gushing river

And little villages that looked a lot like American suburbs, minus the farm animals:

chickens and sheep

A few stops back, Scott from Georgia had told me a tale of his first Camino, when he had snagged a horseback ride up the long ascent to O Cebreiro. What could be better? I thought. When I saw this sign, I knew what to look for up ahead in Herrarias:

O Cebreiro horseback

There was much to hold my attention on the way:

overlook

And soon I arrived at the sleepy village of Herrerias:

pasture

Though it was closing on 11 am, I rousted Victor out of bed, and he kept me waiting until he rounded up four more riders to accompany us up the long hill to O Cebreiro. One young German girl who had never ridden before chain-smoked cigarettes. As she contemplated the ride ahead, she repeated, “Mein Gott! Mein Gott!” Presently, Victor appeared with our mounts:

horse wrangler

And off we went, up the spectacular heather-covered hills:

on the trail

The views were inspiring:

heather

heather2

Although the knotted muscles in my thighs protested loudly. I ignored the pain as we passed the winded pilgrims on foot. At last we came to the top of the world and the village of O Cebreiro, where winds blow cold and hard and the peasants lived in round stone huts:

hut

You may notice that there is no chimney. The hearth inside is always lit, but the smoke seeps out through the woven mat roof. We supped on octopus, a regional specialty which I found to be chewy. And the intact suckers creeped me out a bit. Fiz and Antonia both showed up, and together we visited the simple church with a talented organist:

inside church

candles

The panorama is magnificent, green hills all around:

panorama

 

framed

view

The albergue perches sturdy and tall near an edge. Its boot room sports the most magnificent view of any I encountered:

Phone Pictures 978

The wind howled all night, and continued on in the morning. Fog and rain were my companions as I trudged on like so many before mehat

~

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

hiking, travel, Uncategorized

360 Degrees of Beauty – Santa Monica Mountains, CA

If you can ignore the hideously high prices of real estate, food, gas, (and, well, everything else), the geographical disasters – mudslides, earthquakes, wildfires, droughts – and the occasional civil unrest (riots, shootings, muggings, oh my!) then the Los Angeles area has a lot to recommend it. The weather is famous with sunny skies and mild temperatures practically year round. And although the earthquakes are a nuisance sometimes, they do have nice side effects: gigantic mountains. If you’re a hiker like me, that’s a good thing.

Los Angeles also has its fair share of, shall we say, unique individuals. For example, a few months back, this made the news. Some overly muscled young men, one presumes, lugged a piano up to the top of a nearby hill. Witness:

Source: Eddie P.
Source: Eddie P.

My hiking friend Sara and I had to check this out. Which had nothing to do with the prospect of overly muscled young men, I assure you. Is it getting warm in here? Anyhow, early one Sunday morning we set off on a ridgeline path on the Topanga Lookout Trail that ended in views like these:

graffiti two

lookout two

lookout

graffiti one

Alas, the piano had disappeared, perhaps pushed over the edge into the brush below? We will never know. We were too busy checking out the colorful graffiti. And the 360 degree view.

The day was a bit warm, but  the breezes are nice up high here, and you’ll seldom find a better view in the round. The three muskateers, Rudy, Kima, and Misha, smiled their approval.

PicMonkey Collage

In case you’re in the area (about 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles), here’s another link for the Topanga Lookout Trail. Recommended!

hiking, photography, travel, Uncategorized

Transformation Through Fire – Simi Valley, California

My little break from my photo series 100 Spanish Photos (now almost to 200) continues for a few more days, it seems. Southern California afforded some great photos when my hiking friend and I visited a spot near Simi Valley that was scorched by wildfire within the last two months. Despite the charcoal smell and barren earth, beauty was present.

The golden hour faded to blue night while spindly branches reached toward the sky.

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The moon shone tiny but silver overhead.

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And an alien lifeform glowed atop a hill.

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Won’t you join me on future adventures? I welcome companionship. Click follow or enter your email in the box on the right to subscribe.

challenge, photography, travel, Uncategorized

Remembering Dreams – 3-4/100 Camino Photos

Most people start their trek on the Camino de Santiago (French Way) at St. Jean Pied de Port, a small French town just over the border between Spain and France. They cross the Pyrenees on their first day, struggling to go up, up, up the mountains. Instead, I decided to start in Roncesvalles, Spain, just over the mountains from St. Jean, but incredibly beautiful just the same.

sheep

horses

The trail passes domesticated lands – fields and animals arranged by humans. Peace and quiet reigns supreme. I am reminded of the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which shows the magnificent cave paintings of our early ancestors. The cave is in southern France, not terribly far from Roncesvalles and these scenes. Indeed, these spots feel as though humans have lived here for eons. Blue sky, crisp, clean air, and the smell of fresh grass. Something primeval within me responds to these simple things.

travel, Uncategorized

Preparing for the Camino – Hiking Poles

After I recovered from hurting my back, I started using hiking poles regularly. I found several benefits to it: it is easier to get up hills, safer to come down hills (no more slipping on rocks and falling on my behind), and if necessary, I can either poke my dogs in the behind or fight off rabid raccoons. Now, granted, there aren’t that many rabid raccoons where I live, but you never know.

Lots of people tout the benefits of using hiking poles on the Camino de Santiago, and I fully plan on doing the same. (Homeland Security, however, prohibits them from  carry on luggage, so I will buy them in Spain.) Most advice on the Camino stresses that you must use the poles correctly for maximum benefit. How does one do that? Here are a couple of brief videos that explain that here:

If you’d like more detailed information than this, check out this link: Effectively Using Hiking Poles: The Gas-Brake-Coast Method.

travel, Uncategorized

Update on My Camino de Santiago

Well, I leave on my trip in a little more than two weeks already. Time is really closing in! It’s a bit of a mad rush to make arrangements and order the last minute items I’ll need, and make sure that I think of all the things that need to be taken care of at home while I’m gone.

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I’m up to walking 7-8 miles in one go now, which is harder on the dogs than me. A couple of my dogs were attacked by a pit bull last week and so they are out of the walking duty while they recover. The remaining dog, Rudy the terrier, is usually sandwiched between these two. Now he is free to sniff the flowers and leap at lizards, but also to demand lots of rest breaks. Hiking so often has been wonderful in beautiful springtime, as you can see from the pictures.

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My goal is to be up to 10 miles in one go by the time I leave, so I’m 75% of the way there! Woo hoo!

I also received my credential in the mail. The various albergues (pilgrim hostels) along the way will stamp it for me, qualifying me for the low pilgrim rate. It’s a sort of pilgrim passport, I suppose.

FullSizeRender (2)

The financial generosity of many continues to amaze and humble me. One donator even gave me two separate donations! I so appreciate the kind emails, messages, and shares/retweets that you all have helped me with. I’m a very lucky person to be the recipient of so much attention! I’m at 32% of my goal amount. This means that 13 days of room and board have been paid for already! Just 27 left to go.

Back at the beginning of this preparation experience I told my doctor about what I was doing. He pronounced it good for me “mentally, physically, and spiritually.” The “opening jitters” did make me question this at first, but now that I’m almost there I see the truth of his prescription.